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Newbie advice: Are you NEW to doing fairs, and craft shows?  I bet you're

Singin’ the Newbie BLUES

We’ve had so many conversations recently, with recurring themes from newbies to the show route, I thought we should go over a few basic concepts: When your show is a bummer:

  • Is it your product, -or maybe your pricing?

  • Maybe it’s your display? see: Effective Display Techniques

  • Could it be that you’re at the wrong show?

  • Are you tooled up for business?  Can you take credit cards as well as cash and checks? Your ability to process credit cards will add at least 25-30% to your bottom line.  I saw a 50% increase when I was doing the show route, - you will be losing sales if you can't process plastic!

This is the season to get ready. Fall/Winter shows are money-makers. By that time you should know what you are doing! 

Wholesale shows are not for beginners! You can’t sell your product at wholesale shows until you know what every piece costs you to create, in materials, labor, packaging and overhead.


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OVERHEAD? Well, yes! Even though you work at home, you have overhead.   Electric, heat, water, etc. and long-distance telephone bills can be attributed to your business. These are indirect costs.
Other indirect costs: These go on whether you are actively engages in business, - or not.

Your liability insurance: If you buy coverage by the year, and you don’t do shows until May or June, you are still paying for January - April, when you are not working.

Your work space in your home, - your mortgage and taxes that pay for the whole house include your space, - and they roll on whether you are productive, -or not.

Direct costs include the cost of your equipment, which has a finite lifetime. If a radial arm saw lasts 10 years and costs $500, it actually costs you about $50 a year. Hopefully it will last 10 years without maintenance costs, - or replacement.

Supplies are direct costs: postage, envelopes, glue, stain. They all get used up in the normal course of doing business.


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Cost of materials: (Just because aunt Mary gave you 17 yards of pile fabric, free, from which you made 50 bears, - doesn’t mean you need not count the REPLACEMENT COST of the fabric in your calculations. That is the only way to price your work, as if you bought it at current prices, which leads us to another concept:
Wholesale: If you plan on making a profit, you must buy materials wholesale. You cannot buy them at retail prices and expect to come up with a price structure that is appropriate for your product and pays your costs, your labor, and provides a small profit.

Choosing shows: Many of you ask me to recommend shows. Choosing the right show for you often depends on your ability to define your customer:

WHO buys from you? Is it the young married couples who are choosing things for their home, or is it over-30 women from multi-income families who are working part/full time? (These were my customers when I did the show route.) Or is your customer the person at a fair with small children in tow, who splurges for impulse items, - toys or treats for the children?  Maybe it’s grandmamma who proudly buys treats, trinkets, and toys for her grandchildren.  She is retired, financially comfortable and loves to lavish loving and perhaps luxurious gifts on her grandchildren. These are upscale things she knows the children’s parents probably can’t afford to buy for them.

Grandma will often shop at a local juried show where she can find quality handcrafted work. She is looking for special treats for her grandchildren. She won’t balk at buying a velveteen jumper, hand-knitted sweaters and hats, a doll house or furniture for one, crocheted baby sets, etc. Each set of customers can be found at a different type show!

The young upward mobile couple would probably go to a furniture or decorating expo. The over-30 working woman wants to look nice at her job, and she would go to a juried show and pay a few dollars admission fee at the door. She expects no other distractions at the show, just quality handcrafted items juried and selected to create a balanced show.

She may be shopping for gifts, but will often splurge, using her credit card, for things she wants for her own use!

Couples with children are looking for entertainment: rides, magic or puppet shows, music, edible treats. With the children running around and over-excited, it would be difficult, if not impossible for the couple to focus on watercolor paintings for their living room, or a nice, fairly expensive, hand-made silver bracelet while the children are tugging on their hand, “Want another pony ride, Mommy!”   These are people who will buy low-cost impulse items to keep the children entertained, toys, tee-shirts or other low-cost clothing items, food, etc.

Define your customer, and it’s easier to choose the right shows for your particular product. All shows are not equal!

When you network with other people about the shows, they may tell you this show, or that show was just great! You go to that show and barely cover the cost of your space. Why is that?  They had a different product than what YOU have!

Initially, all other things being equal, and if there was good foot traffic at the show, - people walking around with bags of purchases, - but you had a bum day, what went wrong here?

Maybe you’re at the wrong show - as defined above, - or you haven’t developed your display. Your display should be more than a flat table top.  Bring your products up closer to your customers eyes!  Make use of several different levels of display.  Think of stair-steps. Buy special display helpers to raise your products up off the table top. Flat, all-on-one-level displays are not only boring, it’s a confusing landscape. Customers don’t see anything particular. Nothing stands out; individual products are just kind of lost in the mass. For more information on creating an effective display, see: www.Smartfrogs.com/display8.html

Maybe your products are not priced right. If all your products are $120 and up, what is there for someone to buy who loves your work but is on a budget?   Ideally, you should have a range of prices. That way, the magic of the product that attracted them to your space can be purchased for a fraction of the price, because you have lower-priced items in the same media. No doubt they’ve lost their hearts to that special item, but now they are in your booth-space, seriously looking for something they can afford! If they can walk away with that little reminder of the larger, more expensive product, you have made their day!  If you tucked your business card and a show schedule into the package, they may even look for you at a later date, prepared to buy again.

