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Author Topic: Selling at fairs - disheartening  (Read 15087 times)

ejralph

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Selling at fairs - disheartening
« on: July 10, 2012, 02:50:57 PM »
Comments in the gallery thread this week got me thinking about something I hear over and over. How that selling at fairs is disheartening and that no-one is prepared to pay for quality work anymore.

I thought it was an interesting discussion to have.

After all, we all find ourselves in this position from time to time. We set up at a craft fair and then zilch. But people can and do make money at fairs, else why would they keep going back? Or do they?

I have to say that I stopped selling at fairs a long time ago. It has probably been over 10 years since I did my last proper craft fair. I find selling online so much easier.

But many of my customers do sell at fairs. Those who are the most sucessful though tell me they never book craft fairs anymore. They will book other types of events - festivals (anything from pagan to music to biker etc), agricultural fairs etc and find these better. I have another customer who sells only through different craft galleries. Another who sells predominantly through jewellery parties. Time and time again from my full-time customers I hear "oh I don't do craft fairs anymore - people aren't willing to pay"

So, I wonder is this true? Could it be that lack of sales just means its the wrong event for your work? Or are you having good luck with craft fairs in your area?

If you are doing the fair circuit and not having much luck with sales, maybe its time to try some different events and see if there are other opportunities where you can sell? Or maybe its even an idea to band together with some other makers in your area and put on your own exhibition of work?

I think it IS harder to sell these days - there is SO much competition and customers seem to be ever more happy just buying mass produced stuff at the touch of a button from the big online stores.

So if you have had either some bad fair experiences lately or some great ones  - please share them here. We might be able to learn from both

Emma
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shelleym

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Re: Selling at fairs - disheartening
« Reply #1 on: July 10, 2012, 05:21:56 PM »
Ok, from someone who has been doing the fair circuit for more years than I can remember (ok I've been doing fairs seriously for about 12 years, and on a smaller basis about 10 years longer than that!) It has changed enormously over the years. When I started I was only doing small school or church hall events, or small proper 'craft only' fairs. I did ok, but my kids where young and I didn't drive or have a car at the time so doing anything more than that was difficult  as I had to do things my DH could take me to and collect me from. I had good ones and bad ones, but what I was selling at that time was much cheaper simpler stuffs. Also some cheap bought in stuff (remember power bracelets?) But I kept 'bought in' stuff very separate from my own crafted stuffs. If it was a craft only show I would take just that.

When I started doing larger shows about 10-12 years ago (and had a car and could drive by then), I found although many of them said 'craft only' I would turn up very dutifully having left my 'bought in' stuff at home only to find I was next to someone selling Dorling Kindersley books, or Phoenix cards or similar. Not exactly hand-crafted! In more recent years I would say at many craft shows they are now calling 'craft and gift', to get around the fact it isn't all just hand-crafted any more. The only way I can compete and make decent money (which I now need as an income) is to have more bought in goods. There are some craft only shows that I can no longer get into - so I may go back to separating out my stock so I can still do craft only events. But most of the time I find the punters aren't really interested in hand-crafted. What they want is something that looks good, at a good price. Most of the time they have no interest in whether it's hand made or not. So saying I have one wonderful customer who comes once or twice a year to see me at shows and she always wants to see what new things I've made and she always spends. She says she keeps a separate jewellery box for my stuff which is great - I wish there were more of her!

The sort of shows I do mostly now are varied. Craft and gift fairs (which are usually more gift than craft), county shows, steam rallys, agricultural shows, folk festivals. But not really any proper craft shows any more. And this year especially people are really not spending. They are being very careful. Jewellery is not considered an essential item, and I get many more that are just lookers than I used to.

No idea what the way forward is. At the moment I'm just praying I don't have too many cancellations. Most the shows I do are in the summer, and are in a marquee in the middle of a field somewhere. Axevale festival was cancelled this year (flooded field). I've been told a small rally I'm doing in a couple of weeks will definitely be on regardless of the weather. But if the road is flooded getting there (it was this week) and I have to be towed on and off I doubt I'll be doing that one. All in all, I'm not anticipating a good year at shows.

On the upside a friend/colleague is opening a shop shortly and I'll have some space in there. I do sell through a couple of shops, and need a few more I think. Used to do house parties, but haven't gotten back into the swing of them since the move. Perhaps I should be looking more in that direction.

