I have been refinishing and refurbishing furniture to sell for a little over a year now. In April, I took a leap and participated in my first ‘show,’ the Scraps of Simplicity Boutique in West Haven, Utah.
…so I can’t claim to have a wealth of experience, but I have learned a thing or two that I will pass on to you! I hope they will help someone.
What do I take?
When went to my first show, I took along several great pieces of furniture (at least I thought so!). I had a long dresser, a chest of drawers and dresser set, a sofa table with benches, a set of arm chairs, a table and four chairs…you get the picture! The first lesson I learned was that the majority of shoppers at a craft show do not come prepared to buy or transport large items! So the sad thing was that the I ended up bringing a lot of those pieces home with me. I was able to sell them through the classifieds over the next couple of weeks, but it was a waste of time and energy to transport them back and forth. Stick with smaller items that can conceivably fit in a back seat or trunk.
So for Bella’s market, I had several coffee tables, stools, single chairs, etc. I did take one monstrously heavy cedar chest…and it came home with me!
Like me, you may have friends who also make great stuff, and you may want to help them out by trying to sell out of your booth. The next lesson I learned is that items unrelated to the major theme of your booth don’t do well. At my first show, I invited a friend who makes cute Easter baskets to sell them in my booth. I don’t think one of them sold.
At Bella’s, my sister placed some of her ultra-adorable handmade caps on a display. None of them sold, either.
This is not a reflection on those products—it’s just that when the buyers are looking at a “home furnishings” booth, they simply don’t see those unrelated items. They don’t compute! So they get passed over.
I made an expensive miscalculation related to this lesson at Bella’s as well. I love the beautiful clay tags and pennant banners from Vintage Skye.
I think everyone should love them as much as I do! Since she offered a 40% discount for bulk orders, I spent $125 purchasing banners and tags for resale. I think I sold something like four tags. Ouch! Again, it’s not a reflection of these fabulous items…but they just were passed over because they didn’t fit with the ‘theme’ of the booth. So my advice: don’t try to be successful as a re-seller. (Guess what I’ll be giving as Christmas gifts this year??)
My best advice for your displays is to think vertical! It’s really difficult to do this if the majority of your product is furniture. But you’re likely to have some smaller items, and anything you can do to draw the eye upward, especially for smaller items, is good! At the Scraps Market, I borrowed a friend’s pegboard displays, and they were great for hanging things like shutters and my hand-painted signs.
I didn’t have them at Bella’s Market, and I think that was a mistake. Signs in a basket simply don’t have the same impact. So think about creating some kind a wall you can hang things on. In the alternative, bring some folding tables so you can set some things up higher, like we did with the pink headboards and footboards. Then we used the space in front of them without worrying about hiding anything important.
Next, shake things up throughout the day. As items sell—and even if they don’t'—move things around. You don’t want to leave empty spaces, but more importantly, things may attract attention differently in different spaces. Often times a buyer may walk through your booth more than once, and if you’ve moved things around, they may see something they missed the first time!
Costs of a Show
I’m still struggling to determine if my own show experiences can be qualified as “successes.” I think there is a lot more to consider than just money, although money is probably the most important benchmark. When I’m looking at costs, I try to consider not only materials, but also gas, food, and the time I take from others.
My time I don’t really count, as I am doing it because I love to. For my first show, though, I had a HUGE amount of help from four terrific friends as well as my family. They did it because they loved ME, and while I am grateful for that, I’m not necessarily comfortable with it! For the second show, I cut down considerably on what I had other people do for me, and that quieted my conscience a bit.
If you’re going to be at an all day show, you’re going to need food. I think I spent around $35 for feed three or four of us two meals, and that comes out of my profits. I should probably also figure the cost of the extra pizzas we ate in the weeks leading up to the show, as well as dinner out the night after the first show because we were so exhausted! I haven’t actually figured gas costs, although I need to. I pulled a trailer, and I’m sure that wasn’t cheap!
Traffic, Traffic, Traffic
In the real estate game, they tell you that the three most important considerations are “location, location, location.” For a craft show or market, I’d say the most important considerations are “traffic, traffic, traffic.”
No matter how great your products are, TRAFFIC IS KEY! It’s way too easy to feel like a failure when your things don’t sell, but if you don’t have good traffic at a show, there’s only so much blame you can place on yourself!
(Note: I tend to slash prices when things aren’t flying out of my booth, because I really don’t want to pack it all up and take it home! That is my choice, and I know it cuts down on potential profits. But sometimes I figure any sale is better than no sale.)
You may be able to do a little bit to increase traffic yourself. Try to do what you can to advertise. Lots of shows may have fliers available for you to distribute. Try to. I even took some to a local vintage-y consignment shop that I love, and they agreed to place them on their counter for me. Mention the show on Facebook or your blog. And one thing I did for Bella’s Market was to post items I was taking on the classifieds, and state that they would “be available at this place on this date.” I had a few calls from those ads, so it didn’t hurt!
So, the big question is…have *I* been successful at these markets? Well, the jury is still out on that. Neither market I have participated in has had great traffic. The Scraps Market was great for the first two hours, but the afternoon was lousy. Still, I came out ahead…but really only very much ahead once I sold the ‘leftovers’ in the subsequent weeks. I am technically ‘ahead’ for Bella’s Market as well, but it will be better after I sell some of my ‘leftovers’ for that one as well. At the moment I think I may have made about 59 cents an hour! This was the first year for that show, and I knew it was a risk—but the hope is that I would have my foot in the door for subsequent years. I wish the organizers hadn’t charged admission; I think there would have been better walk-in traffic without it.
There are a lot of intangibles to consider when considering the success question as well, though. Did I enjoy it? Yes, for the most part. I enjoy making smaller items on occasion, and they don’t sell well through the classifieds, so this is a good venue for that. I also enjoy meeting and talking to people about my project. We bloggers tend to be “compliment junkies,” as a friend of mine puts it, and it’s great to visit with people who admire your work.
I had a great time spending the day with my neighbor and teenage daughter. My daughter enjoys trading things in my booth with other vendors (she’s partial to jewelry and cupcakes). OK, I like that too!
So…will I do it again? I don’t know yet! Yesterday, after crunching the numbers, I would have said ‘no.’ Today…I’m at ‘maybe.’ It might be fun to do the October Scraps of Simplicity Market to see if there’s a real difference in the spring and fall shows (I have heard that there is)…
What would you do?
(I really want to know!)