Planning your first craft sale event?
If you're new to taking your independent brand to fairs, markets & pop ups, you've probably done a ton of googling for tips and guidelines about what to take, how to display everything, what to expect. There's loads of info out there - so by the time you're reading this, hopefully you have a clear idea of your plan of attack ♥
Pre-covid, NoBooksOnTour.com did around 100 events each year, all over the country, from wee village halls, to international home shows and some of the biggest shopping centres and annual shows on the go. I glean something new from every single pop up I do - the variety of venues, different organisers & visitor, makes for a very dynamic beast!
Here's a few things I tend to mention when someone asks me about doing their first few events, plus some I wish someone had told me at the start.
• things like price your goods clearly, display things neatly in a way that encourages browsing, at least smile and say hello when some one approaches, have plenty business cards with you etc - I'm going to assume you've already read those kinds of tips a hundred times. All really important, too! But here's more things, which you might like to take in to account:
• it's weirdly standard to never meet the organiser on the day. It's so strange. This event could have been weeks or months in the making, and you've fired emails back and forth. I remember going to one event, pure buzzing to meet the organiser, who'd been so friendly and chatty via email. It was only as I was packing up at the end of the day, that I realised the organiser was even there - but they'd not so much as said hello to me in real life. As the years have gone on, only a small handful of organisers have been there at set up time, to meet, greet and organise. Just the way it is *shrug* That's why I say it's so beneficial to make a point of speaking to fellow stallholders, both before and during each fair.
• assume that your display will be restricted to the top of a 6' table. Even if you're not, it's good practice for the future - the larger the event, the more regulations there will usually be. No point getting used to being spread out with extra display stands etc, unless you're willing to pay a premium for that extra space, down the line.
• most craft fairs are pretty short days - I'm not saying don't take snacks, I am asking if you REALLY need to pack that picnic that most guides suggest, when you may only have 3/4 hours to connect with customers.
• but water/tea/bru/juice is imperative. It's hard work, setting up for an event, and if it's busy, you'll be talking constantly.
• Ask. ask, ask, ask. Ask anything and everything. Remember that when you pay your money to any event organiser, you have now become their customer. They owe you as much support and service as you give your own customers. Prepare to be constantly surprised at how little communication and guidance you'll receive from most organisers.
• Ask - often you'll be told the time, date & venue. But your set up will feel far less daunting if you ASK...where are you expected to unload? Where are you expected to park? Which door should you access the venue? Often front doors are a no no for traders - but if you go to the wrong fire escape, you might end up carrying your stuff far further than you need to.
• Ask - don't be shy to message other makers/traders. I don't know of any established maker 'on the circuit', who doesn't regularly and happily help keep newbies right if they drop them a line.
• get a trolley. Unless you can comfortable carry your entire display & stock in in two trips (In which case, I'm jealous!), please, please get yourself a trolley. You will be carrying things much further than you anticipated. Your stock is heavier than you think. Your table is a pain in the ass. Your back is not a tool to be messed with.
• taking a partner of friend for moral support is understandable - and certainly for setting up and breaking down, it's a real treat hehehe But be aware of the pitfalls. It can be a block to getting your work head on. A craft fair is a unique opportunity to not only meet customers and sell to them face to face, but also to meet other business people in the same kinda field as you. If you have someone keeping you company, your natural good manners will always have one eye on them - and both eyes need to be fully focused on your visitors. Often, potential customers won't even approach a stall with 2 people on, as THEIR natural good manners don't want to interrupt your conversation - what ever you do or don't do at an event, it's vital to remain visibly open & ready to chat to guests. In quiet spells, if you're alone, you will get more of a chance to chat to your stall neighbours, and they'll be far more ready to chat to you, if you're not already with a friend. It's these conversations where you'll learn the good, the bad and the ugly about other events which may be a good fit for you!
• you're not there to make friends, you're there to make money. But somewhere along the line, you'll make both.
• if you're not there to make money, please don't declare that to all and sundry. Some/most/all of your fellow stallholders WILL be there to make money - for many of us, this is our full time job and only source of keeping a roof over our heads. We get it, it's your side gig, and that's completely and utterly fine, good on ya! But be mindful of your being 'happy to cover your table fee', would be an utterly disastrous day for many of those around you.
• ASK - ask your fellow stallholders if they can tell you anything about the upcoming event, or the one you're standing in right now. Where's the cheapest/free place to park for the day? Does anywhere in the venue offer discount on cups of tea haha? One venue I do frequently, first time I was there, I didn't think to ask where the nearest loo was, and it was only on day three another stallholder asked where I kept disappearing to. "The loo" I replied, thinking it an odd question, I'd not peed that often! Turns out there was a loo about 50 steps away - I'd been using the one that was nearly 500 steps away, because I didn't think to ask if there was a closer one!
