Have you ever had a stall at a craft fair and sold far less than you expected? Or is the fear of not selling anything stopping you from applying for fairs in the first place? Craft fairs can be a brilliant opportunity to meet your customers and sell face-to-face but they do take a lot of work. First you need to invest time and money choosing the right one, then you need to make your stock and design your display, and on the day itself you first need to get there early, set up your stall and then have the stamina to stand on your feet all day, keeping a sunny, friendly disposition and talk to people about your work.
It’s all worth it when you come home with a cashbox full of money (or a bumper Paypal account) and compliments ringing in your ears, but what if you don’t sell anything? Or what if you end the day feeling disillusioned because your sales didn’t even cover your stall fee? In this post we’ll show you how to diagnose what went wrong – was it something that was out of your control like the weather or was it something you can influence or change – and why even if you sold nothing at all, there’s more to a good craft fair than just sales.
I think designers and makers doing their first craft fair expect sales to happen and get disappointed, but it’s not just about the sales – Lizzy Chambers, Lizzys Studio
So don’t despair. There are always positive things to take from your experience and steps you can take to help you do better next time. And if you haven’t done a craft fair yet, read on and arm yourself with knowledge and reassurance.
Why no sales?
First up, it’s worth diagnosing the issues that could have led to poor sales or no sales at all. This isn’t about apportioning blame or beating yourself up. Instead, see it as a useful, necessary exercise that can help you analyse why you didn’t sell what you were hoping to, so you can make appropriate changes and get more out of your next event. Or if you’re thinking of doing your first craft fair, use these questions to choose the right fair for you – we recommend reading our essential craft fair checklist too >
“A good craft fair is one with people who are interested in handcrafted, not just looking for bargains” – Diane Burton Design
Look at the craft fair and ask yourself these questions:
• Was the craft fair in the right location? Was it easy to find and access? Was it located somewhere that had passing traffic or was it a ‘destination’ event? Was it clearly sign-posted outside?
• How was the footfall? If not great, was this because it was poorly marketed by the organisers? Or were there other factors that could have contributed to low visitor numbers? For example, very hot, stormy or snowy weather often puts people off visiting markets – especially if they are outdoors and it’s very windy or rainy. Did it clash with another big event or craft fair that people might have chosen to go to or watch instead? Was the fair free entry or did people need to pay to get in?
I haven’t done any smaller fairs but I’ve had really good results from large ones with strict selection process – Sardines4Tea
• Leading on from the last question, how well was the craft fair promoted by the organisers? Did you see posters or flyers in the weeks leading up to the event? How was their social media presence? Were lots of other stallholders posting about it on their social feeds? Did it get any local or national press coverage? You might not get this with small local fairs, but it’s reasonable to expect the bigger markets and shows to promote the event well as some of your stall fee will be allocated to their marketing budget.
• Was the customer base right for your work? For example, if you sell high-end jewellery or large ceramic sculptures that are awkward to carry home, a local school fair probably isn’t the right place. Did the visitors seem interested in craft and handmade or did you get comments along the lines that your work was too expensive? If you did, it’s likely that the person making that comment isn’t aware of the amount of work that goes into a handmade product, so try and take it as an indication that they weren’t the right customer rather than a direct criticism of your work.
If you’ve built up a following locally, local craft fairs can work better. I went further afield last year, no-one knew me and I was hoarse after trying to explain myself – Emily Clark
• Was the craft fair well curated? Did it have a good mix of stalls or were there lots of other makers selling similar things to you? Were your peers there? Was it a handmade-only fair or was craft mixed in with vintage and food? Were there stall selling bought-in goods, as this can make it hard for designers and makers who then have to compete with mass-produced goods and prices.
A good craft fair curator should make sure there’s a wide mix of things and not too many of the same.”
– David Andrews, And At What Cost
• How did the people around you do? Comparing yourself to other people isn’t always healthy, but as hard as it may be, it can be useful here in determining whether this time around the problems were more to do with your products or stall, or with the fair itself. (Note: this doesn’t mean the craft fair was bad, just that maybe it wasn’t the right one for you). Did everyone do badly or was your experience more or less unique? Speak to any regular stallholders to find out if this market was unusually quiet. Alternatively, if things were flying off the stand next to you and people were queuing in front of your stall to get to it (so demoralising), it could also be that designer/maker is well known locally or particularly good at marketing themselves and getting their fans to their events, or that they were running a special promotion, so do a little digging to discover the secret of their success.
How did *you* do?
