Crafts Shows R Us #12: The Yearly Summary

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Blog entry by closetguy posted 11-11-2009 11:11 PM 2017 reads 1 time favorited 10 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 11: Rain, rain, go away Part 12 of Crafts Shows R Us series Part 13: State of the Southern Craft Shows »

I started this blog series back when I first started doing shows as a diary to show what it takes to start up and actually do craft shows. It was more of a “lessons learned” through the school of hard knocks, because being a newbie, I didn’t have a clue. Even though I blog about shows and what I am doing in my shop at DGM Woodworks, that site is subdued somewhat, because it is geared toward my customers. Now that I have over a year under my belt, I have a more educated point of view on the subject.

Since I have never done a show outside of a recession, I still have no reference point as to how well this business could be under a normal economy. The first part of this year was miserable. I battled bad weather that canceled some show days. I had some shows that had perfect weather and a very high attendance, but sales barely covered my expenses. My shows ranged from small one day street fairs to large three day art festivals. With all this under my belt, I still have no idea what is going to sell well at a show because every one is different.

The only correlation I can see is that price points drive each particular show rather than the product. I would have a show where everyone is buying in the $50-$100 range one weekend, and the next weekend 10 miles away, they would only be buying in the $10-$35 range. The only consistency seems to be the price points. Last year and up until the middle of this year, I only carried endgrain boards which put my products in the $35 – $100+ range. Sales were very good last year, but this spring, they were way down. Around May, I started making a wide selection of face grain boards in different sizes that ranged from $10 – $30. All of a sudden sales spiked and I was having trouble keeping enough inventory built to handle each show. Obviously, everyone loved the new boards, but I suspect it was the price point. So, I went to show with a huge inventory of face grain boards, and guess what? The higher price end grain ones were flying off the shelf. I brought over half the face grain ones back home and had to increase my end grain inventory the following week. (This was after I banged my head against the wall for a while trying to figure it out). Coming back from a show with a lot of cash is good, but I still want to know why.

If I had to pick one product to single out, it is bookmarks. I got carried away this spring and made up around 500 bookmarks. I have about 10 left. It was a real unconscious and lucky move on my part because at a couple of shows, bookmarks kept me from losing money. They always sold well, but not as well as I would have thought for a $5 item. I was averaging about 10 a show during the first half of the year. However, I hit one show this fall and sold just fewer than 100 of them. It was on a Sunday and the bible thumpers were out in force. Overall, two thirds of my bookmark inventory was sold at the fall shows.

This fall, particularly September and October, were completely different shows from the spring ones. I have never experienced people lined up out my booth with my products in hand waiting in line to check out. It was pretty intense. I made the mistake of booking two back to back shows in October with one of them being out of State. I thought I had plenty enough inventory to handle both shows, but the first one, which was three days long, cleaned me out. I had a lot of boards that were at least a year old sitting in a cabinet because I didn’t think they were pretty enough to sell. I emptied these out and took them to the next show and sold them all, for a reasonable price. In fact, I even increase the price on a few items from the previous show, and it didn’t slow down the customers. My Dad accused me of price gouging, and I just replied “Supply and demand”.

So are spring shows not as good as fall ones? I believe the answer is yes. Every experienced crafter I have talked to at shows always tells me that the falls shows are much better. I can understand this, but was the spring shows really bad this year because of the recession? I also believe this is the case because many long time crafters at these shows were not doing any better than me. Some of them gave me their sales numbers from previous years, and this spring seem to average about 75% below their normal sales for the same show. I was up about 25% at the 2009 fall shows compared to 2008 so I am assuming that the economy has taken a positive swing from spring to fall this year. The only people making money this spring were the food vendors. One thing I did note is that this spring, everyone was paying in cash. This fall, everyone was using plastic. When they use plastic, they tend to buy multiple and higher priced items. It wasn’t uncommon for someone drop $300 or more and walk out with an armload of stuff.

This year resulted in wild swings. I went to each show with absolutely no expectations. Some would return 1.5 times booth fee and some would return 20 times booth fee. I had trouble staying awake at a few also. I set up in the rain at some shows and closed early because of rain at some shows. I started out the day at some in a T-shirt and finished the day wearing three jackets. At one show, I had to change my shirt three times because the humidity was so high I was sweating buckets of water. Craft shows can be a miserable way to make a living, but they can also be a lot of fun. I have made a lot of new friends this year and have socialized with friends this year that I met last year. The number of repeat customers is very high and word of mouth tends to drive sales between shows. I am still trying to figure out how to become wealthy at this, but until that happens, I just keep plodding forward with a goal in mind.

-- I don't make mistakes, only design

10 comments so far

View SteveMI's profile


949 posts in 2718 days

#1 posted 11-11-2009 11:22 PM

I for one really appreciate your insight.


