Beginner’s Guide to Craft Fairs and Art Shows

First, you need a product

You have a product if:

 1.       It is something you like to make.

 2.       It is both useful and artistic.

 3.       It sells for at least ten times more than the cost of the materials in it.

 4.       You can make a lot of them at a time.

(If you want to spend six months making a chair, fine, you might have a work of art, but you don’t have a product.) You also need a product that people want. If it has a function they will want it even more.

The basics needed for selling your craft

The minimum setup is a table with a cloth over it, a chair, a canopy with weights, and a craft show. That's it. You won't make much money, but you will get your feet wet.   :-)

Craft show myths

If you are thinking along any of these lines as you contemplate a successful craft fair business, forget it. You may be able to pull them off, but you will not be a success.

·        I will buy some imports and sell them as my own.

·        I will just go to a show, show up without first applying, and they will let me in.

·        I will find a successful craftsperson and copy them.

·        I will make something that the stores have and sell it cheaper.

·        I will put my crafts on the Internet and won’t have to do shows at all.

·        Being a successful craftsperson is easier that working at a job.

·        I will make only what I like. If the public likes it fine, if not, fine.

·        I can read and relax at a craft show, because I work all week.

·        I don’t need to take Visa or MC, just unreportable cash.

·        I can sell crafts and avoid taxes.


All of the above are wrong!

Steps to selling at a craft fair

1.              Make something nice that people want.

2.              Find out where a craft fair is.

3.              Send for an application.

4.              Photograph your creation (slides, usually).

5.              Fill out the application.

6.              Send in the application and the slides before the deadline date.

7.              Make some more nice things.

8.              Watch the mailbox.

9.              When you are accepted, send in the fee.

10.          Get a canopy and a table.

11.          Get to the show on time.

12.          Set up the canopy, put a cloth on the table, put your creations on it.

13.          Talk to people all weekend.

14.          When you are done, put your stuff in the car and go home.

15.          Do all of the above again in a week or two.


What is a craft fair?

A craft fair is an event that takes place usually during a weekend. In addition to crafts, it may have wine, music, or food as an attraction, or it may be crafts only.

Every fair has a promoter. The promoter finds a location for the fair, secures permits, hires security, and determines which artists and craftspeople will sell at his or her show. As a craftsperson, you can either try to become good friends with the promoter, or ignore them and expect them to judge you on your own merits. I usually don’t pay any attention to the promoter unless they want to buy some of my creations. Then I give them a special deal, and try to make it a memorable experience.    

Types of fairs

Basically there are three types of shows:

 1.       The family show

 2.       The craft fair

 3.       The art show

The family show has carnival-type entertainment, chamber of commerce booths, a craft area, and music. At the craft fair there may be some music, but the emphasis is on art and crafts. The art show usually has only fine art and some craft, with no other attractions for the customer. (Many events will overlap in other areas, for example an art show may have a music group as a lure, or a family show may only have crafts as an afterthought.)    

For your first show, you should pick a small local show. You probably won’t make much money. You have to start somewhere, to learn what you need in the way of display equipment, comfort, stock, etc. This is called “paying your dues.”  You can even start with a flea market. There are always a few people shopping at a flea market that will recognize quality when they see it, and will give you some valuable feedback about your product, price, and display. Plus you can also get rid of a few things cluttering up your garage. Flea marketing of your craft is usually only good for one or two trials, though. For one thing, the people who come each weekend to a flea market tend to be the same people over and over, and after two weeks your sales will drop dramatically.

How to find out where the fairs are

The next step is to visit a craft fair advertised in your area and ask the artists who the promoter is.  Also ask which shows they recommend, which ones to avoid. Find out if the show is good for high-end crafts, or lower prices, and how long the show has been going on.

You can also search Google on the internet with some general keywords like “craft fairs (your state).”  You’d be surprised how many listings pop up.

Craft fair guides

Every area in the United States has one or more craft fair guides, covering several states in that region. A few guides specialize in fairs only in a single state, and some others try to cover all of the best fairs in the entire country. A list of the best fair guides can be found on page 69.  

