Tuesday, September 9, 2008

5½ Shocking Facts about Craft Fairs

I participated in my first craft show last weekend, the Crafting Patch Market in Charlotte, NC. I was very nervous beforehand and stayed up way too late to get every last skein of yarn labeled. It all paid off in a lovely day (no hint of Hurricane Hannah) filled with fantastic people and a real sense of community. Despite being well-prepared by reading everything I could about doing a craft fair, there were still a few things that surprised me:
  1. A festival provides indispensable feedback on your marketing plan. Online buyers see & buy without disclosing what prompted the purchase. Did they seek me out? Did they stumble upon me? At this festival, several knitters came specifically to see me (thanks to my posting on forums, the blog, etc). Others registered recognition when they read my label. The feeling was indescribable. People recognized Blonde Chicken Boutique as a brand. The thought still makes me all sparkle-y.
  2. Instant feedback is a drug that I'm afraid I may be addicted to. Sending out yarn to my lovely online customers, feels a bit like sending my squishy friends into the ether. They may show up on Flickr or Ravelry, but mostly I release them into the wild with hopes that they find a good set of needles (or at least a comfy stash to marinate in). Watching a real, live, chatty, interesting person walk away with my yarn is ridiculously satisfying.
  3. Describing a product is entirely different in person. The long, descriptive prose that is so necessary to sell a tactile item online isn't necessary in person. The customer has the squishy soft item in their hand and can clearly see the colors. This may seem obvious, but after writing web copy for so long, I had to remember it while writing the labels. I also had to scale back on the descriptive talk with most customers. Some people want to know all about the farm where the sheep who grew that wool was raised, but some don't.
  4. Being friendly is exhausting, but being passionate is exhilerating. After years of waitressing, followed by 2 years managing a retail studio, I was expecting the usual exhaustion of a day filled with smiling at people and describing the product. I was shocked by how different this experience was. Yes, I was tired, but I was exhilarated. Selling someone apple pie is NOTHING like sharing a passion for creating!
  5. You don't have to (and probably can't) fake enthusiasm. For the first time in my customer service experience, I didn't need to tell myself "be nice". The fiber artists came in, chatted and I was overwhelmed with happy, smiling words. I nearly hugged someone (everyone). It was ridiculous (but I didn't hug anyone other than my husband, so don't be afraid to come by my next booth!) Describing my process, demonstrating the wheel, chatting fiber, it was all so FUN!
5½ . I want to do it again! Ok, this isn't so shocking, because I've already agreed to do National Alpaca Farm Day at Silver Thunder Alpacas and have been accepted by Craft Attack. But I am surprised at how much I'm looking forward to the events. I am shocked at how much the experience has cemented that live, in-person selling needs to be a part of my overall business plan.

So if you're thinking about doing a craft show, I strongly encourage you try one. Find an inexpensive option (like a small one, or share a booth) and go after it! You may find it shockingly fun!

16 comments:

Scarf It Up! said...

This is a fabulous blog post - so well-written and SO passionate! I'm thrilled to hear that your experience was so positive. I've applied to the Handmade Market in Raleigh in November - an indoor show - and will hope (if accepted ) to have a similarly positive experience. Thanks for all the heads-up.

BTW, do you know anything about the Handmade Market? If so, could you email me at: scarfitup [at] ec.rr.com.

Thanks,
Louise

thaneeya said...

Thanks for sharing your insights! I'm glad the craft fair experience was such a positive one for you. Best of luck with the upcoming fairs!

Mary V. Smith said...

Congrats on your fair...I have similar feelings when I do shows! Selling your work person-to-person validates what we do as Artists/Craftspeople!

Jen Hintz said...

I had so much fun meeting you at the Crafting Patch, and I'm still petting my banana-fiber yarn!
I haven't done any fairs yet, but I'm hoping to do Crafting Patch next year. See you there! =)

Amanda said...

Thank you so much for sharing your experience, and linking the post on Etsy too! I'm going to be in my first show in November with a group and I am so nervous, but I can't wait!
All the Best,
Amanda

liz aka hobbledehoy said...

wow, thanks for the post! I'm still a bit scared/sketchy about attending a craft fair, mostly because the single one I vended at was barely attended.

You're right about the instant gratification of watching people with the yarn you spun. It's surreal, each little skein has it's own little personality, and watching them walk away with someone who loves them is a thrill!

And YAY! People recognized your brand! That's super-awesome!

Christie Cottage said...

Enjoyed your post. Craft shows are exhilirating! Oh, and exhausting too!

I highly recommend them!

Thanks for sharring!
http://christiecottage.etsy.com

Helen (Secret Lentil) said...

Yes! Yes to everything you said. It's so energizing. Plus I get to see people try my clothes on - that is absolutely priceless - much better than shipping them off in a box. (Um, not the people, the clothes.)

I have a show in a few weeks and I can't wait to interact with real people again. And every time I finish sewing something I think, oh good, if this sells I don't have to photograph it and write about it!

Broken China Treasures said...

Congratulations on surviving your first show!

~~ Tanya

niftyknits said...

What an inspirational post - thank you! I have my first craft fair in October, I'm looking forward to it even more now.

Havi Brooks (and duck) said...

Exciting!

And yeah, you have a completely memorable stand-out brand.

And yeah, talking about something you're thrilled about is way more fun than talking up the daily special at a restaurant (unless you're the chef?).

Love it. Rock on.

cloudlover said...

Thanks so much for posting about your experience! You can never really learn enough about these things. I'm doing my first show in Oct. and this post has me really revved up!

Tanya said...

I participated in my first fair last weekend I completely agree with you here. Especially on # 5 and 6!!!! It's really weird though, because I was a waitress for 5 years, and going on my second year at a chain portrait studio.. Definitely will be doing a ton more fairs and getting on my way of quitting my day job :)

Confections said...

Great points! I'll keep these in mind as I anticipate participating in my local farmer's market.

AnneMarie said...

Excellent - I'm glad your first experience was so positive. I love meeting people who already know my work. It happened to me again just the other day. Totally amazing!

Alpaca Granny said...

Thanks for sharing your fun day.
Maple