10 THINGS I LEARNED AFTER PARTICIPATING IN MY FIRST MAJOR CRAFT FAIR

Most makers know that ONE of the biggest and best fairs to participate in is Renegade Craft Fair.  You can gain a lot of exposure as well as connections if you are selected to participate in this event.  So imagine my surprise when I was accepted into the fair (they even featured me on their blog)!  It was my FIRST major craft fair that I've done.  Before that, I've only participated in Artists & Fleas for one day in preparation for Renegade.  So this past weekend at Grand Park, I shared a space with my friend, Animalkind, and another maker that Renegade paired us with, Krankpress.  It was exhausting, stressful, fun, and exciting!  Overall, It was a great learning experience and I wanted to share these lessons with you.

LESSON #1  Give yourself at least one hour to set up.

Although we gave ourselves plenty of time to drive to Renegade, we didn't actually calculate in enough time to unload and set up.  The fair was at Grand Park and parking was across the street.  We weren't prepared to park three levels below in an underground garage with no elevator.  Because we didn't invest in quality moving supplies (lesson #2), it took us four trips to unload the car.  We had to find our booth in a 300+ booth lay out, set up our tent, table, and display all within 10 minutes.  Needless to say, it was an extremely intense and exhausting moment but we were able to finally settle down by noon.  The event started at 11AM.  We lost an hour of which we could have made potential sales. Not to mention, it made us look very unprofessional to the other makers. We definitely learned our lesson this time around and gave ourselves plenty of time the next day.  Which was great because we were able to relax and took our time in setting up our display.  We were able to conserve our energy for the rest of the day.

LESSON #2  Invest in quality moving supplies.

All of my pieces were packed away in cardboard boxes of various sizes.  I used old boxes, shipping boxes, Amazon boxes...I basically used any box that was laying around the house.  And I bought a cheap four wheel dolly thinking that it will be enough to transport everything.  It was a disaster!  I couldn't stack the table, tent, chairs, AND my boxes (which were not stackable) on top of that dolly.  And when I tried and somewhat succeeded, the dolly wheel got stuck when I tried to push it up the ramp in the parking garage and everything came toppling down.  INVEST IN QUALITY MOVING SUPPLIES AND EQUIPMENT. I can't stress this enough because it'll save you a headache and anxiety.  I've invested in a quality folding hand truck dolly, stackable plastic containers, and bungee cords to secure the containers. I'm so ready for the next fair!

LESSON #3  Get to know your booth mate.

You're going to be spending the whole weekend with her/him in a 10X10' space so you might as well try to get to know your booth mate. Plus, it'll make bathroom breaks and food runs a whole lot easier. There were a few hiccups in the beginning but I really enjoyed spending time with my booth mates.  Elinor, from Krankpress, is a veteran fair vendor and she gave me really great advice on business and fairs/markets.  She even bought one of my pieces!

LESSON #4  Prepare for all types of weather.

I live in sunny all day, every day Los Angeles.  I didn't really have to prepare too much.  But the downside of selling at an outdoor fair in downtown LA was that it was scorching HOT.  So if you're going to be participating in an outdoor fair, be sure to bring lots of sunscreen, water (lesson #9), and wipes. Yes, wipes.  I brought baby wipes with me and it was glorious! Wiping your face and arms after a few hours of sweating feels amazing.  Believe me.  I can't tell you much about cooler weather but remember to also bring weights for the tent.  There were breezy moments this past weekend so having 5lb weights on each pole helped keep the tent in place.

LESSON #5  If your set up from the first day doesn't work, switch it up the next day.

The great thing about selling at a two day event is that there's always room for change.  If the set up from the first day didn't attract enough attention and generate sales, it's okay to switch it up the next day.  On the first day, we had our table pushed in slightly to create some shade for the shoppers.  I also had an additional shelf where I placed perpendicular to the end of the table and pushed to one side of the booth wall.  The layout worked well but we were too far in to attract attention. So the next day, we angled our table slightly but pushed it out to the front of the booth. I also put my shelf with my ceramic pieces out in the aisle (in front of the booth).  We gained more traffic and in turn, more sales. 

LESSON #6  Be sure to bring enough business cards.

I brought a hundred business cards with me and I ran out on the second day at around 3:00PM.  I learned that some vendors didn't leave them out to save cards which also forces the shopper to ask for one. That's an option but I left mine out. I had beautiful business cards and I wanted people stopping by to take one.  You never know who might pick one up--boutique/store owners looking for wholesale vendors, someone looking for a gift and bought something on your etsy shop, or even someone who wanted to review your work on their blog.  Just be sure to bring enough. There were a few people who asked for one when I ran out and those were potential customers that I could have lost out on. So if you run out of business cards, try to get their email address and send them an email right after the event.

LESSON #7  Be prepared to invest energy and engage in conversation.

I'm naturally an introvert.  I find it hard making conversation with people I don't know. On top of that, I'm highly sensitive to energy.  Being around so many people's energy and a busy environment drains me.  I learned after my first fair (Artists & Fleas) that I needed to conserve my energy or I wouldn't be able to last a day.  Also, give yourself a body scan every few hours and ask yourself: how are you feeling? Are you hungry? Go eat something. Do you need a bathroom break? Are you thirsty?  Do you need to walk around?  It's okay to take time for yourself.  It'll be worth it in the end.  Just don't ignore people who stop by your booth.  Greeting someone doesn't take too much energy but you don't need to engage in conversation with everyone.  If they really like your product, they would buy it regardless if you converse with them or not.

LESSON #8  Visit other booths and make connections with other makers.

I wish I did this during the fair.  There were so many amazing makers at this event and I hardly talked to any of them.  I was so focused on staying at my booth and connecting with people who stopped by...that I didn't make time to make connections of my own with other makers.  We're all part of the same community and we shouldn't see each other as competition.  Many ceramicists whom I follow on Instagram were at this event and it would have been the perfect opportunity to meet the makers behind the work.  Besides, it's fun conversing with people who understand the trials and tribulations of the process.  So get out behind your table and go talk to some people!

LESSON #9  Bring snacks, coffee, lots of water, and paper towels.

Having a booth mate is awesome because you can ask them to take care of your side while you go on a bathroom break or get some food.  But constantly leaving your booth is just an inconvenience for your booth mate.  So be sure to have lots of little snacks (trail mix, granola bars, etc.) on hand when you get hungry.  Also, bring lots of water. I mean...A LOT.  You'd be surprised at how much water you drink during a hot day.  Renegade ran out of water on BOTH days...and it wasn't pretty.  Thankfully, I brought juice, coffee, and a 32oz refillable water bottle.

LESSON #10  Display Signs.

I made a bunch of cute little spoons to use for coffee, salt, or spices.  Many people were attracted to these colorful little guys but didn't know what they were for.  Once I added a little sign saying "Spoons for Coffee, Sugar, and Spice," people ended up buying them. What may be obvious to us, might not be to others. So if you're selling something that could have multiple functions, adding a sign could clarify things for the shopper.  Another note on signs, having a social media sign works wonders! I added a Instagram sign with my username and hashtag and I immediately noticed a gain in followers.  It's a great way to connect with the people buying your work too!

Would love to hear if this has helped you out in any way and good luck to those participating in any upcoming fairs!