How to Keep your Cool at Craft Shows with Dear Handmade Life

It's summertime and the craft show H is O (heat is on ;))! And it's not just the weather that can get uncomfortable-- sometimes customers and booth setup can have you losing your cool. Which is why we asked Nicole, one of the founders of Dear Handmade Life and Patchwork Show, to talk about ways to not burnout out on selling by the end of summer!

Before I started co-producing Patchwork Show nine years ago with my partner/aunt Delilah Snell, I was a craft vendor for over ten years. The experience of vending at hundreds of craft shows helped lay the groundwork for co-producing over 40 of them.

Through all the trials and tribulations as a vendor and producer I’ve had so many awesome moments but I’ve also been thrown curve balls and learned how to keep my cool when things don’t go exactly according to my expectations.

My experience has taught me how well thought out preparation for the unexpected can help make good craft show situations even better and improve not-so-good scenarios. I taught a CreativeLive class: Secrets of Selling at Craft Fairs: How to Get In, Make Sales, and Grow Your Business and created Craft Show Success an online workshop for our Dear Handmade Life website where I shared all the knowledge I gained in my years as a vendor and producer.

The importance I place on being well-prepared became a bit of an inside joke with my live audience during the CreativeLive class, as over the course of the two days of filming the point I hammered home again and again was to BE PREPARED.

Every craft show experience is different and each one provides both opportunity and risk. Just because another vendor does well at a show doesn’t mean you will. Just because you did well at a certain show before doesn’t guarantee you’ll do well the next time around. There are so many uncontrollable factors that go into your overall experience at any given show… weather, booth placement, show promotion etc. BUT there are also several factors you CAN control that will help you keep calm, cool and collected in the midst of unforeseen circumstances.

Bring everything there’s even a slight chance you may need

The comforts of home don’t exist at craft shows. The weather may be extremely hot or it may rain. The bathroom situation could be less than pleasant (hello rarely-cleaned porta potty’s). There may not be any food vendors at the show. After finding myself in need of basic necessities at craft shows early on, I created a packing list and a bin with the essentials I always had with me at craft shows.

Aside from the basics like your goods, display items, tent etc. you should create a checklist of things you may need. Everyone’s list is a bit different but here are a few of mine:

  • umbrella,

  • first aid kit (I can’t tell you how many times a Band-Aid came in handy)

  • paper towels

  • baby wipes

  • small roll of toilet paper

  • sunscreen

  • extra water

  • granola bars

  • sewing kit and general tools (like tape, s-hooks, fasteners, safety pins, binder clips, screwdriver etc.).

This list could go on for pages. I created a packing list based off what I (and several of my friends who are veteran craft show vendors) make sure to always have with us and it’s included in my CreativeLive class as well as the online workshop version on our site. Create your list and make sure you bring your bin of essentials to shows. Be sure to update and replenish it after each show.

Be ready to be an extrovert

Most of us makers spend the majority of our time alone in our houses, studios and workplaces making things and running our businesses. At craft shows we’re out of our element and on display for the general public to judge and interact with us.

If you’re an introvert (like many creatives are) you need to be prepared to make small talk for hours and learn how to be comfortable taking about yourself and what you make.

If this is out of your comfort zone, you may want to write down some general talking points and do some role-playing with a friend so you can get into the zone of being a social butterfly.

Develop a thick skin

Sadly, not every single person who walks into your booth is going to be someone who appreciates what you do (and even more unfortunately even fewer of those people will buy something from you). Developing a thick skin is key to being a craft show vendor.

It took me MANY years to not run away crying when a difficult customer came into my booth and said something like “I can make this myself” or “I don’t really like this” when looking at what I made. But realizing that not everyone who walks into your booth is your ideal customer is essential.

Create a mantra you can say to yourself when you’re in a rough spot with someone who doesn’t understand or appreciate what you do. Remind yourself of all the people who do love what you make as well as the pleasure you get out of doing it.

Be ready to make the best out of slow and busy shows

Remember how I mentioned that every single show is a risk whether you’ve done it before or not? You need to be ready to turn unpleasant scenarios into positive experiences. Even at the best of craft shows, things can go wrong.

Make sure you have someone with you to watch your booth when you need to go to the bathroom, eat or if it gets super busy. If you’re not in a position to hire help, consider asking a friend and offering them a trade: their time for credit towards your goods. You can also reach out to local high school students or post on social media for help.

On the other hand, if the show is super slow, instead of wasting your time sitting there all day, you could be getting some work done. Bring along busy work to do so you’re not enveloped in your phone looking bored when potential customers walk by. NO one wants to walk into a booth where the vendor looks bored or uninterested.

Always be ready to put down what you’re working on and engage with people. Attendees will be drawn into your process, which begins a conversation that can lead to a connection and a life-long relationship with a regular customer.

These tips are just the beginning when it comes to keeping your cool at craft shows. As creatives, we tend to want to focus on the parts of our businesses that we love, (Ie: the making). But building a solid business requires doing more than just making but also dedicating time to the business side of business not just the creative side.

Delilah and I created Craftcation: Business + Makers Conference and our online workshops for this very reason. We saw the need for education among our Patchwork Show vendors and community of makers and we wanted to help them so they didn’t have to learn the ins and outs of running a creative business the hard way (through time intensive and costly mistakes) like we did. There are few things as satisfying as doing what you love for a living and we’re so grateful to be able to share what we’ve learned to help other creatives run their businesses smarter and more productively. AND we wish you all the best at your next craft show!

Want to learn more from Nicole? She shares how to think about integrating craft shows as a sustainable part of your business in our webinar "Craft Shows & Your Business". Many makers begin their selling journeys with craft shows. They are a great way to meet customers, get live feedback on your product and even connect with other makers. But they can be a grueling day (or more!) and there is a lot of competition out there right now it can be hard to know which ones are right for your business (if any!).


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