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Thread: Crafts Fairs Conundrum - Sorry kind of long but any input is appreciated!

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Elkhart, IN

    Crafts Fairs Conundrum - Sorry kind of long but any input is appreciated!

    OK - First off let me state that I know things sell at different prices in different geographical locations. And, I know what items sell in some area won't have a market in other areas. So what you sell may not sell in my Northern Central Indiana region. And, I know the prices will vary by region also.

    That being said - I did my first arts/craft show of the season on saturday. It was my first time at this particular art fair along Lake Michigan. The other vendors around me that I talked to did say they felt foot traffic was a little lower than in previous years.

    I make and sell decorative bowls, some hollow forms, and boxes I also make and sell utilitarian items such as wine stoppers with Niles stainless "corks", coffee scoops made with the Woodcraft chrome scoop kit, multi-tip screwdrivers from the Woodcraft kit birdhouse ornaments, travel mugs with the stainless inserts, pop-up toothpick dispensers, yarn bowls, and yarn buddies (this is my first season with the yarn items.)

    Last season wine stoppers, coffee scoops, birdhouse ornaments, screwdrivers, pop up toothpick dispensers sold really well at the craft shows. Coffee scoops I price at $20, screwdrivers for $20, wine stoppers with the stainless "cork" between $20-$40, birdhouse ornaments and toothpick dispensers for $35, travel mugs for $40, and wood bowls from $25-$60 depending on size. But, this time things that sold well for me at arts/craft shows last summer, fall and at Xmas bazaars did not sell well at all. Did not sell a single wine stopper or coffee scoop and they sold really well last season. Sold only a couple toothpick dispensers, one travel mug, a natural edge bowl, a red cedar bowl, some yarn bowls and yarn buddies. I sold enough to cover my costs and time and make a little profit but was disappointed overall.

    So I'd like a little input from forum. Are wine stoppers a rapidly fading fad (I forgot to mention I have some in a small winery and the sales there have dropped too)

    - I can't do live demos at this time as I don't have the money for a mini lathe. Plus, our small station wagon was almost filled with the canopy/tent, tables, and boxes of items to sell. I don't think I could have found room for a mini lathe and stand.

    - What are you seeing as the hot item to sell this year?
    - What's selling for you?
    - should I consider items made from kits like keychains, game calls, shaving brushes, etc?
    - Are my prices too high on wine stoppers and other items?
    - do I need to lower my prices some based on what is selling in your market/region?
    - I know a lot of you sell on Etsy and I do as well. But, again what sold last year isn't selling well this year on Etsy.

    Things I have thought about trying are:
    - peppermills. twist style or "antique" crank style? The antique crank style that suppliers sell look kind of cheap to me but I assume the sell if the suppliers keep stocking them. But, what should an 8" twist mill sell for? What should a antique style sell for?
    - tops - the basic top that can be quickly turned in bulk quantities to sell cheap
    - I'm not really wanting to - but do I add other "flat" woodworking items like cheese boards, cutting boards, kids pull toys,

    I know pens are an option. But one guy that I know locally who only turns pens said his sales are dropping on Etsy and at the farmer's market he does weekly during the summer. So he wonders if the pen trend is losing appeal.

    Thanks for your patience and input!

    Ricc Havens
    Elkhart, IN

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Feb 2012
    Haubstadt (Evansville), Indiana
    I'm in southern Indiana. I have done a few craft shows. I would say spring shows don't seem to be good for sales. Fall shows are much better. All I ever care about is making booth fee. I go because my wife does embroidery and she sells. I don't do many of the kit items, mostly bowls, vases small turnings. this way I don't need a large selection of kit items for people to choose from. Most don't even know what a lidded box is. For turnings i see mainly pens, wine stoppers, and ornaments. I do birdhouse ornaments, but other type sell better. September till first of December seem to be the best, but not outside and avoid those with the re-sellers if possible.
    When working I had more money than time. In retirement I have more time than money. Love the time, miss the money.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jan 2006
    Sort of on subject - last Friday we went to a White Sox game. Walking around I see there is a guy in back of left field turning full size bats from blanks! He had a crowd watching, so large that I didn't have a chance to see what he was charging.


