Assessing a Craft Show

How to Decide Which Shows to Attend

Not all craft shows are created equal, and, particularly when you're first starting out, it's often not realistic to attend them all. You need to do your best to choose the shows that will be best for your business.

Start With a List of Possible Craft Shows

First, make a list of the shows you might want to attend. 

Your local arts or craft association can be a great starting place to discover shows you might not already know about. Most crafts associations publish an annual craft show directory which is a great resource for finding shows. You won't find all of the shows in your area in a directory, but it's an excellent starting point.

Find the website for the closest crafts association in your area. There might be an arts association for your city, and there may be one for your state or province. Look for both, and then determine whether they publish a craft show directory. Many crafts associations publish their directories online, but you can check out your local library as well to see if they have current print copies of these directories.

Work through the directory, and make a list of any shows that interest you. This list is your first draft. You're just brainstorming at this point, so don't worry too much about assessing details of each show. You'll go through the list more carefully in a moment.

Once you've made a list of several shows in your area, you'll need some strategies to determine which ones will be worth your time, money, and energy. Here are a few considerations to take into account when choosing which craft fairs to attend.

Booth Fees

Booth fees can run anywhere from $20 for a table at a modest, local show to thousands of dollars at a huge, multi-day event. Keep in mind, you'll need to pay those fees well in advance of the show.

Your craft show directory will almost certainly list the booth fees for each show, so using a directory will be the fastest way to gather that information.

If your directory doesn't have all of the information you need to make an informed decision, you'll need to find that information on the craft show's website. Typically that information will be listed on the site under a link marked exhibitor information or vendor information. You may need to download the vendor application package to find the booth fees and other key information.

Look carefully at the entry fee for each show that interests you to assess whether a craft show fits within your budget. Determine whether the entry fee is straight commission (the promoter takes a percentage of your sales), a flat fee (you pay a specified amount for your booth space) or a combination of a flat fee and commission (the promoter charges a specified amount and also takes a percentage of your sales).

For flat fee craft shows, determine the average profit you make when you sell an item and then determine how many items you'd need to sell in order to make your booth fee back at a given show. Remember, each sale isn't pure profit, you'll need to subtract expenses like materials costs to determine what you really make when you sell an item. Ask yourself whether you feel it is realistic to expect you'll sell at least enough to break even, and, of course, ideally substantially more at the show.

Straight commission shows are not as common, but they can be less risky, particularly for those who are just starting out, because there is no initial cash layout. You will need to ensure you've priced your items appropriately to be able to make a profit while losing a percentage of the sale price to commission fees.

Shows that charge a combination of a flat fee and commission are trickier to assess. First, you'll need to determine how many items you'll need to sell just to make your booth fee, then assess how many items you'd need to sell to make what you feel is a reasonable profit once you subtract the commission from your profits.

Additional Expenses

Determine expenses you will encounter beyond your booth fees. If you need to drive a considerable distance to attend the show, take your fuel costs into account. Will you need to stay overnight in a hotel or at a campground? Will you be able to bring your own food or will you need to eat out?

Add up all of these expenses, and then add them on to your booth fee to determine how much it will cost you to attend a show. That's your magic number. That is, that's how much you'll have to make in order to break even at a show. Determine whether you think it's reasonable to expect to sell that much, and more. 

Distance to the Show

While you're thinking about travelling to shows, ask yourself how far you're willing to travel to attend a show. Do you want to stick to local shows in your community, or are you open to the idea of travelling and perhaps staying overnight in a hotel to attend a multi-day show or a show that's quite far from home?

Your need to travel will depend on your business goals and the number of good craft shows in your area. If you live in a city with a few fantastic shows, there may be no need to travel far to find a few great shows. If there aren't any good shows nearby, you may need to commit to some travel if you want to sell at craft shows.

Customer Attendance

Determine how many people attended the show in previous years. The bigger the attendance, the better chance you have of making more sales.

The organizers of better shows will be able to provide attendance information for you, and that data might even be provided right in your craft show directory. If the information is not in the directory, check the show's website.

