Craft Fairs - Finding the right one for your small business

Craft fairs. There are a lot of them. If you are just starting out on your craft fair journey, going back after a break or you're disillusioned and want to find somewhere new, then this will help you pick the right event to exhibit your work at.

Over the coming weeks this mini series will look at all the different aspects of applying to and being successful at fairs so please subscribe for notifications.

1 - Location, location, location - Captive audience vs active competition

Arena events, farmers markets, city halls, parks, village halls, pop up shops, the list is endless. We're going to look at this first because where the event is held is likely to have an impact on the price of a stall, the audience demographic (who will visit), and the footfall, or amount of visitors.

For me the big event no, no is OUTDOORS. I exhibited at one once, in the height of summer. I spent so much time clutching onto my stock as it was swept off by the wind that I vowed, 'Never again!' However, just because it doesn't suit me doesn't mean it won't suit you. Outdoor events are often cheaper but you do need to invest in some kind of gazebo. Your success is also largely weather dependent. I'm much more experienced with indoor event planning so read on.

Small events in village halls, community centres and schools tend to go one of two ways. They can be really quiet, 8 hours counting floor tiles quiet, because the 'catchment area' is simply too small. However, get a small venue in an engaged community and you can make the best sales you've ever had. In small towns, with very little going on, the locals will often flock to local events. Here you have a captive audience, a group of people that probably don't spend every weekend shopping so are more likely to treat themselves.

In a city centre venue you will have a large catchment area, lots of people should have seen the advance advertising and many people will spot the event on the day. However, busy doesn't always mean a lot of sales. In a city you have active competition, there are many, many retailers competing for business and, frankly, people have too much choice. Unless you have done your own self promotion (pop back in 2 weeks to read about that) then your stock and your stall have to be AMAZING. In a city you're not just competing with the 15 other people in the room, you're competing with the warehouse stores, department stores, chain stores and (hopefully) a string of other little independent shops. For good quality, handmade items, your prices are probably going to be higher than a lot of retailers so you really have to stand out to secure that sale. City Centre venues often have many more restrictions then other places. Things like unloading, parking, signage, display restrictions, these will all need to be considered.

In an out of town, arena event you will have a captive audience. People pay admission for these events and if someone pays money to go shopping then it usually means they have every intention of buying something. However, in order for the organiser to cover costs you may not have the best selection of fellow exhibitors. The possibility of being stuck between an electricity provider salesman and someone selling cheap retail gifts is much greater at bigger events. As an organiser I'm on the mailing list for a LOT of events I have no intention of ever applying for and for every truly handmade event there are going to be a couple who just want to fill the space. This can work to your advantage of course. If someone has paid to go to an event, saved up to treat themselves and then discover many of the stalls to be 'not as advertised', YOU are more likely to get them to part with their hard earned cash.

2 - Cost

Village halls, community centres, school and church halls, those venues are cheap to hire. Anything from free to about £100 a day. It shouldn't take more than one person to organise and promote so your stall price should reflect this. £10 - £20 is normal, unless you are in London. If you're new to selling these are a good place to start. However, don't be disheartened by a slow sales day. Just learn all you can from it by talking to as many people as possible.

City centre venues vary wildly in the cost to hire. From £500 a day for a smaller, 30-ish capacity but usually costing in excess of £1000 a day. Your organiser will have to do a lot more promotion to get the customers through the door and people will expect there to be signage and decoration which can also add up to hundreds of pounds. £35 a day is cheap for a city centre pitch and £200 for a 2 day weekend is expensive but not unheard of. You will probably need to factor in parking costs too.

Out of town, arena venues and large, over 150 capacity city venues will cost tens of thousands of pounds for a weekend hire. This means you should look to pay at least a couple of hundred pounds for a 2 day stall, often more. Many large events will have booths or shell schemes. These take time to be professionally installed and if you have to have one they will often take your stall cost to the £350+ mark. Usually big events are organised by big teams of people who all need paying. There will also be contractors and weekend staff during the event its self. If you are just starting out you would be better to spend £350 attending 7 smaller events first. That way you can perfect your stall set up, refine or increase your product lines, improve the quality of your marketing materials and make sure you are 100% prepared to excel at your first big event.

With any event there will be extra costs. Check back in a couple of weeks for a full blog on attendance essentials.

You should be factoring in the following things and accounting for them in your book keeping system:

- Public Liability Insurance

- Parking costs

- Petrol or public transport costs

- Basic equipment - Tables, chairs, a gazebo, table cloths

- Sales essentials - receipt book, price tags, packing materials, credit card machine, card merchant fees

- Display essentials - boxes, rails, backing boards, lighting

- Marketing essentials - Business cards, signs, thank you cards

Also, beware the event that takes a percentage of your takings. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not against charity events, however you will often have to donate a fixed percentage of your takings and usually there will be a raffle prize request. If you've had a fabulous day your stall could end up being really, really expensive. If you've not had a fabulous day and donated a £50 piece of stock it can be quite deflating. Just be sure to get their expectations in writing before you start so you can factor it in. Personally, I'd avoid a commercial event that wanted a percentage of my takings on top of the stall fee like the plague. However, we're all different and it may suit you to have a lower up front cost.

