My new website can be found at http://www.quernuscrafts.co.uk/

Some thoughts on selling at events

At Stonyhurst Spring County Fair 6 & 7 April 2013

8th April 2013
I had a wonderful time at the Stonyhurst Spring Country Fair at Stonyhurst College near Clitheroe at the weekend. It was great to have a weekend away in lovely surroundings, excellent food and accommodation, and even better company! OK, so sales over the course of the weekend weren't great for me, but I still  felt that the weekend as a whole was a great success, both personally and professionally.

I've been reflecting on my approach to craft fairs and events, particularly as there has been a definite downward trend in sales in recent months and years. I think anyone selling at such events needs to consider a perspective shift to help them get through this current dip. It's worked for me, and it has made my life a lot easier and happier as a result.

Stonyhurst College

There are still plenty of people going to craft fairs and events, but there are now less keen to spend impulsively on non-essential items, unless they are looking for something specific. However, they are clearly still interested in what's on offer, and my view is that people use these events as ways to find unusual gift ideas for later on in the year. The ease of online buying has facilitated this, and I've lost count of the amount of times I've heard people oohing and aahing over the wee creatures, only to ask if I've got a website which they can go and look at later.

That being said, I do feel that the days of small scale, church-hall-type events are numbered for those serious about building their craft business, but that on the whole, well-organised medium-to-large events, are still very much worth investing in.

Things you can't control
There are lots of things that are outwith your control when it comes to selling at events, and so there's not much point wasting energy worrying about these. Here are a few of them:

  1. The weather.
  2. The venue and its facilities.
  3. How many people come through the door.
  4. Whether those people buy anything.
If you spend time and energy trying to second guess any of these things, all you will have done is exhaust yourself and probably made yourself miserable and anxious in the process (and quite possibly have a negative impact on those around you, including potential customers). 

Things you can control
But there are many things you can take full responsibility for, such as:
  1. How your stand looks.
  2. Your expectations.
  3. Your attitude and behaviour on the day.

Of these three, the first one is the easiest to manage, and virtually everyone I know really makes an effort with their stand and presentation. It's a no brainer - if you do an event, you must present yourself and your work in the best possible light.

Do You Punctuate? at Stonyhurst

The second and third ones can be a bit trickier. When I first started selling at events in 2009, I went to fairs with the expectation that I would sell a fair bit of my stock, and by and large that expectation was met. But throughout the years that have followed, sales have taken a definite nose dive, and so it's definitely not a foregone conclusion any more.

Marketing vs selling
And so I stopped thinking of events as places to sell, and started thinking of them as opportunities to market and promote my work. I now consider the stand fee for an event as part of my marketing and advertising budget, and not something I have to make back with sales on the day. Think how much advertising you could buy for the cost of a stall fee. And then ask yourself whether having a tiny advert in a magazine or newspaper is likely to have the same impact as being able to speak directly to someone, sharing your passion for what you do. Seen from that perspective, a stall fee gives a very good return on investment.

By taking this approach, I can now go to any event with the expectation that I will meet new people, speak to them about what I love doing, and give them a leaflet they can refer to later (and this applies to other stallholders as well as customers). And guess what? I manage to meet that expectation every time! The actual sales are secondary, and so anything I sell is a bonus. Believe me, it makes for a much happier experience all round, because you've taken the pressure off yourself that you MUST sell a certain amount before you can consider the day a success. Your day can be a success before it even starts if you shift your mind-set.

Ruby Spirit Designs at Country Living Fair in Harrogate, November 2013
Photo by Emma of Sugar Cane

Putting the customer first
Exhibiting at events is an opportunity to plant seeds for future business. You have no control over who attends the event, but you can control what impression you make on people who visit your stand.

If you focus on helping people (which could be with gift ideas, recommending other exhibitors, or suggesting that they get in touch later about a commission idea, rather than buy something that's not quite right) rather than selling to them, then it's a win-win situation. The person visiting your stand has a potential solution to a problem, and you have given a favourable impression of your business, which means they're more likely to follow up with you later on.

Put yourself in the customer's shoes
When we're at events, it's easy to become caught up in our own little world, and not really think about how we come across to others at the event.  If you are focused on having to sell a certain amount, or are unhappy about the number of people at the event, or the fact that no one seems to be buying, people can sense that, and are likely to give you a wide berth because you will unconsciously come across as a bit desperate, aggressive or miserable. I'm sure we've met fellow stall holders who are like that, and who seem to take grim pleasure in telling anyone who will listen to them what an awful day they're having. They're the ones with a black cloud tagging along behind them. What they seem to forget is that we are also potential customers, and so it's useful to ask yourself if you would prefer to buy from someone like that, or for someone who is happy, confident, and not trying to do the hard sell as soon as you come near their stand.

Croc by Manda of Treefall Design
Gremlin attack
There are of course the gremlins in your head that will tell you that not making your stand fee back means you're a failure, and if you don't sell much, it must mean that people don't like your stuff. When you accept that these things are outwith your control, you realise that the gremlins are talking nonsense. And at the end of the day, they are only thoughts, and because they are YOUR thoughts (no one else is thinking thoughts in your head after all), you get to choose whether you listen to them or not. If they're not helping you, replace them with more helpful ones.

And it also doesn't help that most of us are still conditioned to view success at events purely in monetary terms, and so the first question we ask and are asked is "How did you do?", which really means how much did you sell. It's a habit that we need to break if we are serious about making the most of going to events and seeing them as an opportunity to promote our work, rather than just to sell.