Would love to know what other people do.

Sorry this is so long and rambly. I'm procrastinating and should be making stuff for the weekend!

Shelley



Peter

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Re: Selling at fairs - disheartening
« Reply #2 on: July 10, 2012, 06:02:05 PM »
First off.....Shelley rocks!!  :D :D :D :D

This is the first year that I have done some of the "Larger" events and it has been a real struggle. I have two really big events coming up at the end of the month and they will really make or break my year. The weather has been a real factor. People won't attend events if it is raining and less punters = less buying public, simple as that.  I still do small craft fairs and they are VERY much hit and miss. But, again it is all down to the number of punters and whether you are getting NEW customers. If you are getting the same old faces at your local craft fair every month then they are not going to buy something each time. If you can find new customers and new markets then you are more likely to sell stuff because it is original and unique. And you are more likely to sell stuff if you have 5,000 people at a show rather than 50.

I have found that engaging with your customer is a must and I really hammer it home that everything is hand made by me!  I make sure that I talk to every single person who even glances at my stall and try and employ my old retail selling skills as much as I can (and if I remember ;) ), however it is damn hard!

From a number of requests I have started selling buttons (something that I would have never have thought of!) and they have been doing OK so I might have to consider moving more in that direction. I have had a couple of commissions from a local artist who makes button jewellery and has her lovelies in a number of galleries and I hope to be working more closely with her in the next 12 months.

I am slowly getting sorted on-line (although I have a ton of stuff to put on there) and have had a couple of sales but nothing massive, mostly from people I have talked to at craft fairs. I really need to concentrate more on this.

I have had a couple of shops want to stock my stuff but they want such a MASSIVE cut that it is not worth my while at the moment. I am in discussion with a third outlet but that will have to wait until next year at the earliest.

I do have a couple of friends (one is a hairdresser and one a beautician) and they both have my lovelies in their salons. This has been surprisingly lucrative and something that I may have to explore more.

So to end my ramble.....it is VERY hard and I am very much restricted by my eye-sight BUT it could be worse and I am trying to be creative about what I am doing and where I am selling. I have found that being at shows has helped me network and opened up some new opportunities for me but it is VERY hard.

 :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D



ejralph

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Re: Selling at fairs - disheartening
« Reply #3 on: July 10, 2012, 08:03:03 PM »
fascinating insights from you both there.

It seems then that you have to be SO proactive when selling face-to-face. Just as with selling online.

It isn't just enough to book a fair and turn up.

Here is a question to you both Shelley and Peter - in one or two sentences, can you describe your customer for your handmade stuff?

I don't mean "anyone who has money" - I mean your visualisation of who it is you are catering for with your jewellery and you who picture when you are making stuff.

My typical customer for art beads, for example, is a woman 35-55, usually with a hectic career, makes jewellery for herself for relaxation and creativity and likes to treat herself to quality components. Obviously many customers fall outside that bracket too - I have men customers, ladies who are SAHMs or designers who make for resale. But certainly I would say most of my bead customers do tend to be in that first bracket.

Isolating that general idea has certainly helped me focus more when making for sale too. I wonder if you guys do the same and if this has a bearing on what you make and what shows you book?
 
Emma
Emma from Sunny Sussex, UK
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Peter

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Re: Selling at fairs - disheartening
« Reply #4 on: July 10, 2012, 08:52:05 PM »
I would agree Emma.....mostly ladies aged 35 - 55. I do have quite a few "younger" women as well, 20 - 30 who go for my klimt stuff and ear rings/bracelets, but mostly in the first group. A lot of them are "crafty" types as well and they seem to appreciate the amount of work that goes into a piece and don't mind stumping up the cash for a hand made piece.