Vendor Attendance

Determine how many vendors will be there, and specifically try to get a sense of how many vendors who sell items that are similar to your own will be there.

If you work in a fairly competitive medium such as painting or jewelry making, and you attend a show in which the organizers have not limited the number of vendors in each category, you could be up against some pretty stiff competition. I've seen juried shows that were about 45 percent jewelry, 45 percent painting and 10 percent other items. Those ratios make for tough competition.

Of course, if your items are truly special or you fill a very specific niche, your business will always stand out from the competition, but the more vendors in your category, the more difficult your job becomes.

You can usually check out what craft artists attend a show by checking the show's website. Organizers will typically list the previous year's vendors on their site. This research will give you an idea of the mix of products represented at a show.

While you're looking at other vendors who have attended a show that interests you, you can dig a bit deeper. You may also be able to find those craft artists online and check out their work and their prices. That research will give you a general idea of the quality and price range of work represented at a show, and you can then determine if your own work is a good fit with that quality and price point.

Other Benefits to Attending a Show

Of course you want to make a profit, but there can be benefits to attending a craft show in apart from just making money. Consider whether attending a show will provide other benefits that will make the experience worth your time. Will you get opportunities to network with other craft artists? Will a smaller show help you gain experience that may help you get accepted into bigger, more competitive shows?

In general, consider whether you feel the show will provide opportunities to learn and develop new ideas, strategies and business contacts strategies to grow your business.

Show Policies

Determine the show's policy on vendors selling items that are not handmade in your country. It can be challenging and frustrating to compete with a neighbor who is selling cheap, mass produced items.

Opinions of Other Craft Artists

Talk to other craft artists. Networking is a powerful business success tool. Ask other professional craft artists about shows in your area. If you're selling at a show, strike up a conversation with the person in the next booth during a slow period. Ask for their opinions about the shows they've done.

Ask about shows on craft forums, or look up a show's social media pages and see if you can gather any useful information there. For the more well known craft shows, you may be able to find at least a couple of people who are able to tell you about their experiences with a specific show.

DEtermine the Focus of the Show

Determine whether crafts are the main focus of the show. Are there a lot of other activities going on that could pull customers aways from the craft booths? For example, people who attend a show that is primarily a music festival with a few craft booths along the street will normally be in less of a buying frame of mind than people who attend a show that is primarily a craft show.

Check Out The Show in Person

Assessing a craft show

Attend the craft show the year before if at all possible. This kind of research does require some advance planning, but it can be well worth your time. You'll get a sense of the crowds at the show, the quality and types of vendors and the quality of organization of the show. You'll also have opportunities to talk with some vendors about the show and you'll be able to assess whether the nature of the show is a good fit for your items.

You'll also be able to determine whether the items at the show are priced within a range that is similar to your own price range and if other vendors' products are of high quality that will reflect well on your own work.

Although you can do some of this research online by checking the show's website as well as the websites of artists who attended the previous year, there's nothing like attending the show yourself as a customer to get a feel for it. Again, it's not always possible because it requires so much advance planning, but if you are just getting started, do make a point of attending as many shows as possible as a customer so you'll have a sense of the quality of shows in your area.

Make Your Final List and Note Important Dates

Once you've completed your research, it's time to finalize the list of shows you want to apply to. Keep in mind, you may not be accepted into all shows, particularly if your business is new, if you work in a competitive category, or if you're applying to some competitive shows.

In addition to listing the shows you want to apply to for the upcoming year, make a separate list of shows you might want to apply to in the future. Perhaps, for example, you'd like to start out doing a few smaller shows, or shows in your local area, but your plan is to expand and do larger shows, or shows that require some travel once you have a little more experience.

Note the application deadlines for each show you'd like to apply to. Get this information directly from the show's website. Do not rely on your craft show directory for this crucial information. I have seen mistakes in directories that would cause people to miss important deadlines. Always go directly to the orignal source for crucial information like application deadlines.

Next, note the dates for shows you'd like to apply to in the future. Put them in your calendar, and make a commitment to visit as many of them as you can over the coming year as a customer. Assess each show, and learn as much as you can, so you'll be ready to apply to those shows in the following year.

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