8 Lessons from a Failed Craft Fair

I recently worked my first (and last!) craft fair. It had long been a dream of mine to have a booth at a craft fair. I had big dreams of this being another way I could supplement our family income. I was surprised when a month ago, there was a notice in our local paper advertising a couple craft booths still available at our local fair.

Now, our local fair is a big deal! It’s a 3 day event that is attended by people from all around the area. It’s been said that our town of 1,000 gets 100,000 people who attend the fair. There are over a hundred craft booths and dozens of food vendors. We’ve always enjoyed attending the fair so with my husband’s encouragement, I decided to give it a try and signed up for a craft booth. I hoped to earn some money and clean out the crafts that had accumulated in our attic.

Since I’ve been creating custom, Biblical versions of “Oh, the Places You’ll Go” and selling those successfully for several years now, via my website, I thought I’d see how those did at the craft fair, too.

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I signed up for the smallest booth (a 10 by 10 size) and committed to being at the fair for 3 long days. I found a tent to borrow from one friend as well as some folding tables from another friend. Thankfully, I had dozens of wreaths and other assorted craft items in the attic, but I still invested time in rounding out the selection. Every night, I spent time crafting in preparation for the fair.

A friend from church and my mother-in-law agreed to help baby-sit Nathan so I could have this craft booth. And of course, my husband was home with Nathan all day Saturday. I went to the bank and got money ready. I researched how to accept credit card payments. I priced all my crafts and organized them in plastic bins.

Before I knew it, the week of the fair was here! I set up my booth on a Wednesday night so I was ready to go on Thursday morning. Thankfully, part of our fee covered security for the night so we could leave our booths set up overnight. I did put most things in bins for protection from the weather.

Thursday morning, I headed out and got my booth set up. I was excited to see what would happen! I sat….and sat…and sat. The weather was pleasant. My booth looked nice. I got lots of compliments on my wreaths and other crafts for sale – but little was bought. In my initial dreams, ah-hem, I had hoped I’d sell enough the first day to make back the cost of my booth. That didn’t happen. I was a reassured a bit by the couple in the booth next to me who had been doing this fair for 33 years and said it was a horrible day of sales for them. I was glad I wasn’t alone!

My craft booth

Friday’s forecast held rain so I was prepared for a quieter day. My tent didn’t have sides but thankfully, the gentle and steady rain came straight down so the tent did its job. I flipped plastic bins upside down and over crafts, then I covered up with a quilt and umbrella and sat cozy in the corner of my booth reading. Some people ventured out but the rain kept most everyone away. This was my worst day sale wise as I sold only $10 worth of crafts in 12 hours! I did read 4 books that day so that was the good news of the day. (Please note that when I say I was reading, as soon as anyone appeared even slightly interested or came close to my booth, I put down the book and welcomed them and asked if they had any questions. I was not, as some may assume, oblivious to my potential customers!)

By Saturday, I gave myself a big pep talk and reminded myself that I couldn’t do worse than the previous day. I tried to be hopeful that I would sell lots but also realistic that this was the last day. Whatever I sold, I sold. I marked prices down again and sat. Once again, I got lots of compliments but not a lot of buyers. It was my best day of selling but I still didn’t sell nearly as much as I hoped.

For three days I sat (10-9, 10-10, and 10-9) and would you believe it? I didn’t even sell enough to cover the cost of my booth! This was a failed craft fair experience and one that I won’t be repeating. Still, I did learn some valuable lessons. I’m sharing what I learned in hopes that it will help everyone who decides to sell at a craft fair in the future!

1. Be prepared with a variety of crafts to sell.

What you think will sell quickly might not, and the items that you are not sure they will sell may do great. I had 2 dozen different wreaths available for sale and only sold 1. The one that sold was my least favorite wreath that I threw together quickly the week before. You never know what may or may not sell!

2. Have an assortment of snacks and drinks available.

When you are sitting at a booth, the day will get long. Be ready with snacks to munch on and a variety of drinks. Caffeine is good, too!

3. Be prepared for all circumstances.

Bring kleenex and ibprofuen. Bring pens, sharpies, tape and scissors. Bring umbrellas, blankets and jackets (if you are outside). Bring a power strip and lighting if necessary. Think of anything you could possibly need and bring it.

4. Have plenty of change, particularly in small bills.

Decide if you are going to offer credit card sales. I sell a couple things on Etsy so planned to use their quick sale method on my tablet if I needed to for credit cards. It’s a great perk of Etsy!

5. Be prepared with things to occupy your time as you wait.

Bring crafts to work on and books to read. I ended up reading 5 books over the course of 3 days in my booth. Please note that I am a fast reader! 🙂 A Kindle, tablet or smart phone is great to have on hand.

6. Plan to have someone stop by and give you a break.

If you don’t have someone sitting in your booth with you, arrange for someone to stop by – so you can stretch your legs and use the bathroom! My husband hurried home after school each day to give me a break. That was necessary and very much appreciated!

