This past weekend I participated in my very last craft fair. When I first started Sweet Meats, craft fairs were invaluable. The direct interaction with thousands of potential customers allowed me to collect a ton of feedback about prices, popular products, displays and marketing: deli wrapping was a hit and often served as the tipping point between browser and buyer; when it came to products, “I love you more than bacon” was the big winner in buttons, but the ham always came out on top in the toy category. At last week’s Bazaar Bizarre, however, I learned some broader lessons:
Lesson 1: you can’t half-ass a craft booth
The Bazaar Bizarre was the only fair I did this season. I wanted to hurry my transition out of retail by getting rid of some inventory, so I didn’t bring much new to the table (no pun intended). Aside from a couple of prints I had little in the way of new products, so none of my usual customers were interested. I also didn’t have the second table I thought I had purchased, so it was difficult for shoppers to make sense of the crowded display. All in all, my booth looked a little sad compared to my neighbors’ open, well-lit, and organized spaces, so I didn’t fare too well. My plan to off-load boxes of toys to an audience that already owns them backfired completely.
Lesson 2: outgrowing the craft fair
Craft fairs are absolutely the right market for a growing handmade business, for all of the reasons I mentioned above. But they are no longer the right market for me. The whole weekend I felt a slight twinge of embarrassment at being there. I was disappointed in myself, like I was dressing for the job I had rather than the one I wanted. This feeling was compounded when more than one person approached me with a confused/vaguely distrustful look before asking, “Aren’t you the person who put on the CCE conference? What are you doing here?” It seemed as though they suddenly didn’t trust that I knew anything about running a small business since I was standing behind my products piled sadly on a table, with no customers clamoring to buy them.
The Big Takeaway
As with most things in life, you only get out of a craft fair what you put into it. And because I have already mentally left that world behind, I didn’t put much into it. Just like I tell my students, you can’t market right unless you’re in the right market. Now that I’m hoping to build bigger and better things, I need to find a new market with room for my business to grow into.