As you might know from some of my other articles, I usually have multiple jobs going on at any given time. A few years ago, I had a small business with my friend (also named Jenn—but with two “n’s” instead of one) called Jenneration Fix. Our main goal was to help the environment the best we knew how while creating and selling crafty shit. I’ve always been kind of an environmental freak. I remember doing a bunch of reports in elementary school about global warming with visual aids showing the Earth basically exploding, as well as doing things like bringing home my plastic sandwich baggies from lunch so I could wash them out and use them again (I suppose Tupperware would have solved this issue but I was dumb).
We thought we were going to change the world and get rich trying!
Jenneration Fix would either get donations or find things to recycle, or basically end up buying supplemental items and doing the best we could to create our new items out of old stuff. My thing was sewing bags, clutches and cat toys.
We started out hot with a ton of donated fabric and pleather from a sportswear store that was going out of business. I got other items like pieces of leather from places on Craigslist and often went to junkyards or auto body shops to get old seatbelts from cars to use as the straps for my bags. And sometimes friends would give us stuff—our friend Jon just showed up one day with a bunch of cashmere someone gave him and he gave it to us to put to good use. The other Jenn ended up getting hooked up with a bunch of old records and film reels and would make clocks out of those. She made lots of really cool coasters from scrap wood and comic book and vintage images in sets of four. And she bought a machine that sanded down glass safely so she could make lamps and candles out of old wine and liquor bottles.
We ended up donating a portion of all of our sales to charity. We thought we were going to change the world and get rich trying! I think we did pretty OK, and our efforts to help the Earth were not lost on people.
Along with selling our items on Etsy.com, we regularly attended craft fairs, especially eco-conscious ones if we could find them. Let me tell you a few things about craft fairs or even farmer’s markets, for that matter. It’s not as easy as it looks. We learned a lot in the process! Below are some things to think about when you decide to get into selling your goods at craft fairs.
Do Your Research
What kind of event are you thinking about working at? If you can, scope out the fair if it’s a weekly or monthly thing to see if your items would fit in there, or if the event itself is well attended. And where exactly is it? Is it a long car ride away? Is it easily accessible to the public and well marketed? You don’t want to end up sitting in a back parking lot of a strip mall somewhere where you are unseen and no one browses the tents.
You will typically need to fill out an application for the event to reserve a booth space. Like most events, the later you sign up, the more expensive it becomes, so sign up early if you know you are going. Make sure your application fee is within your budget, and make sure the fair is worth it location and foot traffic-wise before signing up!
Basic Booth Setup
- You don’t necessarily need a canopy tent, but I’ll tell you why you should get one. It’s a really big deal if you are going to be there all day and it’s very hot or sunny, or even if it’s the opposite: A canopy can keep some light mist off of you and your goods if the weather is not great. If you are HIGH CLASS (unlike us) and get a canopy with walls that could be rolled up and down, it can even keep you warmer in there (a plus for customers coming in who will notice, trust me). You can find canopies online at Home Depot or on Craigslist; just do an internet search for “canopy”; for god’s sake you’ll see billions. We got ours for $60 and Jenn and I split the cost. They can be re-used in your backyard for parties and stuff too, so they are a good investment.
- You will also need a fold-up table, or possibly more than one for your goods. The easier they are to move in and out of your car, the better, because you want it to be simple and quick to set things up, tear down at the end of the fair, and cart things back and forth to your home. Lighter tables with a handle are better, especially if you need to move things in and out of your car by yourself. (And another thing you might want to invest in: your biceps.)
- A banner is a good idea, too. We made a banner with our logo and an “eco-friendly” design that we strung across the front of our booth at the top. It was about $40 to make. We put our own holes with grommets around them to strengthen them at the corners for tying. I don’t remember where we got ours, but Vistaprint is a good resource for these kinds of things (and also for business cards). Look around for local printers as well for banner-making services.
- Make sure you arrive with plenty of time to park in case the lot is far from the selling area. Bringing stuff back and forth to your booth can take a while, so plan all this in advance! You want to make sure you maximize your income for the day and if you are still setting up during the first hours, it may deter customers to wander off and not come back if your items aren’t ready.
Aesthetics, Aesthetics, Aesthetics
Say that three times fast and then remember it. Decorating the booth is pretty essential. We used to constantly look at other people’s booths and steal ideas, to be honest with you. You want something that’s streamlined, has a theme, and shows your products off without being too cluttered and confusing to the customer’s eye. Because we were “eco” we once covered the boundaries of our booth space with 10-foot-high overlapping squares of cardboard, which actually looked pretty cool. We also used burlap one time. And sometimes, we just had the canopy tent covering us but spent our efforts on our tables displaying our goods.
I would definitely advise you to cover your table or tables all with the same color of cloth. Maybe white or tan or something kind of neutral, so people’s eyes are drawn to your products. Covering the tables also leaves hidden space underneath for storing your purse or food or extra goods.
One trick we often did was to arrange boxes (any kind, but shoe boxes work great) on the table underneath the cloth, creating different levels to show off your goods so the items at the back of the table would be higher up than at the front where customers approach. You can also use props to show off your products. A lot of jewelry sellers use tiny trees or pieces of wood to hang earrings and necklaces from, which can look really cool. I have also seen things like odd pieces of furniture or stacked vintage suitcases which look really cool if you can design your space to fit these as part of your theme! At Goodwill you can find all kinds of old dishes and jars and go with an “antique” theme. Picture frames can be great for featuring not only products, but signs such as what kinds of payments you accept.
It’s up to you how you want to sell things! Check out Pinterest, there are some great pictures on there of different kinds of booths.
Pricing Your Items
You should decide beforehand if you want to price your items individually with little tags or stickers, or by area (i.e. “everything in this bookcase is $1!”), or just tell people verbally how much everything is. I feel like the last one is the hardest if you think you are going to be busy and need to deal with a lot of customers face to face.
As for payments, I highly recommend being able to accept various forms! When we did our fairs, we used the Square software so we could accept credit cards. We also accepted Paypal, cash and checks. Make sure you have enough change! It’s a real pain in the ass to have to go ask a neighbor seller for change if you are busy, and you definitely don’t want to leave stuff unattended if you can help it. Nowadays, there are lot more things people can use like Venmo and Android Pay and Chase Epay and all this stuff. It makes it really easy to do quick, painless transactions. Make sure you sign up for these things in advance.
And don’t forget to charge your phone! You will need it during the fair, if only to keep you entertained.
Meeting New People
Making friends with your neighbor sellers is key. They can watch your items while you go to the bathroom, or if you become close enough, you can actually become real friends with them in LIFE. Nearby vendors have sometimes been to other shows and can offer up tips for your booth or ways to sell that may be helpful. And you can bond with them during downtimes (did I mention bring wine?). Even the customers can be fun. We once got invited to be in the audience for “Let’s Make a Deal” at a craft fair, and another time, a French family invited us to come stay with them in France. I didn’t take them up on the offer, but it was really generous nonetheless.
So! Now you have all of the tips and items you might need for your show! Good luck to you, and make that money!
(Also check out my list of 26 Things You Need to Take With You to the Craft Fair!)