7. Keep a good attitude!

The days can be long and they may not go as planned. Give it your best and keep a smile on your face.

8. Don’t be afraid to take a risk.

You don’t know how your craft items will sell at a particular fair until you give it a try. The worst that happens is you are out a couple days of your time, but maybe you’ll be a huge success. Take a risk and give it a try!

Even though I have no plans to have a craft booth again, I’ll enjoy supporting vendors who do. For now, I do better selling my custom books on Etsy and here on my blog. If you decide to sell at a craft fair, be sure to let me know how it goes! Any other experienced craft vendors want to add some additional words of advice?

Update: Since this failed experience back in 2015, I have started selling on Etsy and have been much more successful there! In fact, I would highly recommend Etsy for any craft seller because you are reaching a targeted audience from the comfort of your own home! People come to Etsy looking for handmade things. Etsy costs only $0.20 to run a listing for 4 months and then takes a small percentage when you sell something. Even if you don’t sell something, it is worth it to try because the upfront cost is so minimal. Even better? If you are a new seller on Etsy you can get 40 listings completely free when you sign up here. 

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  1. Thank you for posting this. I’ve just started selling soap and have done two shows so far. I have 4 more to go and then I have to evaluate whether or not all this money and time was worth it. So far it’s not. I recognize that I need to set up internet sales and getting more stressed out. I think if the investment in supplies hadn’t been so much than it wouldn’t bother me so much. This is a big learning experience. I hope it’s worth it.

  2. I have been doing craft shows forever lol, always remember to post your things and pass the info of the show you are at for your own people that love your work or have never seen your things. I always remember its the networking, people you meet and other vendors too, everyone’s experiences are your teachings too. love craft shows, love meeting people and love when people appreciate my work, we know we are not going to get rich but we always hope to come out ahead. Being responsible for bringing the people who buy from you or asking them to share on local media, face book Instagram, what ever is a good tool. Thank you for sharing your experiences

    1. Good tips, Jane! I have started to wonder if the audience was not right, as it was more of a county fair, and am wondering if I should attempt a true craft show. If / when I do, I will remember your networking advice! 🙂

  3. Hi me and my husband have been making crafts for years now I do upcycle and he makes custom cutting boards that he hand draws of people’s pets and wood burns them on the board. We did craft fairs for a while with little or no sales for a few years. Than back in 2016 my husband was diagnosed with Parkinson disease. Now he was only 32 years old. Long story short he is a fighter and won’t give up. He was doing construction at the time and sadly had to stop. So we started doing craft shows in our area and I’ll tell ya we live in a small community. But we started doing things a little differently than before instead of sitting in the back of the both reading or drawing or me working on my crafts. We sat up front eye level with with our customers and greeted them as they walked buy and I’ll tell you what a difference that made. We would get 4 out of 5 people roughly to stop and come in to our booth. Another thing my husband did was made little 2″ by 6″ long pvc pieces to extend our table legs so people didn’t have to look down. My husband asked a fella one day why he walked by a vender that was similar to ours. ( And he said he didn’t want to disturb him he really looked in to that book) ok sorry for the life story and all just wanted to pass on some things that have worked for us. We know how frustrating it can be. Bye

  4. I know the experience well. I’ve been an artist and have also made crafts for years. I’ve done everything you’ve listed above, and more. I’ve done numerous arts and crafts shows over the years, and I’ve finally come to the conclusion that things have changed – big time – and arts and crafts shows are NO LONGER the place to try and sell your wares.

    A lot of things have changed, even in the last decade. These are the things that I personally believe have DESTROYED the arts and crafts shows:

    – Crafts have been stolen and replicated in places like China, where they can be produced far more cheaply with the same, or nearly the same, results. Quite frankly, I have found that most people DON’T CARE whether an American or someone local from your hometown made something by hand. If they can buy something very similar made in China for pennies as compared to dollars, they will buy it.
    The ultimate insult to American arts and craftsmen, in my opinion, was when I was looking in JoAnn’s and I came across a very hand-made looking sign that said, “Handmade is Best!” Flipping it over, I saw where it was mass produced in China, in a factory. That sign portrayed the ultimate in irony for me.

    – Many people have jumped aboard the arts and crafts show train – realizing that they could make money off of putting on shows. Some of them care about the artists and craftspeople – but some of them clearly don’t. They only care if they make money, and if you don’t attend their show ever again – so what!

    – The internet has DRASTICALLY changed things. I’m not just speaking about arts and crafts shows here, either. Brick and mortar shops are struggling because they are competing with the internet. One can find almost anything on the internet these days, often at a cheaper price, and get it shipped free, with the item(s) arriving in just a few days! The internet is a risky place to sell. I say that for obvious reasons – but also because it is a FACT that other countries – China especially – think nothing of ripping off an artist’s ideas and mass-producing them for consumption by Americans, who, again, don’t care if a product has been ripped off as long as it’s cheap. I used to sell on Etsy, but artists have had their ideas ripped off – completely stolen from them with no compensation whatever – only to find some Chinese company making insane profits off of their ideas. Here’s but one interesting article on the subject: http://indieuntangled.com/make-1m-year-selling-knitting-successful-etsy-importer/

    So what’s the answer, you are probably wondering by now. I really don’t know. I’m going to stick with one or two shows. I’ve crossed a couple of shows off my list recently that did terribly. My rule of thumb used to be to give a show two tries. Now my rule of thumb is to give a new show ONE try and to make at least what I paid in fees for my spot. If a show does not at least make back my fees THE FIRST TIME, it is off my list.

