This is a guest post from Vinit Patil, who is the co-founder of SKUE, a wholesale marketplace. Vinit works closely with makers from around the country, so we thought he would be a good person to drop some knowledge as we head into the winter craft show season.
When I did my first craft show back in 2011 I had pretty high expectations, which quickly fell apart. It was Renegade Craft in San Francisco and we introduced a line of home decor products. They were objects picked up from flea markets, spray painted white and used as a canvas for pen and ink illustrations. I still remember packing up after that ONE sale we made.
After all that prepping, booth planning, and banner printing, my artist partner and I felt like failures. If we would have started out with different expectations we would’ve been less dejected while carting all our products back home. The internet has a ton of articles about how to build a booth, craft fair checklists, and so on but very little about managing expectations.
So I asked a few makers on SKUE, some of whom are also Bay Area Made members, about what success at a craft show means to them.
Lauren Shun, Yuzu Soap
“Making four to five times the booth cost in sales.”
Leyna Allred, Urb Apothecary
“When I make at least $1,500 in sales and make new stockist connections.”
Shujan Bertrand, Aplat
“I look for sales and marketing opportunities.”
Marketing opportunities could mean new partnerships. If you follow Shujan, she has some great partnerships with a lot of maker organizations. Marketing opportunities don’t always happen on the spot, they evolve over time.
Marja Germans Gaard, MGG Studio
“I have a few different things that I think about.”
Earnings at the actual event: There is no set amount, as it depends a fair bit on the size and type of show.
Repeat sales: If a show wasn’t hugely successful in the moment but led to repeat customers down the line.
Wholesale interest: I’ve had some great wholesale accounts come out of retail craft shows.
Connections with other makers: My business group was actually formed through contacts I made at craft shows!
Also, press opportunities at maker publications.
Here are a few other things to consider:
Connecting with your followers. It’s easier to sell to your existing customers than new customers. Seeing them in person is a real gift.
Testing new product lines. Craft shows provide a really focused test market to see how people behave with your product. Surveying them with a couple of questions is a great way to engage.
New prospects. It’s hard to spot prospects at first, it may feel like they’re wasting your time. But anyone at the show is a prospect because they’ve taken the trouble to make the trip. We organize tradeshows, and in the world of trade sales cycles can be really long. When someone walks through the door they could potentially spend $10,000 over 3 years. Even if they spend $150 on the day of or nothing at all, we treat them as prospects.
Which brings me to Jonathan Plotzker, or JP, of Heliotrope.
Jonathan Plotzker, Heliotrope
“I’ve had really SLOW events that I still enjoyed because I felt like our name got in front of the right people. I see those folks in my shop later, and they recognize me or the brand and it turns into a sale. So you never know.”
JP doesn’t measure sales. The expectation is that sales will come later. At the show the criteria for success is personal enjoyment and convenience. It’s the most intangible of all and you need a lot of patience and confidence, but the pressure is off.
So back to my first craft fair. Here’s a photo of our first customer.
Her brother was a Tom Selleck fan. Look how happy she is after she bought this as a gift. She still asks if we’re doing any eighties themed collections. As a result of the fair, we got our first press article on Thrillist and we also made a few stockists connections who years later joined as the founding members of our wholesale platform. So in hindsight it was successful.
Now, I only do one craft show a year now and my measure of success isn’t sales because my goals are different.
Wherever you are in your business, it’s a good time to assess what’s your measure of success. It could be a specific sales target. It could be partnership opportunities. Or if you are like JP, you could base it on how happy you feel at the event. With these ideas clear in your mind, you can see what success looks like before loading the van.
Vinit Patil is co-founder of SKUE, a venue for wholesale where makers sell to stores and get retail input from seasoned buyers. You can follow them on instagram at @skuedotco.
Top photo by Jason LeCras.