How to choose a good fair

With so many fairs to choose from, it is hard to pick a good fair. My philosophy is to try any fair once (if you have some indication that it might be good), and see what happens. If it is not good, you don’t have to ever do it again. Sometimes a little-known fair will surprise you with a lot of sales. But to try and minimize the bad fairs, I have a few basic criteria. Number one, I like to know a lot of people will be there. 50,000, 120,000, 600,000 people. With enough shoppers I can make money at any show. Show me the people!  More people at a show are good for me because my average price is $40. If you have a more expensive product, then you might focus more on areas where the customers have more disposable income. This could even be a smaller indoor art show that is sponsored by an art guild and has an excellent reputation, or a show in a very wealthy area. Again, experience counts. You have to be willing to try any well-reputed show at least once. Then you will know if your product and price is a match for that customer base.

The application process

The first step is to get the application. This doesn’t cost you anything. Write the fair you might want to do, and ask for an application. I usually send a simple typed letter with my name and contact information. This enables the show producer to get my address right.  The letter says only "Please send me an application and any information about your upcoming shows, and put me on your mailing list. Thank you."   I print twenty copies of the same generic letter, sign them, and mail them to the shows that I might be interested in. You don’t have to impress the promoter in this letter, as they will send an application to anyone. Call if you have to, but not as a habit. Sometimes, if you have waited until the last minute, the fair can fax you an application or you can get it online. You wouldn’t want to do this as a normal practice, but sometimes you suddenly find yourself without a fair and need one quick.  

When you receive the application, the next step is to make a list with the fair, deadline date, and fair date on a sheet of paper, posted in a place where you will see it.  You then file the fair application in a folder for the month the fair is going to happen. When your deadline list shows that the fair application deadline is coming up, you go to the show’s month, take out the application, fill it out, and mail it in.

Read and complete the application

First, read the entire application. If you don’t, you will often miss little details, such as “send in a resume,” or “don’t send anything in but the application,” or even “include a slide of your workshop.” It might be hard to get a good slide of your workshop at the last minute. The second step is to fill out the application completely. Many promoters have told me that they get a lot of incomplete applications.    

Get the application in on time

Another detail often overlooked when reading the application is the “must be received by’ or “must be postmarked by” date.  Don’t wait till the deadline date to discover that the show wants the application in their office by that date, instead of postmarked by that date.   Most shows do not give an advantage to early postmarks, but some do. If you have any indication that they do, either by word of mouth or specifically stated on the application, get the application in as soon as you get it. At any rate, plan to get the application in the post office at least a week early if you can. That way you will have enough time to get the workshop slide, price list, copy of ID, etc., if you didn’t read the application when it arrived.    


How important are slides? Very important. Extremely important! Simply put, the better the show, the better your slides must be to get in. Although there are a few shows that are filled simply by the promoter looking at photos on her kitchen table, most of the best shows are juried.

A jury consists of 2 to 12 local artists, promoters, art teachers, and local experts who sit in a darkened room while all of the slides are projected simultaneously on a wall or screen. As the three-to-six slides are shown, each judge gives points for design, creativity, craftsmanship, etc. The process often takes less than a minute for each artist, with the promoter reading the descriptions of each slide supplied by the artist if necessary. Often the acceptance of the artist is based solely on these points.

1.              The first thing the jury notices is the quality of the slide. A poorly lit or badly composed slide might not look so bad under home viewing conditions, but at a jurying the slide is instantly compared with the expertly photographed slides already shown that day. So the first impression is important. A juror will be less impressed with unprofessional slides, and they will be given fewer points. No matter how nice the craftwork is, you are wasting your time and money with bad slides.

2.              All slides should be consistent. Each slide should have only one craft item, shown close-up, filling the screen, and be well exposed. There is a strong desire in beginning craftspeople to show thirty items, five or six in each slide. They want to show the jury the range and variety of their design. But the juror will see only clutter. You have to pick your best pieces.

3.              The same is true for the background. Beginners love to put rocks, flowers, bricks, and other stuff in the picture. They also like to photograph on a fancy cloth or carpet background. They hope the attractiveness of the background will make their craft look more attractive. The opposite will happen. The juror will be confused, not impressed. A plain white, gradient black to white, gray, or plain black background is always best. All of your slides should have the same background.

