Craft Fairs: How to survive the summer! (Or how to make the most of things and not burn any bridges)
By knittykittybangbang, Jun 10 2016 04:13PM
Firstly I need to say that this particular post is written from my own experience as a jewellery and gift seller whose customers are adults. If you sell food items or predominately to children, you may find things different.
Often people assume that the ‘quietest’ months of the year sales wise are January to March and in my experience of selling through craft fairs, this isn’t the case. For me, and a lot of people, the quietest months are May-July. This often shocks people and they get angry and frustrated, especially when they haven’t bothered with the earlier months as they’ve assumed there is no point.
When you’ve ignored the first quarter of the year, had high expectations of the summer, and are disappointed, of course that’s going to be frustrating. You’re probably (or not!) surprised to hear that as a market organiser I’ve even been physically threatened and intimidated during this period, something I put down to just this frustration and misunderstanding of how the year actually flows event wise, and they want someone to take it out on.
Now I could just say NO! BAD CRAFTER! NO! but I figure that it’s better to avoid the frustration in the first place, and save you burning bridges because realistically if you’re an arsehole in the summer, organisers ain’t gonna be offering you spaces at Christmas are they?
And as a market organiser, here’s a top tip for you, if you want a better chance of getting a spot at an over subscribed Xmas event, only applying for those events is a bad idea! Think about it this way. Come Xmas, regular visitors to events want to see the people they’ve browsed with through the year, they want to talk to the person who has greeted them with a smiley hello and whose product they know and have come planning to buy from. As organisers we would be fools to fill events with entirely brand new stalls at Xmas, not just for the customers, but also it would be ignoring those stallholders who have supported us throughout the year and who we know have a strong brand awareness for our customers because of that. Turning our backs on people who have been loyal customers to us, both event visitors and stallholders, would be really bad for business on our part.
Communities are different during the summer months: people go on holiday, children are home all day, tourists visit, students leave/return. Gala days, agricultural shows and other events and festivals spring up from nowhere. People have different commitments. Add to that the constantly variable weather and it makes summer somewhat more of an unknown quantity than other times.
That said, I believe doing the right events for you is still super important because (say it with me folks) IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT SALES ON THE DAY! During the summer you’re building contacts and brand awareness for later in the year, you’ve got greater opportunity to network and discuss ideas with other people in the industry, and definitely don’t forget that if you get your own marketing right, even the quietest day can be highly profitable.
Can’t be arsed with the quieter months? ‘Taking summer off’ sounds lovely but if you’re building/maintaining a business or brand awareness I think it’s a pretty bad idea. What do you think when a business just goes off the radar for 3 months? Most people assume 2 things – either they’ve stopped trading or they’re not serious. If they’re not serious then they’re less trustworthy or ‘not a real business’ hence don’t need to make any money. Being seen as untrustworthy will seriously damage your sales, and if people think it’s just a hobby to you then they’ll be less willing to pay real retail prices for your goods. For the sake of some slower days, I don’t think it’s worth it.
So what do you do about it? 2 things – choose your events wisely and bring in your own fans!
Choosing your events wisely
There are lots of events during the summer which advertise a massive footfall, but footfall does NOT equal sales. I’ve been at events where there have been tens of thousands through the door and people have had zero sales, and equally I’ve been at the quietest of events where I’ve made a packet.
You might be saying ‘ah but with thousands of people through the door, even if you don’t sell you’ll be getting to talk to loads of people about your product and building for the future’ (good! You've been paying attention. You get a biscuit) and this can be true, however if crafters are only really there to fill up space/make a bit extra for the cause then I’ve found that people just aren’t interested. Here’s an easy example – you’re a customer interested in a dog show, you’ve PAID to see a dog show, how much time are you expecting to spend talking about jewellery? How much money have you brought with you to spend on jewellery (after you’ve paid your entry fee and for your lunch)? And how much time will there be to look at stalls when there are activities/exhibitions/other stuff running throughout the event? Unless it’s an actual craft market or there’s a really concerted effort on the part of the organisers to make the crafts/stalls an absolutely integral part of the event and advertising, I just haven’t found there to be the interest. Sure I’ve had small impulse buys, even a lot of small impulse buys, but they’re not people who I generally see again or who buy more things, or who even recognise my ‘brand’ if I see them by accident again (they can usually name the event, which means I’ve helped to build their brand but not vice versa). If you’re a market type stall selling items 10 for a £1 these events can be great, but if you’ve got beautiful ‘craft’ items, they’re not so worthwhile.
For me also events with lots of children, or geared at children, are less worth while. Most money being spent is spent on the kids and parents don’t have the ability to spend time chatting with you as they’re also having to parent. With these, pay close attention to how the event is marketed. If the organisers are using you to fill up space rather than as an integral, important part of the day, think about it carefully.
