Applying to craft shows:101

Craft shows can be daunting to many newbies and even veterans to the craft world for many reasons.  We want to make our applicants as educated on the process as possible, so hopefully this blog post will help you figure out which shows to apply to, how to have a great application, and how to prepare yourself for the big show!

What shows to apply to?

There are many shows in the country to which you can apply, from the smaller community shows to larger shows like Urban Craft Uprising.  Finding the one that works for you is key! So how do you do that?

If you are new to the craft scene or haven’t really tried your product out on anyone else besides your friends and family, smaller shows, with a smaller investment (i.e. lower booth fees, lower traveling costs, etc.), can be very beneficial.  Attending a local craft shows gives you a good feel for whether your work might be a good fit.

These smaller shows can also be a little less chaotic, and having a few extra minutes to chat with vendors is key.  Most vendors are more than happy to discuss their craft show experience, from the application process, to which ones can be really competitive, to which ones can make you a lot of money.  Building these relationships can take you a long way!

Once you have decided on the shows you would like to start with, check out their websites and application processes.  Breaking out your calendar and marking down when each show takes place, when applications are due, when acceptance letters or announcements are made will keep you ahead of the game.

For larger shows which may require extra expenses, talking with fellow vendors is KEY!  Perhaps ask your friends on Facebook or Twitter if they have attended a particular show, and if they would be willing to spend a few minutes offering advice on how the show runs, to help you decide which shows might be worthwhile for you.  Keep in mind that higher attendance doesn’t always correlated with higher sales, and that the most important factor is whether your work is a good fit with that particular audience.

Another great resource is the show’s vendor list, past and present; consider contacting some of these vendors individually to see if they might offer some words of advice.  Either way, really think about the factors that will help you make an educated decision.   Some people’s “awesome” might not be your kind of “awesome.”  I have learned so much about what shows to apply to and what shows not to apply to just from these kinds of conversations.

Factors to consider:
  • Is the show indoor or outdoor?
  • Travel expenses vs. Projected Sales
  • Manpower required to make projected sales

One way to offset the gamble of trying out a new show in a new city is to plan in time to visit some shops in the area before the show; the opportunity to land a potential wholesale account can help out if you end up having a disappointing weekend of sales at the show.

If you don’t have time to do this in person, send out postcards to shops and galleries letting them know that you will be at the show and would love to see them there!  Taking steps like these may help you feel like the show was a success no matter what!  At the very least, add a few days to relax and enjoy a new city you may otherwise never visit.  Vacation!!

Once you have decided, you have to still apply!

Each show’s application process will be different, but most will tell you that your photos are key in the jury process.  Do not ignore this.  Taking a few extra minutes to clean up your photos, or paying a professional photographer to shoot your work, OR taking a class on photography will take you a LONG WAY!  Most shows jury with a panel of people who spend HOURS AND HOURS looking through hundreds of photos.  If yours are blurry, dark, or don’t tell a clear story about your work, you may be disqualifying yourself right out of the gate.

Photos should:
  • Show your work clearly so the jurors aren’t wondering exactly what your work is.
  • Show your range of products, BUT…
  • Have a focus.  If your work is all over the place, the jurors may have a hard time discerning what it is you do, what makes you special, what you plan on bringing to the show, or which vendors you would be competing with for a spot.
  • Represent your work as best as possible.

Putting energy into your photos really increases your chances of getting into a show.  It’s worth all the time and/or money, for reals.

After that, read through the application thoroughly, and follow the directions.  If they say 5 photos only, don’t add an extra for good measure.  It’s your responsibility to choose what represents you best, not the jurors.  Again, they are looking through hundreds of applications, so it will serve you well to make their job easier.

If you get in, what happens next?

Booth display is another daunting task for many vendors.  As a starting point, check out the awesome design blogs out in the world.  There are tons of inexpensive and fast display ideas that can really add a lot of character to your booth.  A lot of craft shows even have their own Flickr pools to peruse.  Looking through these can really help you plan out some solid ideas.

Some examples:

Practice: if you have never had a booth at a show before, set up your booth display at home, before the big day.  Many times you may only have a few hours to set up at the show, which may seem like plenty, but especially your first few times, it may take longer.  Do a full set up at home (don’t cut any corners!), take a picture, and then put everything in large bins, ready by the door.  Clearly label boxes, bins, etc. so you’ll know where everything is at a glance once you’re there, and won’t have to spend valuable time searching for specific components.  The less you have to stress about on the big day, the better!

Remember to bring:
  • Enough change for the show.
  • A calculator (will you be adding sales tax on to your prices, or will it be included?)
  • Signage indicating your policies (Do you take credit cards? May customers try items on? Do you have samples that you’re offering?)
  • Water
  • Sun screen if you will be outdoors
  • Food
  • Extra supplies: pens, tape, post-its, last-minute sign-making supplies, labels, tags, etc.
  • Help!  UCU has awesome volunteers who help vendors out with bathroom breaks, etc., but there are a lot of vendors, and they can’t be guaranteed to be available when you need them.  (And many shows don’t offer this service at all.)  Bribing some friends to sit in your booth with you and take over if you need is always a good option to have.

Then you just got to sit back and enjoy!

If you are new to the craft scene or not there quiet yet, School House Craft will be focusing, in-depth, on a lot of these topics.  From photography classes to choosing craft shows, to trade shows, this conference is a great way to learn from the experts!