Tuesday, January 04, 2011

How to Start Doing Craft Shows

I thought I'd continue yesterday's post and talk about how exactly one goes about getting into a craft show.  Keep your eye on Art Bead Scene in the coming weeks, as I wrote an article that is scheduled to be posted in the near future about this subject as well (and it involves a giveaway!)  

What kind of show you choose to do really does dictate what kind of tent you buy.  If you're going to start out with church shows or smaller local shows that aren't juried, then you'll be safe with a single folding 6' table from Staples, a table drape that goes to the floor on all sides, and for outdoors, an EZUp tent.

Many long-time crafters SWEAR by the EZ-Up tent.  As the name implies, it's, well, easy to put up.  I've looked on jealously as one person pops the thing up like an umbrella while my husband and I are still clicking pole legs and maneuvering our roof onto the top of our tent. But a word of warning from one who's seen many a disaster.

  1. If you're going to use an EZUp, use tent weights on the legs or anchor them in some way.
  2. If it calls for rain, talk to veteran EZUp users to find a way to pop up the roof so rain doesn't collect and drag down your tent.
wind disaster -- all that was left
wind AND rain disaster

MANY people have used an EZUp for many years.  However, if you're going to be doing a lot of shows in beach areas or in places where wind and rain is the norm, you may want to consider a sturdier tent, like a Light Dome or Finale  (I have a Light Dome).  Not only do their roofs have a barrel shape, allowing water to slide off easily, but their frame (with the top bars removed) can easily be transformed to the 10x10 pipe-and-drape of a juried indoor show.  Bonus!

So just what is the difference between juried and non-juried shows?  

A non-juried show is usually a show held at a school, church, or other civic location, and anything goes.  You might be set up beside a Mary Kay representative or a fine art person, and the promoter probably doesn't care WHAT they bring into the show as long as the slots are filled.  Unfortunately, jewelry is the easiest thing to fill that slot, so you're bound to have a lot of competition, and in non-juried shows, there will likely be a lot of what's known as Buy/Sell.  Buy/Sell is when someone buys a ton of jewelry from a wholesaler like Alibaba.com or a similar company for pennies and then sells it dirt cheap as if they made it themselves.  Bad bad no.

"Did you make that yourself?"  "Umm, aahhh, suuuuuure I did."

That sort of thing is not allowed in juried shows.  Sure, it can sneak in, but crafters are quick to spot it, quick to point it out to promoters, and depending upon how the promoter wants to handle it, they'll either make the offender leave right then or never invite them back.

I jumped in with both feet into juried shows and never looked back.  A juried show involves having a 10x10 tent and/or booth appropriately decorated and three to four pieces of your jewelry professionally photographed to send in to an application "jury".  I liken it to applying for college every single year.  Most juried shows put out their applications for the following year right about now.  Again, jewelry is the toughest category to get into, so your three to four pieces should
  1. be your best work.
  2. be cohesive.
  3. be unique.
I can't stress enough the importance of professional photographs.  Taking shots yourself just won't cut it.  Jurors expect a specific look, and anything less will unfortunately get pitched unless you happen to be that 1% that can knock them off their chair no matter if you sent them a cell phone snap.  You're then picked from among your peers and alerted to your acceptance to the show -- or not.

one of my jury slides, photographed by Allen Bryan

Decorating your booth will take time.  I tweak mine almost every time I set up.  Below is a transformation of my booth from my very first show in 2003 to present.  I like to take a photo at every show to see where I've been and where it's going.  2003 was a grim year -- I think you'll agree, I've learned a lot!

2003, my very first show -- just tables, a couple of table lamps, and virtually no decoration.

 By 2004, I'd decorated a little, started taking credit cards, but still wasn't pleased with how I displayed bracelets and earrings.
2005 -- Can you say DRAB?
2006 -- I started hitting Marshalls for props and painted some bowls and baskets to match my logo.  I also added fake flowers where there were empty spots.
2007 -- I felt I was finally getting there with my outdoor booth.
And now -- I have the multi-level boutique look I wanted.  Lots of folding ironwork to hold things, shutters for earring display, and color.

And of course now that I've changed my logo and branding, I get to change it all again!

The downside to juried shows -- the cost.  It's frightening to pay between $250/$700 for a show.  I regularly pay $200-250 for a two-day outdoor show and around $700 for a three-day indoor show.  HOWEVER, I've done my homework, and I only do shows that have a reputable name, a huge following, and proven track record.  I also knew the price point of my jewelry would help me recover the cost of the show -- do the math before committing to an expensive show and make sure what you're charging will make the show work for you.

I also do a show for two years before I decide if it's a bad show.  And I market, market, market all year round to those customers.  

My emailed Black Friday ad.
It was a risk when I first started to jump in and start swimming in unknown waters, but I had faith in my work, and even with an iffy booth -- I did just fine.  And honestly?  It's the continued marketing to my customers, offering the 10% discount, offering free cleaning and fixing, keeping a smile on my face, that has made ALL the difference.  

Please don't think you can't do it.  You can!  Whether you start with a church or school show or do what I did, you can have the most remarkable sales.  You just have to remember it isn't always about you personally.  

Take a step back and evaluate.  Is there a tweak to your booth you could make?  Are your prices easily seen?  Do you welcome people into your booth (but not talk TOO much at first?)?  A "Hi!  Let me know if I can help in any way!" is a good way to start.  

But don't give up on the first, or even the second try.  Talk with others, mentors who can help you evaluate the situation.  Take photos of your booth and the jewelry as you laid it out.  Taking stock of things is critical and so much more powerful than thinking you suck and your jewelry stinks!

