Table at a Christmas market

How to plan the perfect craft show; my personal utopia

Craft shows... you love them, you hate them, but either way they are somewhat addictive. Perhaps it's because they are reminiscent of old times bazaars and traditional street markets.

 

Unfortunately, most craft shows have gone astray and turned into flavorless non-descript events. Except for the very large well-established shows and the ones organized within a major event, such as agricultural fairs and art festivals, people tend to avoid them and if they visit, they don’t buy.

I was a vendor for the last two years in many shows across Canada, from Quebec to British Columbia. My aim was to educate visitors about cashmere and pashmina. But in many shows, I would sit there for hours, with visitors passing by and barely looking at my table.

After every show, I always said this is the last one. Ever. Yet I signed up for new ones again and again. I quickly missed the excitement of setting up my table and the anticipation, that perhaps, this one will be a great one.

I would always put up many photos, sometimes a looping video, samples to feel and touch and boxes with greatly discounted products to appeal to those looking for a bargain. My table looked great, but in the wrong shows in the wrong settings, it is useless.

 

How would be the perfect craft show?

It will be like a themed bazaar where all participants would take part in it planning.  The aim would be to attract visitors, communicate, educate, amuse and create networks. Selling would only be a side effect, that might or might not happen. Visitors would feel free to explore the displays, touch, look, ask questions and admire, without any pressure to purchase. Of course, there would be no entrance fee. 

 

Everyone will work on the promotion

When shows have no visitors, vendors blame the organizer for not doing having done proper advertisement. But craft shows are usually self-promoted by their own reputation. It is up to the vendor to advertise and promote on social networks, and perhaps find sponsors. A paid advertisement campaign has little impact on the number of visitors. A great craft show needs to be talked about, not advertised. 

 

A cause

Visitors often reluctantly visit craft shows. When they do they don’t know why they visit, have no intention of buying and just entertain themselves by wandering among the tables. If the show offers part of its sales to help a cause, it definitely motivates a few more sales. Also supporting a local charity or a fundraising activity for a mission abroad will help find great sponsorship and partners in the event.

 

A new system for financing and managing sales

I like the table fees to be percentage based, according to the sales and profits of the seller. A low reservation fee could be required for administrative purpose. A percentage of all sales would then be taken cover the cost of the event and fund the cause. This will be possible with implementing a system for tracking the sales during the show. When a visitor wants to purchase an item from a table, the vendor would prepare an invoice and set aside the item. Before leaving, the visitor would pay for his goods at a common cashier, return to the tables with his receipt to pick up his goods. A great aspect of this system is that it removes the transaction from the relationship between the visitor and the vendor (now a presenter and educator in a pure sense!).

 

Setting up the space with the visitor in mind, not the vendors

Rarely do craft shows respect basic shoppers ergonomics and psychology. It is all about the vendor, their own priorities and access to the best spot for their own table. Tables are then assigned according to seniority and probably private preferences and contacts. This creates a mess most of the time, with great newbie vendors clumped together in the darkest furthest alley.

 

In the perfect show, all vendors will be grouped by the type of good they offer

Currently, the vendors selling similar items are spread out through the room or rooms to avoid competition between vendors.  In Asia, North Africa and India, sellers of similar goods are always clumped together in the same area. You have the garment road, the spice market, the carpet alley, etc. It is effective and it has worked for centuries. Visitors brain will not spiral into confusion; the will find what they want or need all in one spot. They will be able to compare, choose and buy. 

 

A theme

A themed show always has a much higher impact and draws a more focused crowd with the right intent. My favorite one is the Fair Trade ethnic show, popular on Vancouver Island. These series of shows are no larger than any other craft shows, are set in community centers and have a local feel. Yet they draw thousands of visitors every day at every location.

 

Entrepreneur bazaar, not a craft show

A perfect show would probably not be called a craft show anyway. I would call it the Entrepreneur Guild Traditional Market. Artisans, artists, crafters, small business, inventive personal projects would all be welcome, as long as they fit in the chosen theme. And of course, food; bakers, sweets, snacks, mixes, ready-made, all of this is essential in a show, within their own area, far from the artisan section and luxury goods.

 

A word about MLM sales reps

Pyramidal sales reps tend to book many tables in craft shows. Makeup, leggings, essential oils, candles, kitchen stuff. Not naming companies here, just that seeing the same companies with the same products over and over again blah’s the mind ans seems to bring to affect the quality of the show.  I am not sure I would accept any at my perfect show, unless what they sell supports something they are making or is part of a more personal project. (example: the cook selling her food and samples, with a small MLM kitchen display, this could be acceptable).

 

Conclusion

Well, that is my dream show. A cause, a theme, all working together, a great layout of tables, proper promotion, all working together, nobody frustrated or feeling cheated when all is done.

Do you believe in this? Feel like taking up the challenge of preparing a totally unique and different show? Maybe we can work out something together! Contact me (I travel all around Canada)

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