It’s time for me to report back on the 2 craft fairs I have done so far in my Christmas 09 dates.

I’m new to the craft fair game, and when I started my business last year, it wasn’t something I originally planned into my business model. I planned to sell my work via galleries, with someone else displaying my work, dealing with the customer etc.

In reality, I work from home and most of my time is on the computer. I started to think more and more about getting out there, talking to the customers – getting some feedback! What do they like, what do they buy, what looks better in person than on the web, meeting other artists, new source of income, networking etc. There are lots of reasons to get out there.

My first fair (June 2008) was appalling! I just got a cloth, laid all my stuff out and waited for the stampede.

Not surprisingly, there wasn’t one!

I had no idea how to display my work, had hardly been to any craft fairs to get ideas, and thought that rather than do something naff, I would let the jewellery do the talking. Well it whispered, and I had no idea that really, even if you do have a great product, you still need to SELL it. Nothing sells itself.

Conclusion: maybe my jewellery wasn’t the right fit for the fair setting or that I wasn’t and left it at that.

Earlier this year I was approached by Jo Whitehead from Keighley Arts Factory to participate in a fair they were starting in Keighley. It is only over the hill from me, and a cheap table, so i thought what the heck! I took a collection of the oddments I take my photos on (apart from my kitchen window sill!) and laid my stuff on that. Well I made my fee back, plus a bit more, met some great artists and had a great day.

Keighley, June, 2 sales and a commission.

Conclusion: I’d do this occasionally, it’s fun but not a living. I knew my stall needed work, but didn’t know if I was prepared to spend to make it better, would I do many more? I really enjoyed the feedback from customers, and seeing people picking up my jewellery, getting compliments etc. It’s hard to get perspective when you are at home looking at it!

Next, I got an opportunity to do a jewellery-only fair @ the Loft in Leeds. Aha, that’s where the real jewellery lovers will be, I thought. I had a round table, and my layout looked good, I thought. I sold well, my best yet. Met some great people too.

The Loft, Leeds, 6 good sales & 2 commissions

Conclusion: success! this is more like it….

Then Castle Howard in August, and I blogged about it here. I only sold to one customer, but it was a set, and it covered the stall cost. However, lots of people didn’t do well, and I was on a half stall tucked between 2 visual artists, one of whom had great side panels to display her work, kind of obscuring mine. I had no banner, no sign, laid too much out. It looked like an explosion in a jewellery factory! I did get interest though, and people liked my stuff, and met more great artists.

Castle Howard 30th August, 1 sale

Conclusion: the day, my setting, the way I had done my stall all affected sales, sort out my stall and it will be better…

I had signed up to do the dates on my tour here, and have now done 2 of them. I have sold 1 pair of earrings after 2 fairs. I’m no accountant, but I know that is not a good return! After the first one, I scoured everywhere for feedback on my stall, and got loads of great advice. As there was only a week between, I couldn’t do it all, but this weekend’s stall definitely looked much better, and I got as many compliments about my stall as I did my jewellery. Still only one sale though.

 Ilkley 10th October, no sales.
Ripley 18th October, with stall improvements, 1 sale.

BUT sales, were quite low at both fairs, for most sellers. The ones who did well were selling lower priced goods. Both fairs were pretty quiet. The fair at Ripley this weekend was full of lovely artists, but many had never done fairs before. Some had never sold to the public at all before, and their pricing was way too low. These lovely people just wanted to cover their cost so they could buy more supplies and craft more. Only Lyndsey from Aprilis was using sterling silver, even. The girl next to me making lovely costume necklaces for £5, sold loads.

The lady the other side of me asked ‘ well, do you go to craft fairs, yourself?’. No I don’t!

This leaves me with lots of questions:

Do people really make money doing craft fairs?
Does my jewellery look right for this environment?
Is my jewellery priced right for this environment?
Is my stall preventing my sales?
Am I at the wrong events?
If I don’t go to them, does my target customer go to them?
Are they just badly marketed?
Is it just too early for Christmas shopping?
Is it the economic climate, and people being far more cautious?

Hmmm……

On a good note, a lady who bought a bracelet from me from the Loft in June called today commission her to make a matching necklace, so maybe it is more than just sales on the day, after all. :)

Rachel x

20th October 2009

Rachel Lucie Johns

Hi! I'm Rachel, a jewellery designer-maker & nature photographer. My work is inspired by the gorgeous countryside around West Yorkshire & Art Deco design. This blog is where I share my creative life and inspiration. find out more ...

12 Comments

  1. Reply

    tozie

    30th November 2009

    hi Rachel, just come across this interesting discussion and your lovely blog by chance, which is a bit weird as I live in Hebden and have recently opened a minishop in our space in Bridge Mill with my daughter and our friend Louise. We call ourselves Tozie and Teal, and make textile things from little badges to quilts. We opened a couple of weeks ago and since then all the customers have disappeared!! even from Lucy's vintage shop. Hopefully people will have a last minute panic before Christmas and it will stop raining. Please call by if you're passing!

