My Best Advice for Successful Holiday Craft Shows
Every fall, a ton of questions from first-time holiday craft show vendors start streaming in. How much product do I take? What do I need? Any advice? If this sounds like burning hot questions, you need the answers to, we've got you.
This year, we decided to put all our favorite advice together in one place for you. No more freaking out, no more Googling the world over, and no more sleepless nights working haphazardly in advance.
Here are my favorite tips and tricks for the smooth, stress-free, and successful holiday craft shows that are in your future:
1) Make a list (or two or three) and check it twice.
Create a holiday craft show checklist for what you need to bring and use the heck out of it. Create a list for what you need in your cashbox, what you need in product, what you need for displays, and what you need otherwise.
For instance, in your cashbox, you'll want to make sure to have:
- A certain amount of money in change, including a list of which bills, coins, and the quantity of each
- A paper receipt pad, just in case someone asks
- Your credit card reader and/or tablet and/or charging cable and/or backup battery bank and/or a manual card imprinter
- An inventory log or sales record, if you are not using a reader for all transactions
- Several pens, bring twice what you think you'll need
- A safe and secure place to store all of this
In your miscellaneous checklist, you'll want to have office supplies such as tape, glue, pens, paper, and scissors. Rope, safety pins, and binder clips come in handy for securing displays, banners, signage, and the like.
You'll also want a small first aid kit - feminine hygiene products, pain killers, band-aids, baby wipes, etc. I can't count the number of times I rescued another vendor because of our tiny little first aid kit.
Pack a snack and drink, in case you can't get away for food, too.
Every vendor's checklist is going to be different, but there are a TON of examples out there. I highly encourage you to make your own list and modify it as you attend holiday craft shows, figuring out what you do and don't need.
2) Take money how folks want to give it to you.
Nowadays, there is absolutely no excuse for not taking credit cards, but yet, it still happens. If you don't accept credit cards yet, know that your sales will spike significantly if you change your mind. In some cases, we've heard as much as double and triple the normal rates. Hardly anyone carries cash anymore!
Be prepared to take cash and credit.
When it comes to readers, your options are limitless. If you currently have a website that keeps track of your inventory, a reader that syncs up with that is best. For instance, if you use Shopify, the Shopify reader or point-of-sale (POS) system is your best bet. If you have a WooCommerce website, you can use a plugin to manage a POS and use Square or Paypal readers to capture payment.
The most common credit card readers are Square, Shopify, and Paypal Here, but of course, there are other merchant solutions out there.
When you use a POS system, use it for everything, including cash transactions, so you don't have to keep a sales record and can easily pull reports of what sold after the holiday craft show to match up with your inventory.
When it comes to old-fashioned payment methods, consider if you will take checks. Yes, they may bounce, but in my years of experience, it rarely happened. However, so few vendors take checks anymore that it may not be a big deal to forego them.
When it comes to cash, don't skimp on your initial cash. If your first ten customers pay with a $20 bill, will you be able to make change? What about a $50 bill or even worse yet, a $100 bill? When folks do rarely seem to carry cash, when they do, it seems to be big bills. So if you want the money, you need to be able to make change.
Whether or not you need coins will be determined by if you need to charge sales tax in addition to your prices (it's illegal in some states to include it in the price) and what your prices are. In most cases, a roll of each coin is usually sufficient.
For any transaction, make sure to have paper receipts available on request, but don't be surprised if folks don't want them. It's always the one time you don't have them that someone wants one!
3) Practice your checkout process and keep it smooth.
Craft shows can get crazy busy, and you naturally pick up a pace that centers on serving your customers and keeping your booth tidy. However, I always found the biggest lull was when you start ringing up and packing up a customer's order. For folks who are terrible about multi-tasking, it turns into a strange spectator sport where the customer watches your every move and you fumble around trying to give them everything they purchased.
Make customers feel valued and special, but don't hold up the crowd.
Before you hit the craft show, practice holding a conversation and maintaining eye contact while packing up an order. Go through the entire motion and write out the steps for checkout.
For instance, your checkout process might look like this:
- Enter the customer's purchases into your POS. Put each item into a shopping bag as you ring it in.
