12 lessons learned from selling jewelry at art shows and craft fairs

What I’ve learned doing 10 years of art shows and craft festivals.

I started out doing art shows in 2002, and quite frankly, didn’t know what I was doing.  I had been making jewelry and thought I would give it a try selling.  Alas, ignorance was bliss!  I’ve learned a few things over the years and am happy to share them with you.  Hopefully, you won’t make the same mistakes I did!

1.    You will always run out of something.  It didn’t matter how well I planned, I always ran out of some style/color/size of jewelry at every show.  And to make matters worse, it wasn’t always the same item from week to week!  I used to work like a crazy woman at the last minute getting together as much inventory as I could and was WAY too stressed out.  As soon as I realized that I was always going to run out of something and to just do my best getting nice mix of inventory together, getting ready for a show became less stressful.

2.    You can’t have too much signage.  Okay, I’m sure you can, but my worry was that having too much signage was just a distraction from the jewelry.  I thought that people would be more focused on reading the signs and not looking at my selections.  What I found out is that if you have several concise, well-placed, easy-to-read signs with enough information to help them make a decision you will do much better than having just a few signs, or worse, no signs at all.

3.    Once you can afford it, design a large banner (or have someone do it for you) and hang it in your booth along with pictures of your work.  This is one of the latest things I learned.  People are very visual and make decisions in a split nano second even from 30 and 40 feet away.  Give them a reason to come into your booth.  Pictures of your jewelry is worth 10,000 words!

4.    Prepare yourself to hear “Did you make this?” several dozen times over the course of the show.   In the beginning, the answer I wanted to give was, “No, in fact I have minions working in my basement.”  As I did more shows, I decided that when people ask this question, it’s because they want to interact with you, but don’t know what to say.  Take that as a launching pad for your conversation.  Here’s a sample response: “Why yes I did!  Which designs do you like best?”  or “Yes, I am the artist.  Here is a piece that took over six hours to make it a series of 23 steps.”

5.    Accept credit cards.  In this day, people undoubtedly expect to be able to hand you a credit card and you be able to process it on the spot.  Now with a smartphone and a credit card reader, you can easily do it.  There are several merchants out there that can help you get this done for a small or no monthly fee in additional to a small percentage of every sale.  As I found out, if people can’t use a credit card, and they don’t have cash or a check, they will walk away without making a purchase.  (Don’t expect them to go the ATM machine either.)

6.    Have as much inventory at eye level as possible.  This actually is a lesson I learned from dear hubby who works in the grocery business.  Not all spots in the grocery store are created equal.  Products on eye level are in the primo spot.  People don’t like to bend over to try to look at something!  Once I took that notion and applied it to my jewelry, sales went up. Combine this with effective signs, and your results will be so much better!

7.    Have a nice, easy flow through your booth.  People don’t like to feel trapped.  If you’re outdoors and it’s possible, open up the sides of your tent to give people the feeling that it’s more open.  You can still “confine” your space by putting up some sheer curtains.  It can close the space, yet let enough light and ventilation through that people still don’t feel like they’re trapped.

8.    Invite everyone and anyone you know to come by your booth.  Have you ever noticed that passersby are drawn to a crowd of people?  It must be the mob mentality, but they are drawn to find out what everyone is looking at.  (And the opposite appears true too.  If nobody is in the booth, people think the jewelry must not be that good.)  What shoppers don’t need to know is that it’s just your friends stopping by to see how the show is going.  It’s traffic!

9.    Have a box for people to put their contact information in if they want to sign up for your mailing list (versus a clipboard).  This is an interesting one that I found out here recently.  I used to have a clipboard in my booth where people could put their information (and see everyone else’s).  Once I started using a box for people to put their information in, I averaged 5 to 6 times more people signing up for my list.  I don’t necessarily have a good explanation for this, except privacy is becoming a bigger issue and how personal information is used is becoming an ever increasing concern amongst consumers.

10.    If at all possible, display your jewelry where people can touch the pieces. This one kind of makes me cringe.  I used to make sterling silver jewelry and had to start displaying it under glass because too many pieces were getting stolen.  I continued to use the same display when I first starting selling resin jewelry.  You might think that having it in a glass display makes it look more ‘posh’.  Yes, it does that.  And it also makes it look expensive (and maybe out of someone’s budget).  It also gets people wondering, “Who does this lady think she is?  That pendant was $15 and I had to ask to see it??”  Of course if you’re selling very expensive pieces, keeping them secure is a must.

11.    Dress the part.  You don’t need to get out your Sunday best or your evening ball gown, but make sure that you’ve got on some nice clean clothes that are appropriate for the event.   While you may be a starving artist, people don’t expect you to look that way.

