These last few weeks I have been working on organizing my own craft fair as well as filling out several craft fair applications for Sunday Afternoon Housewife. Each fair application asks for the same general information, and some have very particular requirements. If you have never filled out a craft fair application, it can be a daunting task, and even if you are doing it regularly, how do you know you are doing it right? Last week I met with Amanda Mauer-Tafflinger, organizer of the INDIEana Handicraft Exchange, and one of the things we talked about was how people fail to fill out craft fair applications properly. She just spent the last two weeks sorting through 182 applications for only 80 spots, and she had several tips to share on how to make applications more presentable. I’m going to spend the next couple of posts going over some of application tips we discussed as well as some general craft fair information.
Before we talk about the specifics of applying, let’s take a look at the very basics. Before you apply for any type of fair, consider whether what you sell is something that fits into what that fair is looking for. It is important to know your market, and while you might make quality, handmade goods, it is possible your goods are not the type of items that will sell well at a particular fair, or of a type that might not be considered for juried fairs. One way to make this determination is to look at what past vendors of the fair sell. If you see that all goods are unique indie-type crafts, and all you make are grandma-print tea towels or paw-print fabric cat tents, then an indie-style fair might not be for you. On the other end of the spectrum, if you make every link of your quirky jewelry or every stitch of your narwhal plushie by hand, a typical street fair or community fair may not garner you the best response to your product. Once you determine that the fair is something you want to attend, you have to consider what type of fair it is. In most people’s opinions, there are 2 types of craft fairs: juried and non-juried.
A non-juried fair is pretty simple. You usually have to mail in a check for booth fees with a one sheet application, maybe with photos, or just a description of your work, and then they respond with your booth space and tell you when to show up. You will notice almost all non-juried fairs require you to print out (or even call and request) and then mail back applications and checks for booth rent. Many prefer not to use email as the main means of communication, but rather they will mail you packets of information to your home. Most non-juried fairs are small town street festivals, or take place at high schools or community centers as fundraisers for the school marching band or PTA, or something similar to that.
Non-juried fairs raise their funds by getting you to pay for your booth space, often by charging admission to attendees, and always by having a raffle (each vendor is also usually required to donate an item for the raffle). These fairs consist of a variety of crafts, sometimes handmade, sometimes not, usually a Tupperware lady, or a Girl Scout troop selling cookies, and often some kind of junk (think made in China plastic tinsel fairy wands or something like that). The focus with these fairs is not generally on the quality of craft. Many (not all, but many) people who attend these fairs to buy gifts, etc., are not going because they value quality handmade goods, but because they expect to find some sort of super good deal. It’s not surprising that many attendees will scoff at the price of a true, quality handmade good and then opt for the factory produced trinket down the aisle because it is a better deal. That being said, there are plenty of people who will attend who value unique handmade goods, but as a sales person, you have to be proactive and let them know that’s what you have. A few small signs around your table that say “handmade by me” or “ask me how I make these” will catch the attention of many people and make them aware that you did make what you are selling. Don’t pass up any opportunity to talk to potential customers about your work and how you make it.
And let me be clear, non-juried fairs aren’t bad, you just have to decide if this type of fair atmosphere is for you or not. You have to be willing to stand behind your pricing and to constantly explain the quality of your work. Another thing to consider is that you may not make as much money at a non-juried fair as you would a juried one. Just from personal experience, I consistently make about one-third less at non-juried fairs versus juried fairs. This might make you wonder why I go- well, more often than not, I enjoy being able to educate people about quality handmade goods, and I love meeting new people and making new customers, so while a non-juried fair is not my number one choice, I still will attend about one a month. Plus, as a vendor, you have to recognize that there aren’t as many quality juried fairs out there as there are non-juried fairs, so if you are really making a go at it with your business, it is generally good exposure.
So, what exactly is a juried fair then? A juried fair is a fair where you, as the crafter, have to submit, along with your application and booth fees, pictures of your work so the fair organizer can determine if you are a good fit for the fair or not. A juried fair wants quality, handmade goods. Some fairs are more specific than others, but the ones I am most familiar with are looking for that unique, indie-style art or craft your grandma just might not understand. Some examples of indie-style juried fairs include the INDIEana Handicraft Exchange, Renegade Craft Fair, and Handmade Mart, just to name a few (for a more exhaustive list, check out IndieCraftShows.com).
Paying for juried fairs is unique. Some juried fairs will ask for your booth fees up front and then refund the money to you if you are not accepted. Other juried fairs might charge a small ($10-$25), non-refundable application fee first, then a booth fee if you are accepted, and others still simply do not expect you to pay your booth fee until you have been accepted into the fair.
The majority of indie-style juried fairs are (thankfully) run by people who know how to use a computer, so applications are submitted on-line, photos are emailed to the organizer (or the organizer will ask what website to view your work on), and booth fees are often submitted via PayPay. They have online FAQ pages with instructions for completing applications, information about the fair, etc., and they will send out emails with important load in instructions, parking details, booth location maps, etc. There is much less paper shuffle with most juried fairs.
Most juried fairs will try to offer a large variety of goods such as silk-screened or hand-sewn clothing, jewelry, handmade soaps, hand-sewn plush toys, 2D art, hand-bound journals, knit and crochet items, and much, much more. While completing the jury process, organizers will look for products that stand out above the rest, so if there are 20 applicants with handmade soaps, they are going to look at lots of different things such as packaging, does the person make their own molds, how in-depth does the person go into the soap making process, and often times what other types of similar fairs the vendor has attended in the past. Make sure you able to explain clearly what sets your work off from others (more about this in the next post).
Juried fairs are likely to be free for people to attend, have raffles which benefit local charities (again you may be asked to donate an item), and the large majority of people will attend because they genuinely want to look at and purchase quality, handmade goods. Many people will ask questions, or ask for your business card to look you up later, but make sure you use the opportunities to interact and explain what is good or unique about your product. You are your own sales person!
Many juried fairs will also often provide a meal for vendors (because fairs can last for several hours) , or a booth sitting service by a volunteer so you can run and grab a bite to eat or go to the bathroom. Juried fairs over all tend to be more organized and better executed than non-juried fairs because they want both the vendors AND the customers to enjoy themselves at the fair and want to have repeat business by both.
So, I am hoping this gives you a good idea of what types of fairs are out there for you to apply to. In my next post I’m going to share some of the important things to remember when completing craft fair applications, from including all that is requested by the organizer, to taking good photos of your product. Check back then for more useful tips and information.