Maker Markets & Craft Fairs: Everything You Need to Know Before Signing Up!

I have a love-hate relationship with doing markets. I love meeting new people and watching them interact with and react to our work. I love watching the shift in the faces of those who ask “so your husband makes all of this?” And I answer “we both do”.

But markets are also very time-consuming to prepare for and require a ton of effort. The mental load of making sure you’ve ordered all your media, that you have all your supplies, making lists and checking them a hundred times. When there’s a market looming, the entire mood of our house shifts and our stress is usually through the roof.

Our first ever pop-up shop in 2020. Brewpoint Coffee in Elmhurst often featured small businesses and it was a great way to get our feet wet. Note: our old logo!

It also takes a lot of trial and error. It takes doing these events repeatedly to figure out what products do well and what demographic responds best to our work. You also have to keep doing frequent events in many different locations to really find your ideal demographic and target audience. We’ve learned that markets in the city typically bring out a younger crowd, who might not have the space or budget for a cutting board. Instead, the propagation stations are typically the first things to go. But when we do events in affluent suburbs with more established shoppers, the cutting boards and butcher blocks go quickly, but they often pick up a propagation station or salt cellar and ask “so what’s this for?”. These are patterns we learn through actually doing events. Each event has a price tag. You pay for your space but you’re also paying for the material to prep your space. The tables, tablecloth, display materials…etc.

But every once in a while, you do a show that completely flops. Our latest one took place in a relatively well-off suburb. But the minute I walked in, I felt like we wouldn’t do well. And we didn’t; we had 4 sales for the entire weekend. Just to give you an idea, we typical make anywhere between $2,000-$3,000 at these events. We didn’t even reach $500 at this one. When you account for the cost of your space, the cost of your print-outs, the time and effort of tagging each individual item, set up, breakdown…etc., it was a definite loss.

So what went wrong?

This was a craft fair that’s taken place year after year. Many of the vendors are repeat vendors (like, even assigned to the same spot). People go specifically looking for them. And speaking to many of the vendors, the ones who did well were ones that have been attending for years.

The crowd that came out was looking for kitschy items at a lower price point. Often times, they would look at our items and look at a single price tag, and leave without looking at anything else. As many of the shoppers stated, “we’re more into tchotchkes!” So having products that were more targeted for those who are looking for artistic pieces would not bode well.

Another thing to look out for is to see how the company hosting the show is advertising. I should have seen the red flags when I noticed that their Instagram account is barely active and that there wasn’t a single post promoting this event. Which tells me that they used other methods of promotions like flyers and possibly Facebook, which speak to very different crowds.

We’ve learned that some events will charge you so much simply because of the scale of the event. We’ve recently turned down an invitation to be vendors at Christkindle Market in downtown Chicago. It’s one of the largest events in the city around the holidays, it’s huge! We were so excited when they reached out, but when we were told how much it would cost to simply be there, we had to turn it down. And if you’re curious, it was $3,500 for some dates in November and $7,000 for a few dates in December, closer to Christmas time. You read that right! An event like that would be great for a small business that is able to mass produce items and have enough inventory that they can be sure will sell. But we wouldn’t even have enough time to make enough products to have, let alone break even with a price tag so high.

But the biggest drawback to doing frequent markets is that for weeks leading up to the event, we’re so focused on making product to sell, which leaves very little time for anything else. There’s no time to experiment with new techniques, try new things, learn new skills. No time for creativity, to make pieces without having to wonder if they’ll sell.

Overall, markets are fruitful if you have an understanding of what you want for your business. In the future, we’ll do less events and focus on selling through our website. We have such a supportive crowd on Instagram and our items usually sell quickly through there. For me, this is so much more about creativity than it is about turning profit. But the reality of life hits, and you realize that expenses add up. The responsibilities of bills weigh on you and you start to think of how you can make this hobby financially sustainable. I wonder if we’ll ever find that balance.

If you’re interested in trying out the market scene, here’s a checklist of items we bring to markets:

  • Media
    • Cutting board care sheets
    • Informational card to give background on your business
    • Business cards to let people know how to reach us
  • Gift bags of varying sizes
  • Tables (we have multiple sizes because different markets will give you certain size spaces and it ranges from a 6′ x 4′ space to a 10′ x 10′ space)
  • Tablecloth
  • Shelves to place under tablecloth to vary heights
  • Square/method of payment
  • Sign/banner & clips
  • Scissors & Tape
  • Email list for sign up
  • Steamer (for tablecloth if there’s available outlets)
  • Phone charger
  • Tent for an outdoor event

(the above links contain some affiliate links)

I hope you found this helpful! Overall, I don’t regret any of the events. Each one was a learning experience that helped streamline our process. Next year, if we continue to do events, we’ll know what to look for!

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