12.    Having the right amount of inventory is crucial.   I used to get very stressed going into a show and wondering if I had enough inventory to sell.  Here’s my guideline for how many pieces I should have ready to sell:  for the average show 150 to 250 pieces.  If you have the majority of your work at a price point of $15 or less, have 350 to 400 pieces ready to go.  If your price point is typically over $100, 50 pieces should be enough for you to have a good show.  Of course you may need to adjust based on your show’s audience, but this is the place where I always start.

What other advice do you have about doing art shows?

53 Comments

Elaine

Thanks for the wonderful post! I’m preparing for my first big show in October, so this information is timely and very helpful!

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Constance

My first show selling resin jewelry is coming up in October. Your article will prevent me from making so many mistakes. Thank you so much for this valuable information.

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stevie

Be prepared for the elements- even the good ones! i did a spring show in Siesta Key and the mid-day Florida sun made all my normally rock hard resin pieces flexible and even faded a few- beware the direct sunlight lol!

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Katherine Swift

Stevie, that is a great point as well. I had something similar happen and have made sure not to display them in the hot sun anymore.

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Maxine

Thanks for that.
Very helpful.
I am thinking hard as to how in incorporate the eye level point.

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Annik-Michele

Thank you so much for this precious info! I have a craft show in two weeks and this is really helpful cause it’s the first one in 6 years. Thanks again! 😉

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Teresa

We achieved the eye level part by cutting pvc pipe and placing under each leg of the table to raise the table rather than expensive displays

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Donnalynn

I very much enjoyed you taking the time to share it was kind of you. I sell the big hole jewelry and glass tile jewelry and for me taking the glass lids off the cases and letting them handle the pretties put my sells through the roof. I also have some product stolen each show but I believe I am way ahead anyway….good luck to all of you who are brave enough and talented enough to share your talents.

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Terri

It’s very important to say “hello” to people who come to shop. If you don’t, you may lose customers. NO ONE likes to be ignored, so at least acknowledge that they are there by saying a simple hello. You may have to say it 1000 times, but it is still the first time that customer has heard it.

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jeannine:Bamboushay

Thank you for the invaluable info. I am just getting started and appreciate the experience of others. You can bet I’ll be using these 12 steps ( or should I say I’ll heed the information) Everyone who wrote comments is very helpful too.

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Carla

Thank you for this post! I read it 3 days before a my 3rd show and I incorporated the “eye level” trick with a shelf unit that brought some pieces so customers didn’t have to bend over…I also put a ballot box for a free item just for entering (no purchase necessary) so I could read later what items potential customers liked the best. It was a great success! You’re right, I’m sure if I had used a clipboard for a mailing list it would not have worked out as well for me. I didn’t ask for their information, just a phone number that I could contact them if they won. Some people just wrote their names as they said they’d still be around for the draw time. It ended up being invaluable information as I thought most people would just pick the most expensive item (my highest price point is $15)…but they didn’t. Your information was invaluable! Thank you!!!

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wholesale

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Dita

A very good article. I book mark it to read again before going to a show. Your idea of using a box is interesting. I’ll try it this time. I thought when people see all the names before his/her name they will be more willing to add.

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Maraya

These are wonderful reminders for people just getting started or the seasoned professional. I grew up in the craft show market place. Some of these tips I didn’t know until years later. Bed risers are the easiest most affordable way that I’ve found to raise the tables. They are stackable and easy to store. About $10 /4. Also through the years we’ve used different methods of placement of jewelry. We like using the table risers on top of the table and place a board as a shelf on top of that. It gives the table more usable real estate. I always have an earring rack with all earrings at one set price. This takes the guess wrk out of it and makes it easy for the customer to know exactly how many pairs they can get for their $30 budget.

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Anita

Thank you for posting your tips. While I have seen similar tips in other places, the one about the ballot box for placing contact information was new and definitely one that I will incorporate on my table. I totally agree with the privacy concern.

My main problem is finding my target audience. I thought I had it by selecting an upscale show in an affluent town, but sold nothing except $15 earrings. Of course it did not help that it was the hottest day of the year and my neighbor was selling copper sculptures that you ran a garden hose into to create a water display. His stuff was not cheap – $150 – 180 and he sold out by the end of the day.

I sell upscale jewelry and many of my items are in the $100+ range. I am trying to create pieces that are less expensive for me to make and thus offer a lower price point for the public. I get tons of compliments, just no sales.

