When you ask yourself, what are the best selling crafts, what you're really trying to determine is what type of product will be most profitable (i.e. make the most money) for your business. It's a subtle, but extremely important distinction.
If you're going to look at craft income statistics, it's smart to look not only at gross sales (the total invoice value of sales before deducting any expenses), but also net income (your gross sales minus all business expenses).
The gross sales amounts for different types of craft businesses will tell you which are the best selling crafts, that is, who is selling the most in terms of dollars paid by customers.
The net income figures will tell you who is actually bringing home the most money once they've covered all of their expenses. These are not necessarily the same people.
If you work with several different types of crafts and are trying to determine which are the best selling crafts and, therefore, the smartest medium to focus on for your business, consider this list from the CODA Survey.
Gross Sales from Crafts (highest to lowest)
Net Income from Crafts(highest to lowest)
Please Note: The CODA Survey is dated, in fact, CODA doesn't exist as an organization anymore, but the craft industry is so rarely studied there isn't a lot of data out there. If you're interested, you can find links to more craft industry data here.
The craft industry has changes significantly since this study was published. We can't assume people who work with glass still have the highest gross sales, and people who work with who work with paper have the lowest gross sales.
However, we can still learn an important lesson about how to think about the profitability of your business from this chart.
Comparing the gross sales and net income figures is important because, not only do you want to sell your crafts, you want to sell them at a good profit that leaves money in your bank account. The gross sales will give you a good idea of what are the best selling crafts, but the net income completes the story, showing you which professional craft artists are taking home the most money at the end of the day.
Glass crafts are at the top of the gross income list; therefore, glass workers who participated in the survey had the highest gross sales of all craft workers. In other words, they had the most cash in their cash boxes at the end of a show.
This number, however, does not tell the whole story. Glass crafts are also on the top of the net income list, meaning that glass crafters also took home the most income once they subtracted expenses.
Comparing gross and net income gives you a clearer picture of profits than you would get simply by looking at the or gross income.
Leather crafts appear toward the bottom (number 8) of the gross income list, meaning that leather workers make less in gross sales than many other crafters. However, when you look at the net income list, you'll see that leather crafts are number 4 in the top net income earners.
That information tells you that although leather crafters may make less in total gross sales, they end up taking home more money after expenses than many other types of crafters who may sell a lot more but have higher operating expenses.
Although we're looking at an older list, there's every reason to believe these considerations hold true today.
Not everyone knows glassblowing or metalsmithing. They are skills that are not commonly held by the general public, so people don't look at these crafts and think, "I could do that myself." Potential customers value the skill involved in creating the craft, and if they want to own a particular item, they need to buy it.
Barriers to entry are factors that make it difficult for competitors to start a similar business. The best selling crafts require specialized equipment - few people have metalsmithing or glass blowing equipment sitting around their basement - or specialized training. These are not crafts you pick up quickly and learn in an afternoon, and that makes it harder for competition to enter the field and less likely for customers to think they could make an item themselves.
This factor makes their crafts more unique and less easily copied by competitors or the general public. Would-be competitors (or those lovely customers who like to think "I could make that myself.") would have to learn to work in and obtain tools and equipment for two different craft media in order to create similar items.
This need to master and maintain supplies and equipment for two or more crafts might also explain the lower reported net incomes for mixed media artists.
Paper is at or near bottom of both lists. The material is not valued in the same way as other materials. Although you may make some incredibly beautiful items that require a great deal of skill to create, if you work with raw materials that are not valued by the general public, you may struggle to make a good income.
This information is just one piece of the puzzle you need to solve when deciding on the direction of your craft business.
You should also choose to make items that are clearly well made and require a certain level of skill and proficiency. Develop your own look and identity and consider focusing on a specific niche that differentiates your products from others.
While it's smart to look at statistics and trends, don't get too number-bound. Assessing the best selling crafts as well as the most profitable crafts is smart before you launch your craft business; however, it's also important to work in a medium that you enjoy.
Whatever craft media you choose, you'll be working with it for a long time, so you need to choose wisely. If you choose something based partly on good business sense and partly on your passion for the work, you should easily find the motivation needed to sustain your business through challenges.
If you'd like to explore in-depth the best type of craft for your business, my course, The Best Craft Business for You, can help. It's a 19 day self-study course that starts with an exploration of over 250 types of craft skills, then guides you to choose a business that's in line with your skills and values. You can learn more about it here.
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