What is the jury looking for?

The jury is looking for good slides, first and foremost. See above. This is the big hurdle. And of course, the jurors are looking for creativity and originality. I can't help you with that.

If a juror is in doubt about a particular applicant, the quality of the slides becomes the determining factor. If the slides are poor, the applicant is out. If they are professional, the applicant is still in the running. Good slides won’t necessarily get you into good shows, but bad slides will very likely keep you out.

Getting ready for the show!

One way to get up to speed about what kind of booth to use is to visit a craft show. Look around at the types of booths and the booth designs. What looks simple, with the craft dominating, and what looks crowded. Which booths are attractive? Which artists seem busiest? The customer, when faced with a hundred booths and not enough time to examine all of them, will go to the most attractive booth.

Don’t be afraid to ask other artists where they got certain items or how they use them. Ask them how they hold down their canopies, where they got the case, etc. Don’t bother them when they are busy, and limit your questions to only a couple at each booth. Artists and craftspeople love to share information about their booths (when they have time, of course).

Indoor booths

If you are doing indoor shows only, then a booth frame with drapes will work. Sometimes you can rent pipe and drape at the show.

A workable combination indoor/outdoor booth is a white E-Z UP with the top off indoors (and the center top pole removed). This would have to have a Velcro-attaching top, as the bolt-on top is a real pain to remove, and you do not want a top in indoor shows. A lot of people will have much more elaborate displays, and scoff at this suggestion. However, I think the E-Z UP is good because:

1.              It is very sturdy. It won’t fall into your neighbor’s ceramic or glass booth. (Note that we are talking indoors here.)

2.              It has a lot of places from which to hang lights and cloths.

3.              You can hang banners across the front to cover the lights. You can also make cloth socks to cover the legs.

4.              It goes up in a flash, leaving you more time to work on the other parts of your display.

5.              You don’t have to keep track of a lot of corner pieces and rolling poles.

6.              You don’t have to rent pipe and drape, which adds $70 to $130 to your show fees.

7.              You can use it for your outdoor shows as well.


Indoor shows provide electricity. At some shows you have to pay extra, at some you don’t. Some shows require a union electrician just to plug in your lights!  Everything should be grounded. You should never use two-prong extension cords. Use a three-prong extension cord, and grounded 5-plug power strips. If the electrician requires a grounded (three-prong) wire on your lights, and you have only a two-prong plug, you can add a ground wire. The wire must be securely attached to a metal part of your light. Run parallel with the wire, then cut off the two-prong wire and attach all three wires to a yellow three-prong plug (Home Depot). 

Halogen lamps cost about $8 each. They give more light and show bright colors better. They also use less electricity then regular light bulbs. Most booths have a 500-watt maximum. Ten 50-watt halogens will light a booth much better than six 75-watt bulbs. Office Depot has 24” light bars that have three bulb holders. Or you can get track in 4-foot lengths and light units for about $16 each. Halogen lamps are available in spot or flood configurations. I use the flood.         

Outdoor booth

Economy--The best display for the least buck is the E-Z UP canopy. It sets up in a hurry. You can usually find a quality canopy with heavy walls and a carrying bag for under $600. If you do 25 shows a year for four years, your cost is $5 per show.  If you get one with white-coated metal and a Velcro attached top, you can also use it indoors. As for the top, make sure it is not a color canopy. A purple canopy will make all of your products look purple, a blue one will give them a blue tinge, etc. Don’t use a canopy that does not have the legs straight up and down. The canopies with legs that point out look really out of place in a professional craft show. If they are in season at Costco or Sam’s Club, the Caravan is cheaper, around $200, and works for all but the windiest shows. They are lightweight and waterproof. They come with three sides, a case with wheels, removable top, and a white coating on the metal parts.

Extravagant--The Light Dome is, in my opinion, the best canopy you can get. The cost with walls, awning, bag, everything, is up around $1,000. But you can use it anywhere, indoors or out, it goes up fast, it is lightweight, and it looks good. It is also the most sturdy. I have been in shows with hurricane-force winds that had every tent flapping in every direction except for one well-anchored light dome, which didn’t even move.