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Kim

This is great advice! I’m getting ready to do my third show, and it will be the largest by far (1st show was 300-400, 2nd show was probably smaller). My concern is having enough pieces prepared for the expected audience of 8,000. Would you be able to estimate what you consider an “average” show? Most of my pieces are under $75, with many (especially earrings) under $20. Thanks!

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Katherine

@Kim,

I do a couple of big shows (>100,000 people) a year and try to have 400 pieces ready. For a smaller show of 8000, you might be able to get away with 100 or so.

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Dana

@Anita I have run into the same problem with finding my target audience. I was lucky enough to have a friend that went nuts over my stuff years ago, and threw my first home party. From that hype I was successful with home parties and special orders. Everything was word of mouth. Then we moved, and I’ve done a couple of shows with NO good responses. With sterling prices going so high the last few years I’ve been trying to alter my materials with not much luck either. I’ve pretty much lost my creative mojo. Wondering if anyone has some advice on how to get it back. Happy New Year!

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Deanna

I read through all the comments and the last one, Dana, caught my eye and I have a friend who makes beautiful jewelry and another friend offered to have a home party and invite a few people. It went off like crazy and she’s hardly ever out of parties! I suggested she give “prizes” to those who are willing to hold a party, this works well with her!

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Shelby

Is it common for people to take orders at jewelry shows instead of having people take jewelry home then and there? I want to have a big enough collection to show off at shows next year, but I don’t have the money to make the same pieces over and over again.

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Katherine

@Shelby, for a retail show, no, people expect to be able to buy inventory, not place an order.

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Jolene

Thank you for the article. It has given me a starting point. Love the comments too. Thanks everyone.

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Sabrina

Thank you for posting a REAL helpful bit of info, rather than the usual items that require simple common sense. Would like to add a suggestion for those on a tight budget who need to raise their goods to eye level…in addition to adding displays to the TOP of your table, try adding BED RISERS to the legs of your table! Get them cheap at any store that sells bedding, and lifts things up to 6 inches! Doesn’t seem like a lot, but it can definitely make a big impact!

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Ivon

OMG! I just love this post. I’m thinking of doing bigger events, and this post was well thought out and I found really helpful.

This lets me know that I’m doing some things right… and I have to grow in other areas.

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Donna

Thank you so much for sharing this information. I hope to do trunk shows and the like in the very near future and I will be sure to refer to the advice you have provided here!

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Katherine

@Jan, based upon what you have shared here, I think your projections are quite ambitious. Using your details, I would only estimate $1000 in total sales.

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JAN

I AM DOING A SHOW THIS SUMMER FOR A WOMENS CONFERENCE. THE WOMEN ARE AFFLUENT AND PROFESSIONAL. ABOUT 5000+ WILL ATTEND THE 4 DAY CONFERENCE. THERE WILL BE OTHER JEWELRY VENDORS COMPETING FOR THE BUSINESS. I AM TRYING TO PROJECT SALES. IS IT REASONABLE TO PROJECT THAT I WILL HAVE AT LEAST 100 TRANSACTIONS OVER THE 4 DAYS? MY AVERAGE SALE IS BETWEEN $50 AND $100. THANKS!

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Kim

I will be selling my handmade jewelry at my 1st vendor fair this weekend. I also sell on one of the well-known websites. I accept credit cards thru my site, however, since I am a beginner vendor, I am not equipped with mobile credit card service. I am also concerned with accepting personal checks. I would like to display a “Cash Only Please” card on my table, but I’m afraid this will have a negative impact on my sales. Any suggestions?

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Katherine Swift

@Kim, you will most definitely lose sales by only accepting cash. Do you have a smartphone? You can open a square account for no setup fees. Your other option is to take credit card imprints and run them later at your studio, but you run the same risk of not getting paid like you do with taking checks.

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Sheila

Wonderful and very helpful post for us newbies, especially! Thank you so much for being willing to share your experience!

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sara

Hi! This is such a useful article! You won’t be surprised to hear that I am also vendoring in an event soon…my first time! There will be clothing and other jewelry vendors selling imported indian jewelry (in the 40-10 dollar range) and I am the only handmade vendor there. How many pieces do you think I will sell if my items range from $5 to $30, mostly $15, with 1000-2000 attending? Thanks so much!

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Katherine

@sara, I’m afraid your crowd isn’t going to be large enough to make a bunch of sales. If I were in your situation, I would only estimate selling 20 pieces.

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Donna

Hi everybody! Great article!! Absolutely fantastic ideas! A friend of mine that sold a lot of earrings made a very nice eye-level display using painted chicken wire! She just put the earring cards right on the wire and was able to hang up like 50 pairs at a time! Jan, I was wondering if you know of any shows that may be happening in the Sacramento area this summer or fall. That one you went to sounds GREAT!!!