• ASK at most events, most of your neighbouring stallholders want to see EVERYONE having a good day. They want to see happy customers, spending happy money, with happy makers, as they make their way round, to hopefully spend happy money with them too! Don't panic that you've forgotten your sellotape, just ASK if anyone has any! Don't worry if you don't know people's names, no one cares, it's completely fine, 99% of the time, to walk right up to another stallholder and ASK them if they or anyone else can help with what you need. We're generally a merry band of folk. A very transient community, often only seeing each other once or twice a year or less, but we're all there for the same reason, and if we can help someone else's day go a bit more smoothly, we will. But we're not mind readers, and you have to remember we're all at work - we probably haven't even noticed you're struggling to open your table, or are nearly in tears cos you're card machine has died - speak up! Shout to the ether "can someone give me a hand?", and you'll be sure to find that someone will. As long as you're not trying to accost customers before they've left your neighbour's stall, and didn't unload your car whilst blocking the door for everyone else, chances are you'll be fine haha
• Don't moan. We've all attended events that are so quiet, with such little footfall, that we wonder why we even got up that morning. But don't moan about it. It is what it is. You'll soon learn where you and your makes can expect to be in great demand, and where they're barely be glanced at. But even once you kinda know, you will get caught out from time to time haha Weather, football, school holidays, road closures, there's a million things can effect footfall on the day. But don't moan about it. You're not the only one wishing you were at home making, but try and keep positive and upbeat, as the negativity spreads like wildfire, and customers DO feel it. Keep that smile on your face and start a sing song. You might not be making your fortune, but you can make sure you still have a good day :)
• on a similar note, remember it only takes one customer to change your day. You might not have had 50 sales today, but the last customer of the day might buy 50 things.
• which brings me to - don't pack up early! This is such a rookie error. Most established organisers will point blank not permit it anyway, but less strict ones will. And that breeds pissed-offness. If an event is advertised as being on until 6pm, customers expect to walk in to a fully open event until 6pm, and rightly so. Traders (especially full time ones), have chosen to be at that event, based on the trading hours. As soon as someone (usually a charity stall or hobbyist) decides they've had enough at 3pm, and start packing up, the event may as well be over. Customers see this, assume it's over, and don't come in; other traders say 'fuck it' and pack up too, and before you know it, you're home 2 hours before you were even meant to close up - and you PAID to be there that whole time! It makes no sense from anyone's point of view, and there's no way of knowing how many sales anyone has dipped out on, because of that domino effect of one person deciding the times don't apply to them. On busy days, you should WANT to stay until the very last minute, and on quiet days, what's the point in even setting up, if you're not committed to showcasing for the full amount of time you've paid for? If the day is too long, then look around for coffee mornings and similar, which are only a couple of hours; for your own sake, please don't sign up to a 9am-9pm show if you're not up for keeping that happy face on for that whole time :) PS we all moan at times. It's not an easy way to make a living.
• build it and they will come? Nah mate, not true. I've built NoBooksOnTour.com on the back of attending 70-100+ pop ups every year, since 2014. 2020 alone, I had 76 events cancelled due to covid, so that gives you an idea of what was a normal calendar for me. I have attended village halls, private shopping evenings, international shows and some of the largest, and smallest shopping centres in the country. Ideally, I choose places which have a naturally high footfall - but good footfall doesn't guarantee good sales, it just gives you a leg up in the right direction. Where possible, it makes sense to tap into the footfall a venue or event has, but that's not enough, that's never enough.
• it's improved the last couple of years, in my experience, but on the whole, I find very few events are robustly promoted by the venue or organiser. There are exceptions (please don't blacklist me, any organisers out there haha). It's frustrating and unfair - I'd rather pay a wee bit higher pitch fee, for some planned out advertising, but hey ho.
• quiet events. Since covid, I've found events a really mixed bag. Some smaller events have been really busy, and some bigger events have been very quiet. What I have noticed, is other stallholders asking "is it always like this?" at quiet events. The simple answer is, no, we're still in the midst of a global pandemic, and if 'it was always like this', I'm pretty sure most of us wouldn't even be bothering haha But what I've started asking these lovely people, is, "what have you done to draw people in?" and so far, the answer has been a resounding "nothing".
• I owe it to myself and those around me, to generate my own footfall. If you're at a small event of 10 stalls, I think it's fair to expect that every one of those stalls will pull in, say, 10, of their own customers. And if all 10 do, that's 100 interested customers, to share amongst you all. Doesn't matter how big or small your customer base is, you NEED to tell them where you'll be showcasing and when. Whether it's one post on Facebook, or an email campaign to 10,000 subscribers, you NEED to spread the word. Why? Because if YOU'RE not generating your own potential visitors, then why should anyone else? And then instead of 10 of you showcasing to your own 10 customers plus 90 of your neighbour's, there's just 10 of you wondering why it's such a quiet day...
• the biggest of events can be poor sales days, and the tiniest of events can give you a very profitable day. But every single event is a chance to introduce your makes to someone who would never otherwise have heard of you, and every single event can lead to magical things - you've got to be in it to win it!