I hope this post was a good one.  I could write for days about this and again, I'm just an email away if you need me.  My goal and hope is to encourage as many of you as I can to have a prosperous, fulfilling 2011!


Lori Anderson creates jewelry and bead kits as well as collaborative mixed media art with her son, Zack.  Visit her shops by clicking here.  She is also the creator of the Bead Soup Blog Party®   and author of the book Bead Soup.

Join her at the Facebook group Bead Soup Cafe for bead chat, swaps, challenges, and lots of eye candy!


  1. great advice & the booth looks good, you came a long way, baby

  2. What a wonderfully helpful and educational post. I love the photos of the booths over the years!

  3. What a great post! Love the way your booth changed over the years and the pic of the squirrel is adorable:-)

  4. Excellent post Miss Lori. How wonderful of you to share your experience and knowledge with others. Thank you. I agree your boutique look of now is the best to date. Happy selling...

  5. Great advice, but thought of applying to jusried shows just makes me want to hyperventilate. :)

  6. this is such a great post..shows take a lot of work..i especially like seeing how your booth transformed over the years..

  7. you are the best!!! Thanks, Lori :)

  8. This is great advice for us "newbies" in the field!

  9. Lori that is such a great post and will be helpful to so many! I have been doing shows for way too many years and with every show it is a learning experience. I love shows it is a great way to connect to your customers.

  10. Thank you again, Lori, for sharing your experience and knowledge. This is so valuable to me!

  11. Great to see the transformation of your booth! I did shows for years and I found that setting up was as creative as making the product.

    It's so great that you share your expertise!


  12. It's so nice to see your progression! Thank you for sharing the process :)

  13. You are so awesome Lori, thanks for always sharing your knowledge with us, we appreciate it very much! I'm still scared out of my wits to go for a juried show but I just need to get over it and do it!

  14. Great stuff Lori, from someone who has been there. I always appreciate when you share so willingly of your own experiences to help others. And you and I are always on the same wavelength. I was going to do a post on my booth transformations. I am really hoping what I did will be the difference to get me in this juried show I am trying for! Keeping fingers crossed!
    Enjoy the day!

  15. I could talk to you for days and days about this topic. I am paralyzed with fear to do a craft fair so your help and experience is well appreciated.
    Thanks SO much,
    Shannon C

  16. Thanks Lori. This was a very informative and helpful post. You've easily got a couple thousand or more invested in your booth. One has to sell a LOT to make that up. But its true that you've got to invest money to make money.

  17. Thank you, Lori, that is a great post!

  18. Those are great tips! Thanks!

  19. What great advice Lori, I am keeping all of this for future reference. You are so wonderful to share your experiences. I love how your booth looks now. Trial and error seems to be the name of the game.


  20. Great advice... your booth evolution is amazing. What a good idea to photograph it every year. You've got it looking enticing!

  21. Lady, that is some kind of gorgeous display! Wonderful tips. I have to admit that I hated doing craft shows but I know that they are so successful to many.

    LOVE the bottom picture! lol

  22. Wow! You are a wealth of knowledge! Thanks for sharing these invaluable tips. I love the "before and after" pics of your booth.

  23. Thanks Lori! I also found that asking other vendors about their favorite craft shows is a great way to find good ones. And sometimes the only way you find out if they are, is doing them yourself. :) Take care, Martha

  24. What a great post Lori! Thank you for all of the helpful advice. I own a shop (beads of course) and the shop is decorated but really never thought about fitting out a booth! Wonderful advise, as always!
    Bead Happy!

  25. Anonymous12:56 PM

    thanks for sharing such great information. i loved seeing the progression. your booth looks great.

  26. Anonymous12:59 PM

    Thanks Lori for this great advice! I did my first show a few weeks before Christmas and it was a disaster! It was outdoors, we'd had tons of snow, and no one turned up. Not even catering! It really discouraged me (and a lot of other people!) from even continuing. The 'why bother?' thoughts cropped into my head.

    But then, the week after I had more sales through friends and friends-of-friends, purely through word of mouth than I'd had in the entire year.

    This has definitely made me reconsider and I'll do my homework in future i.e. no outdoor shows in the winter!

  27. Anonymous1:52 PM

    Great post. I loved the pictures.

  28. Great tips, and your booth has really gotten "WOW" over the years. I never had much luck at shows but I didn't put the effort into them that you do. Thanks for the inspiration.

  29. Another great post Lori! Your booth looks fabulous...I seriously need to redo mine, it just sucks! And that bracelet rocks! I love it!

  30. Thanks for the tips. I have my table and I have my tent...now do I take the next step...we'll see.

  31. Lori, your booth looks wonderful, I love how you developed it, what a great post I am sure this will help and encourage us all.

  32. Lori, great post. It has the best information. Love the pictures of the "years gone by" booth set up.
    I have done both a juried and non-juried show and I personally prefer the non-juried in my own surrounding communities. Everyone knows me and trusts me so they buy from me and just like to come out and chat see what I have.

    I wish you the best and lots of sales this year.

  33. Thank you so much for the great advice! I also love the photos of your booth progression. Mom and I (I should say mom) tweaks our booth each year because she is never happy. I will have to let her know she isn't the only one who tweaks! Thanks again for the awesome posts!

  34. really good and thorough post! I completely enjpyed every minute of it! great photos of you booth as it evolved over the years!

    jean xox

  35. What a great post! Love the progression of your booth. My plans to do my first real show (or at least work on it), is this fall. I just have to figure out what are the good juried shows down here. You are more than welcome down and play, btw! Thanks for the comment. :)

  36. Great information! Now if I can just figure out how to quit my job so I am free to do shows on the weekends...

  37. love your booth evolution - looks awesome.


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