City streets

The best anchor for city streets is weights. Don’t set up without them.  Your booth may blow into another one and ruin their stuff.  Thirty to 50 pounds per corner will usually be enough. Some people nail the legs of the canopy into the asphalt, but many shows expressly prohibit this (today’s nail hole is tomorrow’s pothole). The promoters may not mention it, but you might not get back into the show. I like to weight two or more corners with 50 pounds each (non-rolling dumbbells, easy to carry) then have a 50 lb. weight in the middle of the booth, with a rope line to the top (works with E-Z UPs). Any wind that can move this much weight can move any amount of weight, so if a big wind is expected, lower the canopy to half-height overnight (another handy feature of the E-Z UPs and Light Domes). Some people remove the top during hurricanes, and wrap a tarp around their tables in the middle of the canopy. To avoid carrying weights, buy 68 lb. bags of sand at a lumberyard. At the show, tie them with ropes to the top of the corners.  Another idea is to carry four 5-gallon buckets, fill them with water at the show, rope them to the canopy, and dump the water after the show.

Grassy parks

Tents in a grassy park are the easiest to tie down. Use dog stakes. A dog stake is a corkscrew-like device that is screwed into the ground to anchor a pet. They are available at pet supply stores. I put two on the two corners that face the wind, and another in the middle of the tent. The middle one is screwed in before the show, but it is only used when the wind comes up. A rope is quickly tied to it and looped over the top of the canopy frame. This sure beats standing there holding your canopy as the wind blows it around.   You can and should also use weights, if you have them.

In a large tent

Some outdoor shows have huge big-top tents that everyone sets up their booths under. The Asparagus Festival in Stockton, California and the Jazz Festival in New Orleans have tents. A tent show usually consists of a Circus Tent about 20’ by 40’ or larger. Some tents have room for your E-Z UP inside of the tent. Be sure to remove your top for more light, and remove your peak pole so you don’t put a dent in their tent. Occasionally a tent show will not allow E-Z UPs or a full size 10 x 10 booth. Basically you just need something to hold your walls up and to keep them from flapping into your neighbor’s booth. You might have to make or buy a conduit frame to make a booth nine and three-fourths feet on each side by seven feet high. You will need a wall for the front at night. There is no need to spend much on this setup, as you will only use it in tent shows.    


1.              Rain:  The best protection from rain is a canopy and walls, and plastic tarp with clamps. Everything should be stored in Rubbermaids. If the corners of your E-Z UP start to collect water, a large clamp on the top of the frame inside will usually prevent puddling.

2.              Wind: Wind will either blow your canopy away or blow things out from under it. See weights and tie downs above. The best tie-down is to something already there, a rail, a tree, park bench. If you are next to a really heavy booth, ask them if you can tie your canopy legs to theirs.

3.              Wind AND rain: This is the worst. This is one reason why a lot of craftspeople only do indoor shows. But they are missing a lot of opportunities to make money. All a windy and rainy show means is that you need even more weather protection (see 1 and 2.) The sun will eventually come out and you will make money.

4.              Heat:  Bring an ice chest, ice, and lots of water. You have a canopy for shade. You can add an awning on the side that gets the most direct sun, to shade your products. You should have lots of drinking water, and sandals. Portable AC or DC fans will help.    

Marketing aids

1.              Banner: A banner is a great help to people trying to find your booth who had promised to return (those customers are called Be-Backs.)  It also helps them decide whether to come over to the booth in the first place, when there are so many booths to choose from. The banner should say something about the contents of the booth, not simply the name of the artist. Unless the artist is relatively famous, the banner should say “Handmade Wood Spoons” or “Bowls by Bartholomew,” not just “Bill Perkins.” I have two banners. One is cloth, about one foot high by five feet long that hangs across the top of my canopy on a rope. It helps people find me if they came to the show looking for me.  I can take it down at night, when I don’t want anyone to know what is in my booth. The other is three feet high and ten feet long, and vinyl. It was made by a commercial sign company and has my product and signature on it. It is used only for big outdoor fairs when a potential customer may be 50 feet or more away from the front of the booth.  

