10 Tips For Selling At Craft Shows & Farmer's Markets



So you've followed along with the first 5 years of our business, Cobble Hill Farm Apothecary.  You've learned that it's been a crazy ride with a business that (thankfully) has truly taken off.  You've also learned that we've never worked harder in our lives.

It's true!

Please know that it hasn't all been lollipops and rainbows.  We have had many many struggles.  Certainly some financially, but also in so many other ways, as all businesses do.  But we've pushed through them.  I've been at wits end and declared that I don't care if the business succeeds or fails (I was sleep deprived.....), we've had issues with products or packaging, or setting up at a show that has sent us over the edge (temporarily).  But this happens with any profession.

And those moments always pass.

We've made a lot of sacrifices, we've certainly made mistakes, poor decisions, etc.  But we've survived.  And even thrived!!  And we've met some amazing people through it all.  We have also learned just what it is to be grateful.  It's not just a word, it's a feeling that goes through your whole darned body, right into your bones and comes out in a huge smile.

We've done our fair share of markets and craft shows.  I really enjoy them.  I enjoy getting to know the other vendors, touching base with customers we only see at those shows, and getting to meet new customers.  Here are a few things I've learned about selling at craft shows through our last few years:

1. Figure Out Your Space BEFORE The Show.
     If your application does not tell you what size of space you will have, email the person putting the show together to find out.  Then, spend some time figuring out your space to best display your products as well as for the flow of traffic.  Customers must be able to have enough space to spend time at your booth.  If not, they'll likely pass on by without making a purchase. Figure out how many tables, chairs, etc. you will need to bring.
     We used to find out the space size and then lay out our tables in our yard to figure out product placement and flow.  Now we've been in just about any type of space and worked them all out so we keep photos on our phones.  Once we're at the show we pull up the photo and we're good to go!


2. Keep Your Product Pricing True To Your Company
     At every single show/market you do, unless you have a very unique item, you will have some sort of competition.  It's very easy to walk around, looking at the competition, and then question your own pricing.  Keep it the same show to show.
     I cannot stress enough how critical it is to the success of your business to figure out your pricing early on.  Changing it once you've created a following can be very difficult.  Trust me, I know.  When we first started, we offered much smaller bars of soap.  When we decided to go larger with our bars, we knew we'd also need to increase costs.  This made sense to customers.  But we were also still trying to get customers to purchase our soap over a competitors.  We knew that if they would just use our soap, they would feel the difference and purchase ours again and again.
     So, we only adjusted our pricing by $1.00, although we should have adjusted it by $2.00 per bar.  We went for 1 year before increasing to where we needed to be.  Because the bar size had not changed with the second increase, we had a few negative comments.  And I completely understand that.  It was a decision we made and then we had to stick with.
     Always display your prices.  Think from the viewpoint of a consumer.  There's nothing worse than entering a booth, admiring the items in it, and then realizing you'll have to ask the person for pricing of every single thing.  You will lose sales if this is the case.

3. Make Connections With Your Customers & Don't Let Negative Nancy's Get You Down
     We have the best customers.  We truly do!  I will tell you that 99.6% of the people we meet are supportive, kind, gracious with their feedback, and are the best darned customers anyone could ever have.  We make true connections with them.  (They actually sell our products for us many times which is amazing that they believe in them, and us, that much!!) And then there's the .04%......  You will always have someone who isn't so gracious with their feedback.

     --You must have thick skin if you're going to deal with the public.--

     The thing that the .4% forget is this.  Your products, those things that you pour love, blood, sweat and tears into, is an extension of you.  You take it personal.  How could you not?  People who lack tact or who are just plain mean will come into your life.  Thankfully, not frequently.  But they will.  Learn to let it go.  What we try to do is to weed through the nonsense (making faces, condescending remarks, etc.) to see if there is any value at all in their (very poorly delivered) message.  If not, let it go.  If there is, we let go of the manner in which they provided the message and try to just deal with the message.  The good thing is that this is so very rare, in the grand scheme of things, it's easy to let go of.
     Be kind and not used-car-salesman-y.  Think about how you like to be treated when you shop and provide that same experience to your customers.  Every.single.time.



4.  Presentation Is Everything
     I know this seems obvious, but it can easily be overlooked.  You need people to want to enter your booth.  You have seconds to make this happen and it all comes from what they can see from the aisle.  Think about aesthetics and use props that fit your product to evoke a feeling (comfortable, warm, friendly, decadent, etc. - whichever fits your product).  Don't think of it from an "I'm standing in my booth and this is what I see", rather from an "I'm walking by in the aisle and this is what I see".  It's a bit of a different perspective.
     Build your display up, not just out.  Use risers for your tables to get products in better view of your customers, and use shelving to help get your products higher, at eye-level.  Your booth automatically looks fuller and customers don't have to squat to see something.
     And keep it clean.....not too much clutter.