  2. Reply

    rachellucie

    22nd October 2009

    wow, lots of feedback here, thanks for your frank and honest feelings about this, everybody. (And the nice comments about my jewellery!)

    My thoughts, having read all of this, and from speaking to other people about it, is that there is a wealth of creative crafty people out there, who have an urge, like me, to create create create. This generates the craft market for the most part.

    There are always plenty of new crafters willing to try craft fairs, and people who craft who want to go to them. However, although I know there are plenty of crafters who support handmade (and will be buying the majority of presents on folky, etsy, coriandr etc this Christmas) for the most part, crafters don't buy from craft fairs, because they can do it themselves!

    The 'real' customer, i.e. the person who seeks out handmade to buy, and comes with money to browse, doesn't seem to have made it to most of the fairs I have done. Maybe, as was said, they just don't go to these fairs, anyway. Or maybe the marketing just hasn't worked.

    I know for a fact, however, that the organizers of all these events have worked REALLY hard to raise the profile of their events, and tried all manner of ways of reaching their target customer. I just don't it has worked.

    It is an interesting fact, that apart from the jewellery market @ The Loft, Leeds (which I have my best sales at, but had a low turnout) hardly any of the customers I saw at my fairs had made an effort to come because they knew it was on. All the footfall was accidental 'ooo, let's have a look, there's a craft fair on' trade. They won't be spending £40 on a bracelet!

    What good does the marketing do? It certainly doesn't seem to make people plan to come.

    The current climate certainly doesn't help, people are far more cautious, and the best way to not spend is to keep away from the temptation of non-essential items! Let's see if interest increases as it gets nearer to Christmas.

    Pepita, I really liked your input, this is exactly what my thoughts were about my brand etc, thank you.

    I am worried that I now sound sniffy about the whole thing! Craft fairs are great, there are a lot of really talented people out there, and people who can make all kinds of things and have all kinds of skills I certainly don't have. But I think I am learning that the urge to create doesn't mean there is a market to buy what you created!

    I have done well online and in galleries, and I haven't given up on craft fairs, either! I love the opportunity to meet other creative people, who are all really interesting, supportive and friendly.

  3. Reply

    elizabeth

    22nd October 2009

    In answer to Pepita, just to be clear on one thing:

    I didn't mean (or say!) you should decrease your prices. I said "make some specifically lower priced items just to attract people", that doesn't mean have a 99p bucket on your table for people to chow down on tacky rubbish. 'Lower priced' is different from 'cheap'.

    I was suggesting have a range of prices, lower priced items may sell to those with less money, AND they may also make your higher priced items look better by comparison. It doesn't have to 'ruin' your brand at all.

    Lower priced doesn't mean skimping on quality either. As a manufacturer you can be in a position to give the customer what they want, because without them we're nothing.

    I knew my initial point would probably be shot down immediately, so I just need to be clear what I mean.

  4. Reply

    Kristy

    22nd October 2009

    I don't sell at the minute but tried out craft and school fairs a good few years ago.I found that people only take an arbitary amount of money with them and most purchases are only pocket money prices. I would imagine that if you give out cards with online details then this will help your internet sales but I'm really not sure the fairs themselves are big money making venues. More like networking opportunities.Like I say though I haven't sold for a long time.

  5. Reply

    Pepita

    21st October 2009

    As a marketing and branding strategist I think this is a very interesting discussion.

    First of all I do not agree with Elizabeth's suggestion of decreasing the pricing for a fair. It is not great publicity as it will distort people's expectations on what to expect for their money(quality/value issue) and it will ruin your brand. You could only do that when selling of last year's collection and make sure to tell them it is at a discount.

    As to the major cause for lack of succes I would say that your target customer doesn't visit these fairs. Of course the economy is bad, but you are selling stuff through other channels (internet, vendors etc) aren't you? The presentation of you jewelry is different online and at your vendors, isn't it? So presentation isn't the major cause for the lower sales either, is it?

    It is all about finding the marketing channels your target customer uses. You have to figure out the demographics of your target customer and determine where they shop. If they do not visit fairs then it is no use in selling at them yourself. Not even for research as your target audience is not there.

    I think marketing comes before selling, so determine you target audience that wants your product, is prepared to pay your price and then determine where to sell you stuff and promote it. The product may actually sell itself after all.

  6. Reply

    elizabeth

    20th October 2009

    In my humble opinion you have Beautiful jewellery and a BE-AU-UUUTiful display…not to put too fine a point on it! Neither of those things are anything to worry about, you've got it in the bag, don't change a thing!