2.              Statement of Purpose: This is an 8” by 10” sheet of paper in a clear acrylic stand on your table or hanging in your booth on the wall. It might have a photo of you working in your shop and your name and address at the top. The rest of the page should tell the customer a little about you, how your craft is made, what materials you use, and something about your motivation and purpose. Thanks to the NAIA, many fairs are requiring it. Some customers love to read it completely while standing in your booth. Others might want a copy, if you want to hand them out. I send a copy of this statement with my applications, unless the show specifically states that I should only send slides and nothing else. Some of the better shows are requiring this statement with the application.   

3.              Booth sign inside: Every booth should have a sign about 1’ by 2’ with the name of the artist and where the artist is from, hanging in the back of the booth. Some shows provide them, but I like to bring my own. Indicating the town and state you are from is a good conversation starter. Having your name in large print is helpful to the customer when writing a check.  

4.              Photo of your workshop: I always have a photo of my shop somewhere in the booth. It can be little or big. When asked, “Do you make these yourself?” I point to the photo and say, “Yes. Here is a picture of my shop and the tools I use.” Then the customer can look at the photo. This is also a great conversation starter. People are very curious as to how you make your product.   

5.              Photos of your creations:  Many artists with small products have large photos of their products hanging up in their booth. These are helpful to let people know what you sell, who can’t get quite close enough to see it because of the crowd.  

6.              Uncluttered look: After you set up, step back and see if your booth looks cluttered. If so, simplify it. Hide boxes and carts. Some promoters are nuts about this, and it benefits you as well.        

Packaging and presentation

1.              Gift Boxes:  If your product is useful as a gift, and a gift box is available, you should display a few boxes and offer them to every customer, especially around Christmas, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, etc. If the customer is looking for a gift and sees the product already in a nice gift box, you have just provided a solution.  Or you may stimulate the customer to think of your product as a gift and wonder who to give it to.

2.              Bags: Every product should be put in an attractive bag. The customer appreciates it. You should have two sizes of bags, a small one that holds one or two products, and a big one that holds more. Offer to store the customer’s purchase while they check out the rest of the show.

3.              Hang tags: Every product should be packaged with a tag that has a bit of information about how the product was made, what it is made of, how to care for it, who made it, and how to get in touch with them. This tag should fit neatly in the gift box.    

VISA, MasterCard

You should try to get set up to take charge cards as soon as possible. At some shows your income will be 80 or 90 percent from VISA or MasterCard sales. There are three ways to take cards:

1.              Run the card through a portable imprinter at the show, and then call in the sales when you get home.

2.              Run the card through a terminal at the show, which is hooked up to a cell-phone.

3.              Run the card through a portable radio terminal at the show, which clears the card through a direct radio connection with a satellite.

 The easiest system to start with is the portable imprinter, otherwise known as the knuckle buster. You will need a business account with a bank, and permission from them to take cards in your business. The bank is going to give you the money from the cards before it is actually collected by them, so you must have good credit. If your bank won’t let you take credit cards, there are two choices:   

1.  Get another bank. If you have $2,000 cash to open a business account with, make it clear to the new bank that your opening the account is contingent on your being able to process credit cards. They will take you seriously. If they want your business, that is. You tell them that you will be taking the cards at trade shows or at shows in your home. They will probably visit your home to see if you really have a business.

2.  Go directly to a credit card company. Novus Services, a company associated with Discover Card, will set you up directly with them, and they send the money from the card charges directly to your bank. Their phone number is 1-800-347-2000. They will let you take MasterCard and VISA in addition to Discover. They will give you a portable imprinter and sell you a Trans 330 terminal for about $300. You imprint a slip from the card at the show in the imprinter and give the customer a copy. Later at your motel or home, you key in the numbers from the card on the Trans 330, which is hooked up to a phone, and they give you an authorization number clearing the card. They charge you about 2.4 % of the sale amount. They are anxious to get more business, and more likely to sign you up than a bank. American Express is a separate company, and their charges must be processed separately. They too are actively looking for new businesses.  They have a separate imprinter for their shorter charge slips.    

