Friday, April 12, 2013

Getting ready for the craft show season

Hello! If you're like me, you're looking at the new spring craft shows and getting ready to showcase your handiwork. Maybe you've done it a zillion times! But if you're a newbie, the whole thing can be a little daunting. This post is for you. This is a general guide; as you do more shows, you'll find out how to customize this guide to uniquely fit you.

So you know about a craft show near you, and think you'd like to try your hand at selling your handcrafts. What's first? And then what?

First, contact the show management and ask for an application. Get your app in on time so that you don't get shut out. Deadlines are usually firm, but occasional shows will allow a little grace period. The best thing to do, though, is adhere to the deadline and reply in a timely manner.

Here's what the management will probably want: Your application completely filled out, pictures of what your product looks like, and a check for the amount of the booth fee (sometimes a deposit is required, but usually they want the complete amount). On juried shows, a group of people (a jury) will look at what you offer and decide if you are up to their standards. They will often have a rule that limits the number of booths of one kind, for instance jewelry. This is where it's important to have really good photos. The better your photos, the more likely you'll be looked at as a serious crafter who takes pride in your work. (I never worry about whether or not a show is juried, actually. I get my application in as early as possible and then let the chips fall as they may. Thus far, I've not been shut out of a single show.)

One of my primitive toys that can represent several toys is shown above. Since I sell unique toys (1 of a kind), I can't guarantee that what is in the picture is one of the actual items I'll have with me. Therefore, I let a good photo of a general type represent several items.

Your business license number will be required on your application, so if you're not yet registered in the city where you craft, get that done before anything else. You won't be allowed to show without this essential piece of paperwork.

Now that you've sent in your application and the required photos, don't just wait for the notice that you've been accepted. That often comes just days before the show actually starts, so you'll want to start getting ready before you know if you've been accepted or not.

Let's assume your first show is a small, outdoor one (this will be stated on the instructions that come with your application). You'll want to consider where the show is being held. It's wise to have a market umbrella or canopy to take with you, to shade you and your products (and your customers, too) from the sun and help protect from rain. (Take along some plastic sheeting to cover your display if it rains.) Some shows do not allow canopies, which are a pretty major investment anyway. A market umbrella can be bought for under $200 (with the stand). Get the widest one you can afford. It's well worth the extra cost!

The other major investment will be in tables and tablecloths, although any table can be used, so long as it fits into your booth dimensions. Card tables can be used, although they tend to be a little low and sometimes not very steady. It's best to have a sturdy folding table either 4' or 6' long. You might actually use both. (I do.) Your tablecloth can be anything that completely covers your table down to the floor on at least three sides. Sheets work well for that and are available in a wide variety of solid colors for not too much money. I cover mine on all four sides, but many people like to have the back open for easy access to boxes stored underneath (that's where you'll keep extra stock, your cooler, etc.). Just be sure that they can't be seen from the customer's point of view.

Do you need electricity to your booth? The availability of electricity should be stated in your instructions as well. If it is available, just be sure to bring along a very long, outdoor extension cord, as that will not be  provided and the box for the electricity may be pretty far from your booth.

Now you'll want to pack your props. These include everything from boxes to act as risers to raise some of your stock, up to furniture, to mirrors. These are those things that are the backdrop to your crafts. Think about a store window and arrange your stock so that it is shown to the best advantage.

Take inventory of your stock before you load up and after the show, too. This will help you know if you are carrying enough to the show, or perhaps don't need quite as much as you brought. You will want to have some understock so that you can fill holes as you sell items from your booth, but not so much that it is cumbersome to tote around. After a few shows, you'll have a pretty good idea what to bring. Your inventory will also help you understand which of your designs are selling, and which are not. Crucial as you plan your production.

You also will need to pack comfort items for yourself and anyone helping you. Take along a cooler filled with drinks and snacks, and perhaps sandwiches if you don't want to buy your lunch. (Not all shows sell food.) Don't forget to bring chairs, one for each person working the booth. I have found the director's chairs that you see at all sporting events to be the best, as they fold up and are carried in bags made to hold them. Another comfort item you might consider is a battery-operated fan. (The weather where I am hit 106° last summer!)

Think about placing a nice notebook on your table so that people can sign your "guest book." You can use it to develop an email list or mailing list. Offer a prize for guests to sign your book, too. That nearly always works to get browsers to sign up for your newsletter.

Display your signs (prices, info, etc) tactfully and be sure to include your business cards. Take along your packaging materials, too, whether that is
bags or boxes and bubble wrap. (Hint: tuck a couple of business cards in each package. You'd be surprised how much that single promo can help!)

I always pack my car up the night before, so that I'm not rushed and apt to forget something as I hurry to get to the notoriously early check-in times.

Next week we'll look at setting up your display.

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