Art Fair Insiders

Call for Artists, Making Money at Juried Art Fairs, Craft Shows and Festivals

Hi! I don't think I've posted here yet. In October, I'm doing my first outdoor vendor/arts fair and I was hoping I could ask a few questions. Specifically, I'm looking to compile a checklist of all the things I will need to own and bring with me. (I've only done 1 craft show before and that was more than 3 years ago.)

I know I will need:

  • White 10x10 Canopy Tent - looking at this one: Eurmax Canopy
  • Filled sandbags for tent
  • Stakes for tent (I think it will be in the grass but I'm not completely sure of that yet)
  • Cash drawer and $? for change (how much do you recommend bringing?)
  • Square chip card reader and Square store set up
  • Jewelry and other goodies to sell! (I'm so far behind, eek!)
  • Bags and possibly gift boxes?
  • Price tags (except for the high-end items, which will have descriptions only)
  • Sunscreen and maybe a hat
  • ... I know I'm missing stuff here, please add to the list as you see fit!

Should I bring craft supplies to show my process and work on it while people walk past? Or should I just sit there and force myself to talk to people?

Do I need to have a tax license on-hand? Or just be prepared to notate and file? I think the show requires us to hold taxes but it didn't say we need a license. 

Do I need to file for a DBA to collect taxes? I'm so far out of my league here.

Everything I have yet to do is now hitting me full-force and I'm mildly freaking out here. 

Any advice you can provide would be greatly appreciated!

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This is my first season doing small events (not really art shows save one, so far) and I finally feel like I'm sort of prepared after 4 months of fiddling about. I made a master list of all the items I have and will create a specific one for each event from that. There are things I'll take to an indoor event that I won't need for an outdoor, and vice versa. There are things I'll need for an outdoor event that doesn't end before dark that I won't need for a similar indoor event.

I suggest creating an inventory of things you gather for this, and you'll learn which you need for what type of event.

To add to the other suggestions, I have a plastic bin I call my 'tool box' with diagonal cutters, spray cleaner, paper towels, duct tape, utility knife, trash bags, baby wipes, clorox wipes and bungee cords. Probably some other stuff I'm forgetting. That's come in very handy.

Thank you all so much for your help!

The show is tomorrow and I still feel woefully unprepared and my anxiety is pretty awful, but I feel a lot better knowing everything I do now after reading through this thread.

Yes! That's what we're here for, Veronica. I'm pleased to see how much help you've gotten. Will you report back about the good, the bad and the ugly of your first event? I'd love a post mortem.

I sure will!

It may be Sunday or Monday (I'll need some recovery time) but I'll definitely make a point to gather my thoughts and post a follow-up. I'll try to include things I've learned, where I went wrong, and a checklist that worked for me. 

It's been really difficult for me because this is the first time I've treated my craft as a business. I don't even have that many things finished to sell, but I feel totally burnt out on making jewelry. I really hope that feeling doesn't last very long because I'm going to have to stock up my Etsy shop and possibly do more shows for the holidays. I used to find macrame in particular soothing, but I've gotten so stressed and anxious that it sucked all the goodness out of crafting and just made it a painful necessity. 

This makes me sad to read, that you're anxious and not soothed by your craft. Is it the stress of gearing up for your first show? I hope the show went amazingly well for you!

Hi Gayleen. Yes, it was the stress of preparing for the show. I've taken a small break after so that I could rest and repair. :)  I had nothing at all made in advance almost a month before the show date, even though I knew about the show well ahead of time. I waited until the last minute and it really hurt me, physically and mentally. 

I'm about to write up a postmortem so I can share what I learned.

What I learned:

  • Make more than you think you’ll need.
  • Practice setting up a few days in advance. This gives you a chance to arrange your sales display the way you want it and if it’s your first time using a canopy tent, a chance to learn how it works, which makes it SO MUCH easier at the show. 
  • Check and double-check that you have everything you will need at least a week in advance, including stakes/weights (and everything else you might need for the tent).
  • Make lists and check them twice! You can’t be too prepared.
  • Make sure your credit card processing company is up-to-date and ready to go. Test the reader to make sure you can accept them and it’s not flawed or broken in any way. (I made over $120 in credit card sales. 
  • Bring lots of change for cash if you’re going to accept it. (I also recommend rounding up your prices because no one wants to sit around and have change counted out, plus it’s a major pain to predetermine what quantities you’ll need. Just make the prices whole dollars. I think our customers appreciated this.) Don’t bring any big bills (no $20s!) and make sure the cash box you’re using has a section in which you can hide bigger bills. We had over $200 in cash sales.)
  • Take your medicine! If you have blood pressure and/or an anxiety condition (like me), and you’re at all stressed about the show, come prepared. Bring ‘as needed’ medications and don’t forget to take your prescribed meds in the morning and the night before.
  • Get enough sleep! This was tricky for me (I managed with under 6 hours) but it’s very important to be well-rested. It will reduce your fatigue during the show, (in turn reducing your number of [unprofessional] yawns), and reduce your reliance on energy supplements while you’re there. 
  • Set boundaries! If you are accustomed to living within a bubble of personal space, don’t let other people in unless you feel comfortable doing so. Don’t be afraid to take a physical step back if you feel crowded or unsafe and verbalize your discomfort if it becomes too much. This is another reason why pre-planning your setup is important.
  • Be prepared to occasionally ‘push back’. Some people want to have incredibly long-winded conversations and don’t end up buying anything. They’re browsers and grazers and some of them might be very lonely but they’re not helping you any. You’re there to sell, not make friends. (If you make friends, that’s an added bonus, but don’t let one person hog all of your attention. You might lose sales that way and it opens the door for theft.)
  • That said, be open and welcoming. Greet everyone, even if you don’t think they’re going to buy something. It lets them know you’re watching them (deterring theft) and gives you great practice for when you might actually sell something.
  • Don’t be afraid to talk up your work! You worked hard to make your art, let customers in on the process. That’s one of the great things about online shops, that you can add very detailed depictions of your creative process, but, if your art is mobile you can also bring along something easy to work on. 
  • Don’t be afraid to upsell. Prepare sets of items so you have things that work well together or match next to each other. 
  • Watch your language. Don’t say anything that makes you sound unprofessional or alienates customers. An unfortunate example of this is when my booth-mate found an old friend and decided to loudly proclaim that her doctor told her that if she got back surgery, she might end up in a wheelchair and “Screw that!”, right as our only potential customer in a wheelchair rolled up. She was looking at buying something from her booth, but as soon as she heard that she spun around and left. I felt terrible and still haven’t told my mother-in-law how crappy of her that was. (Honestly, she should know better, especially since she’s disabled, but that’s a rant for another time and place.)
  • What else?... Oh, don’t forget to have fun (?). That was very challenging for me, but once I started to relax I almost enjoyed myself.
  • Don’t be afraid to leave early if you can’t bear the weather. It was actually nicest when it was drizzling, even when there was a slight breeze that started to move our product. Later in the afternoon, the sun came out but the humidity didn’t let up, and we both started wilting. We left about an hour early and don’t regret it. If you can’t handle the heat, get out of there. Your health is more important than those extra sales. You can’t sell anything if you’re in the hospital. (Well, maybe you can, but most people won’t be able to). 
  • Life happens. You can’t prepare for every eventuality. My mother-in-law’s husband died suddenly less than a month before the show. She shattered. As a result, she only had one handmade item to sell (which she sold, and received two more orders for), but she more than made up for that in used books. If you need to take some ‘me’ time before or after the show, do it. Don’t let life stand in the way (if you can at all avoid it), but understand that “sh*t happens”. 

I think that about sums up what I’ve learned. I may revisit and add to this later, like my personal checklist of items to bring. I want to thank all of you who commented, whether with advice or well wishes. It was greatly appreciated!

Well, Veronica! Thank you for that, a great list. Yes - don't forget your meds. Upselling is always smart. If you can sell something larger or more than one object to a person interested in your work that is good. We sold photography, with matted images in bins. If a person was about to buy one of those, if I had it framed in the back, I'd always bring the framed piece out and offer that instead. Nearly always they paid for the framed piece.

I'll only quibble with "leave early." Yes, I do understand if it is a health issue, but otherwise it is bad for the show in general, plus it hurts your neighbors and word gets around that you are not reliable. This is a tough business, in some ways, and learning to roll with the weather is a biggie. Mostly art fairs are a rain or shine occasion. We weight the tents, we shelter our goods, we bring clothing for hot or freezing weather. 

there is one very big and useful article here about outdoor fairs. Maybe you can find anything useful there

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