5. Go To The Right Venues For Your Products
     Obviously, this can be hard when you first start out.  You'll do a lot of trial and error.  But often, if you've been to the show or market in the past as a consumer, you get a sense of whether or not it's right for your product.  Don't return to (or go for the first time) to a show that's not the right fit.  It's a waste of time and money.
     We have a show that we've done for the past 2 years because it's near our home.  We do "ok" at it.  But the reality is, it's not the right fit.  We had to admit that to ourselves after doing it this year.  It's a nice show, great venue and well organized, but we won't return.  There are too many others out there on the same weekend that will likely be a better fit.
     Another part of what makes that decision for us is sales.  We've set a dollar amount that we must do per show in order to continue it.  Again, there's just too many shows out there to waste time settling for less.  We do override that rule if there's a show that seems a good fit but we aren't making what we'd like.  We'll give it a few years to see if we can tweak our booth to increase sales.  If it doesn't happen, we cut it from the schedule.

6. Offer Products In High And Low Price Points
     If you can do this, it's the one thing that can make a huge difference in making a sale versus not making a sale.  Many small sales will amount to as much, or possibly more, than a few big sales.  Additionally, you get your products into more hands which means there's a better chance at building a larger following of repeat customers.
     Think about when you enter a store that you are just in love with.  You love their look, you love their products, you love everything about them.  You want to bring something home from that store to remember it by.  If you can't find anything within your price range, you likely don't buy anything at all.

7. Be Prepared
     So this category is very broad, but it's the little things that can make it much easier for you.

  •      Think about sales - do you have a way to record them?  A calculator?  Do you know the county sales tax amount?  Did you bring enough change and will you keep it in a cash box?  What if someone wants a receipt?  
  • Will you take credit cards?  Will your credit card reader work without internet connection? (some spaces have limited or no connection)
  • Think about food.  You'll need something to eat.  Is there a snack bar?  Will you bring your own food and drink?
  • Think about bringing a second person.  This will allow you to run to the restroom, take a quick break and/or eat without being at your booth.
  • What will you package purchases in?  If you're going to purchase paper bags, why not also purchase labels that you can print your website and business name on as well?
  • What about "down time"?  Is there anything productive you could do if you have the time to do so?  For instance, I always bring soap to wrap.  It's easy to do in a small space and I bring a limited amount so I'm not packing excessive items that may not get completed.
  • What about if it rains?  Can your products get wet?  If you're outside, what will you use if your tent leaks?  If you're inside, what will you use to cover your products while loading and unloading?


8. Advertise Your Business
     Purchase a banner so that customers know right away who you are.  Think about where/how you will hang this.  If you are inside and don't have a wall behind you, will you be able to bring something to hang it from?  What about a banner that goes on your table instead?  (the only downfall is if people are standing in your booth, it may not be visible)
     Bring business cards, brochures, post cards, etc. that people can take with them.  We've also created "thank you" cards that go into every single bag.  This way they have our online store address (even though it's on our products and bags, it's sometimes more obvious on a card) and we've thanked them yet again for their purchase.

9. Streamline Your Process
     If you're planning to sell at multiple shows/markets throughout the year, keep basic things that you may always need packed in totes.  i.e. clips, string, scissors, pens, notepad, credit card reader, napkins, silverware, business cards, brochures, price signs, tablecloths, banner, etc.  Replenish it after every show (literally the same day you return) and then you're sure to not forget to do so before the next show.

10. Make Connections
     You can find out a wealth of valuable information regarding other craft shows and farmer's markets from the other vendors.  Do keep in mind that their experience is not necessarily what your experience will be, but what they share will still be very beneficial.



I'm hoping a few of these ideas come in handy to those of you just starting out.  The next business post will be tips for starting a home-based business.

5 comments:

daisy gurl said...

SO helpful, Stacy! Thank you for sharing your knowledge. I have been thinking so much about these things and whether or not I should continue next season with my daisy totes. I see from reading this that there are a lot of things I can do to improve what I'm doing. I'm actually attending a seminar this afternoon on marketing at our Ag Center. Always looking to learn more... Thanks again!

Staci at Life At Cobble Hill Farm said...

I'm so happy to hear that Daisy!! Yes indeed, learning is always a good thing. :) Your bags are adorable and the craftsmanship is outstanding, I have no doubt they will take off soon.

Just the Right Size said...

Staci, you can't believe how helpful this is! In fact, one of the services you should offer is consulting for start-up bath & body businesses.

I am still in the formulating phase of products (for the past year) and want to consider selling next year at shows and markets. I still need to focus on branding/marketing/label, etc. before then and get some unbiased feedback. But I just joined an active women's entrepreneur group that I can use to "test".

Love your displays and they look so inviting. I hate seeing bath and body booths were they have all their products in baskets on one level on the table. You can't see anything! I also really appreciate your input on high/low pricing. That makes so much sense and encourages buyers to come back and buy larger amounts.

Staci at Life At Cobble Hill Farm said...

Kathy - thank you so much! I'm thrilled to hear that there's some useful things here. Consulting is something I've been tossing around...... :)

I would recommend you start selling. I know it seems crazy because you want to get your ducks in a row, but you need to gather some honest feedback and just start getting your products out there. You'll still tweak your packaging and possibly reformulate some items, but your business will start to develop, and that's the most important thing. Make things in small enough batches that if you decide to reformulate or re-package, you won't have to sell too terribly much first.

You'll get an enormous amount of feedback from customers, most of which will be extremely constructive, and all will be very helpful. But you can't get that until you start selling. :)

I hope this helps!!

Brett said...

Good information and your displays look really sharp! I Speak Cow