Tuesday, July 12, 2011

So what have I learned?

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.


Last Saturday I was a vendor at Bella’s Vintage Market in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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…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.

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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.

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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.

P1000317I 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.

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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!)


The Painted Parlor said...

I read EVERY word of this post, great advice!! Sorry I didn't make it, my step son was over and we needed to spend time as a family. But thank you for sharing everything you've learned. I'm going to do a little farmers market in September in Lindon, you should come! Its called Fallow Farm Market. I'm definitely taking your advice to heart for it :)

Unknown said...

Years ago, my sister and I had a business and traveled our local show circuit. It was draining. The packing, unpacking, selling, packing and unpacking became more than I could handle. We stopped the shows after doing about 20 or 30 over a two year period. It is a huge commitment and can be somewhat demoralizing. You put so much love into everything that you make. It's almost like gambling. You win some, you lose some.

I will say that the best, most profitable show that we did each year was one I promoted and ran out of my home! The turn out was amazing and I sold out at them with back orders! I don't know if you are able to consider something like that, but it's an idea.

Based on my past experiences, I am in the beginning phases of starting a business again. Only this time I will only consider a retail/studio space. It's finding the right location at the right price...and a lot of other stuff too.

It's never easy, what we do. But I love it and can't imagine a corporate job. Rest up, re-evaluate like you are and press forward!! You can do this!

Patricia @ 9th and Denver said...

I have no experience in this field of work--- Let me take that back, years ago, I participated in a couple of craft fairs one was at the Farmers Market-- (it bombed monetarily speaking;but was a great experience) The other was at someones home and we advertised locally and by word of mouth. Got a lot of business and special orders from that show.
But I didn't stick with it. This type of business is hustle, hustle, hustle. No rest for the weary. I couldn't keep up with the demand then. Now-- might be different. I toy with the idea.

You must decide for yourself I suppose on how hard you want to work to make it happen for you. It sounds like you have a passion for it, you just need to get off the ground. I for one, am not passionate about it.

Hope you can come to a decision that is right for you.
Best wishes and God Bless all the work of your hands! Pat

Stephanie said...

Great post - the packing, setting up, tearing down and re-packing is exhausting!

Deb Herzog and Beth Rhamy said...

I've just found your blog and love it! Especially the French stamped furniture pieces that you've done. My friend and I have just started repurposing/reupholstering furniture. We've been considering an event like the one you just did. Good food for thought! Thanks for sharing some of the things you've learned:)

Susan EvelynAndRose said...

Wow, this is a wealth of wonderful information. Thank you for sharing your experiences and advice. I love your stuff and would have visited the markets if not so far!
Thank you also for your kind visit to my blog recently.
Take care,

Chasing Whimsy said...

I had my own store for 5 years, had a booth in 2 Antique malls and I've done 4 shows in the last year, and getting ready on the 23rd for my 5th. out of all 3 I like the shows I'm not tied down 5-6 days a week 8 hours a day to a store, the malls are ok because I don't have to be there to run them, ( but as of yet I haven't made much from them) My shows I go in set up sell for 1 to 2 days depending on the show and make some cash pack up and go home, and have fun doing it. I meet new people, I don't think I would want to do more than 4 shows a year and I do agree that foot traffic dose make a difference and Venue, I'm getting more picky as to what shows I do, The fall show I did was a dud, I wont do another one. I'm checking out more shows and getting word of mouth on some good ones around here, Good luck with what ever you decide :)

Laura Bright said...

Thank you for this post! It has a ton of great advice. I am still getting my feet wet.

Rhonda said...

Thanks for the advice Korrie! Good stuff and I love your honesty. I am looking at a booth right now and get so much mixed advice it is really hard to figure out. I do need to make money so that is a huge consideration for me. Having fun and enjoying what you do is all well and good but the bottom line is the bottom line....unless, of course, you have money to blow...which I do not. All of that said, I plan to make a 6 month commitment and then see how we (hubby and I) feel after that. I guess we will take everything into consideration and then make a decision on the next 6 months. Someone told me the other day that you will not make "real" money until your 3rd year in business....ugh....that kind of drug me down...LOL
Again, thanks for your advice! Doing shows is a huge undertaking...I am definitely not there yet but may consider a few in our local churches later on.
Love your blog! Blessings Abundant!