Outdoor events bring their own considerations – Over and above weather, there is also alcohol and smoking to think about (and mud). If there’s a beer tent, there’s drunk people. In my experience most outdoor community type events such as agricultural shows have little to no visible security people. Generally it’s fine, but where there is alcohol, there are drunk people and incidents, as small as spills and as large as assaults, do happen. Factor this in when making your decisions. On smoking, if your items are fabric or paper and smoking near them could spoil them, how are you going to deal with getting someone to stop smoking near you when they’re not legally obliged to stop (and they’ve got a drink in them)? Where are they going to put you in relation to the food stands? Chips and fried onions (mmmm) are a great smell when you’re hungry, they’re a terrible smell stuck to a beautiful gift or an expensive scarf.
Ask yourself - who is my target market and will they attend this event? When choosing specific events that your target market will attend, think about things like -
-Will they have to pay to get in? If so, is the event something they’ll be prepared to pay to get in to? An example might be….if you sell dog collars it’s fair to assume your customers have an interest in dogs therefore they may be delighted to hear about you attending a dog show and will be happy to pay a fiver to get in as they have an interest in the event. If you sell Metalcore-y items, your target market are probably not going to travel in great numbers to and pay a pound to get into a church coffee morning, even if there is cake.
-Is parking or walking a long distance going to be a problem? For lots of outdoor and large events, parking may be very far away from your stall. If mobility is an issue for your key demographic (older people for example), including walking on uneven ground, then this might make you quiet.
-Will it be noisy? If you need to talk a lot to your customers or noise is going to be off putting, difficult or triggering for your fans, then loud events might not be your thing.
-Is alcohol an issue? Even if it isn’t for you, is it a problem for your demographic? Lone women, or families, may not be comfortable going somewhere they’re going to be surrounded by groups of drunk men.
Weather plays a HUGE part in summer events – if you’re outside and it’s a windy, wet or cold day it’s not going to be great, if you’re inside and it’s a boiling hot day (like…anything over 18 degrees, we are still in Scotland after all), it’s going to be quiet. The difference in the 2 being if you’re in the middle of a field in the rain, no matter how interested in your product people are, they aren’t gonna stand outside in the rain for it. If you’re inside however, if they are tempted by your stuff enough they might spend half an hour inside having a look. This brings us on to what’s really most important…
Bring in your own fans!
Even more so than with events at other times of the year, if you are adamant that you NEED to run a high profit at every single event, your best (and only) option is to cultivate your own following and increase your brand awareness (ie tell people about you!) The easiest way to do this is through a Facebook page or other social media most appropriate for your demographic (there are loads of options now but if you’re a beginner or short on time, Facebook is a good bet). I’ll do a post on beginners Facebook tips, but that’s for another day. Keeping mailing lists is also an excellent way to keep your fans updated.
Now I know it is of course the organisers duty to advertise the event, but they have to think of the event as a whole rather than specifically about you. They need to do what they can to get the maximum people through the door, and sorry love, but your product might not be it.
Choose events your fans will come to and tell them about them so they want to attend. Tell them as often as you can, and do it long enough before the day of the event so they can plan to come and attend. Telling your mainly local following that you’re going to be at a ticketed event 50 miles away 10 minutes before the event opens probably isn’t going to bring anyone in.
Think about how many sales you actually need to make it a good day and try to bring that amount of people in, wherever you’re going, whatever you’re doing. The number is probably very small isn’t it? If you rely on yourself to bring in enough people to cover your costs, anything you get from the actual event is profit.
UP YOUR GAME!
Come with a good attitude, a gorgeous display and your best fucking customer service.
Stay until the doors have closed, and be on your feet and smiling, chatting and being welcoming to every single person who comes near your space.
Do what YOU can to make the event the best it can be – create a good atmosphere, post photos on your social media, interact through twitter/instagram with people who are tagging as being at the event, or just have a good time with your fellow stallholders.
Follow every single bit of Selling at Craft Markets: Some Advice to Make it a Better Day.
And most importantly, don’t let any frustrations make you a jerk and affect your future earning potential.
Thank you Carolyn for the the time you took to write this post. I'm a newbie but realise that making and selling crafts is not the place to make quick big bucks. I'm looking forward to improving my craft making and selling skills. Every day is a school day.....
Excellent blog Carolyn as usual. A great deal of very relevant info. As a frequent exhibitor at outdoor shows in my former career all you say re the paying public is very true. Especially with families. They want to be entertained not sold to.! Better to attend a specific event geared to sales. THE SUNSHINE is a marketeers worst enemy. Keep the blogs coming they are greatly appreciated. Best clichés from Evelyntreasurefinder