Crafts Shows R Us #6: Crash, Burn, Dog Paddle, or Soar

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Blog entry by closetguy posted 11-03-2008 06:41 AM 2281 reads 2 times favorited 11 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 5: It's In The Bag Part 6 of Crafts Shows R Us series Part 7: The Good, the Bad, and the Horrible »

Ok, everyone is asking about numbers, and even though I think it’s too early to get into this, I will give you what I have so far.

Here are my startup costs:

Trimline Canopy – $1095 with shipping (started with $250 Ez Up)
4 tables – $180
4 fitted table cloths – $190
4 Product transport boxes – $120
Propay merchant account – $39 per year
Knuckle buster, name plate, 400 card slips – $20
Director’s Chair – $90
Administrative supplies – $150
Display stands – $30
Tent weights (4” concrete-filled PVC) and cargo straps – $60
Web Site – $10 per month

So it looks like I spent about $2000 to put myself in the position to participate in shows. This figure could be much lower if you go with an Ez Up or a used tent. A crafter next to me at a show had a Craft Hut brand that looked very similar to my Trimline. He bought it slightly used from another crafter for $400. I also purchased a Jet 16-32 drum sander and Grizzly Flap sander to speed up production. Total cost together was around $1000.

Of course this doesn’t include product costs. There obviously is the wood, but also all the other incidentals. Since I am cranking out a lot of boards, I buy in volume to get discounts. I order 4 gallons of mineral oil at a time, two pounds of beeswax, 500 rubber feet, and 3 gallons of Titebond III glue. When you move into volume production it pays in the long run to buy materials in volume if possible.

Then there are entry fees into shows. Since I have only done small shows this year (1000 to 2000 attendance), the costs have range from $50 to $100. I have applied to a big Sugarloaf show in December which charged me a $45 jury fee. If I am accepted, the booth fee is $425. Entry fees can be a challenging issue. Many shows have a deadline six to nine months in advance and many of these promoters want the entry fee paid before the show deadline or with the application. So it’s conceivable that if you were going to do 20 shows a year, you could have a few thousand dollars in entry fees tied up for a long time. I’m still wrestling with this one.

This may seem like a lot, but one good big show, or a few good medium size shows could recover all the startup costs. It’s not realistic to expect to recover startup costs in a couple of months. It took me over a year with my closet business. But the indication from these small shows has me optimistic. My sales have ranged from $200 to $1000 gross, with a show average of $600. The $200 was a one day street festival which I won’t do again. This is against products in the $10 to $95 range, with the average single sale in the $25 to $50 range. Sales per show are increasing, probably because of Christmas gift buying, so my show average should continue to increase. It’s conceivable that I could recover my startup costs with a few more real good shows between now and the end of the year. I could also crash and burn at the next couple of shows and prolong the return on my investment. That’s the risk/reward of being in this business.

In addition to the shows, I also have local and online sales. I continue to sell locally by word of mouth and through a separate web site. I also have sales on Etsy and other handmade crafts sites. I still consider this whole thing as a big science project, but as you can see, I have committed myself to see if it can be profitable. The jury is still out on that question. Even though all indications look promising, I need to get into bigger shows to have the potential to do a higher sales volume.

-- I don't make mistakes, only design

11 comments so far

View Tim Pursell's profile

Tim Pursell

499 posts in 3862 days

#1 posted 11-03-2008 12:11 PM

Thanks for all your highly detailed info. You have really laid out many of the trials of doing the show circuit. Beware of the lure of the bigger shows. Yes you will see more people go past your booth. What you really want are buyers. I have done my best shows at some smaller shows. $400-$2100( the most I ever paid for a show) eats up alot more profit than the $50-$100 shows.


View toyguy's profile


1655 posts in 3917 days

#2 posted 11-03-2008 02:00 PM

This has been very interesting in deed, I do appreciate your input to this form of selling….. thanks.

-- Brian, Ontario Canada,

View trifern's profile


8135 posts in 3847 days

#3 posted 11-03-2008 02:42 PM

Thanks for all your insight. It has been very helpful.

-- My favorite piece is my last one, my best piece is my next one.

View Russel's profile


2199 posts in 4019 days

#4 posted 11-03-2008 03:01 PM

Great series. You’ve provided quality information.

-- Working at Woodworking

View John Gray's profile

John Gray

2370 posts in 3965 days

#5 posted 11-03-2008 05:42 PM

Great post, please keep us informed?

-- Only the Shadow knows....................

View daveintexas's profile


365 posts in 3955 days

#6 posted 11-03-2008 06:21 PM

Wonderful. It is really appreciated by us all that you have taken the time to share this info.

In regards to the shows you have done, and keeping in the woodworking theme=
Are the majority of the other booths selling smaller items such as your?
Or are there vendors set up with 3 or 4 big items, and taking orders ??