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Satarah

Thank you so much for your help. I’m setting up for my very first Jewelry Expo in January 2015 and thanks to your tips I’m at ease now and even more excited!!! Thank you!

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Joseph

Where can I start? I don’t know how to start or where to start. Any advice for jewelry is appreciated. Thanks, God bless :) Hope the best for all.

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Loni

You are so right about always running out of something. As much as I think I am over prepared, I always seem to sell out of something. Or I get customers asking for a certain team (I make mostly teams and character keychains and jewelry pieces) that I just didn’t make yet, because I didn’t think many people in the area wanted it. Actually, I am in the process of preparing for another show tomorrow and trying to figure out what will sell the most at this fair considering there are almost 200 vendors and I know the jewelry market will be saturated. I am noticing that jewelry is a hard sale sometimes, even when my items are all custom made and in the majorities favorite teams for the area.

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Loni

Also, the fair I’m attending tomorrow is within 100 mile or less radius of 3 states, so it’s hard to guess-timate on which team items would sell the most of there. (The area I am in in REALLY big on college football, and there are 6 major teams clustered here that are ranking pretty high in the division). I am most afraid of running out of the major teams as I have done several times in the past month alone. I am at the point where I am constantly sewing and making jewelry 4-5 days a week just to keep up with the demand.

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Michelle

For easier set up, I put as many items as possible on to their displays in advance. I just wrap the display in bubble wrap for transport. I also changed to fitted table covers (I used flat bed sheets previously)-no fussing with which sheet goes where/ corners hanging on the ground. These changes cut my set up time from 3 hours down to 2. Now I have time to relax before the show gets started. Good luck at your shows!

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Jer

I do the local fairs here and have no problem reeling in as much as $5,000. a week. I think it is all about the craftmanship as much as anything else. My items are full of art and creativity unlike every other jewelry maker. The jewelry market is well saturated at this point and people are tired of looking at all of it. you have to be creative.

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Helen

For my earring displays I use closet shelving which we hang on the tent frame with S hooks. I can hang a lot of earrings and people like them at eye level. I also use bed risers to raise my tables and have decorative boxes to showcase a few of my designs,

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Deanna

to raise your tables higher, you can cut PVC pipe and put a piece on each leg.
I make magnetic jewelry. It is so hard to convince anyone of the benefits of wearing it. Generally they come back or contact me with rave reviews.
Any tips on how to market this to a better advantage?

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Barbara

Hey all! Thanks so much for all the great info. I’m getting ready for my first show at the end of March and really worried about people stealing stuff. That’s just not right. I bought the glass covered display cases that can lock but I really don’t want to have to lock every thing. I want people to be able to handle the pieces. My jewelry is all of genuine stones and sterling silver. It’s priced in the $200-$400 range so if someone takes off with something…

I’ve decided since I’m also in the horse biz that I would do indoor big horse shows. Plus I have a really nice colt for sale. I’m going to do a big photo board of him and put it framed, on an easel right outside my canopy. Hopefully at least I’ll sell a horse? I don’t know how many to expect at this one but I figured I might as well get my feet wet.

Another question I have… if the show really sucks, can I pack up and go home? The guy seems to be really lax about it all. He’s not giving me any regulations, fees or anything, just said to come on over and set up. I stopped by there the other day just to check out the arena.

This is really practice for another show coming up this summer where I know there will be tons of people.

Anybody ever do horse shows?

Thanks so much in advance!

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Katherine

@Barbara, I would never leave a show without talking to management ahead of time if you expect to be able to go back.

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Ariel

I’m wondering how many pieces you think I should have prepared for my first festival. Festival Facts: 2 day Juried Recycled Arts Festival with an expected attendance of 25-30K with 130 total vendors. My pieces: jewelry from recycled bottles average price $35 earrings and $150 necklaces. (Some other stuff too but these are what I am most concerned about). Your input would be highly appreciated. Thanks in advance.

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Katherine

@Ariel, at least 50 and as many as 150 if you have the time to have that many ready.

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Katherine

@Christina, this is my interpretation of this: If you are using the items ‘second hand’ (i.e. reusing stickers) you are more likely to be okay than if you remake a hello kitty figure. This is definitely something I would talk to an attorney about.

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Christina

Great blog and posts, thank you! I’m in the research process and wanted to learn if vendors are allowed to sell handmade items (jewelry, key chains) that feature known characters such as Hello Kitty. I’m trying to find out if that would be considered infringement in any way since the character is licensed/if a vendor can be sued for using a licensed character. Not sure if the words “Hello Kitty inspired” make a difference.

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