Craft Shows - Successes and Horror Stories - Woodworking Talk - Woodworkers Forum
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post #1 of 15 Old 10-08-2018, 07:27 AM Thread Starter
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Craft Shows - Successes and Horror Stories

I've been considering joining the local craft show circuit next year. We also have a Farmer's Market that runs every Sunday for most of the summer months.

I live in a rural area where craft shows are relatively popular - I'm not worried about foot traffic. There's really only one guy doing any kind of woodworking, and he sells cornhole boards. My biggest concern is figuring out what items to sell in order to make it worthwhile. From what I've seen, the entry fees aren't too bad, but you're still going to be sitting there all day hoping to recoup costs - much less turn a profit.

What have been good craft show sellers for you? Any advice? Horror stories?


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post #2 of 15 Old 10-10-2018, 12:27 AM
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I've had conversations with people that have attempted to sell / make a living through all kinds of shows. A supplier of mine and I had an interesting discussion about the costs of exhibiting at AWFS. That discussion was not for those faint of heart.

I've had discussions with exhibitors at, for lack of better words, The Woodworking Shows. It is a very tough way of making a living. You have to look at what you are competing with, starting with "FREE SHIPPING". You do appear to have an advantage of no travel.

I have lived in the city, in the burbs and semi-rural. The in-laws lived almost rural. I have had fellow workers that have experienced the "Barbed Wire" telephone land line problems. What I have noticed is that rural dwellers tend to be more tolerant of less than perfect solutions to everyday needs.

What you need to do is look around your house. I'm sure that you have several items that, "Well that sort of works BUT if I could . . ." The only thing that I can think of is a way to write your grocery shopping list on a roll of adding machine paper. The roll is held in a dispenser that you build. Make it adaptable for lefties and righties. (BTW - The barrel of a Bic pen is great for the support of the paper.) Make yours unique so it can hold a pen and the paper can be ripped easily. (Hack Saw blade)

Other than that, good luck.

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post #3 of 15 Old 10-10-2018, 01:08 AM
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What are your motives?

If you want to earn a living... stop right there, it cant be done.

If you want to make a little bit of pocket money, you may be lucky, but normally you will just cover your costs.

If you have a lot of stuff you just want to get out of the house, then thats where you go.

If you are bored, and want to spend time just talking to other people, you are made for the job.

But if you dont even have stuff already made, and you dont know what to make yet, youre going to be running at a loss for at least a year.

Best way forward is to talk to the one guy making wood stuff, ask him if he would share his stall for a couple weeks (you pay half his costs), take what you have, and see what happens.
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post #4 of 15 Old 10-10-2018, 08:24 AM
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We used to live in another country where my spouse was not allowed to work at a regular job. I worked long hours. During the day, my spouse made custom-designed clothing for infants. She made them partly for our own children, partly to have something to do while I was at work, and partly to earn some extra money.

When we had enough clothing to fill a rack, we would bring them to the US and take them to a craft show to sell. They sold very well.

We made a little money, enough to cover material costs, but not enough to cover the costs of the sewing machine and serger, nor the labor. My spouse would not have earned anything close to minimum wage if we computed labor into the cost of the garments. (The cost of the equipment was never considered. We would have bought the sewing machine and serger anyway. The purchases were for her to have and use, not for a "business.")

Simply put, craft shows are no way to earn a living. You may get lucky and earn pocket money, but you are likely to earn more by applying for a job at Walmart or McDonalds. The problem is: Would you prefer one of those jobs over woodworking?

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post #5 of 15 Old 10-10-2018, 12:15 PM
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I started going to a few local craft shows, just looking, thinking maybe it would be a way to recoup some hobby costs. Competition is tough. if you come up with something novel that sells well, it will be copied and sold for less in ten days time. Items made on the spot seem to be a draw. At a Christmas market I go to, a fellow sets up a cheap harbor freight lathe and makes little 6 inch Christmas trees. They are not particularly good, it takes him about 6 minutes each and they sell for $10 and he has a line of people waiting to buy. The show costs him about $180 for an 8x8 space outdoors in the cold for three days. (vendors get a 3 sided shed to set up in.) During the day, he doesn't sell so much, but in the evenings, for a couple hours he is making a $100 an hour. He has to have his supplies on hand and work fast so folks don't lose interest and walk away. He uses a cup chuck so he can just pound the pre cut wood into the chuck with a mallet and start turning. I don't see how the bearings on the lathe hold up to all that pounding. Last year there were two additional turners selling their wares, but he was the only one there working his lathe. He was busy the others were not.

Just last saturday, I went to a craft show to look around. One guy was just sitting on a little stool at a low make shift work bench making jewelry and nick nacks out of heavy ga copper wire. he had a steady number of customers although not great. Other far more artistic jewelry makers were not doing as well.

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post #6 of 15 Old 10-10-2018, 03:30 PM
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I have heard of woodturners making small kid's tops as giveaways. This draws the parents into the picture then hopefully a sale is made. Haven't tried crafts shows. Looked at one festival in a touristy town- $350 fee just to set up for Friday-Saturday-Sunday. You would have to sell a whole train load to break even.

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post #7 of 15 Old 10-10-2018, 04:50 PM
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The smaller your product the less you'll hate moving it in and packing it up. You might like making live edge tables, but you probably won't like hauling furniture in and out of multiple venues...

