I exhibited at a local street/craft fair in my area recently and I thought I would fill everyone in on what I learned from it. It was a $300 educational expense and this fair was a big one with two stages, local politicians, the whole bit. They market themselves as the only truly handcraft fair in the area (SW Virginia).
I brought several well made small tables and one of those TV/AV cabinets that are popular right now, along with some chessboards and a few other fancy things. I figured I may not sell everything but these people would be the types who would demand custom cabinetry in their homes.
I didn't sell one thing and interest in my service was lackluster at best. Watching people go by for seven hours and talking/listening this is what I found out:
- People go to these fairs with a mind-set of spending $20-$80 max.
- The per capita income of this town is $20,091. I figured there would be enough upper income people mixed in. I was wrong.
- Being an obnoxious salesperson works. The guy across from me was selling $8 bags of coffee on a 93 degree blazing hot day. He was calling in every person that walked by and it worked.
- Taste in furniture is directly related to income. I saw a lot of people going by with that pine stuff you see at fairs obviously thrilled with their new masterpiece.
- Unless you are upper-middle class or rich your are not going to spring for custom cabinets or furniture. People do not seem willing to save up for and spend on quality in this dept.
(Furniture Making Forum)
From contributor D:
Congratulations! You have gained a valuable insight and not become cynical. Now the challenge is to define what you want to be as a woodworker, then do the research (at less dollars, time and effort than your fair experience) to become that business. This will need to be done before the cynicism sets in, or poverty takes you out.
There a few - very few - craft fairs that showcase furniture. These are juried (entry) and significantly more than $300.00 to get involved. But the shops that show well at these generally can work for a year on their exposure. They also demand good design and craft, as well as the level of professionalism that you found lacking on the street. As I said, work backwards. Define what you want to make, and then find the ways to do so. Random forays into the void, while educational, will wear you down. You need to plan first. Or you could rent a clown costume.
Lesson 1 - people may take your card, you may get a commission later, but fundamentally, they are not going to buy a piece of furniture as an impulse buy. Make things they will buy - this is primarily about a price point - $10-$100 seems to be a sweet spot, with the $50-$60 range being the place to shoot for. Work efficiently, manage your time, track your time, and track all of your expenses - materials, heat, light, expendables, finish and so on.
Make products you like, out of materials that will resonate with the customers, and keep selling. The pushy sales guy routine is a good way to go - trust me - being sullen or ignoring passersby is not a good idea. You must be extroverted. If that is not something you are comfortable with, then find some other way to sell. I try to strike up a conversation with everyone who walks into the booth.
When buying higher end work, people want to get to know the craftsman so you must be willing to talk with (an important concept) them about more than just selling them something. Find out who they are and in passing they get to know you a bit. Then work with them to make something they will want to have in their lives for 30-50 years.
It's also like a mini vacation for my wife and Ii. I put cards out for people to take. I started using magnetic cards two years ago. I figured these are less likely to get laundered or thrown away. This is the only fair/show that I do. It is also very satisfying to have countless people admire my work all day long. It is a gift to be able to craft stuff from wood. Much the same as an artist is born with the gift to draw or paint.
Good luck, it only takes one contact or one job to make that fair worth it. I have grown my client base significantly from referrals from clients that found me at the fair.