Kim @ A Brush of Whimsy said...

Great info, Korrie! I feel like I make about $.59 an hour most of the time, too. :)

Shawna said...

Okay.... now I feel bad that I didn't re-work my schedule to be able to drive up for the show. I just figured the show would have high traffic due to the FB posting and all....

I have done shows before for various employers, and my brother roped me into his first (and only) foray into Sundance's Harvest Market a couple of years ago. He picked me mostly because I was free labor with an added bonus that I came with show experience that he lacked. It rained buckets, and I finally kicked him out of the booth to go home and change into something warm (and not wet) because he was upset and frustrated by what he saw as a miserable ordeal.

I, on the other hand, had a blast. The other sellers and I took time between customers to peruse each other's wares and I think the majority of our sales came from one another. In the end I managed to sell a few prints and cards (he's a photographer) so the show at least wasn't a complete waste... but he failed to recoup his initial investment.

It happens.... sometimes you will have a bad turnout. Harvest Market isn't superwell known, and, at the time, was held on a weekend when a lot of locals attended a church conference. The rain certainly did not help... but he refuses to give it another try, because he sees it as he failed.

I think a lot of people go into shows thinking that they are going to make money hand-over-fist... but that is rarely the case. Sure you will have shows that are much better than others, but this has to be something you do because you love it, not because it will keep you from having to get a "real job".

You're right.... a lot of people don't plan ahead at shows to be transporting home large items (which are also a pill to move around) and you do have to keep your market booth focused on one real thing (instead of a variety of items) but from the sounds of it, you hit shows that were not very well publicized... and that makes a big difference.

I wouldn't give up on the idea of doing shows, however... just look at these as building experience. You have seen what works and what didn't, and will go into your next foray with a better eye of what to bring and what to leave home.

Oh, and I have noticed a difference between spring and fall shows.... fall ones do tend to go over better. I think its because people are thinking towards gifts for Christmas and things to make their homes cheerier for the winter months and holidays.

Shawna said...

By the way, do you have a better image of that black hat of your sister's that was in the booth? Its darling!

Ido said...

Hi Korrie,
Thank you for showing us this side of markets and craft shows. I have done two shows so far, the Kottage Kupboard at the Spike Arena, one in December of last year, I had only soaps and body care, I made about 5 times the booth cost, I had just a 2 X 8, obviously I wasn't happy with my sales and swore that I wouldn't do it again. I started with the "french decor" thing because the show organizer called me, he wanted me to participate in the Mother's day show, so I did it, this time I had a bigger booth which I paid a lot for it. My sales this time doubled the booth cost and a little bit over, the first two days were great, I went to check my booth on Thursday and lots of items had sold so I got very excited, but nothing sold on Friday and Saturday, everybody complained about those days. So far I have reserved my space for Fall and Christmas, I learned that pink girl themed items don't sell well (or may be the price was too high) I haven't done any furniture, just small items, we'll see how it goes these next two shows. By the way, the admission for this show is $1 which isn't too bad, but $3 of $5 is a lot when you want to go with you husband, kids, etc. I haven't gone to antique shows just because of the entrance fee, so I think the price does affect the traffic.


Thank you so very much for your honest feedback! I learned so much from your post!

Amanda Dale said...

LOve this post, Korrie! I did craft fairs for five years and there is definitely a difference between spring and fall shows . . . After one year, I only did fall shows because my product just sold better.

As long as you love, you should do it! There's no reason you can't do one or two shows a year for fun!

Good luck!

Deanna said...

Good information. My daughter (age 11) is trying out the Ogden Farmers/Art market this weekend with her quilts. The "vertical" idea is great. We are working on a sort of clothes line...

Unknown said...

Hi Korrie!

1st off, I LOVE your work! You come up with the coolest ideas and always bring it all together. I am just starting up my furniture refurbishing business and have my first art show on August 6th. I have several large dressers, a dining room table, lots of side tables... I've thought about advertising the larger items online and trying to sell them that way instead of at the show. I agree with the exhaustion of hauling everything out... Ahhh!!

Twice Nice said...