The next task in your craft fair audit is to look at your own stall and marketing. Did you do what you could to bring more people to your stall and make the event successful for you financially and maximise your opportunity to reach new customers and influencers?
“My bugbear is exhibitors who expect footfall and sales and rely too much on the organisers. YOU need to do marketing & social media to get sales.” – Patricia van den Akken, The Design Trust on Twitter. Hello Baby card by Ella Osborne.
Ask yourself these questions:
• What did you do to tell people about the fair? Did you share it on social media? Did you post on the relevant hashtags to help spread the word? Did you like and comment on the organiser’s posts – as well as being good for networking, this also gives their posts a boost in the algorithm and can help them get seen by more people. Did you send out a newsletter to your subscribers telling them about your stall or an invitation (either paper or email) to your biggest fans? Did you tell any press contacts or influencers you know that you were going to be at the fair? If you live locally, did you hand out leaflets? Did you write a post about the fair or the other stallholders on your blog? Did you do any or all of the above or or did you rely on the organisers to promote it?
• Think honestly about your stall display. Was it well laid out? Were your prices clearly displayed? Did it reflect your brand and do justice to your products? Was it eye-catching (for all the right reasons)? How was your signage? Was it clear who you were and what you made? Read our tips on how to make a great craft fair display and see our ideas for craft fair displays when you only have a small table.
• How well did you engage with visitors? Were you friendly and approachable? Did you smile and get the balance right between doing the hard sell and hiding behind your stall. (Read our tips on what to say to potential customers.) Or were you sitting down looking at your phone? There’s a really great article here by @MrsMarketUK on why chairs are the death of sales. She also points out that demonstrating how you make your pieces or running a mini craft DIY on your stall can be a really great way to engage visitors and get them to spend longer at your stall, which can in turn lead to more sales: “Increasing ‘dwell-time’ and keeping the kids happy can lead to an uplift in sales for sure.”
Footfall means nothing if you aren’t going to be friendly and open to customers – Holly Picthall, Wilful North
• Did you have a good range of products to give customers plenty of options? Sometimes a customer might really want to buy a piece of your work but for various reasons can’t do it there and then. If you have some smaller or less expensive pieces, it gives them a chance to take something of yours home – and if you pop in a business card with your Folksy shop name (and possibly with a thank-you discount code) they might just buy the bigger piece later on. When planning which products to sell at a craft fair, think 1) affordable, 2) achievable, 3) aspirational, and try to bring a range of products so you have all three covered.
• Was your product range right for the market and location? For example, if you’re a printmaker did you make/bring prints of local landmarks? If it’s a family-friendly craft fair or a school fair, did you have products that would appeal to children and toddlers? The products you can expect to sell at a local church fair might also be different from those that would sell at a big contemporary craft fair in London, so think about which products in your range work will best for the location and audience.
• Similarly, did you have the right products for the season? This sounds obvious (and it might also not be relevant) but if it the craft fair is in January or early February, did you have any Valentine-related stock to tempt the impulsive romantics? If it’s a Christmas fair, did you have products that are easy to gift or stocking fillers – were these labelled as stocking fillers to help signpost them and inspire customers with present ideas?
Take non-messy/smelly finger foods and sit down in the lulls, standing up when people get near – Hippie Otter Designs
• Did you lose sales because people weren’t sure how to get their purchases home? This can be an issue for artists selling large framed pieces or makers selling fragile or bulky things. Always try to make a sale as easy as possible, so make sure you bring large bags or boxes that you can offer customers who are interested.
• Were sales lost because you only took cash payments? Many visitors to craft fairs now expect to be able to pay by card and don’t bring lots of cash with them. If they’ve already spent their cash on another stall or if they don’t have enough, you could miss out on a sale. Customers are also likely to spend more if it can go on their card, as it’s easier emotionally to type in some numbers than hand over cash, so if you have a card machine or accept Paypal payments you’re more likely to make more (and bigger) sales.
“Marketing and networking are more valuable than sales, sometimes. It’s also about having the confidence to say ‘Here I am, doing this.’” – Trudi Murray. Photo showing a close-up of Trudi’s stall at the Weekend of the Maker craft fair by Katyi Peschke.
It’s not just about sales
Even if you sell nothing, there are so many positive things you can get out of craft fairs. As we’ve said before, shifting your focus away from just sales and concentrating on the other benefits of a craft fair can help you to stop fretting about ‘what if I don’t sell anything’ and take the plunge. It also softens the blow if you do come home with lots of unsold stock and a light cashbox.