I did a focus group with my young nieces a while back and discussed a similar thing with them. They were of the opinion that everyone their age (17 - 24) were focused on either "brands" or "cheap". They liked what I made (and have had stuff from me) but felt that most of my lovelies were too far outside what their peer group were wearing for them to want it. Guess I need to get Katie Perry to wear one of my necklaces   ;)

I think that once a lady gets to a "certain" age then many of them are looking for originality rather than just being a sheep. They want to express their individuality. That I guess is my market.


krielj

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Re: Selling at fairs - disheartening
« Reply #5 on: July 11, 2012, 06:30:48 PM »
I must say that I have been put off by craft fairs and have not done one for almost a year. I've tried the smaller events and also hiked out huge sums for larger festival type events but they are just so hit and miss and I find them soooo Torturous! I am not good at making small talk and I do smile and talk to people but I cannot do the hard sell, probably because it puts me off when someone does it to me! I do supply an actual shop in the north of england but the cut they take is so vast that it is almost not worth my while, but I persevere because I do get regular sales from there and it means that I don't have to deal with customers or sit in an empty hall for an entire day, whilst wondering what I could be doing at home!
I think my market audience is quite small - I would say that my stuff would appeal to the "hippy" inclined people (I am a wannabee hippy myself - just born a couple of years too late!). I tend to make things that I like which is not perhaps the best for business but I don't think I would enjoy making things that I wouldn't wear or use myself.
If anyone has the magic formula for success - please share!

Jayne

ickledookie

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Re: Selling at fairs - disheartening
« Reply #6 on: July 11, 2012, 09:12:51 PM »
A really interesting read this thread is, thanks Emma for posting it! I'm sure you've all seen my disheartened post about my last craftfair. There were plenty of people infact it's one of the busiest I've ever been too. People who had done the fair before all raved about how good it was & how you always did well. How wrong were they this year!  ::)

Anyway I had never thought about doing shows not connected to arts n crafts, so thanks guys for that fab idea! As for selling in a shop, I wouldn't know where the hell to start???!! So any advice very welcome there pleaseeeeeeeee... ;D ;D ;D

I will see out the fairs I have booked for the rest of the year but after that I really do feel I need to fish else where!

As for what type of customer I get I would say 40 - 60 for my jewellery, but much much younger for my beads.  ???

shelleym

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Re: Selling at fairs - disheartening
« Reply #7 on: July 11, 2012, 10:42:41 PM »


Here is a question to you both Shelley and Peter - in one or two sentences, can you describe your customer for your handmade stuff?

I don't mean "anyone who has money" - I mean your visualisation of who it is you are catering for with your jewellery and you who picture when you are making stuff.
 
Emma

I would say my customers for 'my stuff'  are like Pete's in the 35-55 group. Not necessarily career women, some SAHM's, but mostly working women who want to treat themselves, a fairly mixed bag. Definitely after something just that little bit different. Often the husbands will treat their wives too if they get involved and 'into' how I make things. I also get a LOT of repeat customers who may only see me once a year, but I try and get the same pitch at the same shows so that they can find me. 

My daughter and her friends were my focus opinion group (she's 25 now!!) While some would go for more of the funkier bright colours I make, most prefer the bought in silver stuff to my own stuff. My style wasn't their thing. My range of bought in stuff goes for the younger group more - anything from mid-teens up.

And Pete - thanks for that! You made me blush! Will I see you and Jo at Chettle this weekend?

Shelley



ejralph

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Re: Selling at fairs - disheartening
« Reply #8 on: July 11, 2012, 10:58:53 PM »
How can Erin be 25 now? This is disgusting - this proves we have known each other way too long and are therefore getting too old.

I insist that Erin return to being 14 immediately and no more of this nonsense.

As for the main discussion - I have more too add, but tomorrow when I am awake and over the shock of how old I am!

Emma
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Grubbi

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Re: Selling at fairs - disheartening
« Reply #9 on: July 12, 2012, 03:15:59 AM »
I have my first craft fair at the end of this month, hoping it goes well, it's in an area full of students, hippies, bohemian types so that kinda fits in well with me. I've booked in for the end of July and the end of August so will see how those two go before committing to any more. It kinda gives me an excuse to make some jewellery as I normally stick to making beads. I'm not sure I'll be able to do the hard sell, never done it before and can't see me having the confidence really.

I'm a bit confused about pricing...I'm doing a lot of handmade charms and beads (taking my Etsy stock with me) ranging from 2 (for single focal beads) up to 30 for time consuming bracelets/necklaces (wire wrapped), so a wide selection of prices...not sure if handmade beads will sell well? Worth a shot though eh...it will be an experience!