Thanks again

View SawDustnSplinters's profile


321 posts in 3861 days

#7 posted 11-03-2008 08:04 PM

Great Information…a lot of things you have learned I am learning now but it helps to have your advance insight. Like the cardboard boxes vs the strong plastic boxes, nothing more embarrasing then having a box full of packing peanuts burst open going 70 mph down the road, true story :) As for the EZUP, yea I had a storm rip one to shreds until I started using 24 inch long 3/8 rebar and a sledgehammer, I would pound the rebar into the ground next to each leg about halfway and then take two hose clamps and tighten the rebar to the legs, I did this on each leg and I never had a mishap again…When tear down I would take the sledge and loosen up the rebar by hitting it from side to side until I could pull them up out of the ground.

It also makes sense that with the economy it is better to take our products to where there is a higher concentration of potential customers in a shorter period of time. More people saw our product and bought and placed orders at the last show in three days then would have dropped in at the store/shop in 3 months.

Well to your supply list I do not see the small tv for the games :) (you can hide it under the table)

Anyway Great post and Good timing….Thanx…

-- Frank, Dallas,TX , , “I have a REALLY BIG chainsaw”

View closetguy's profile


744 posts in 3972 days

#8 posted 11-04-2008 03:22 AM

Daveintexas, all the shows I have done so far usually have a couple woodworkers selling smaller items. The last show I did had one turner selling pens, bottle stoppers, etc. and another one was selling traditional jewelry boxes, bandsaw boxes, and post office banks. I have seen woodworkers at larger shows selling outdoor furniture. In Atlanta, many fine furniture and commission woodworkers sell at our home shows. We have a Spring and Fall home show that is quite large and you get (for lack of better wording) a higher quality of customer than at a craft show. I did these shows for about three years selling custom closets and it wasn’t uncommon to do $20,000 in sales per show. However, my booth fee was $2000.

-- I don't make mistakes, only design

View sandhill's profile


2128 posts in 4003 days

#9 posted 11-05-2008 05:36 AM

This is just what I was looking for I am about to start doing shows for a new item I came up with and have not seen anyone selling. For that matter I have tried to buy one myself and could not find one (don’t ask what it is) For obvious reasons I have to keep it to myself until I have made enough of them to sell and have a small supply to take to shows. I will start to do shows in March but have 3 shops now that will sell on consignment. I will try to have a web site up before the end of Jan. My question is what would you say is a safe number of a specialty item to make and bring to a show? Who is your Pro pay merchant account with?
Good luck with the jury and keep us posted on your results. Try a mag called Sunshine Artists I have had good results with the information they put out.

View closetguy's profile


744 posts in 3972 days

#10 posted 11-05-2008 06:00 AM

I subscribe to Sunshine Artists. It is worth every penny. I also subscribe to Propay is the merchant account,

You never know what is going to sell at each show. I sell two products, cutting boards and dipping boards. I didn’t sell any dipping boards at my first two shows. I sold 5 at the third show ($50 each). Most everything in the $25-$50 range sells well. I have a lot of $95 large boards (12×16) that I tend to sell one per show. My $50 medium board (10×11) is the best seller. I alway take 20 with me to each show. I sold all of them at a show two weeks ago.

You just have to make up a mix of inventory and go do a few shows and see what sells. You will eventually get a feel for what quantities you need.

-- I don't make mistakes, only design

View sandhill's profile


2128 posts in 4003 days

#11 posted 11-06-2008 07:57 AM

I use to do shows with and for my wife when we were in MD so I know and feel your pain closetguy. We got with a show promoter that demanded you do all there shows 6 or 8 a year on the east cost at $475 to 750.00 a show and you had to stay right until the last customer left no matter what, even if you sold out on Saturday. A lot of vendors said they would not do another show with them because they allowed people to bring in “junk made in china and Taiwan” don’t get me wrong there are wonderful craftsmen in those countries but this was truly dollar store stuff and it sold because it was cheep!
One guy I saw did very well, he had what looked like saw horses with branches stapled to one end and straw on the other end and had a sign saying RAIN DEAR $35.00 I thought it was a joke but he sold them out and had to go home Friday night stayed up all night and made 30 or 40 more. and sold out by Sunday afternoon. In fact he sold everything he made! He had spice racks made from what looked like pallet materials I thought to myself this guy knows what he is doing! I went over and tried to do small talk between customers and listened to what people were saying. They loved it! And this was truly S*&%. He used spar varnish and some of the stuff was still wet from the night before.
His story was him and his wife were on the craft show circuit on the west coast mostly Calif. he hated the east coast because his sale were down here and he was only doing $55K that year and this was Sept all ready! He claimed he had done $85K before the end of August when he was out west and the show promoter here was the worst he ever worked with. That part I will agree with they were real bad and difficult to deal with. Even though we did poorly (sold 1 $22.00 item) at that show we did make up for it the next time out by selling 200 items. we marked everything down to $18.00. net cost per item was about $4.00 so that show paid for our start up and all of our materials but it was not until the 4th show that we saw real profits. By the 6th show we were sick to death of it and welcomed having our week ends back even though we were making good money it was just to hard to do with each of us having full time jobs. I sold the rest of our product on eBay which I will never do again but that’s another story.

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