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A guide to your first craft fair by Particle Press

Fiona Leighton on
A guide to your first craft fair by Particle Press

What do you need to know about selling your wares at a craft fair? Here are my top tips, prompted by some questions from my lovely friend Tabitha of Mable and Rose and some extra questions from my lovey Instagram followers.....

Firstly, taking part in your a craft fair may feel like daunting prospect, and may keep you awake at night with worry. Will I sell anything? Will I have enough stock? Will people like my work?! I have been taking part in craft fairs for the last 5 years, and I actually get very excited at the prospect! One of the greatest things about fairs, are the people I meet - other designer makers, the independent stockists, and of course the customers. The social aspect of fairs is a winner for me, and of course selling some products is nice too!

I will start with my first craft fair experience, which was at Truman Brewery in London. (This is not to put you off, but just to give you a heads up!) I remember being so nervous, making stock like a crazy lady, working out display and transport logistics - all very understandably stressful things to think about! To cut a long story short, I think I made about £30. All in all, it was a really disheartening fair. What I learned, was not to be disappointed by my efforts. It was a badly organised event. I never let it put me off, and the second event that I attended was overwhelming, so don't give up!

So, my first piece of advice is, choose your events carefully. Everyone will have a different experience at a craft fair, some people will do really well, and some people won't, but choosing the right place for your customers is key, so do some research first. The best way, is to go along if you can, and see who is exhibiting. Does your brand fit in with the standard of the work? Check if the price points are similar to yours, is it a very high end show, or is it a show where they are selling cheap plastic toys? You will know as soon as you enter! If you fancy, you could always chat to a few friendly looking stall holders, it is worth just asking!

If you have creative friends that live in your area, ask them which ones they recommend. Local events can be awesome. Building up a local following is really important to build community, and meeting your fellow makers is key to making really great friends. These are the people that will give you tips, and help you along your way, but most importantly, they also make events fun!

Down here in Cornwall there are lots of really well organised events. Personally I don’t take part in any craft fairs, unless they are at Christmas time. I find the extra effort with stock and then childcare doesn’t make it worth while.  But thats just where I am just now. Being involved, putting a face to the buisness, and getting yourself out there is really important.

Images - Native Makers, Plymouth

How do you know how much to make?
Generally, it depends on the price. I think it is good to have lots of stock with a little something for everyone. People are usually there to shop, so its good for them to have lots to look at. If it is something worth £50 and over, I’d say you only really need one or two of that particular product. For me, with cushions and lampshades retailing around this price point, I only ever have one or two of each deisgn. Mainly as they dont fit in the car! As the price point is higher, I find individuals might really like it, but might have to go away and think about it. It is a great idea to give your business card to them at this point! If more than one person has expressed an interest, but it has gone by the time they get back, it means that it is more sought after, and its worth making sure you are set up for taking orders. Make it as easy as possible for them to place their order! I always have a clipboard to take details. Take the customers name, address, email and telephone. I would take payment there and then, make sure you let them know how long it will take, and give them a receipt and business card. I usually offer free delivery at a fair, but this is up to you.

If a product sells for more like £5 or less, I'd always have at least 20. It is always hard to tell, but if you have the space, then always take a little bit more than you think! I sometimes store extras in my car if it is nearby! You should usually have a good idea what is popular if you have an online shop.

Sometimes if I have old stock, or stock that I’d like to clear, I will offer special discounts or a sale box. Obviously you need to consider this carefully as you don't want it to be to the detriment of your brand, and its definitely not right for everyone, so don’t sell yourself short. I often sell end of line items off at a discount.

Payment. Cash, Card, Paypal or all?

Personally I just take cash and I have a paypal reader. The reader connects to my smartphone via Bluetooth, but you need an internet connection to transmit and receive the data. ( sometimes tricky in Cornwall!) Transactions are processed in the Paypal app on your smartphone and customers use the card reader to enter their details. It is very simple, and there are lots of different readers around, but the paypal reader links to my business paypal account, and payment is instant, minus the fees. Other readers to look in to are izettle, Sqaure or Sumup. I do really recommend getting one if you think you will continue your craft fair journey. Since using one, I have found that my sales have inceased dramatically. Cutomers are more likely to spend more with you if they have the option to pay by card, and as we embrace the contactless 'tap' it has made it much easier to spend money!

Remember and keep a list of the sales so that you can remember what you have sold when in comes to doing your tax return, and this really helps when restocking for your next event and knowing what was most popular.

How much time would you give yourself to set up?
Most fairs will let you set up in advance, but if you find yourself doing it on the day, I’d say 1- 1.5 hours is just right! You don’t want to be too stressed, and sometimes fairs have queues outside the venue, so you must be ready to trade when they open! It's a good idea to measure out your space in advance, and try your set up before you go. This will give you a good idea of how much you will need to bring too, as you might not have enough to fill your table, and it will make your space look coherent. It is a good idea to pack your car the night before. It is also good to print out any information you have been given by the event organisers, and make sure you know the set up times and how to get there!

Any tips on stand displays?

Having the time to play with display is fun, and finding props from around your house for display is something I’m always doing! You can be very creative with your set up, and its a good idea to choose things that reflect you brand. Remember and find out if a table and chair is included, I have turned up to an event before expecting a table, and there wasn’t one! Make your stand inviting, try and use a bit of height if possible. The old saying ‘ The eye line is the buy line’ is quite true.  This will get their attention and make it easy for customers to see all your items. It also means that you can have more on display. There are lots of creative ideas on Pinterest.