Here are some of the other good things craft fairs can give you and which make it worth your while financially, even if you get zero sales on the day:
When we asked our community of makers why they do craft fairs and what they get out of them, networking with other stallholders was often at the top of their list. “Craft fairs, even if you don’t sell much, are great for networking. Wherever you’re placed in a market, talk to whoever is next to you. I’ve met some amazing people who are now really good friends… and your fellow stallholders are also potential customers,” says Emily Clark. “They often do lovely write-ups of other stalls after the fair, possibly including your own,” points out Teresa from Shirley Rainbow.
Talking to other stallholders is also a great way to find out about other craft fairs and discover ones that might work well for you. “Some of the best fairs I’ve done have been ones I’ve found through networking with other crafters at quieter events,” says Amanda Hartley from Hofficraft.
Meeting press, stylists and influencers
Choose the right market and you also have the potential to get your work in front of press, bloggers, stylists, interior designers and influencers, which can be invaluable. “Markets can be great starting point to get real-life feedback and interest from stylists or press, especially at fairs like Crafty Fox Market,” explains Patricia van den Akker from The Design Trust. See The Design Trust’s list of the best contemporary craft fairs and trade shows here.
Craft fairs are often attended by independent retailers or galleries looking for local talent, so if your stall and products looks great, you might pick up new stockists for your products. “I’ve been at fairs where I’ve sold virtually nothing and it is disheartening,” says Shelley Dukes from Lady Jukes. “But at the same fair I’ve been approached by a boutique wanting to sell my stuff, so in the long run I probably sold more. So now I just enjoy the atmosphere and try not to stress about what’s selling.” To increase your chance of getting stocked on their shelves, make sure you have a professional-looking business card to give to these scouts and bring along a retail price list or catalogue if you have one.
People might not buy on the spot either, often someone who has seen your work at a craft fair might buy from you days, weeks, months or even years down the line. “Our traders often report spikes in their online sales after a market,” says Sinead from Crafty Fox Market. “I’ve definitely had more sales after markets,” agrees Sasha DeWitt. “They contact me directly or find my online shop.” So make sure you hand out plenty of business cards or postcards with images of your work and a link to your Folksy shop.
It’s always nice to hear good things about your work and craft fairs offer a perfect opportunity for face-to-face feedback with real customers. “The best bit was when a (very scruffy but kind) man told me my work ‘wasn’t shabby’! Best compliment ever,” laughs Teresa from Shirley Rainbow. But even negative feedback can be useful. Although it can sting, try to approach it as a professional and analyse where your weak points are. Bear in mind that very low sales could be a sign that you need to rethink your products, your pricing or your display. Chatting to customers and stallholders will give you insights into how to improve things, what to change, what to let go of and as Fiona from Silk and Art told us in this post: “Not selling anything is not failure. See the bigger picture and take it in your stride. Evaluate and move on.”
Craft fairs are also a great chance to get feedback on ideas your working on – think of them as your own free focus group! Potter Ruth Robinson even asks visitors to vote on their favourite design using a blackboard hanging from her stand. This isn’t just a great way to see which products or variations are most popular, but it’s also a great talking point and a clever way to engage customers.
“Events like craft fairs are great as ‘stay-in-touch-marketing’ and profile building for your contacts, even if they live abroad,” explains Patricia van den Akker. As well as being a reason to get in touch with people and giving you something to talk about on social media, being part of an event demonstrates to your contacts, stockists and customers that you are active and part of a community of peers making and selling, and that you are working to build your following and fanbase. Stockists like to see this, as the bigger your fanbase the more confident they are about having your brand in their shop – they may even put in an extra order. (Just make sure you’re not doing a craft fair near their shop and undercutting them as that does not go down well!) An invitation could also be the nudge a journalist or blogger needs to contact you about a possible feature, project or article.
“Craft fairs are a good way to slowly build up your mailing list,” points out potter Katie Robbins aka Ceramic Magpie. “Sometimes you have to accept that people need to see your work a few times before they buy. So think about having a sign-up sheet on your stall and asking customers if they’d like to know when you’ll be at your next fair, adding new pieces of work in your shop or running special offers.
What’s your experience of selling at craft fairs. Do you always sell well or have you ever come back with no sales? What are the best and worst comments you’ve had from visitors? We’re always interested in how things have gone for you, so let us know your experiences and advice in the comments.
The quotes in this post come from a #folksyhour chat we held on Twitter about craft fairs. You can read the full chat here and join in with #folksyhour on Tuesdays between 8-9pm UK time. Read more about #folksyhour and see the topic schedule.