to market, to market

about a month ago i was invited to participate in a craft fair.  i’m new to the area i’m trying to get my name out there, so, thinking that it would be a good opportunity for exposure,  i decided to go for it despite the fact that i only had about 48 hours to prepare from time i committed to the time of the event.  fortunately, i had a lot of inventory on hand; mostly dresses and onesies, and a few knit items…stuff that i’ve had listed on etsy for a while during the break i took from my shop.  i spent the two days between saying “yes” and setting up my booth in a feverish dash to get all the last little details finished up.  i built a display, ordered new hang tags, labeled my garments, crafted a banner to adorn my booth, finished seams and buttons and tags and other little things that needed to be done to get my merchandise in tip-top shape.  it was a push to get it all done, but by the morning of the show i felt ready and excited.

i arrived at the show and began to set up my booth.  there were only a few other exhibitors there.  i figured i was early.  nope.  it was just a small turnout.  it was a bust.  i tried to remain hopeful throughout the day, but there just weren’t any customers.  i received many compliments on my products and my overall display, but i didn’t have a single sale.   i left the venue feeling discouraged that afternoon, but i also feel that i learned a lot of lessons.

lesson 1: Know Your Venue.  the gal who invited me to participate told  me that it was an “arts and crafts” fair. i didn’t ask specifically what other booths there would be, but she assured me that i would be the only vendor selling kids’ clothing so i didn’t have to worry about competition.  she was right, but not only was there no competition, there was no comparison.  the majority of the other people there were third-party vendors and resellers.  there were a number of people selling goods from multi-level marketing companies (skin care, candles, purses, kitchen utensils…you get the idea), a few people reselling stuff they had purchased elsewhere (swap market-type, made in china, mass-produced goods), and only two other vendors selling actual handmade products.  it was not a craft fair, it was a vendor fair.  it’s easy to let go of disappointment when i realize that i was just not in the right venue to sell my stuff.   which brings me to my next point…

lesson 2: Know Your Market.  the vendor fair was held at a local church.  the customers who came through the fair were mostly elderly ladies.  these ladies were there to buy flameless candles, wrinkle-cream, and spatulas; they were not interested in handcrafted, one-of-a-kind little girl dresses and appliqued onesies.  again, i can’t be disappointed that i didn’t sell anything when i was clearly not among the right customer base.  those who did pass my booth were all very complimentary of my stuff, they just weren’t in the market for what i was selling, and sadly, there were just not that many customers at the fair that day.  there was no market.  this leads me to…

lesson 3: Ask Questions.  i didn’t ask the organizer enough about the event before making a commitment to participate.  in hindsight i wish i had asked her more about who the other participants would be and what were they selling so i would know if my product would be a good fit.  would this be the right venue and market for my goods? i would have asked what sort of crowd were they anticipating and if they had had success with this event in previous years.  i found out by talking with another vendor that the organizers did not publicly advertise the fair before the event – they didn’t post fliers, they didn’t place an ad in the paper, they didn’t put up signs outside the event – so it’s no surprise that there were fewer than 100 total customers during the entire 6 hours of the fair.  i went into the fair with a lot of assumptions based on fairs that i had attended before.  i didn’t ask for clarification on what to expect, so it was a bit of a bummer to realize that it wasn’t what i had hoped it would be and i felt as if i had wasted my time.

lesson 4: Try, Try, Again.  so my first foray into the local craft fair scene was a total bust but i feel confident that i learned a lot of valuable lessons that i can use moving forward.  i’m thinking of it as the dress rehearsal for the real deal.  i got to practice setting up my booth, figured out how to display my products, learned how to use my fancy-dancy iPhone credit card swiper thingy (even if it was only me practicing by charging my own credit card a dollar and then refunding it to myself), and got to experience another milestone on my journey into the world of crafting for profit.  it wasn’t a total waste of time, and i’m already signed up to attend another one in a couple weeks.

so, all in all, my first trip to market was not what i was hoping or expecting.  it was a let down for sure to not sell a single item, but i’m not letting it taint my optimism for craft fairs in the future.  this “bust” definitely helped me determine how i need to plot my course from here on out to reach the right customers and the right venues.  hopefully the next one is a good fit and i’ll have more success.  local Oklahomans can come see me in action on January 26th at the South Moore high school cafeteria at a fair to benefit the Nathan Shinn Foundation.  the rest of you can always visit me on etsy!  until then, happy crafting!

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