  4. #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2016
    Elmodel, Ga.
    I do believe that the problems you are experiencing are not just in your area. They are all over. I went to several shows last year and swore that they would be the last. After the initial booth prices and the investment in gas, time, food, etc., I never came close to breaking even just for the materials involved. I have been doing much better by word of mouth lately. I am not into turning as a business, just want to make enough to be able to buy more supplies to feed my turning habit.
    The problem with shows in my area of the country is everyone wants a bargain. They love the work but have no clue as to the actual cost of materials involved, let alone the labor.
    I don't know if this would help, but I found a niche in 10-12" segmented salad bowls. Women seem to love them. I was just starting out doing segmented turning and really screwed up a practice bowl buy turning a small hole in the bottom. Instead of scraping the piece, I gave it to my wife as a small flower pot that she took to work to place on her desk. What soon followed amazed me. No less than 6 other women wanted bowls and flower pots. I was stunned to say the least. Who knew that a boo-boo would turn into a small business of bowl turning. And the best part is, they don't balk at the price. I really don't try and make a large profit, just enough to keep me in material. So far its been fun.
    Even though this may not be the answer you are looking for, I think you just have to find that niche that everybody wants and no one is doing.
    Good luck and happy turning.

  5. #5
    I make Christmas tree ornaments and donate them to the local lion's club to sell during their annual holiday decoration fund raiser. What sells one year may not sell the next. If I bring my lathe and make items there, those items sell well. Folks like to see things made. To many, a bowl on the shelf is not much different than the monkey pod salad bowls sold at K-Mart and such. Watching something being made gives them an investment in the object also. I can turn, sand, friction polish and add a screw eye to an ornament in about 5 minutes. Folks pay $8 each for them, even though it might not be the one they saw made. The materials cost me about 25 cents each. The first year, I made larger figurines and they took me about 20 - 30 minutes each and sold for the same price. Hopefully one of the reasons for the increased production is that I have improved as a turner. There is a fine arts show nearby. Paintings and lithographs that sell for thousands of dollars. Fancy bowls, lidded boxes, etc would be better sold there than a nuts and bolts holiday decoration sale. Some crowds just don't buy some things.

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Eure View Post
    ... And the best part is, they don't balk at the price....
    Curious as to what that might be. Care to share?

  7. #7
    All time best, and some what consistent shows were Christmas times, and in tourist areas and events. Only time people spend as much money as they do at Christmas is when they are on vacation. Summer festivals, especially if they focus more on food, alcohol, and entertainment are generally not very good. Art and Craft shows are always hit and/or miss... Daily use bowls, and plates/platters always seemed to sell for me.

    robo hippy

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
    Wetter Washington
    My perceptions:
    Pens, bottle-stoppers and everything else that is "easy" to turn sell slow, simply because anyone that can "turn" appears to make them. I see people selling just pens/bottle-stoppers/etc.

    I make tops, but only to give away for Holiday shows.

    Utility bowls are a general seller.

    Larger (7 to 11 inch) pepper mills appear to sell better then the 4 inch ones.

    Kitchen kit items sell OK (Pizza cutters, ice cream scoops, etc)

    Specialty items, that basically only we make around here are solid items: These include:
    Seam rippers (made from Ditz style rippers not kits)
    Hand irons (angle cut wood irons that paper crafters and quilters use)
    Nostepinne(see knitting items)
    French style rolling pins (in many sizes, with and with-out taper).

    We also have eye-candy. Really impressive items that people don't see most places, they don't sell often, but they get people in the booth: Art bowls, oval (no I'm not kidding, actual oval) bowls or platters, vases.... things that impress people, even if they don't buy them
    Making sawdust mostly, sometimes I get something else, but that is more by accident then design.

  9. #9
    I have done 4 shows already this year and have had a very successful time at each one of them. I learned long ago to stay away from arts & craft fairs and go strictly to the juried art fairs. I sell mostly bowls and hollow forms and my wife sell natural edge bowls and pendants. I will take along a few pens but they are usually the high end fountain pens. There will be a few pen sellers at some of these shows but in general they do a very limited business. The other thing that I found out is that at most arts & craft fairs shoppers are looking for items that are the "current hot item" and don't want to spend more than about $25. At the art fairs, it is not uncommon for me to sell 4 or 5 high priced items in the $375 to $500 range. These shows have all been in Missouri. So, I would think not a whole lot different than Indiana.

  10. #10
    I only do a few juried art shows a year. I'm near Daytona FL. My current deal is to do shows that are no more than an hour and fifteen minute drive from home. That way we can at least sleep in our own bed. Nancy (SWMBO) makes doing shows possible and she's better at marketing my work than I am.
    I don't make any of the smaller things, but one of my club friends does a lot of juried shows and says that things ARE slowing down. They actually travel throughout the state so they probably have a better understanding of what the markets are like here for smaller/utility items.
    The bigger economic picture looks like many people who used to be buyers a decade ago are still not making enough money to have expendable income.
    Change One Thing

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Feb 2017
    Northern Illinois
    The longer you do shows, the more you will realize that, while there may be some trend at a particular location over several years, the amount you sell and what you sell will vary a lot. I doubt it's a random thing, but people's spendable income, employment levels, tastes, desire for functional versus art items, and many other somewhat unpredictable factors affect your sales.