View degoose's profile


7193 posts in 2778 days

#2 posted 11-12-2009 12:12 AM

I am just at the point where I figure I will give the craft shows a go, so thanks for the insight. I also have the TWC and timber sales as part of my overall business.

-- Drink twice... and don't bother to cut... @ For lovers of all things timber...

View DrDirt's profile


4143 posts in 3166 days

#3 posted 11-12-2009 12:56 AM

This is great info – I suspect that the fall shows are better as well, I think that these items like cutting boards and boxes start selling well as people are thinking about school starting back up and entertaining inside the house rather than out back on the deck.

Though the economy this fall has been better than the spring. I work in manufacturing, and there were work stoppages in the first quarter, but right now we are running FULL OUT….which is a much more fun problem.
Even with all the political stuff out there, I think that there is a feeling that things have at least bottomed out – so there is less aprehension about discretionary spending on arts and crafts.

Thanks again for the insights.

-- 'Political correctness is fascism pretending to be manners' ~George Carlin

View rtb's profile


1101 posts in 3137 days

#4 posted 11-12-2009 01:30 AM

I think that you have hit on some of the basics without realizing I don’t really do shows but my wife has for several years which means I am involved. Fall shows usually are better ( pay attention Larry) not because they are in the fall but because fall, for us above the equator is the prelude to Christmas. Lots of people do spend money on gifts. Once you get to know other exhibitor, you will find that they will identify ‘good’ shows vs. shows that are so-so. You will also find that your products need to cover a spectrum of prices. Having $5 items will make people stop and look and some of them will buy higher priced items. You may also find that some things that are really in demand one year won’t get a second look the year after. When the selling season arrives you need to have a big stock laid on for the entire season. some items you will sell at give-a-way prices the following year or they may be next years hot items. If everything was predictable it wouldn’t be any fun. and one important thing. Take the time to walk around and see what others have and how they price it. It can ruin you day when you are try to sell $5 bookmarks while someone else has similar ones for $4.

-- RTB. stray animals are just looking for love

View Russel's profile


2199 posts in 3363 days

#5 posted 11-12-2009 02:23 AM

I’ve been following your series and appreciate your insights. Nothing is better than an observant participant. Thanks for taking the time to write this.

-- Working at Woodworking

View Tim Dahn's profile

Tim Dahn

1511 posts in 2989 days

#6 posted 11-12-2009 04:01 AM

Just read all of this blog, WOW! Thanks for sharing this, priceless information.

-- Good judgement comes from experience and experience comes from poor judgement.

View sras's profile


4364 posts in 2553 days

#7 posted 11-12-2009 05:41 AM

Very interesting blog. I also just read through the entire series. The whole idea of selling my work is interesting, but I would need to learn a lot more. This is a great help.

-- Steve - Impatience is Expensive

View russv's profile


262 posts in 2593 days

#8 posted 11-12-2009 07:53 PM

I love your blog . . . when is the movie coming out? lol

I think that what you have done here is great and can bring someone to the reality of shows and fairs. I have sold at a few shows (only indoor ones) and it is hard work. I mostly have my work in regular art galleries and usually take them out and shift around a couple of times. if they don’t sell eventually I just sell them in a craft show. I do these shows only once a year or so just to unload stuff I can’t sell in galleries. I guess I like doing these shows but that’s because I don’t do them very often. anyway, your blog is very enlightening.

just one thought i have. why not make one or two super high priced items (something that is 5-10 times your average price) and is a real eye catcher. The idea is if you sell this high profit high priced item once or twice a year, you can give an instant (and huge) boost to your bottom line. I figure there is always at least one millionaire in the crowd. just a thought.


-- where to go because you don't want no stinking plastic!

View reggiek's profile


2240 posts in 2694 days

#9 posted 11-12-2009 08:55 PM

Great analysis….I don’t do craft shows….I used to help a friend many years ago but have never tried selling my own creations (probably due to fear that I wouldn’t sell one item).....I think the shows are a great indicator of what is going on in the minds of consumers though….and I think the price points you mention are a great guage….it was so many years ago also….My friend made shadow box clocks with dried flowers, seeds and herbs in the boxes…very nice…some cheap…some not so….and the shows were such that at times she would sell out the cheap ones…others…I would help her pack the cheaper ones back up….I don’t recall any time that there was an even amount of sales for each price level….she would always bring items that were cheaper…up to fairly expensive… like you said…no one can seem to guage the minds of the participants….good luck though on your endeavors….it’s a tough way to make a living…but it can be done….lots of hard work though…

-- Woodworking.....My small slice of heaven!

View eddy's profile


936 posts in 2788 days

#10 posted 11-13-2009 05:24 PM

i have used your insite a lot (even stole a idea ie: dipping trays) your bloging helped awnser a lot of questions when i was starting out. you are corect it is hard work after a show i am burnt out. lots of ups and downs in sales but i have only been doing this for about 4 months now

-- self proclaimed copycat

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