Guest Post by Jeriann Ireland, dairyairhead.com
A couple of years ago, I decided to turn my craft hobby into a business. This was mainly so I could continue to craft without accumulating all the items I created. There are only so many occasions to give gifts, so I decided to start selling my creations. In the last two years, I’ve learned a lot about being a craft vendor, especially in small towns. Below are some of the lessons I’ve learned based on the challenges I’ve faced so far.
A Business Plan Really Does Help
Every aspiring entrepreneur hears this a thousand times, but it’s true, you need to go through the process of developing a business plan. This requires you to define goals, set a target audience, and make a plan for how you’ll accomplish your goals.
Creating a business plan forces you to examine how you will do things. You’ll have to do research on price points, demographics, and other important data to complete the five main components of an effective business plan. The process is time consuming and frustrating, but it will help you foresee roadblocks and make contingency plans. Making a detailed business plan can help prevent simple mistakes. It also gives you a tangible document to come back to and re-focus when you meet obstacles in your business journey.
Learn What Your Market Wants to Buy
I signed up for my first craft fair on a whim. It was a two-day holiday event, and I split the booth fee with a friend who also crafts. My main product, lamps made out of liquor and wine bottles, barely got any attention. Some of my smaller products, ornaments made out of scrabble tiles, and bath fizzies made with natural ingredients, did pretty well. I learned two things: I need to have a variety of price points and focus more on the cheaper items. I also learned that I need to think about my potential audience more. This fair was in a community with a large population of a religion that doesn’t drink. That means my main product excluded them, since wine and liquor bottles are something they wouldn’t want in their homes. I started making lamps out of soda bottles and unlabeled bottles, and that has made my display more appealing to people who like the design of bottle lamps but don’t want to endorse the consumption of alcohol.
Now, whenever I consider vending at an event, I consider the likelihood of the audience appreciating my products. I also think about whether they will have the budget for my more expensive items, or if I should stock more of my cheaper inventory. These considerations allow me to optimize my booth for maximum sales.
Small Audiences Mean Repeat Business is Vital
After my first fair, I decided to sign up for my local farmer’s market. This runs weekly throughout the summer, and was way cheaper than one-off events. I could choose which weeks I attended, and only pay for those days. I loved being a part of the farmer’s market, as the community was friendly and closeknit. Unfortunately, I didn’t make a lot of sales.
There are a couple of reasons that I didn’t make a lot of sales at the farmer’s market. A big part of it was that people went there for produce and necessities, not for extraneous decor items. I got a lot of compliments on my products, but people just weren’t there to buy what I was selling.
The farmer’s market also had a lot of the same customers every week. Since my items are home decor, people are unlikely to be repeat customers unless they’re getting gifts for people. People don’t need to buy a lamp every week, or fill their home with scrabble ornaments. I learned that if I’m going to do ongoing events with the repeat customers, I need to provide products that people will need or want to buy again and again.
By attending the market every week, I got to see which craft booths were successful. These were the booths that built up brand loyalty. They heavily promoted that their materials were locally sourced. They offered deals and punch cards for repeat customers. And they had items of varying price points so that people didn’t have to shell out big in order to support a local business they loved.
Knowledge About the Venue is Crucial
Part of knowing about the venue is knowing your audience. Developing a clear picture of your target audience in your business plan will help you choose venues that are right for your products. But there are a lot of other venue considerations as well. You’ll want to think about advertising, and whether the event and venue location will be common knowledge in the community. Is there accessible parking? What challenges will prevent customers from attending the event?
My first event was indoors. My booth was basically two tables next to each other. I saw how other people utilized their space with shelving, collapsible walls, and varying levels on, under, and in front of their tables. The farmer’s market was outside in a concrete lot. The first day, I had a lamp get caught by the wind and break. I learned then that I needed to be more aware of whether an event was physically appropriate for my items. Luckily, I found a solution for windy days, and started placing my lighter lamps in collapsible wine racks. This prevented them from falling. I looked around at what other vendors were doing to combat the wind. Art vendors would use heavy duty hooks and grippers to secure wall hangings. One vendor who sold gourds solved the problem by carving special styrofoam supports that held her gourds with holes in the bottoms. People tied things to their canopies (all of which were required to have weights to prevent further wind issues).
Planning for the physical environment and possible whether conditions will prevent product loss and result in a much more enjoyable event. When customers see you struggling with your display, they’re likely to feel bad for you, but not likely to buy your items. You want to be prepared and professional, so you can focus on your customers, not your products.
In small communities, you have fewer opportunities to make sales, so making the most of every opportunity is vital. When creating my business plan, I gave myself two years to experiment and learn before deciding whether this venture was worth making large investments in. Basically, I had to prove to myself I could be profitable. At each event, I’ve learned something important. This year was my two year deadline, and I’ve made profits at my last two events. I’ve determined that the money I put into my business is money well-spent. I’ve learned which local event promoters I want to work with again and which I don’t. Soon, I’ll be buying a new canopy so that my set-up time for outdoor events can be spent more on display than on putting up the canopy. I’m finalizing my branding after two business name switches and over five different business card designs. When I created my business plan, I gave myself two years not to become profitable, but to show potential for profitability. Now that I have more focus and direction, I’ll be holding myself to a higher standard. The next two years will be focused on building up a community of repeat customers, and becoming better known at local events.
Are you a craft vendor on a small town? What have you learned that improved your business? Share in the comments!