I read this post with a great deal of interest as my friends and I are getting ready to embark on our first "Prairie Pickers & Peddlers Market" this Fall. It is a scary prospect trying to figure out what will work, will anything work, and what will I do if it doesn't work? Your advice is quite sound and we'll be definitely thinking about it as we put the finishing touches on our sale. I'll follow along with you to see how you make out with your future sales too! Thanks for sharing your experiences with all of us! Deb

Full Circle Creations said...

Hi Korrie! I love the honesty in this post. This year is my fourth year doing craft fairs. My very first one was a local fair that had medium publicity but I did pretty well for a first timer. So I picked 3 of the fairs in the area to do and decided to make a decision after the end of those to determine if I would do anymore. All of these are in the fall. I did pretty well on the 1st, great on the 2nd and pretty well on the 3rd. So of course I went again the next year and did even better. One of the ones I do has been around for over 50 years and gets lots of publicity and lots of traffic and they charge admission. People come to this one from all over ready to buy, both big and small and last year I almost sold out. I had more display tables/stands to pack up then I had items. I've added a 4th fair for this year so we'll see how that goes. I think you have to research which fairs/markets are the best in your area and then attend those. That's what I've done and so far it's worked. I'd like to add a spring one, but there aren't that many around here and the ones that are cost too much for me to get into. Thanks for sharing your experience and I'll be interested to see what you decide.


Mimi said...

Thanks for the wonderful advice Korrie! I have a few pieces painted and hope to build up somewhat of an inventory to sell but I'm still trying how to do this. Your post gave me lots of things to think about that I wouldn't otherwise. It's so nice of you to share your experience with those of us that don't have any.
And i can't believe you didn't sell totally out! Your treasures are wonderful!

gail@My Repurposed Life said...

great post korrie! :) Thanks for sharing your wisdom with us.
I only do one show a year, and it has tons of long-time show goers. I pay each year for the next, so I never have to wonder whether I'm going the next year. It's already paid for with the wad of money I made. If ever I don't have a wad of money, then that makes the decision for the next year. :)

Julia @ 551Eastdesign said...

Thank you for the great advice! What I've found also is that you need to be different from all the other crafty vendors around you. You want to go to markets that will draw people who will be interested in what you're selling, but also where you stand out. I'm still learning too. :)

the nayz said...

Thank you so much for this. I am also in this type of "business"-Doing shows, not redoing furniture. I have learned a few things throuhg my experience as well. I just haven't taken time to sit and write about it, which I just might after reading this post. I have learned that summer shows are really hit & miss. Spring and Fall shows tend to do better-especially with home decor. In Spring, we want to change things up in our homes, and in Fall we start into the nesting stage and want things to help keep our spirits up through the winter. I tend to do a show twice before I make a final decision on that particular show. Good luck in the future and I hope to meet up with you at one of these shows.



Anonymous said...

Well you know I'm gonna tell you just like it is...cause I love you! You need to run with the big girls! Your products are amazing, you are honest, you know how to figure the cost of doing business, and you enjoy what you do. Part of the reason I stopped doing shows was because I had to decide if I wanted to run with the big girls or have a really fun time at the smaller shows. Meaning, what are you in it for? I was in it more for profit than because I liked it so much. I didn't love doing that kind of thing as much as you do. How do you feel about wholesaling? I would love to talk more because part of what you do is what I'm really passionate about, but I don't want to have to do the work.


molly susan strong said...

I say this...your goods are awesome so find a venue that works for you. Shows are too darn much for me! A small room in a venure full of people doing what you do? I ave two completely different venures and both are awesome. One open daily and one once a month events...plus is I know my spaces, wat I can fit, build good verticle...I am the sign maker too, my bread and butter. Find a permanent spot. You deserve it!

Art Is Beauty said...

Korrie, thanks so much for the great tips, and for the good luck wish!!!! :)

Sharon @ Elizabeth & Co. said...

Wow, this was great to read! I team up with some girls and we host occasional tag sales. We still have more questions than answers, but we're hanging in there. It's definitely a process. We're enjoying the ride, but have no idea where it will lead. But in all honestly, there are days when I wonder, what the heck are we doing?

Muddaritaville said...

Korrie, Your work is beautiful! I would think your pieces would sell before you even get them to a show.
I was looking at some of your signs that are available and I think you should be charging more for them. (just sayin)
Thank you so much for your post, I was going to send you an email to see how your business was going. I too have a love for painting furniture.