3 - Know your audience

Who do you make your products for? Think about age, gender, income and lifestyle. If the event you're interested in has run before then look for past exhibitor lists and photos of what previous exhibitors have sold. Does your product look like it would appeal to the same audience?

If you are making slightly offensive pin badges, aimed at 20 something feminists, then the local village hall, known for jams and tea cosies, probably won't be your best sales day. The same would apply to selling tea cosies in the trendy city pop up shop. For either example, you may sell a couple for novelty value or gifts but you're unlikely to meet your core customer base.

Overall appearance of your stall will count as well. Sometimes being the only rainbow in a minimalist sea of beige will mean your stock will sell like hotcakes but, if it's a long running event with returning audience, you are less likely to do well. Bear in mind, fitting with the 'theme' of an event is far more relevant the smaller the event is. Those 20-30 capacity city centre venues, they're going to be stylised and curated to the maximum level. Get into a 50+ capacity event and fitting with the theme becomes less relevant. However, the organiser will still be looking at skill level and for diversity among stall holders.

4 - Advertising

How did you hear about the event? The internet and social media is a great way to advertise events. It can be paid for but word of mouth is far more effective than paid ads. If lots of people are sharing and tagging people on the event then it's a good sign. Do a Google search. When you type in the name of the event it should be on that first page and hopefully will be all over it. You can also try for a more general search, such as 'craft fair Manchester' or 'Bristol events' and hopefully the event will be on the first couple of pages.

Posters and flyers around the local area are great but beware the event that has too many. If there are posters everywhere you look that is not a sign of a fantastic organiser but of one who has not done their research. Fly posting is against the law. You aren't allowed to put up advertising materials on buildings, fences, railings or by the roadside. You can pay for billboards and digital advertising from a recognised company but they are expensive and most smaller events won't be able to afford it. You can place small posters inside private buildings and shops with their permission but these really are the only place you should spot them.

Some events do amazingly well on just word of mouth. People tell other people that they liked it so they actively look out for the next one. Just remember though, word of mouth is a collaborative effort. Everyone has to contribute in order to promote an event by word of mouth, whether online or in person. If you choose not to help out with this type of marketing then all the other exhibitors could be making the same decision as you and no one is going to turn up. See the article coming up in a couple of weeks to learn a bit more about self promotion and collaborative marketing.

Newspapers and magazines can be a great way to market an event but their effectiveness is largely dependent on the event's target audience. Only 10% of people still read the printed newspaper and they are great if you can get a free article but paid advertising is expensive. If your target audience is the 60+ age bracket then finding your craft fairs from the local paper might be the way to go.

5. Footfall

You should be considering the footfall that your event will get but I've put it at spot number 5 for a reason. The overall footfall for an event is not a measure of how successful you will be when attending. Some events are in a prime city centre location with ridiculously high passing foot traffic. Tens of thousands of people might walk through the venue but it doesn't mean that any of them are going to buy anything. They could all be walking to the McDonalds at the other side of the market place, it could be in a building where you normally have to pay for admission but on event days it's free. Regardless, if points 1-4 of this article haven't been considered then it's unlikely that those people will actually be interested in coming to shop with YOU. An event could have only 50 people walk through the door but if one of them saw your Facebook post and came to buy that £200 necklace, the one you never thought you'd sell, then that's a pretty good day.

Agreed, better footfall equals a better chance of success but it's always good to take the number as a guide rather than a definitive. An event that got 2000 people through the door last time could only get 500 people when you attend. Footfall is often something that cannot be controlled. After a couple of really busy, congested events I really thought I'd cracked it, that whole marketing game. Then, cue glorious sunny weather, road closures and goodness knows what else and footfall just...falls. I've organised two events in the past where the footfall was so bad that I actually went home and cried. As an organiser, a quiet event is essentially a catastrophe. Before I've even sat down on my sofa after the event I'm thinking of ways to fix it. Usually, in steps the rational man in my life and reminds me that for every person that had a bad day there will have been two or three people that had a good day. A few hours, a dog cuddle (and quite often a Chinese takeaway) later the good emails start coming in and, after a few days, the repeat stall bookings. There I was, ready to give up and then I realise that although fewer people came through the door than I wanted, those that did come through the door were good people. They were an engaged audience that did spend money, buyers from retail outlets who wanted to place orders and people that took business cards to shop online when they were feeling a bit more 'flush'.

When all is said and done though, if you see an event going on, especially the free entry ones, do pop in and support it. If the events, the small businesses and the independent shops don't get the foot fall then they won't be there next time. At Christmas, you too will have to join the snaking, hundred person queue in Primark to buy a poor quality scarf that tens of thousands of other people have. Even if you only have a couple of quid for a card, that couple of quid will make a real difference in a small business pocket.

Thanks for reading and please pop back next week for part 2 - acing the application.

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