To gift wrap or not to wrap?

I try and wrap things if I have the space, sometimes it is quite tight around the back of a stall! Remember and take all possible packaging for each product. I take cardboard, corrogated card, brown paper, and paper bags. I have found that event organisers are very keen for exhibitors to cut out plastic this year, which I think is fantastic!

If you can, wrap up purchases in pretty paper or pop them in a nice bag with a business card, or perhaps a card all about you and your business. I have found that people like to know a bit about you, and if they are giving your product as a gift its a nice thing to pass on. It shows the person who made it, and I think that is more special. Buying handmade is better…so it is important to make them feel special.

I screen print my paper bags, and I find that people really love it! Your brand is more likely to be noticed by customers walking around the fair…. It is like free advertising!

The lovely @leahandlibby asked:

An attractive but practical way of displaying prints? Whats the best way to display them clearly and attractively without adding a whole load of equipment?

Last Christmas I only had one print in my print range, so I displayed it, framed in an easel. I then had the prints available to buy, rolled in tubes behind the stand. A print rack is a great idea for flicking through if you have one, and they are normally collapsable, which makes stacking in the boot of your car easier. Another possibility is to get a wallpapering table and drill two holes in either side, big enough to fit two copper pipes. You can then put up a washing line style string between the two poles and hang your prints with pegs or bulldog clips. Another idea is a folding peg board, that you can hang prints on. There are lots of creative ideas around, and Pinterest is a great place to start looking.

I luckily have a very talented friend who made me a stand last year. I designed a stand which is like a Russian doll. It all stacks in to itself, and it can then be built up like a giant jenga! Being creative with your display is very important, pretty displays will make people stop and take notice…trust me!


Another very valid quation from @heather.duffin:

How do you set a price which reflects your time that people will buy?

I think this is one of the hardest questions! Firstly, I would say that you have to value yourself and your time, and this also goes back to choosing the right market to show at.  Decide on a price that you would ideally like to get for something, and try and stick to it. Again, it depends on the types of market that you show at, but you want to also be competitively priced with other makers too. If you are showing at a fair where exhibitors are taking themselves seriously, you shouldn’t be under selling yourself. You should never be giving anything away, or working for £1 an hour. Even if you do love it! The people that gasp at the price are just not your customer, and obviously don’t value the item. To help you out with costing out your prodcuts, use this very handy calculator.

Do I need Insurance?

Yes! Having your own public liability insurance is a must if you are showing at a public event. It isn't as daunting as it sounds, and it musn't put you off! I have always used the insurance offered through the A-N magazine. If you join as a member, which is great anyway, as you get aceess to lots of helpful information, then you are automatically covered by their 5 million PPL and PL policy. You have to fill out a few forms, and then you can download your certificate.  Make sure that this is the right policy for you, but the support team is very helpful if you are finding it hard to navigate.

A few extra things......

Be aware of application deadlines. Some may open as early as June or July for Christmas Fairs. Be aware that you will need some good quality photos of your products, and a recent image of your stand at a previous fair. If you don’t have this, as its your first, its really important to submit good quality, well lit product photographs. It is also important to have instagram/facebook/twitter for your business too.

Remember and display your buisness name! It sounds obvious, but I have come away form fairs before thinking.... I loved that work, but i have no idea what their name was! I have my shop name printed on my stand, but there are lots of affordable sinage out there including lazer cut vinyl, wood or acrylic. Or even a paper banner hanging down at the front of your table.

I always try and make my prices clearly visible. Sometimes customers are too scared to ask how much things cost incase it is too much, or it is not what they are expecting to pay. Large, easy to read pricing works best.

Business cards are a must!  Shoppers might not be able to purchase from you there and then, but you need to make it easy for them to order later.  I very often get contacted further down the line when a customer is ready for a lampshade or cushion for their newly decorated house…or it might be their wifes/mums/sisters birthday! You also never know how far that little card could go, it might fall in to the hands of a shop owner!

Be welcoming, don’t hide away behind your stand and not talk to anyone. You don’t have to engage in conversation with everyone that stops by, but a polite hello is all you need. This will help you gauge if they are interested or not! I never like the hard sell, and I find it aqward at fairs too, but its lovely to meet people, and you never know, they might just part with their cash, and that is very satisfying!

These tips are based on my experience from attending craft fairs here in Cornwall, and everyones experience will be different, depending on your product or where you are in the world. A lot of it is trial and error, and after you have the first one under your belt, you will feel much calmer. Good luck if this is your first fair, I wish you all the best, and I hope someone goes away with one of your products in a bag! Hand printed or not!

A short checklist of things that might come in handy!

Insurance- I use AN magazine
Cardholder-PayPal, Izettle....
Bag of change £1 coins & £5 notes are essential, usually carry a float of £30-50
Money box
Phone and cardholder charger
Business cards/ promotional material
Mailing list sign up sheet
Stationery essentials - pen, notebook for taking orders, tape, Velcro tape, string, pegs
Packaging. No plastic this year...
Pack lunch
Layers of clothes, as sometimes its cold, and sometimes it is very hot!

My talented friend Melanie Chadwick has put together a short film asking stallholders for some craft fair top tips at a lovely fair down here in Cornwall.

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