6 Secrets for Selling More at Trade Shows and Craft Fairs

Woman selling jewelery at a craft fair.
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Howard Gre / Getty Images

Home shows. Industry shows. Craft fairs. They’re all great opportunities to market your small business and sell your wares. Whether you have a trade show circuit that you run regularly or are exhibiting at your one and only event of the season, the same principles of show sales and success apply. 

Choose the Right Venue

If you’re an artist or crafter, you already know this, but it applies to every business. The first secret of selling more at any show or fair is that you and your products and services will be judged partly by those around you.

In other words, if the stuff around you is junk, the perceived value of your products and services will suffer. Likewise, if everything around you is top-notch, your products and services will immediately gain luster.

So it’s important that you research any place you’re planning to sell ahead of time. Before you attend that trade show, choosing the right shows for your products or services will give you the best chance to maximize your profit.

Draw Customers With Your Display

Think visibility first. Before you can sell anyone anything, you have to get them to your booth. If you’ve ever attended a large trade show, you know that there seem to be big electronic display screens everywhere, showing everything from flashing words to full-length movies about attendees' products.

Well, that sort of thing might work for you too, depending on your venue and what you’re selling. But you don’t have to use a screen to get people to pay attention and. At a recent farmer’s market, one of the vendors was dressed as a pirate (which tied in perfectly to the name of his farm) and his stall full of vegetables was mobbed.

At one arts and crafts show, there was an all-white booth with a person dressed all in white, including a white head-covering. Nothing else was visible. As you might have guessed, a steady stream of people kept approaching that person and asking them what was going on—a perfect selling opportunity.

You don't need to dress up to increase your craft show sales, but you need to make your booth and your wares stand out to prospective buyers somehow.

Price Your Products Appropriately

Before you start slapping stickers on anything, read and memorize this first rule of pricing:

Price is not about what it’s worth; it’s about what it will sell for.

Novices often make the mistake of pricing their products and services according to materials and time put into them. For instance, a person who creates wooden toys will add up the cost of the wood, glue, and other materials that they bought to produce the toys, add in the hours they spent cutting and carving them to arrive at the toy's worth, then mark it up a bit and then write a price tag.

But that’s not a price; that’s how you do a break-even analysis. Think of it this way: What’s the difference between a painting of a soup can and a painting of a soup can by Andy Warhol? If you answered “millions of dollars,” you’re right. But do you really think that Andy Warhol spent hundreds and hundreds of hours creating that one painting?

Your break-even analysis is just your starting point. Do the research necessary to check out your competition and make note of what they’re charging for the same or similar products or services. Then choose your strategy. Are you going to charge less, the same, or more than your competitors for your products or services? Remember, you should only charge more if you can justify the increase as a perceived value to the customer.

In other words, take a hard look at yourself and your product or service. Are you the "just anybody" who painted the soup can or an Andy Warhol? Most of us fall somewhere in between—and finding out where is the art of pricing.

Actively Engage Visitors to Your Display

Just standing there and letting people look at things in your craft show booth is not going to spark the number of sales you're dreaming of. Sure, if your products or services are enticing enough, some people will buy. But most won’t.

Here’s another secret for you: Most people are running through a mental loop of reasons ​not to buy when they’re looking at your wares. Your job as a salesperson is to counter those reasons and give them cause to buy instead.

There are all kinds of ways to turn lookers into buyers, from a product's quality to how easy it would be to send to someone as a gift—all reasons that will never get activated unless you actively engage with the people that visit your booth.

Create and Play up the Back Story

Nearly everyone loves a story. So give them one. This is one of the best ways to overcome that internal highlight reel of objections.

How was it made? Where is it from? Who else owns one? Or even (sometimes), who else owned that one?

These are all questions that prospective buyers might ask about a piece or a service if they were interested in it. So turn it around. Stimulate their interest by giving them the answers to the questions they might not have even thought of.

Sometimes things come with their own provenance. Think antiques. Or things that celebrities have used. But if not, it’s not that hard to create one. It’s not just a necklace. It’s a necklace crafted from sea glass that you personally harvested from Canada’s rugged West Coast Trail.

An appealing story can provide the added value that will clinch the sale.

Bring Your Customers Back

Take a moment to think about your typical sales transaction. Does it go something like this?

  • The customer says they would like to buy an item.
  • You charge their card for the amount of the sale.
  • You wrap and bag the item and give it to them or make arrangements to deliver the service.
  • They leave, and you never see them again.

Now how much would your sales increase if you could change that last part to “They come back and buy something else,” or even, “They come back with a friend and they both buy something?”

Lots, right? Here's the final secret: The money is in the return customer, not the new one. Anything you can do to encourage someone who has bought something from you to return and buy something else from you is a great thing.

That’s why so many businesses have jumped on the loyalty program bandwagon.

And there’s no reason why you can’t run some version of a customer loyalty program yourself. Straight punch card types where customers can buy X number of items and then get one free are popular, but programs that encourage customers to bring in other potential customers are even better. Try giving customers a discount card they can pass along to someone in order to receive a discount themselves when that card is turned in.

Engage First, Then Sell

If you’ve ever had the experience of being at a show or fair and watching people stream past your booth headed elsewhere, you know how depressing such an experience can be—for both your pocketbook and your ego. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Follow these steps at your upcoming events and watch your craft show sales soar.