What if you have high-end contemporary products at a predominantly Folk or Traditional show? If the show is advertised as such, you may stand out like a sore thumb. If it is just advertised as a craft fair, you might be a breath of fresh air - there’s no way of telling for sure, but if I were running the show, and everyone else had traditional items, I would worry that you wouldn’t fit in, and might jury against you.

If possible, your price structure should start at under $20 for most shows. These are low-cost, quick-to-make items that are more ingenuity and skill than materials and labor. I call it a ‘widget.’ Everyone should have a widget in his product line.  Certainly, with a high-end product like batik, it might be difficult to come up with a widget to sell under $20, - but stretch your imagination and see if you can at least come up with something under $30, and another under $50. These are your bread-and-butter sales. They will pay for your space, while your larger, more dramatic (and expensive) items sell one here, and one there. Without sales of lower cost items, you cannot survive until you have made such a name for yourself that you can cheerfully pay $400-$500/space at shows, or more. At that point you’ll know that many of your expensive items will sell there. It comes with experience, and keeping track of what sells, - and tracking trends!

I tell newcomers to restrict their shows to no more than about $100+/- per space for the first several shows until they get their display down pat and they start to see a pattern in what sells. That also means stay close to home. If you choose shows only an hour or two away, you can drive home at night and not incur motel bills. Those expenses deplete your bottom line. After you have done the show route for about a year or more, you may be justified in traveling farther and staying overnight - or not. It takes experienced insight to make that call. If you are tempted later on to do a very expensive show, there is still the problem of whether it’s the right show for YOU!

Take time to walk the show as a customer. Sometimes it means postponing your decision for a year, but walk the show and see what type of products are displayed, and see if your work belongs there - or not. If you see anything similar, is there much action at their space?

Every year, for the Spring issue, we publish color trends for the year. Look for the article in this issue to see what the color trends will be, - but also keep track of displays in your local stores, and scan decorating magazines. Although color trend predictions may say ‘grass-green’ and ’sky-blue’, these colors may arrive at their own schedule in your particular geographic area. Major cities see new trends first, and suburbia and rural areas see them later in the year.

When you start any job, you need the right tools. Beginning a business, you need a cash box, sales slips with duplicate copies, business cards, mini-flyers with your show schedule, wrapping paper, little gift jewelry boxes, sew-in labels for fabric items, - and the ability to process credit cards!

If you’re serous about being in business, make use of every sales opportunity. When you're starting a business, one of your most valuable tools is the ability to accept credit cards* (see side column.)   People spend all their cash, run out of checks, and wave plastic at you. You will lose sales if you can’t process their credit cards, so once your mind is made up to BE in business, prepare yourself to sell by taking advantage of every tool that helps you complete the sale.

Wrapping it All Up at the Shows.

Please don’t wrap your products in newspaper to protect them. After a few sales your hands will be full of printer’s ink, your products are wrapped like yesterday’s garbage, and although they are protected, it’s definitely not a class act!

If you have items that are large and fragile, you may need something with more body than tissue paper. Call your local PennySaver or local newspaper and find out if they sell newsprint on the roll. Normally you can buy it inexpensively and cut it to size before the show, so you have a nice stack of 20” x 30” (or whatever size you need) clean, white paper. For other things, buy a big stack of precut tissue paper at a paper wholesaler, (about $30) and you will have enough for many shows!

Jewelry belongs in boxes. For about 35 cents you can put your product in a specially-made box with your label on the bottom. Classy! Your Sunday paper color section usually has sources for return-address labels: gold, silver and clear. Put your name, phone number, email address and/or website on it, and you are preparing for return business.

Now that your products are wrapped and protected, put them in a nice bag, not a super-market bag!  If it’s a non-breakable item, buy clear see-through bags.3 Everyone can see your products as they are carried about, - and when someone asks “Where did you get that?” your customer will point in your direction. How nice! More sales!

What about future sales? Tuck your business card in with every purchase.  Better, - tuck in two! One for your customer, and one to share.  Show schedules: even if you only have two or three shows firmed up in your calendar, you can print out little 3” x 4” schedules, six on a page, and put a little pile on your table as pick-ups. Tuck one in every package, and you may see your customer at the next shows.

Prepare for business before the show, from your display to your wrap-up. After the show, collect your sales slips and make a chart to see what colors, styles and sizes are the most popular.

Take care of your paperwork!  Track your expenses and income. The simplest method is often the best: the DOME Weekly Bookkeeping System is a spiral-bound lay-flat book in which your bookkeeping is simplified. Buy it for about $12 in office supply stores and stationery stores across the nation. Twelve envelopes with the months written on them, tucked into your glove compartment will hold each month’s parking and toll receipts. Your end-of-month duty is to bring it in the house and enter them, along with other expenses, into your bookkeeping system. Keeping up to date is essential to your sanity at tax-time next year .

Talk about taxes, - you DO know that you must have a separate sales tax certificate for each state in which you sell your products, - right? (Unless the state has no sales tax.) Just more paperwork to keep track of - but you’re good about things like that!

You’ve heard it before, “The job isn’t done until the paperwork is complete.”

There simply wasn’t time to talk about all this when you called us to subscribe.html to Art & Craft Show Yellow Pages, so I thought I’d put these tips together, just for you!  Subscribe for tips, articles, and craft shows, fairs, festivals across the northeast: including CT, MA, NJ, NY, PA, DE, MD, VA, VT, - and more!  We provide great detailed information - find out more on subscribe.html.

Be well, enjoy what you do - and make money doing it!



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