A handful of patience is worth a bushel of brains...
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post #8 of 15 Old 10-10-2018, 06:12 PM
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The show last saturday was a one day only show. They close the bridge over the river and have the show on the bridge. $160.00 for one day. But the probably had 10,000 people attend. Many of the smaller ones are $50 for two days. Farmers mkts are often $20-30 a day for outdoor space. A few non-profit outfits have tiny shows and offer space for free just to build the number of vendors. The huge shows are nice, but you are also competing with many other sellers of very nice stuff. A smaller show or farmer's mkt may be better. Less competition and fewer handmade hard goods. Saturday, I saw two or three turners set up. One had bowls for sale in the $100 to 250 dollar range. I have seen much nicer for far less. A lot of turners make bowls. To me a bowl must be very exceptional to be worth enough money to compensate for the time involved. One pro turner I know is a speed demon. He can turn out a nice bowl an hour when he gets moving. For him it is more like production turning. Most of what I do is spindle turning. I am not very good, but with practice, I can turn out three or four tree ornaments in 15 minutes. They're bare bones nothing fancy, but sell well for $3, $4 or $5 dollars a piece when I donate them to charity.
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post #9 of 15 Old 10-11-2018, 01:15 AM
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I've been backed into a craft show this sunday.
I sell my stuff, but dont go looking for customers, just people who know me and my work. But I've had a busy summer and have a surplus of boxes at the moment, Always said I DO NOT want a stall, no way hosay. But the boss said I had to move these boxes off her furniture.

I tried getting the organiser (who sells mosaics) to take them on her table on a commission basis, even as high as 50/50, but there were too many for her.

So I shall be there with my table, and will find out what happens. The space is cheap enough at (equal to) $15, and the value of my stuff could be over $500 depending on the customers.

At the very least I will cover my costs. I'll let you know next week how it goes, but whatever happens, this is a one off, as i have almost a years worth of stuff to move.

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post #10 of 15 Old 10-14-2018, 01:27 AM
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I started out in woodworking as a teenager doing the craft show scene. I was making these jewery boxes that had engravings of wildlife on them, lined with velvet, etc. I'd spend 15 or so hours on each one and I was asking $15-20 for them. Nearly every person who expressed interest tried to offer me a lower price. It was extremely disheartening, and could give you a really bad attitude towards people. As soon as I got a job offer from someone in a cabinet shop who saw my work, I jumped at the chance.
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post #11 of 15 Old 10-14-2018, 08:47 AM
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I just got back from my first (and last) craft fair.
Complete waste of a day of my life. Several people complimented me on the pieces, and then moved on. sold nothing all day. the only wood stall that was selling stuff had a lot of xmas trees cut out of 1/4" poplar with a scroll saw, filled with tiny LED lights. His work was pretty good. I have tried scroll sawing and its mind numbingly boring to me. He must have spent well over an hour on each piece in time alone, but was selling them for equivalent $20. I would have to be starving to agree to work at his rates.

Even the wife, who made me do this to try to make some space indoors, agreed that we would NOT be doing that again. I would rather give stuff away as xmas presents.

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post #12 of 15 Old 10-14-2018, 09:08 AM
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I think some crafts are going to be dieing Scrolling for instance. We have reached the point that a guy with a a latest 1,000 scroll saw cannot keep up with another fellow that has a cnc laser/router and a laptop. Mortises and tennons for post and beam construction at manufacturing plants are cut by giant cnc routers to 1/128th of an inch precision on a 30 foot beam. CNC paint sprayers turn out 1,000 "hand painted" items per hour. CNC lathes turn out exact duplicate table legs all day long.

I always wanted a fancy German candle arch. Fancy and time consuming to make by hand, saw ornate ones for sale at a chain store for $17.00 all cnc cut and robotically assembled. The time and effort to create something for a craft show needs to be novel unique and far outstanding to be worthwhile creating for what it brings in. Or you must be so good and efficient at it that you can turn it out like production work and sell volume.
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post #13 of 15 Old 10-14-2018, 09:23 AM
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You have to buy into the way of life of craft fairs. I met people who openly admit they often have days where they sell nothing. They go I think for company and to have people to talk to. It's not for me.

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post #14 of 15 Old 10-14-2018, 07:00 PM
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I did my first craft show for the fall season yesterday and had a great day. I have been doing craft shows for 4 years. I have been told that my prices are too low. I tell them my items are priced to sell. I don't really make much of a profit if any but I make enough to buy some equipment and wood to support the hobby.
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post #15 of 15 Old 10-14-2018, 10:23 PM
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In the '70s my wife and I made a meager living at craft shows for 9 years. It was fun. The craft people are gypsies that travel in old school buses or like we did in a van. Live in the van while at the shows. There is a huge difference in the shows depending on the show management. Local artsy house wife run shows are always terrible. Our best show every year was the Festival of the Arts in Oklahoma City. It was 6 days long, standing behind our counter trying to be nice to some really stupid comments and the aching legs for 6 days, ugg. "Do you use tools to make these?" What do I look like? A beaver! But our sales were always in the range of $10,000 for the 6 days. Pretty good for 1970's $. The show took 20%. I think there were about 150 exhibitors?? It funded the local arts council for the year. They promoted it heavily as a place to buy. Quality was the highest of any show we did. I think that set the tone for a successful show.
We also did an American Crafts Council show in Dallas that was a total dud. The Renaissance Festival near Minneapolis was 6 weekends in a row. Sales there were mostly low dollar items. Parents brought their kids to be entertained. Not worth it!
One of the things that made the shows worthwhile was being able to swap lies with other crafts people. We would learn which shows were good or not. In some locations there was a camp ground mainly used by the crafts people. Sit around a camp fire have a beer, burn some food tell stories of life on the road. Haven't gone to other than local shows to look see. What I see doesn't inspire me to try it again. I would have liked to attach some photos but can't make it work.
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