- Ask if they would like to join your mailing list to stay up to date on your company. If so, offer them your tablet to enter their email address or the sign-up sheet and a pen.
- Add any marketing materials into their bag, such as a business card, postcard, etc.
- Give the customer the total price and handle payment while verbally offering tips to enjoying their products, making their bar of soap last, or storing them long term.
- After payment, thank them for their purchase while handing them their purchases and note that you slipped your contact info into their bag should they need anything at all.
You may want to consider offering gift wrap for an upcharge. If you do, make sure that you have an area prepared to do so that it's quick and easy.
When it comes to packing up your customer's purchases, I urge you to use handled paper bags rather than flat merchandise bags. I know merchandise bags are way cheaper to stock, but the cost savings isn't worth it, in my opinion.
Handled bags are easier and less awkward to carry, but they also give you an opportunity for walking advertisements through the craft show grounds. If possible, have them custom printed (order in bulk and then you will have them for all your shows) or order a large stamp with your logo for the sides (use waterproof ink so it doesn't smear.)
4) Scoop up emails for your mailing list to retarget online sales.
One of the biggest challenges of even the most successful holiday craft shows is converting customers from in-person to online. That way, you can reap the benefits of a good show forever rather than just one weekend in December!
And the best way to do that is to get customers on your email marketing list. The first step is obvious: have a way to signup available - but that's not enough!
Just because you put that list out doesn't mean that folks will see it in the hustle-bustle of the show, so make it obvious and beneficial. A nicely sized sign and an easy method to sign up are necessary. Don't make folks jump through hoops to make it happen (first name and email address - no more!).
Use a craft show to your advantage long term by collecting email addresses!
Some soapmakers run a product giveaway after the show that can be entered in exchange for joining the mailing list. That way, they can contact the winner AND beef up their list.
Another tactic is to offer a special discount, gift with purchase, or product for new subscribers. That way, new subscribers can snag a benefit right away and makes it easy to hand over that email address.
If you can convert someone to get online with you, you're more likely to see them again – either in person or on your website.
5) Consider your craft show booth setup and work it out.
Most experienced vendors agonize over their craft show setup when they first start selling at shows, but then they start dropping the ball.
No matter where you are in your craft show setup journey, there is a whole lot of psychology in merchandising that can boost your sales. In fact, I wrote an entire article full of tips for great craft show booth setups from my experience setting up displays in retail stores!
Julie from Jubilee Bath and Body makes her booth feel like a boutique.
Before you head to a holiday craft show, practice your setup and make sure that everything has its place. And when you have it JUST right, snap a few pictures with your smartphone so you will actually remember it. Plus, a series of set up photos makes it possible for someone to help you set up without having to direct their every move!
As you organize your inventory on the table(s), consider different ways to present your products in a pleasing manner. You could group products by scent family, by product type, by intended use, or even by color.
Don't forget to use a floor-to-table tablecloth to hide your overstock inventory. Nothing looks worse than a bare-bottomed table with a bunch of cardboard boxes and storage totes shoved underneath.
6) Be your brand and invite folks into your world.
One of the most commonly overlooked steps for successful craft shows is to be your brand! In-person events are the perfect opportunity to look the part and bring your brand aesthetic full circle.
For instance, our Community Coordinator Stephanie has a definitively Southern brand over at Southern Girl Soapery, so if I were to see her at I'd craft show, I'd expect to see some high hair, boots, pearls, monograms, and a perfectly tailored chambray shirt or dress.
Whatever the brand aesthetic is, wear on yourself, too!
Don't be afraid to dress the part for your brand.
When people approach your booth, complete the branded experience by staying on point with your messaging. Introduce yourself to folks, say hi, and offer a pointed question or unusual statement to kick off the conversation.
Tip: Try to avoid a question with a yes or no answer. Humans are trained to immediately say, "No, thank you" when someone speaks to us in a retail environment! Switching gears wakes people up. For instance:
- "Smells are free, let's find the right one for you."
- "Would you like to sample our world-famous body butter in Raspberry Vanilla or Peaches and Cream?"