Portable radio terminals

I use a portable wireless terminal at shows that I purchased from Trade Show Merchants Network. Their number is 888-626-2772. The machine I use is called a Lipman 2090. There are newer models available. It is completely portable, and uses either rechargeable batteries or can be hooked up to AC power. It can be used with a phone line, or connected by radio transmission to a satellite. The customer’s charge card is processed immediately by sliding the card through the terminal, and a receipt is handed to them to sign. A copy of the receipt is provided for the customer. The terminal clears the card in about seven seconds. At the end of the day, the credit card company, in this case Charge it Systems in Illinois, processes the batch of charges and deposits the money from VISA and MasterCard into your bank account. At the end of the month you receive a statement from the company detailing your sales by card. This company charges a capture fee for American Express and Discover cards for clearing their cards. American Express sends the money from these cards to your bank directly. It may take a few days longer to appear in your account. You have to set up the accounts with American Express and Discover separately, and then the terminal will take all of the cards.   

The cost of the latest Lipman 8000 wireless terminal is around $700. Credit card processing fees are cheaper (1.8%) when cards are run through a terminal and cleared immediately, than when run through an imprinter and called in by phone (2.8%). The reduction in fees and reduction in losses from bad cards will pay for the terminal in a year or two. The time you save by not calling in the cards after the show, and the peace of mind from having the card cleared at the show, make the cost of the terminal worthwhile.

Sales techniques

1.              People buy for personal benefit. Theirs. Not to do you a favor. Not because you are good looking or well dressed. They benefit from your product, or they pass it by. They might visualize how comfortable it will feel in their hands the next day when they pick it up. Or they will visualize being perceived as individualistic because they have or give a one-of-a-kind object, or as an art lover who has actually met the artist who made the item, or as a meticulous person who buys well-crafted items. This is where the large photo of your item being used is helpful; it shows the customer how he will benefit. It is simply a matter of the price of the item matching the benefits of the item to the customer.

2.              Reading. No, you shouldn’t read a book in your booth. It is too absorbing. A magazine might be okay, as the articles are shorter and don’t require as much attention. A magazine about your craft, for example Fine Woodworking, is beneficial to both you and the customer. You learn some new techniques while waiting for a sale, and as you set the magazine down where the customer can browse it while waiting, he is thinking about fine woodworking or that you know about fine woodworking. If a magazine is prominently placed in your display, the customer might infer that you are featured in the magazine. No harm there. Someday you will be. If you already are featured in a magazine, by all means, display it.

3.              Sales pressure. Some customers might walk into a booth where the artist is preoccupied, but be reluctant to walk into a booth where the artist is staring at them and eager to jump up and start trying to sell them something. I always say a couple of words to the customer, such as “Feel free to look closely,” or “Try using it,” and then leave them alone. After I get the product in their hands, I give them time to examine the work, give them the details they ask for, and maybe a suggestion that the item would make a good gift, and that I have gift boxes. Then I leave them alone again. I find people really appreciate feeling un-pressured in a shopping environment. Just imagine how you want to be treated when you shop. You want to be helped when you need it, but you don’t want a salesperson hovering around you all the time. Do the same for your customers.

4.              How badly you need to make the sale is irrelevant. Whenever a customer asks how the show has been for you, tell them you are doing well, even if it is the worst show you have ever done. Even the worst shows have some benefits, such as learning frugality or humility, so you won’t necessarily be lying. Never complain to the customers. There is nothing they can do about it.

5.              Suggest the lower priced item. When a customer asks you which one you recommend, never recommend the higher priced item. They will always be suspicious and you will be scrambling to explain why it is better. Recommend a mid-range item, and they will immediately trust you. Of course, all of your products are of excellent quality and priced at exactly the right price.

6.              Say, “It is always good to have some gifts around in case you need them for an unexpected occasion.”

7.              Give them a reason to buy today. Offer them a small discount if they buy now (if you have to). In order to encourage an immediate sale, I don’t give out busines cards (except for the “care and contact information” card I give the customer after the sale).

8.              Assume everyone has a credit card. That means they have the money to buy your item, unless all of their cards are maxed out. Be sure they can see your VISA card signs, or machine, or that you tell them you take charge cards.    

