Last weekend I experienced what it’s really like to sell at a festival / craft show. I researched tips for what I should do and many of which were incredibly handy, and so I’ve decided to share my own experience and what I found to be most helpful to me for my first time event. This was my also my first retail experience, although I have worked in the service industry in restaurants and bars in the past.
In this post I share my startup costs, a checklist template, and tips.
To get equipped for the event I needed to invest in some start up costs: the tent, operating equipment, packaging materials, displays, permit, cost for booking the space, and stock. In all I spent about $1,200. Which compared to a brick-and-mortar store, that’s a months worth of rent for everything.
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Marketing and Branding Materials
To save money and be creative, I looked around my house to see what I already have to use for displays. For my wedding I had a rustic wood theme, and happened to have items around the house that ended up working quite well. I utilized a vintage crate to display mugs, a wooden wine box lined with green tissue paper held lavender sachets, rough wood slices to display a necklace and another for flyers, and small wooden draws to hold other pieces of jewelry.
Framed art I hung to fencing material that I wrapped around the side walls of the tent with zipties. I found this method online and it is an excellent, lightweight, and a cheap way to display art!
Tenax Fencing Material: $21.95
Zip ties: $8.49.
4x (5×7″) frames from jerrysartarama.com $46.39
2x (11″ x 17″) frames from michaels.com : $27.98
2x (8″ x 8″) frames from michaels.com : $29.99
11″ x 14″ frame michaels.com: $13.99
Displayed unframed art in 10x (5×7″), 10x (8×10″) and 10x (8.5×11″) Mat Packs: $146.38
Sales and Use Tax Permit for Connecticut: $100
Booking a space
Each fair or festival will charge differently, in this case they charged $55.
Tips for your first craft show
1. Have something free to give away.
I gave away free caramels to anyone passing by, it’s a brilliant way to draw people in, and even though they might not end up buying anything, they may in the future if they also take a business card/flyer. And, the fact that there is a constant stream of people coming in to your tent helps to create a buzz, which in turn may draw in other people.
2. Get a Sales and Tax permit.
Most states in America legally require you to have a Sales and Tax permit to sell at a fair. Thankfully, you can get a temporary one online instantly. In Connecticut it costs $100 for the permit and it lasts for 5 years, after which it automatically renews for free if the account is active. Then monthly tax filing is required, even if you don’t earn in a month, but if your sales tax liability is less than $1,000 in a 12 month period then then they will reduce the frequency of the required filing.
3. Get the Square payment system.
The tool itself from Square is free, and so is the app, but they do charge 3% for card transactions. The tool plugs into your smartphone’s headphone jack, and allows you to receive payments from bank and credit cards. Even though I only received one payment on credit card, getting it was totally worth it! The phone app was extremely helpful, it allowed me to create an inventory of all the products I was selling, it calculated the sales tax (you need to set it up at the correct amount for your state, and turn it on for each product), and it was incredibly helpful with calculating change for customers. Just make sure your phone is fully charged before the event! I brought my laptop with me as backup to charge my phone if needed, and then I brought a calculator as a backup if for some reason the laptop failed. Thankfully I didn’t need the laptop or the calculator in the end.
4. Use a project management platform
I usually use excel to manage projects and I like it because of its very simple layout which instantly gives me an overview for current project status’, but I decided to give a project management tool a go. The closest product that I found similar to excel was Wrike.
They have a limited level account that’s free to use. They have a desktop version and an online version, so you can login from any computer to access your project. But unlike excel, it also gave me the ability to add extra information combined within each task, its super quick to create new tasks, and when you set one to completed/cancelled/on or hold it removes it from your active task list, but they are stored so you can still access them. And if you’re working with a partner on your business then you can add team mates to the platform and assign them specific tasks.
5. Use a cash box.
I initially purchased a money belt that I expected to use for managing transactions, and I’m so glad that I read a tip online that said to use a cash box instead! I used the money belt to hold the key for the cash box and my smartphone, and I found that when it came to managing a transaction, I fumbled at just even retrieving a key from the pouch! The money box made finding the right change a breeze.