    My next idea is to try to set up an open studio/gallery in my home. You have to be careful because of regulations and zoning. My thought is to have maybe 3 to 4 open studio shows a year, and the rest of the time be open by appointment. However – there is personal safety to think of as well. I am still working on this concept. Hopefully it will work to my satisfaction. If not, I will truly feel lost as far as selling my work anymore – which I used to sell with regularity.

  5. I’ve been doing craft shows off and on for 20 years. Every couple years my interests change as do my products along with the times. I dedicated 2016 to re purposed glass, mostly garden art. The year started strong (Spring) and i thought “This is it!” then the occasional show started with low sales. I should know better but found myself getting discouraged, then hopes picked back up as the holidays were in sight. After a few slow holiday shows I sat back kind of bummed when I should have be producing as much as possible until the end. The last 2016 show which I almost dropped out of ended up being my best of the year. I didn’t make a fortune, but didn’t come out negative for the year. If nothing else it’s fun (at least for me) and when someone really loves your stuff it feels great! It’s a lot of work, so if you haven’t done it, really think it through……….or jump in like I do, either way……….but remember I did say it’s a lot of work.

    1. Great points, Tami! I’m glad craft shows are fun for you. It IS a lot of work, but if you love it, then keep at it! That’s how blogging is for me. It has taken me years to get to the point where I am today (without making much at all those first years) but I love it, so I keep doing it. Here’s hoping that your 2017 craft shows will be a big success!

  6. I have done fairs for years. Church bazaars where they only by from their members, rained out and rained on, told not to return because my sales were low (their 10% of your sales plus table fee was too low for them where I was on the upper level that got minimal traffic from their lack of signs to the upper floors), hardly no people attend, freezing cold areas, but I still do fairs that are indoors and highly publicized. I also limit what I pay for table fees. I have fun meeting people, sharing crochet information, and just having the chance to sell my items. Posting on Facebook what I’m making (no pricing) has given me a lot of sales and seroius inquiries. I only discuss pricing in private messaging. Do your best and keep smiling!!

    1. Thanks, Alethia, for the encouragement! I like your idea of posting on Facebook for sales and inquiries. I think I will give that a try this November with my “leftover” crafts from the last fair, and see how they do on Facebook. I hope your next show is a big success!

  7. I have been selling at craft fairs and juried events for a few years now and I have learned that you win some and you lose some. But don’t ever give up just because one event you didn’t sell much. It happens to all vendors. You just roll with it. The next event you might make 3 or 4 times your booth rent. Like the old adage about falling off a horse, you just need to get back on and try again. Don’t let one event stop you.

    1. Thanks, Brenda, for the encouragement! I think I probably will give it a try at some point in time again, but I will seek out an event that is specifically a craft fair, in hopes that it does better! I hope your next craft event is one of those that earns 4 or more times its booth rent! 🙂

    2. I haven’t been at this very long myself but I always grew up watching my grandma do craft fairs so I thought I would give it a go. My first fair was awful. But I also had too much variety and no signage, or displays I just kinda threw thongs in baskets thinking they would sell themselves. So I sat down with my husband and I got prepared for the next show. I priced every item, had a sign made with my business name, got a nice table cloth that wraps around the legs of my tables so you can’t see the totes underneath and my sales quadrupled!! Each show is a lesson sometimes the people you need just don’t show up to buy your stuff. But if you stick with it those people will come:)
      Don’t give up!

  8. Thank you for sharing. I am about to give this a whirl this spring, but have already experienced one. However, it was not well publicized, and knowing the venue this did not surprise me. You comments are very helpful.

    1. I’m glad you found this helpful, Cheryl! I do sincerely hope that your craft fair is much more successful than mine was! 🙂

  9. My mother had a similar experience. She makes beautiful cards and paper goods, and she decided to get a table at a holiday craft sale. She only sold a few items and didn’t try again!

    1. You win some, and you lose some! As my husband likes to remind me, you never know until you try! In hindsight, I am glad I tried but I’ll focus more on blogging instead! 🙂

  10. I’ve always wondered! I’m not the crafty type, but admire folks that are. Thanks for your honest assessment of your adventure 🙂

    1. I always wondered too…but now I know! I got into crafting for a couple years (before kids) but now blogging takes that time. I’m glad I did a craft fair once, so now I know it’s not for me! 🙂 It really makes me admire those who do craft shows on a regular basis!

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