- "What's your favorite scent in the whole world?"
- "What's better at moisturizing your dry skin, body butter or body lotion?"
- "Which one of these two do you think smells better?"
- "What's your favorite color?"
Gauge your customer's response and let them guide the rest of the interaction. You'll either find yourself chatting happily to help them along or quietly moving to the next customer so they can shop in peace.
7) Stand out and be remembered at your next holiday craft show.
When you find yourself in a sea of vendors, especially among white canopy tents, it's important to find distinctive ways to stand out from the crowd. Some vendors use decorations on their canopy's support legs like garland, holiday lights, fresh flowers, or curtains.
Other ideas to spruce up your booth and make it feel one of a kind include:
- Add a large rug under your table or in the middle of your booth to transform the space.
- Don't just stick to tables, think about the walls of your tent and don't be afraid to use them.
- Wallpaper, patterned poster board, and stencils can help you create faux textures and illusions on backdrops and display pieces.
Jennifer's brand, From the Blue House, had unique displays down pat!
Soapmakers always seem to remember to snag one banner and place it on the front of their table. A banner on the front of your table is great, but it will get blocked as soon as you have people in your booth! Ideally, two or three banners work out better - above your table and on the top front of your canopy are great ways to get your banner visible no matter how many people are at your booth.
Make the shopping experience memorable by taking it up a notch. Offer candy or activities (coloring pages are easy) to kids, treats or water to dogs, or bottled water for adults. These small investments in making your customers feel special and comfortable go a long way in standing out!
8) Don't stress over inventory numbers.
Too many soapmakers rely on silly formulas for how much product they should bring to a craft show and don't keep in mind some really important factors: how much you can realistically make and how much you can physically sell.
It's super common to estimate inventory by assuming that 10% of the craft show's attendees will stop by your booth or might buy from you. The thing to remember is that you typically cannot physically serve all the people who attend or even show up to your booth.
To figure out your inventory requirements, ask yourself:
- How many people will be tending your booth as your team?
- How many customers can each person serve in an hour?
- How many hours is the show?
- What is the average order?
Let's say you have two people who will be manning your booth at your next craft show and they can each serve 20 customers an hour (3 minutes per customer). The show is 8 hours total and your average order at craft shows is 5 bars of soap (because you bundle 5 for $35). That means that you will probably max out at selling 1600 items (2 people x 20 customers per hour x 8 hours x 5 products per order = 1600.)
This is the best-case scenario! Imagine if you instead used the common formula of 10% and the show had 40,000 attendees. You'd be killing yourself to make products for an impossible outcome!
We all know that the best-case scenario is a rare occurrence and that realistically, you will probably see less traffic than that. It gives you a good way to estimate a max ceiling for products to hustle in production.
If you previously sold at a specific craft show or even know someone who has, try to use the same questions to gain insight into a good estimate of how much inventory to bring.
Next, you want to figure out what you are capable of producing and focus on that! No need to kill yourself for a one-time event.
9) Do what you can and accept craft shows for what they are.
When it comes down to it, craft shows are unpredictable and can always be a surprise. Set your goals prior to a craft show and then adjust them as needed. Don't set your sights on unrealistic quotas and keep a positive perspective.
When you are at a craft show, never pack up early, no matter how bad a show is. Most shows make it clear that if you pack up early, you won't be invited back. But what most vendors miss out on is that craft shows aren't just about the return on investment in sales. Even if you have poor sales at a craft show doesn't make it a bust.
When my daughters did their first craft show, they didn't even make back their $25 booth fee! But low and behold, a month later, that craft show landed them a $250 order from someone who happened to see them there.
Even if you sell out, sticking it out at a holiday craft show and being present could net you some big gains. Use the time you've already dedicated to being at the show to gather pre-orders and people on your mailing list to market to in the future!
While you can't control the outcome, you can control what you do with it - so keep a positive attitude and make sure to use any perceived failures as stepping stones to future success!
As they say, when life hands you lemons, grab some salt and tequila. Good luck at your holiday craft shows this season!
Do you have any more tips for successful holiday craft shows for the community? Share them in the comments below!
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