September 2007 - Fairs and Festivals.Net Monthly Newsletter

March 2009

Are You Ready To Show Your Crafts at Trade Shows? by Jonni Good

If you make your living by selling hand-made crafts, you've undoubtedly spent many hours at local and regional craft shows. As you already know, finding the right shows, getting accepted, and creating the display takes a great deal of creativity and time, but a good show makes the trouble well worth the effort.

Another possible way to sell your crafts, through gift shows, is often overlooked by people who sell hand-crafted products, even though these shows can be quite profitable. Trade shows are attended by shop owners on the lookout for new and innovative gift items to add to their inventory, and a good show in a large market can bring in enough orders to keep you busy for weeks. Of course, items ordered at the show will be sold at wholesale prices, and the shop owners will expect delivery of the items in a reasonable amount of time.

When I sold my collectors' dolls through gift shows, the high volume of orders actually became a problem for me, because it was difficult to keep up with the production on my own. If I were still selling the dolls, I would 'fix' this problem simply by increasing the price enough to slow down the number of orders, without (hopefully), bringing the orders to a stop.

Since many craftspersons are most comfortable selling directly to their customers, taking the step to wholesale orders through trade shows can require a few adjustments in your business model. There will also be some fairly important decisions to be made before committing to a show. The first important decision will be whether or not you want to set up your own trade show display, or if you will sell through an independent sales representative.

Setting up a booth at a trade show is a bit different from the craft shows you may be used to. Application and space fees are likely to be much higher, and regulations about what materials you can use for your display, and what type of advertising is allowed, may vary from one show to the next. There may even be union-required regulations that require you to hire someone to move your display and products from your truck to the sales floor. Working through these regulations will take time, and you should definitely read through the fine print before agreeing to rent a space.

Most companies who sell at these shows will either rent or purchase the booth itself from a local trade show display company, and have the signage created on a custom basis by the same company that provides the booth. Since the cost of these displays can be quite high, most companies just starting out will choose to rent instead of buy the booth. Hand-made display booths may or may not be allowed, depending on the rules of the show and any fire and safety regulations that they need to adhere to.

Probably the easiest way to get started at gift shows is to find a well-qualified independent sales representative who will add your line to the other items he or she already sells. Your sales rep will probably attend many gift shows each year, and a good one can change your small local business to a national business almost overnight. Your sales costs will usually consist of a commission for each order. Although the sales rep probably handles the costs of buying and setting up the booth, she will be acting as an independent contractor and can make her own rules. It is vital that you know in advance what both you and she expect from the experience long before your first show.

When choosing a sales representative, you'll need to keep a number of things in mind so you can find someone who will best serve the needs of your product. For instance, it will be important to know what other products will be displayed alongside yours, since the other products may be the first thing a potential buyer will see. Do the other products complement your own style of crafts? Is the quality as high? Will your products be given a prominent place in the booth?

You should know exactly how much commission will be paid for each order, and when the commission is due - when the order is taken, or when the item is delivered. If you will be charged for any other trade show costs, such as booth fees, you must know this in advance. Since many gift shows take place all over the country (and the world), you should know which shows your products will be sold in.

You'll also need to know if seasonal designs will be expected - even if you don't normally create Christmas-oriented crafts in July, the visitors to the gift show may be ready to write orders for their Christmas stock. Your sales representative should help you put together a display that meets the needs of the particular gift show.

Both you and your sales rep will need to know how long each order will take you to complete - there can be nothing worse for a professional sales rep than having a good show and taking orders for 200 items, when the producer can deliver only half of the orders on time. Many companies have gone out of business by becoming too popular - be sure you set a limit on the number of orders your sales rep can take at any show, so you don't destroy your reputation by selling more crafts than you can produce on time.

If you're ready to start selling nationally through gift shows, you'll be taking your small business to the next obvious step. Independent sales reps can be found in the local phone book. If you decide to sell your crafts yourself, you can find schedules of upcoming trade shows online.

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