Peter

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Re: Selling at fairs - disheartening
« Reply #10 on: July 12, 2012, 07:16:24 AM »
Quote
And Pete - thanks for that! You made me blush! Will I see you and Jo at Chettle this weekend?

You DO rock!  We didn't book Chettle so you will have to let me know what it is like for next year   :D

Good Luck!!!!     :D :D :D :D :D :D

ejralph

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Re: Selling at fairs - disheartening
« Reply #11 on: July 12, 2012, 07:01:20 PM »
It's interesting that the younger age girls/women are not responding to the polymer clay jewellery in the same way that the next age group up do.

I wonder if they would have interested in kits and making up their own jewellery?

As for cheap - if you look at the tat accessories the fashion shops are selling now, they aren't THAT cheap. Most clayers could certainly compete for price with a range of jewellery I would say.

If you could find out what switch it is you need to flick to get that younger market too - well that is a whole new customer base opening up. Just need to find out how to reach them and what they would go for.

Think about the sucess of the Punky Allsorts bracelets etc - people that age can be persuaded to buy, just how to market it to them is the problem I think.

I'm guessing a viral marketing thing would actually be the most sucessful, maybe with getting a product featured in one or two target magazines. But I bet with effort, some cunning polymer clay designer COULD tap this market. They just won't do it with exisiting "traditional" polymer clay jewellery and by selling in traditional craft-fair type venues.

Emma
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Elizabeth Campbell

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Re: Selling at fairs - disheartening
« Reply #12 on: July 17, 2012, 08:45:52 PM »
Have been selling jewellery at fairs- large and small - for about 6 years and have found that folks have been spending less and less with each passing year.  I think this is happening to all people who make and sell crafts.  I've talked to many, many people at fairs about their experience and a typical response to "how are your sales going?" is that sales have halved each year over the past few years.  Truth is, we sell luxury items and there just isn't much money around at the moment...  Also, people no longer seem to appreciate the effort and time that goes into making something.

It's not just craft fairs though.  I sell through galleries too and my experience is that sales there have dropped dramatically over the last couple of years.  It's absolutely gutting!!!!  And I do not think I am alone in this....  Many jewellery makers seem to rely on teaching as their main source of income, and jewellery sales as an add-on....

We live in difficult times.... 

ejralph

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Re: Selling at fairs - disheartening
« Reply #13 on: July 17, 2012, 10:31:12 PM »
Interesting, if rather sadening, feedback there Elizabeth.

It's funny - I sold face to face a lot in the late 80s, early 90s and back then we were in a recession too and sellers were saying the same thing. Every single event I attended, people would tell me it was better the previous year and even better before that. It became a bit of a craft fair joke really because some people would tell me they had been hearing that year on year since they started out in the 60s, yet somehow they were all still hanging in there.

I think having many irons in the fire is always the best approach when you are self-employed though. And obviously in such tough times, an absolute necessity. Especially if you are genuinely needing to earn a living from your work.

But I think we do have to force a positive attitude. Or maybe even, a determined attitude. Because people always have and always will buy jewellery and beads. There IS money to be had, but not everyone will get the sales when there are slim pickins. So in those times I think we face a choice - either get downheartened, or get determined that WE will be the one getting the sale, not the next artist and really up our game on product, marketing etc.

Being proactive about creating sales, not just waiting for them to happen - that seems to me always the thing I notice about the really sucessful sellers.

But many people find it hard to be optimistic and enthused when things are going tough. I think I am quite lucky in that respect because if I have a down month, it really pushes me and I find my enthusiasm for selling goes up. But I know for many people it can have the opposite effect and their creative and business energy will dip.

I often wonder about things like this when you see pictures of ancient beads. I wonder about all the traders who have dealt with that bead - did they have a good day, or a bad one? Was business booming or was their wife just about to leave?

But somehow, year in and year out, the business of beads, jewellery and wearable art DOES survive. Not every player in the game will - but the game plays on. Just have to really get a determined attitude that you won't be the one going down I guess!

Emma


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ilkidesigns

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Re: Selling at fairs - disheartening
« Reply #14 on: July 19, 2012, 11:33:45 AM »
Emma, have you ever thought of adding 'Inspirational Speaker' to your business plan?  You always have positive uplifting and 'fighting' words for everyone on the forum.
Gail
 ;D