To sum up, there's no doubt that craft fairs and events are no longer the cash cows they once were (with the exception of Christmas fairs), but people still use them to find unusual gifts and new artists, and so it's really up to us to respond to the change in buying habits by shifting how we approach events. By treating them as marketing rather than selling opportunities, the pressure is off, and once again it can be fun to go and share what you love with those attending the event. And it's even better if you can combine these events with a short break away, as I did with Stonyhurst, because the weekend as a whole was just so enjoyable, regardless of how many sales I made. Yes, I still have to remind myself that it's not about the actual takings on the day anymore, but the more I see the tangible results of my approach, the more convinced I am that this is the way ahead, at least in these current economic times.

Toffee Pavlova at The Eagle and Child, Hurst Green, near Stonyhurst College


  1. What a great Blog post. I agree with you on a number of points. Fairs are not the selling venues they used to be. I find I get a lot more out of having various 'shops' online.

    Of course I feel down if I don't make a nice sum, but I have always told myself what a great networking opportunity it is, because of this I have made some great Arty friends a long the way.

    1. Thanks Mucky Pup :) The ironic thing that bears out what you're saying is that I sold more from on my online shops over the weekend than I did at the Stonyhurst event ;) It was yet another good reminder that events are no longer about sales, but about marketing and networking :)

  2. Great blog post, Kirsten, and spot on I think. For a while I have been thinking that events are really a marketing opportunity, and often a great networking one too as I often find that some other opportunities c one along as a result. But then those gremlins take over and I doubt myself and since if I am kidding myself to feel better about less than expected sales at times! You have convinced me I was right all along! And yes, exactly what advertising can you get for the same money, with the same return on investment? Let's not forget all us home crafters need to get out and meet our customers, directly too! :)

    1. Thanks Rachel. You're right, they are fantastic networking opportunities too, as I've met so many fab crafters as a result of these events. It always helps to get out once in a while ;)

  3. What a fab way to look at it - sometimes I know I can be the miserable grump at fairs - this comes from thinking about how I've got to cover fees etc - but I do always try to hide it... I think picking and choosing which fairs you do is a big part of it - school fetes etc it seems people are looking for bargains rather than artisan work - brilliant superb advice - thank you!

    1. Thanks heartstitch, I appreciate that :) Yep, choosing the best venue is really key, particularly if you're looking at marketing your work to a new demographic.

  4. Great post Kirsten, I'll have a double shot of whatever you're having! It's an easy time to become despondent and I often have gremlin attacks so thank you for pointing out that this is manageable - you are right of course, wise owl! pxxxxx

  5. Completely agree with all your points Kirsten. Events are hard work and it can be disheartening when the sales don't come, but hiding behind a computer screen isn't going to get us anywhere! Networking and marketing at events has to be the way to go. On more than one occasion an event that was dire for sales has resulted in my jewellery being stocked in bricks and mortar shops and galleries, so you never know what can come from a 'bad' day!

    Carolyn x

  6. Great article Kirsten - I've often had that sinking feeling about an hour or two into a fair where I realise it's just not the event for me and I'm not going to be selling a lot. I'll definitely be taking your advice re setting expectations of events and hopefully come across as more positive as a result. The fairs I've enjoyed most have been the ones where customers were prepared to talk, even if not buying, and you learn so much from overhearing their conversations with each other and observing what's catching peoples' eyes. And, of course, if I'd stayed behind my computer I'd never have met the wonderful supportive network of people I've met over the last year or so (gush gush!).

  7. I totally agree, it's easy to measure success in purely financial terms, but events are a great opportunity to make personal connections. I enjoy meeting and chatting to people, and that connection adds a personal experience that can be lacking online. The old adage that "people buy from people" is true.

    In addition face to face feedback can be really helpful for product development, several new products or new uses for products have come as a result of chatting to attendees.

    Plus you always meet great people, other sellers who suggest other events, outlets etc.I rarely if ever come back from an event feeling it had no value.

    Thanks for sharing Kirsten, it's good to know that others have the same views!

  8. I completely agree. I have done a few local events recently that were very disappointing in terms of sales, but all have increased my exposure and have resulted in a lot of support and (importantly) custom orders.

  9. This is a really wonderful post. Thank you so much. I realise I've been allowing sales (or otherwise) at fairs to determine how I feel about myself and my work; viewing it as cost effective advertising makes perfect sense - thank you!

  10. Love this blog, so true, I network like no tomorrow at events now and have made some great friends and contacts this way!

  11. Thanks for all your lovely comments :) It's great that so many are feeling that this shift is needed :) And as if to prove my point, I got this lovely email from someone who had just bought from my online shop over the weekend:

    "I've just read your blogpost about attending craft fairs and wanted to say that I originally saw your stall at the Burgess small animal show in Harrogate earlier this year....Stumbling across your stall was a delight and, as I love to buy more unusual and non-disposable gifts (chocolate and bath bombs don't last long do they?!), I will continue to come back for that perfect gift."

    Thanks for your email, Emily, and for giving your perspective from a customer's point of view.

  12. Thank you very much for a really helpful post. I am just starting out and wanting to go to fairs, but have been put off by the negative view of people around me, mainly about not 'making the stall fee' so that 'it's just not worth it!' I will now take what you have said, and put it to good use.

    1. Thank you - I'm glad you've found it helpful! definitely a good idea not to listen to anyone else (including your gremlins!), and just go with the aim of enjoying yourself and getting the word out about your work :)

  13. Kirsten this post is very thought provoking and remains relevant. Having only just discovered it, I have adapted and shared with my followers. I have also used the photo of your stall at an event. I have linked back to your full article also. Please let me know if you are unhappy with any of this. http://wp.me/p464Br-k5

    1. Thanks for this - I'm more than happy for you to share this article - I hope your readers find it helpful :)

  14. This is wonderful and thank you for sharing it with us. Really like your article!