It’s been just over a year since my very first in-person art fair, and boy howdy have I learned a LOT. Starting out in art & craft fairs can be an overwhelming whirlwind as you’re frantically trying to figure out the best way to arrange your product, what the heck an ST-19 is, and most importantly, how to survive your first event without dying or walking away with no sales. I’ve learned so much in my first year of doing art & craft fairs and want to pass on what I’ve learned with you, so you can feel a bit more confident walking into that first event.
Your display will change rapidly as you participate in more shows and learn what works best.
At my first fair my booth was one 5 foot table, a tabletop print rack, and a small display for cards. I quickly found out I needed more table space if I wanted to work on prints while I was at the event and display all my prints and cards! Since that show I’ve added to my indoor table setup quite a bit, plus added an 8 foot table, print bins, table runners, signage, a tent, a sample of my print on demand work, and decorative pennants to create an outdoor event setup. It’s been really fun to watch my display grow and change just in the first year of shows!
Your display will also change depending on the show. Indoor shows can range from only allowing one 5 foot table to 10 or 20-foot booth spaces where you can go crazy. Most outdoor shows have a standard 10x10 foot booth space to fit a 10x10 foot tent, or you can buy a double-wide space for a larger fee. It’s a good idea to keep tables and chairs on hand that fit any and all booth sizes.
You will figure out how to set everything up at lightning speed - eventually.
The amount of time you have to set up for an event, known as “load-in” time, varies by event. Some events let you set up the day before while others give you 45 minutes to get everything set up and ready. For your first few shows, it may seem like you’re running around like a crazy person trying to set up in the time allowed, but the more events you do the more efficient this process becomes. Be patient and give yourself plenty of time!
Always have smaller price point items on hand for impulse buying or sampling.
I don’t know about you, but when I attend most art fairs I am not prepared to drop hundreds or even thousands of dollars in an afternoon. It’s a great idea to offer prints, stickers, greeting cards, or smaller works to cater to the entire spectrum of budgets. And you never know, someone that buys a $3 sticker may come back and buy a $500 original work someday!
If your art is portable, bring a project to work on.
This one tip has saved me from hours of boredom and provided a valuable opportunity to show art fair attendees how I create my linocut prints is to bring a small project to print or carve while sitting at my booth. There are many, many hours of sitting idly watching people browse your work, and honestly it can be super boring unless you have something to work on. If your work is not portable, bring a book or a friend to chat with while you sit in your booth. It will make the time pass more quickly and might give you a chance to finish a project or two!
You will learn so much from your fellow vendors.
Art fairs are prime for people watching in general, but are especially good for scoping out what other vendors are doing with their setups. I’m not encouraging outright stealing without permission, but seeing how others display similar products or approach a booth display challenge can be really insightful for how you want to set up your booth in the future. Other vendors are also really great resources for how to navigate that particular event if they’ve participated in the past. They may have tips on how best to approach load in/load out, what talking points resonate with typical buyers, or how well-attended that event has been in the past. Learn as much as you can from your fellow vendors!
Your booth neighbors are your friends!
In a similar vein, your immediate booth neighbors are NEVER your enemy. You’re going to be sitting next to them for hours on end, and at the end of the day, you’re in the same boat of trying to be successful as an artist or crafter. If the event is arranged well, your neighbors will probably be selling items that are quite different from yours, so ask them about their work and what they love about it. Above all, be a friendly booth neighbor and don’t burn any bridges. You never know when that relationship may become your biggest asset or when you might find a new real-life friend.
Be prepared to be asked to do “vendor trades.”
This was something I definitely wasn’t expecting at my first few events! Sometimes at the very end of an event other vendors will come around and ask if you’d like to trade items with them. You don’t HAVE to say yes, but be prepared to be asked in either case. It can sometimes be fun to swap some of your low-stakes items for items you’ve been eyeing from other vendors!
Arrange your work to encourage browsing.
I’m someone who likes to sort things. By color, by size, anything to add some organization to the chaos that is my studio. However, at art fairs you want to keep people in your booth for as long as possible looking through your work. If you have items that can be grouped together in one bin or rack such as art prints or cards, try to shuffle them so booth visitors have to do some browsing to find something they love. Bonus points, they get to see more of your work that they may not have if everything was sorted out!
Make an “emergency kit” of sorts, just in case.
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve wished I remembered a pair of scissors, roll of masking tape, extra pen, paper clip, or other random item that proves crucial just when I don’t have one. Be sure to pack a little “emergency kit” of items you may want when setting up or throughout the event; tape, scissors, an extra granola bar, pens, sticky notes, scratch paper, etc.
You will forget something. Period.
It’s inevitable. You get all the way to an event and start setting up only to realize you’ve forgotten a crucial piece of the puzzle. One time I literally forgot my cash box at home. It happens! This is where good relationships with your booth neighbors/fellow vendors come in - often times they may be able to help you out in a pinch, or watch your booth space while you drive back home or run to an ATM to get some petty cash….not that I’ve ever had to do that ;).
There is a good possibility you won’t get a break unless you have someone watch your booth or you bring someone with you.
One of my very favorite event hosts is such because they provide volunteers that come around and ask if you need someone to watch your booth while you visit the restroom or grab something to eat. 9 times out of 10 this is not the case. If you’re doing an art fair on your own, be prepared to have to abandon your booth if you want to use the restroom or peruse the rest of the fair. Two things you can do in this situation if you’d rather not completely ditch your booth are ask your booth neighbor if they’ll watch it while you are away, or see if a family member or friend will stop by so you can run out for a minute. On the flip side, be a good booth neighbor and do this for someone else if they ask. Booth neighbor relationships matter!
As long as you cover your booth fee and HAVE FUN, it’s a good fair!
Honestly even that first part is negligible if you had fun. The only bad fair is one where you didn’t at least have a good time or learn something new. Anything after that is just a bonus!
I hope these lessons learned help you in your art & craft fair pursuits, whether you’re gearing up for your very first show or you’re a seasoned pro. The days can be long and the human interactions draining (what’s up, fellow introverts), but at the end of the day it’s such a privilege to be able to share our creations with the world through in-person even. Good luck, fellow artists & crafters!