When I was young, my mom got into tole painting. She'd spend all year making piles of gorgeous wooden ornaments and signs that my dad had painstakingly cut out, and together they'd hit the craft show scene later in the year. I loved tagging along to see all the different things people made, and when I started my business it made perfect sense to follow in her show shoes and set up my own booth.
I sold at craft shows for 6 years before taking a break when my kiddo was born (and thanks to covid, that break has been extended until who knows when). Even though I'd had the luck of seeing my mom as a vendor, it still took a while for me to learn these things on my own. And now I share them with you!
1. Booth layout matters.
You'd think this would be a relatively easy thing to figure out – until you need to fit three 6-foot tables into a 10×10 space. The easiest layout is the standard tables-against-the-walls, but I’ve had greater success with a funky layout that allows shoppers to wander around the tables. One of my annual shows has a sidewalk behind the booths and once I opened up the back wall (duh) I had many more visitors.
Also, those DIY display boards? Great for hiding a workspace and gear (and the husband, who is fantastic with setup but wants nothing to do with sales).
This was my first ever booth. I was just starting out and didn’t have much stock so the two-table setup worked okay, but not great. (Those table legs, yikes.)
My first indoor show – I don’t know what I was thinking! Trying to be too creative backfired, and I was stuck either behind a board or with my face in the sun, darn window.
Then I figured out that the back wall should be open to traffic. The table layout worked really well and I had lots of happy comments on it, though getting out was kind of a pain. Also I couldn't keep an eye on my front table, or greet people, or see much of anything... great for my introvert self, not great for a craft show. (That's me, definitely not trying to hide.)
This is my current favorite indoor setup for (very) small booths. Most of my items can be shown and there’s actually still some tablecloth showing!
And my current favorite outdoor setup. Laters, side wall.
Practicing the booth layout is a great idea! Before the craft show season starts, I take over the living room for a whole day and mess around with different layouts and setups. Once things look good, I take photos from different angles. On show days, you don't often have a lot of time to set up so it's great to have a game plan and reference photos so you can be all set up and ready to go by opening time.
2. Crafters are fun to watch! Leave some room to work.
I tried to fill every inch of space in my first craft show, and ended up outside my booth in the hot sun and surrounded by gear. If you bring crafts to work on during the show, make sure you leave enough room to work and to be seen working. Shoppers are usually interested seeing a craft in progress, which can lead to some great conversations.
My husband added these awesome storage shelves behind my display boards after about a year, which really helped clear the area.
Bonus: if it's a slow show, at least you've got some things made!
3. Get creative with displays.
Change the tabletop arrangement around a bit if your items aren’t getting the attention you thought they would – even during the show itself. I really enjoy analyzing shopper movement; I’ll watch nearby booths to see how people interact with the space and setup and take notes for the next show.
Most of my crafts either take up a lot of space (individual cards in a billion designs) or are awkward to display (looking at you, bunting). My husband and I designed and built two card display boards, and while they do take up some room they’ve been really useful (see above about hiding husband at shows).
Last year we added bunting displays and card baskets. And since these pictures were taken, we've added hanging hooks to the undersides of those shelves for more display options. I think I drive him a little crazy with all the new ideas, but he’s a trooper. And one super handy DIYer.
Bunting is hard to explain to people, and harder to display. One year I hung a bunch of strings across the inside of the easy-up and ended up selling more than I expected. Sweet!
I also like to bring along an album full of custom orders for people to browse through. Whenever I get a custom order, I make one extra to keep and pop it in. One year I displayed a few custom orders so people could see them as they walked by. It got a lot of interest, but because it was a breezy day they kept falling down and ended up being quite a pain. Bit of a fail there.
4. Anticipate common questions.
I absolutely love making things, but I definitely wasn’t born to do sales. I usually panic just a little bit when a salesperson comes charging at me. But I love crafting, and I can talk about that all day. Since shoppers like to know the important things – price, current deals, what’s inside the package – it’s good to have answers to the most common ones displayed around the booth. This helps my introverted self not freak out whenever someone asks me a super hard question, like “how much is this card?” (I still suffer from serious pricing guilt, but that’s another post).
This was an autumn show, so you know… pumpkin everything.
I also keep a notepad nearby to note any questions I can be more ready for next time. Granted, there are some that you just can’t prepare for. The most random question I’ve ever been asked, at a show in a town an hour from where I lived: “I once saw this beautiful painting by a local artist in a shop near here, back in the 70’s. Do you have a card with that on the front?” Um, no. But thanks for asking!
Side note: I had to make this sign quickly for a show full of mass-produced trinkets and resellers, even though the show’s history had been local and handmade crafts. If you’ve ever done a craft show with your own work, that feeling of sitting between two booths of, well, not handmade and maybe more than a little mass-produced items, is not fantastic.
5. Be up for a little bargaining.Sometimes people associate an outdoor market with haggling. As a crafter you feel you’ve put your heart and soul into each piece, and most likely hours setting, worrying over, and adjusting prices. Of course it’s hard to hear someone offering to pay less! And you’ve got every right to stick to your pricing.
6. Bring serious nibbles.
Nothing kills a craft show like the hangries. I like to bring stuff like almonds, goldfish crackers, grapes or chopped apples - bite-sized things. And chocolate or candies, because you need a lil’ something for being on your feet all day.
Crumbs and gooey things are not your friends on show days. Likewise, you don’t want a sandwich hanging out of your mouth when a potential customer wants to chat about your work. Grab stuff you can graze on all day.
(I’m not gonna post a picture of food here. We’ll just get hungry.)
7. Be prepared to forget something.
8. Don’t give up.
One lousy show can be from anything – the crowd, the selection of vendors, the weather, the economy, etc. Some people come for a main event or to see their friend's booth, and only window shop. It can be a real bummer to smile hour after hour as people glance your way and keep walking.
See that “62 days until Christmas” sign? I thought it might convince shoppers to look at my collection of Christmas cards in October. It did not. I sold only a handful, but nearly everyone who walked past commented on the sign. It ended up being the highlight of the day, constantly hearing people exclaim “that CAN’T be right!” and chatting about how fast the year is going. And, I got a couple dozen offers to purchase the sign.
I didn’t sell as many Christmas cards as I hoped, but the following year I brought a lot more autumn-themed items which did much better.
Sometimes the best-laid plans at home don't always translate into successful show sales. Take notes, brainstorm, and walk around to see what other vendors are doing that is working.
Having said that...
9. Be you.
"Comparison is the thief of joy" is a popular saying these days. It’s easy to look at successful booths and want to copy what they’re doing so you’ll get that success too. But if you do you, then people will see the personality in your work. And that can go a long way.
The jars, suitcase, and basket are all from my wedding. Now I use them to decorate my booth space. Seeing them reminds me of one of my most favorite days, and it helps give my booth a bit of a theme. And I just really love those flowers.
Business cards aren’t typically vertical, but after about a thousand changes to my cards I finally fell in love with this layout. (And that bunting was designed for our wedding invitations. I think I’m a bit obsessed.)
10. Stand up.
This was last thing I learned - and seriously the most simple. And you know what? My sales tripled.
Thanks for reading! If you want to share what you’ve learned, had a crazy craft show experience, or have a question, leave me a comment below.