    I think low sales at craft fairs are probably a combination of things, all of which are probably out of everyone’s control: the whole money thing in the world, people may be just cutting down on luxury items, the location of fairs and time of year just aren't inducive to sales, plus the fact that the right piece of jewellery and the right person weren’t matched up on the day. Six hours in one location means that’s hard to do…It’s extremely tricky.

    I’m so glad you came to the Ripley fair, thank you so much. I tried my best to make it a good one, and I will try even harder in the future. I advertised and told every possible person, but sometimes you just can’t prize money from people.

    I’m really trying to make opportunities for crafts people, I’m going to make the tables as cheap as ever possible so everyone can make something. The craft business is tough; any way to get more sales has got to be a good thing.

    The best thing for you to do is to stay positive about any experience you have. Think of craft fairs as a good way to make connections, with both customers and other sellers. A fun day out to get your jewellery seen by some people. You have other outlets to sell your jewellery, and you being there with your stuff and your business cards is all good advertising for the future.

    One thing to think about (and I know it’s difficult, I’m the same, don’t think of it as ‘selling out’) maybe if and when you do fairs, make some specifically lower priced items just to attract people. Your stall and merchandise are both stunning, but some people just may not be able to afford the things they like. BUT if there is a thing they can afford, they can still walk away with a little piece of your stuff and feel happy. Most importantly they’ll wear it and tell people about you and your jewellery! Great publicity!

    Don’t get disheartened about your past experiences, just chalk them up to experience, learn from them, and move on and be happy!

  7. Reply

    Fibrespace

    20th October 2009

    What a lovely honest post, thank you for sharing. I've given up on local craft fairs myself, they just aren't worth the effort. I think they tend to attract other crafters who are just coming for ideas. I think the larger more expensive shows are much better as they are marketed more and get plenty of people through the doors.

  8. Reply

    K S Jewellery Designs

    20th October 2009

    Hi Rachel

    I really enjoyed reading this post and following comments as it is so relevant to me at the moment and your dilemmas are so similar to mine. I came away from a disasterous table sale on Saturday (4 sales, 1 commission, however I did manage to cover my costs with a little extra) but I was left feeling low and unappreciated. I felt a bit like one feels after a date that you have spent ages getting ready for and getting excited about and then have a terrible evening – it's a real low after the high of expectancy. I realised as soon as I arrived that the venue was totally unsuitable for my jewellery as I was surrounded by cheap stocking filler toys, homemade jams and hand-knitted booties!

    Anyway, I just have to move on and decide whether direct selling is what I want to do. I have 2 more Christmas sales lined up but at least I have the stock ready for them!

    On the positive side for you – your jewellery is fabulous (you have lots of fans here that tell you so) and looking at the progression of photos of your stalls, you have certainly worked hard at trying to attract buyers. I definitely feel the venue and time of year are important along with how well advertised a sale is (and that is often out of your hands).

    Wishing you the best of luck and looking forward to hearing how you get on.
    Kristin :)

  9. Reply

    rachellucie

    20th October 2009

    Marjorie, you have a good point, are people really coming to buy? Internet is lower risk, better hours etc. But lack of customer interaction was a problem for me. maybe the odd one to keep my hand in, but look upon it as money to research rather than a profit-making excercise?

    Sal, I agree about presentation, I am the same. Now this is why I thought laying my stuff out on a cloth would be enough when I started. But I don't think the average buyer is like that! From being at fairs, it's the ones with the great layout that sell, generally. Or the cheapest ones.

    Good point you have too. Only at the Loft in June did I see anyone who said they had come deliberately. I know people have promoted their fairs, but people don't make an effort to come specially. This could be exactly the problem!

    Another question, then: Do people actually make a point of going to craft fairs to spend, or find by mistake and browse?

  10. Reply

    sallyboyle

    20th October 2009

    ps. personally i can look beyond stall presentation and focus on the products and my possible ownership of them. does anyone else agree?

  11. Reply

    sallyboyle

    20th October 2009

    i had a thought the other day: I wonder if fall in use of cheque books and good old wads of cash is actually a major factor. how many people are coming prepared, rather than just wandering in and, if so, would they have their cheque book on them or more than a tenner in change? hmmm

  12. Reply

    Marjorie

    20th October 2009

    I tried a couple of craft shows, did terribly and haven't tried again. I don't mind putting a lot of work into something but not when I LOSE money on the deal! There have been no such thing as cheap tables anywhere near where I live. The one show I did was mostly a flea market where people were looking for bargains. And the other was huge but so many other jewelry merchants. And it looked to me that, although a lot of people came to it, most were just walking through looking. That's all I ever do when I go to a craft show. I mostly go to them for ideas. So I'm sticking to the internet myself.

LEAVE A COMMENT

RELATED POSTS