How to increase profits

  If you are not making enough money selling your craft, here are a few tips:    

1.              Increase the price (improve the product). If your product has the right price, determined by your cost of materials, hourly wage, shop overhead costs, and retail selling costs, you can’t raise it too much. Everything has a “right price” regardless of who you are selling it to. An excellent template for pricing your crafts is in the book “Microsoft Office for Artists and Craftspeople.” (See order form in back of book.) Many crafts at fairs are priced too low, and a few too high. If your price is the right price, and seems too much for the customers who visit your booth, then you simply have to find some more affluent customers.

2.              Reduce production costs. This means you need to find a way to get your materials for less money. The Internet is great for this. Another way to reduce production costs is to create less waste. Both buying too many materials, and throwing away scraps that could be sold, add up to increased production costs.

3.              Increase production. Work faster or make more products at a time. Sometimes this requires machinery and/or employees, which might remove the craftsmanship from your product, and makes it less unique. Which could make it less valuable.  

4.              Make more sales. This means do more shows, or better shows, or make additional sales to stores for resale.

5.              Reduce overhead. Turn off the lights when you go out. One good helper is better than three not-good helpers. Keep the entire business production based in your garage.

Business notes

After a couple of shows, if you think you will make a business of it, then:

1.              File with the county for a fictitious business name.

2.              Get it published in a local paper.

3.              Open a checking account with your business name.

4.              Get a post office box.

5.              Get a state resale tax number.

6.              Get a VISA/MasterCard setup for accepting cards.

7.              Get a “Simplified Monthly Bookkeeping Record” by Dome Books. This single book can cover all your accounting needs.   No computer is really necessary, however helpful.

On the road

You will probably need a van. A van is not much longer than a car when it comes to parking and getting in and out of the show set-up area. When you are driving a van, you have better visibility, and everyone on the road can see you better. It will hold a lot more stuff and if you need to nap or camp overnight, you always have that option with a van with a bed in the back, and not with a car. The drawbacks are you can’t drive quite as fast, and you use more gasoline.  

If you are traveling and all rooms are booked up, you can park and nap in a truck stop. The bigger ones have 24-hour restaurants, free showers with a fill-up, or $5 without gas. The main drawback is truck noise. You just have to park as far from them as you can, or get earplugs. More and more truckers are husband and wife teams, and truck stops cater to them. Most truck stops welcome RVs and vans, too. The restaurants at some of them (Pilot) have all-you-can-eat buffets for $6.00, and phones at every booth. You can hook your computer up at a booth and check your email.  Just act like you own a big rig. ;-)

I do not recommend sleeping in rest stops on the freeway at night. There is no security at a rest stop. Go for the truck stop. Most have a security guard and cleaner, safer bathrooms. There are road guides available that show every truck stop in the U. S that welcomes RV's (and vans). 

Security measures for the road

1.              Get a cell phone.    

2.              Have a tow service--Allstate, AAA, or Good Sam. The Good Sam Club Emergency Road Service is about $100 a year. This includes towing, gas, flat fixing, and lost key solutions.     

3.              Get an alarm for your vehicle, with window stickers, engine kill switch, and flashing red light visible to thieves. They cost less than $250 installed. I am always surprised that more artists don't do this.

4.              If you have a trailer, get a lock for it and paint a number on the top.


Fly to a craft fair

Flying to a craft fair has many advantages. You can do a show anywhere in the country, whenever you want. Otherwise, if you want to drive to shows in another part of the country, you would have to line up several in a row to make the trip worthwhile. Once you figure out how to fly to a show, you just pick the best ones around the country, fly there and fly back. You get more time in the shop.

Some crafts are easier to fly with than others. The lighter and smaller your product, the easier it is. But don’t let a heavier craft stop you from the big shows. The trick for big crafts is to ship your product by air cargo, rent a van when you get to the show, pick up the craft with the van, and there you are. The last time I checked, you could ship 250 pounds for $70 air cargo.  

Check your canopy as luggage. It must have a cover on it.  Bring your smaller stock on as luggage, and check the rest at the baggage counter. At the counter you will have to pay $80 for each additional bag over two (depending on your airline).  Tipping the skycap to get more baggage on the plane no longer works since 9/11 security measures.  