6. Create and print a checklist.
This may seem obvious, but make a checklist and print it. I almost didn’t print my checklist, but I’m grateful that I did because it helped me to remember items to bring like wire cutters which were without a doubt very much needed. I created an excel spreadsheet template which you can modify for your needs. I included my full checklist and a stock sheet with a few products left in as examples. The stock sheet calculates the tax, and final price of product with tax. Although, the calculation wasn’t needed as I had the Square app, but I brought it as a backup just in case something went wrong with my phone. I recommend printing both before the event to bring with you.Checklist for fair spreadsheet (23 downloads)
7. Be prepared for anything.
Bring useful tools that you think you might not need, because, you might end up to find them invaluable. Bring: Scissors, masking tape, duct tape, close pegs or bulldog clips, and zip ties. Masking tape came in incredibly helpful when it got windy! Bring weight bags to hold your tent down. We were notified by the event organizers that we needed to weigh the tent down, and I’m glad that did because it turned out to be pretty windy on the day.
8. Bring someone with you.
If you can, bring someone with you, especially to set up. I definitely wouldn’t have been able to get set up by myself, the tent alone took three of us to comfortably put it up and take it down. I was incredibly lucky to have my father in law there to help us get set up.
9. Be prepared not to make a profit.
If this is your first event, then there is going to be startup costs: tent, tables, chair, marketing materials, stock, and permits. I ended up spending about $1,200 in total for everything, and I made $200 in sales. Of course you may make much more! And just by just being there you are marketing your brand and by supplying business cards/flyers then you may get a sale later on too!
10. Be prepared for the uncomfortable.
I hate anything that is uncomfortable, but not all experiences when you are working with people are positive. People might make rude comments, or get upset, or impatient. The majority of the experiences I had with customers and passersby were positive, but one can stick in your mind. After reliving the negative experience in mind over and over again, I decided to figure out how I would have handled the situation better, so that I felt prepared for that experience again in the future. I then spent time going back in my mind and reliving every kind comment and positive customer reaction that I could remember and I found that there were an overwhelming quantity of positive interactions.
11. Have a low priced item.
Of all the items that I sold, the most items sold were of home-made lavender sachets and incense sticks. I sold the sachets for $2 each (plus sales tax, don’t forget that one!) and I sold 20 in total. For the incense sticks I sold them for $1 and 9 of them sold in total. That brought in $49 for a low cost item, and contributed to one quarter of my total sales. The bags were 9 cents each and the string was $4.99 (and I used very little). The lavender was grown in our garden, but there was a lot of time involved in the process of harvesting and removing the buds. It doesn’t sound like much but it took a long time.
12. Brand your tent and have fun with it!
I went with a raw wood theme for items to hold and display products. I even used close pegs to hold up bags! A vintage wood crate was fabulous to display products on top and inside. Little wooden draws held jewelry. I attached an 8 foot banner around the main display table (with masking tape, which miraculously held well throughout the whole event). I used a wall tapestry to create a pretty backdrop; I think in hind side a bigger one would have been better though. I used a beach towel for the tabletop and I placed business cards and flyers at the front of the table, next to the free caramels!
13. Do a test run.
I set up my table exactly as I wanted it and took a photo to bring with me. Then when I got there I knew exactly where I wanted things placed to re-create it! Saves time and brain energy.
14. Be prepared for festival fatigue!
It is tiring and even though I brought a chair with me, I ended up on my feet the whole time. I didn’t want to just sit back as I felt that I need to look busy and welcoming to passersby. Setting up and putting things away takes a lot of work too. I’m naturally introverted in social situations and I can get anxious and so I kept a bottle of bach cherry plum on hand.
All in all it is a lot of work, but like anything in life if you distill it down to individual sub items to work on its completely doable. I managed to prepare for this event in about 8 weeks in total. Using a project management system like Wrike helped me to keep track with all of the things I needed to do to prepare for the event. Get lots of rest the day before because you’re going to need it, and don’t forget to enjoy yourself on the day. It’s an amazing feeling when you receive compliments for your work, and especially to see a customer walking away happy with one of your items!
If you have any questions please feel free to add them in the comments section at the end of this page.
I wish you the best of luck with your first event, and I hope these tips help you along your journey!