Small Business Rambles: How to Choose Which Shows/Art Fairs/ Conventions to Do

Well, it’s the start of the year (sort of…) and I am busy researching shows to do this year. Some of them are already sold out and some have not even released their applications yet. I thought this would be a good topic to explore here on the Shop + Draw blog since so many creative folks are also selling their wares.

A little back ground about my personal show experience. A good estimate would be that I have done over 200 shows. The types of shows I have done include: art fairs, comic cons, flea markets, spa shows, miniature shows, wholesale trade shows in 3 countries (including the big NY Gift Fair), local craft fairs, street fairs, and more. So a pretty wide range of show types.

Here are some questions to explore when choosing a show:

What type of show is it, what are people looking for at the show, and do you think your products would fit well there?

These are probably some of the first and biggest questions to ask yourself. Not every type of show is a good fit for every type of product. For instance, an art fair or a local craft show could be an excellent fit for handmade pottery, hand crafted jewelry, photography, etc. Shoppers are expecting to see handmade works, they value the labor that goes into them, and you are surrounded by other artists. Most likely the average price of goods is also somewhere near what you are charging. Would these same products sell well at a flea market? Probably not. I learned this from personal experience when I was trying to sell handmade jewelry at a big flea market. As a whole, people were more interested in getting the lowest price and bargaining for something inexpensive then valuing handmade craftsmanship - or they were looking for something vintage or antique. Neither of us where in the wrong, it was just a different mind set. If you are unsure of a show, consider “walking” it first - meaning you attend the show as a customer and get a good feel to see if you think your products would fit there.

How much does the show cost?

On the surface, this seems like a pretty straightforward question. There is always a booth fee and that can range from $50 - $2000 (no joke!) and even more for the really big shows. In addition to the booth fee, there might be a permit fee and parking fees. Then consider if it’s far away and you have to add gas, an airline ticket, a hotel, etc. to the show cost. Even think about baby sitter fees if you have kids. Come up with a true cost of the show total and then see if you think you can not only cover the cost of the show with your sales, but also the cost of your goods and time and still make a profit! It’s a lot to consider. If you are just starting out, I would highly recommend a local show that does not require an airline ticket and one that is in the lower to mid price range. Maybe even share a booth with a friend? You can get your feet wet this way and then build from there. You will learn so much from your first few shows - which products sell well, whether your prices are right, what to bring or not bring, etc. Then you can work your way up from there.

What are the show dates and will you have enough stock?


Look carefully at your calendar when planning out shows. It can be tempting to stack them close to each other but make sure you have time between shows to replenish your wares, especially if you they are labor intensive and you maybe have to order more supplies.

Should you consider a wholesale show?

I personally love wholesale shows because the sales are usually bigger and there is a good chance of repeat business. That said, they are more expensive to do and you are getting less for each item you sell. In order to do a wholesale show, you should expect to have to offer your products at around 50% of your normal selling price. Remember that everyone does things differently but that is pretty standard. Again, consider the costs and if you can really afford to sell your wares at that discounted price and still make a profit. You can also consider only offering some of your items, the higher profit ones, at wholesale and then for the ones that don’t make sense financially, don’t offer them.

What if you did a show in the past, it was bad, but everyone says you should try it again?

Go back to the first questions of this blog post to help you answer this question. If the show was a good fit for your products, had customers who seem to be your target audience, and the cost of the show made sense for you, then perhaps try it again. There are always off years at shows and times when sales are not great. That doesn’t mean they will always be bad. Consider approaching the show from a new angle - change your display around, focus on your better sellers, take a hard look at your prices (were they out of line with what other people seem to be selling similar items for - for instance are your t-shirts $50 each when most others are $20 or $25?), and then give it another try. There is also something to be said for people getting to know you and recognize you. They might not buy something from you the first time around but might the second or third time. Keep trying.

I feel like I could go on and on about this topic but I think this is good for now. I will keep posting small business rambles on this blog. Thanks for reading - Julie

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