    Pricing isn't always the problem or incentive to buy either. You will probably do better over the long run entering juried shows rather than craft fairs, but that means you have to have at least some unique and more "artistic" pieces to submit for the jury. Also, if you repeat the same shows from year to year, your products can't be exactly the same each year or your sales are likely to drop off at a repeated show.

    It's a difficult and unpredictable business doing shows. Hopefully doing shows is a supplement to your income because very few can make it just doing shows. If it is your only source you will need to most likely do shows all year round in the warm climates in winter included to have a shot at making it.

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Chicago Heights, Il.
    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Goetzke View Post
    Sort of on subject - last Friday we went to a White Sox game. Walking around I see there is a guy in back of left field turning full size bats from blanks! He had a crowd watching, so large that I didn't have a chance to see what he was charging.

    Might have been better than the game. Was that the night they won one. I’ve heard of turning reps showing up at ball parks and drawing crowds. They are fast and good!
    Member Illiana Woodturners

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Chicago Heights, Il.
    I believe the sell web sites are competing for every buyer’s dollar. I would suspect craft shows are having similar problems as brick and mortar stores. Shopping online is cutting into everyone. Etsy, Facebook, EBay and even Craigslist. Small businesses are selling online just to stay in business. Woodcraft and Rocklar also.
    Member Illiana Woodturners

  14. #14
    I do 4-5 art/craft shows per year. I started doing them a few years ago because I ran out of people to give my stuff to and I realized I can more than pay for my hobby with a few good shows. I only sell bowls for the most part (it's 90% of my inventory). Prices range from $30-$300 depending on size and complexity. I only use wood that would otherwise end up in a landfill or a chipper or a fireplace so my material cost is very low, but I spend a lot of time preparing wood to be turnable.

    I've made some observations on your topic based on my experiences. Maybe it will help...

    1. At this stage, I only go to juried art shows that are "destination" type events (unless there is a show in my small town where I want to support my local community in some way). "Craft" shows are for bargain hunting customers. "Art" shows are for afficianodos.

    2. Your booth set-up and presentation matters. I wish it didn't, but it does. People have to like your set up. There has to be a "flow" around the tables and stages for the work to sit at different eye levels. My booth set up is the worst part of my presentation. I really need to improve it! Greet everyone who stops by.

    3. Try to have a niche or a signature type of style. As soon as I figured out how to "save" unusable wood, I made a market for myself. I doubt I'm the only turner who does this type of work, but it's all I do for the most part, and now people are recognizing my work on occasion.

    4. Be able to accept all payment types - cash, credit, debit, venmo, Apple Pay, PayPal, all of it - and make sure people know it.

    5. Engage with your neighbors and help steer people to their booths, as well. I can't tell you how many people have bought something from me after saying "one of your neighboring booths told me to come check you out..."

    6. Utilitarian items sell best right before Mother's Day and Christmas time. "Art" sells year round.

    7. Tell people everything you know about the wood you used. What type, where'd you get it, what's it generally used for, is it locally sourced, is there something unique about this species? Buyers love knowing the provenance of the wood itself.

    8. Never think for a minute that a higher booth fee means better customers. Best show I ever had was at a local art show and a guy came in and bought my entire inventory of resin/wood hybrid bowls. The cost to set up my booth for that show was $25. Including the couple of commissioned pieces I got ordered from that show, I outsold every other artist in the show combined. You just never know...

    9. Remember, as an artist/craftsman, people aren't just buying your product - they have to buy into you as an artist. If they wanted bowls or bottle stoppers, they'd head to Walmart or Williams Sonoma. They have to want to support what you are doing as an individual. It took me a while to come to grips with this reality as I had always hoped that my work would just "sell itself." Sometimes it does, but if I want to sell more stuff I have to tell people about me, and my work.

    As I have learned and applied all these concepts, my shows have been much more consistent. They still fluctuate, of course, but I almost always reach my expectations and I've never lost money by going to a show.

  15. #15
    Well said Harold! You have hit the nail on the head on many of your points. I had two people at my last show make comments about the attitude of some of my neighbors and how they won't go into a booth, no matter how much they like the art, if the artists doesn't greet them or say hello as they are passing by. The other thing, I've learned, is never, never judge a customer by the way they are dressed. I've created one customer that comes to see me, and buy, every time I do a show in St. Louis (about 4 to 5 a year). He looks like he's homeless but always pays cash.

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