Trials and Tribulations - My experience of Craft Fairs and Markets


This is a massive topic. MAHOOSIVE! Many people have written about how to best go about booking, planning and attending events to sell your products. I've read about this A LOT and quite often even when you think you have all of the boxes ticked the event can still be a bit of a damp squib - often for reasons outwith your control. 

A brief (very brief) history of my experience when it comes to craft fairs, markets, galas, pop up Shops etc.

Back in the day when I first started out I was trying to sell original art. From early on it was incredibly obvious people attending craft fairs and markets do not want to buy art. FACT. I very quickly modified my offerings to include very smal (£5/£10) original pieces and branched into jewellery making. I also brought examples of artworks that could be customised - people took cards and came back to me with commissions which was great. I started focussing on and producing more products that were selling the best. For me it was embellished brooches. I pretty much did every fair that was going in the beginning, regardless of whether I thought it would be appropriate or not. This saw me in random school and church halls all over Aberdeenshire.  In 2012/13 the craft fair scene was just picking up and the nationwide love of handmade items was on the increase. It was a great time to be an independant maker. The bigger events which spent time doing proper advertising were excellent. The wee school fairs and Christmas markets were well supported and attended but I found people were less likely to buy from A. someone they didn't know from outwith the community and B. not take a gamble on unusual or contemporary products (Just my observations). Also at community events folk tend to buy raffle tickets and do the activities to support wherever they are, shopping comes second - which is fair enough really!

The best events I have done have been the specific - THIS IS A HANDMADE CRAFT FAIR or LOCAL INDEPENDENT TRADERS. These events often cost more money but are much better attended by people who are looking exactly for unique, handmade items. BINGO. There is usually a much bigger social media and advertising presence and more of the target audience is reached. These events + Christmas shopping time = great sales. Go forth and prosper.

You will find that the more events you do the more you will be invited to. At this point be VERY selective with which ones you accept - you've made it to the inner circle, your name is out there and it is time to go for quality over quantity. You will also get asked to donate things to charity raffles/auctions. These things are a good way to give something back and perhaps gain a wee bit of exposure but do not feel you need to do all of them, stick to a few that are really close to your heart.

After a break in the creative market circuit whilst I had a baby I have recently returned - with new products. Oh crumbs. Basically I am back to square one again trying to work out what will work for me again. 

So far I have attempted pop up shops in my own studio (not generally well attended), a pitch at my towns annual cycling event (successful but selling to friends and neighbours mostly), a spot in a makers market pop up shop which was hosted by a well reputed retailer with excellent social media reach, but was unsuccessful due to a day of constant rain putting people off going out and an expensive pitch at a highland games event.

On trying to figure out my perfect customer profile I decided that it may well be someone who attended events such as highland games. I invested a lot of time and effort preparing for it, borrowed a 3m x 3m gazebo. Bought a display rack and a card rack. I was ALL SET! On the day it was made known that it had been the most well attended games this town ever had, but I never even made enough to cover the £50 pitch. FRUSTRATING!! There weren't many stall holders there and it was obvious that they did the Summer event season all over Scotland. What they offered was mostly cheap nasty tat or jewellery, pictures and clocks that you could pick up in any gift shop or souvenir store. Nothing unique or handmade. So lesson learned there. 

A list of points to consider...

1. When someone orders a commissioned piece always, ALWAYS take a deposit...even if you know the person (even your mum).

2. DO NOT travel further than is feasible unless you know that the event has a great track record. You never get that time back that you've spent travelling. It is also emotionally draining having to pack up and head miles and miles home after a crap day.

3. Just because you think you have identified your target customer, it doesn't mean that they want to buy your product at the event you go to. They might have other things on their mind - like food and drink, watching whatever entertainment is on or having a social with their pals. If there is a steep entry fee to the event they may not feel like they can justify buying stuff too.

4. Great events can be awful if the weather is shit. People who want to go will not go if there's a chance of getting soggy. Try to reach out to these people through social media afterwards, maybe give them a bit of an incentive to buy from you online?

5. Find out who else will be there at an event and form a marketing alliance! 

6. If there is no pitch allocation then make sure you are there as soon as it opens for set up so you don't end up by the toilets or away from the hub of commotion. People are lazy and if they can just see your pitch and no more they will make a snap decision whether to bother walking up to you or not. GET RIGHT IN THERE SO THEY CAN'T MISS YOU!

7. Keep going. For every utterly shocking day you will have a great day. Hold on to that positive vibe. No event is a total waste of time - you are making your presence known, treat it as advertising, experience, a chance for feedback.

8. Remember to reward yourself. You've worked bloody hard. Have that beer or cake. That's an order.