I travel with a portable table, made from tubing from Abstracta, in a large suitcase, a trunk with 4 wheels attached on the bottom with selling supplies in it, another suitcase with gift boxes and some clothes, and a canopy.  I then have a rolling carry-on bag with a handle and a small daypack.  They both have to fit through the x-ray machine, and be small enough to stuff in the overheads. The next trick is getting it all into a cab, your rent-a-car, or the airport shuttle.


Other Outlets for Your Products

Consignment stores


One way to get your creations into stores is to place them there on consignment. This means that the store does not pay you until they sell the item. If they don’t sell it in a reasonable amount of time, you get it back. When they do sell it, they give you 60% of the amount they got for it. The reason you get more than the 50% you would get from a direct sale to a store is that you don’t get your money right away, and risk having to take your product back (or not getting paid). The consignment store pays you more after the sale because they were able to place your item on their shelves, trying it out at no risk to themselves. Most artists and craftspeople don't do consignment unless they really like the store.  


Selling through craft galleries

I have my products in about 35 wholesale craft galleries. I have a mailing list of over 1,100 craft galleries that I send color postcards to, several times a year. (See Order form.) Each mailing costs $170 for the postcards and $230 for the postage.  For less than the cost of a good show I can have a photo of my best-selling product in the hands of 1,000 gallery owners. You can start making your own craft gallery list by visiting galleries in the towns when you do your shows.

Another way to get wholesale accounts is to exhibit at trade shows, like the Rosen show in Philadelphia and the George Little Handmade shows. I have only done this a few times. My total expenses for the Rosen show came to $4,500, and that is exactly what I took in orders. You might do much better at her show than I did.

I would rather travel to craft fairs, and meet my customers directly. Many people think that you make half as much money with your craft when you wholesale, but I found that you make even less than that. If I were to consider all of my expenses doing craft fairs, it might also be half of my gross income. But I have more fun at craft fairs, and the benefits far outweigh the “comfort” of staying at home waiting for a craft gallery to call and order, or having to call them to remind them to pay their previous invoice!

Wholesale suggestions

1.              Whenever discussing prices, quote the wholesale price. Retailers know they have to double it.

2.              First orders should be prepaid. If they can’t give you four references that check out, including banks and other craftspeople, then every order should be prepaid. Insist on payment in 15 to 30 days. Tell them what other places in their area have your work.

3.              Ship on time. Tell them if you are going to be late shipping an order.

4.              Provide them with a smaller version of your artist’s statement, that they can give the customer with information about you, your materials and techniques, how to care for or how to use the product, and something about your philosophy or motivation. Leave out your address.

5.              Check out their gallery in person when you have a chance. Get to know them.

6.              Provide them with an order form with your name, address, and phone number on it.    


Home shopping networks


If you are set up to deliver quantities in the order of 1,000 at a time, you might want to contact QVC.  QVC reaches 47 million homes worldwide.  Contact: Donna Brescia, Guthy-Renker Corp, 115 Drummond Dr., Wilmington, DE 19808  (302) 633-1806    


I have had my products on the Internet for four years now, and have sold about 250 pieces total--about what I would sell at two good craft fairs. At this point, for the customers, the Internet is no substitution for actually holding the product in their hand and talking to its creator. It never will be. Yet there are always people who will buy from the Internet, and, when it works, the advantages to the craftsman are enormous. If you want to try the Internet, you have three choices.    

1.              Sign up with someone who puts photos of your creations on their website and charges you per/month or per/sale.

2.              Find someone to build you a web site of your own and pay them to set it up and keep it up-dated.

3.              Build your own website; design and maintain it yourself.


The first step to having your own website is to get your own domain name. This currently costs about $70, which registers it for two years, and the cost is $35/year thereafter. To get a domain name, go to or I make my own websites with Microsoft FrontPage and put them on


Gather the email addresses of every person you sell to throughout the year. Then at holidays, email these proven (happy) customers with directions to your website and photos of your newest products. This is very cost effective. 


Catalog sales

One such company that is said to be a really good outlet (if you can get in it) is the Smithsonian Mail Order Catalog (800-521-5330). A good website to check for catalogs is


Well, there you have it. Now all you need is a product and lots of work. Enjoy the lifestyle.

For more information, check out the books here!