As you accumulate skills while accumulating your work, you may start wondering what in the world to do with all of it. We love what we are doing so we do a LOT of turning. That produces a pile of bowls, bottle stoppers, and whatnot. When I got to that point, I started wondering about getting into some craft shows. We were living in Virginia at that time and fortunately, I happened onto the Northern Virginia Handcrafters Guild (nvhg.org), a craft group which embodies a plethora of skilled artists in a variety of crafts AND which sponsors several of their own craft shows each year. I learned a lot.
First, visit shows in your area which may interest you. That way you can see if they fit your style, quality, and price range. See how many woodturners are there. If there are a bunch, maybe a different show is better, but if there are only two to four and they are spread out through the whole show, it may work for you.
I would never participate in a craft show which merely lets anyone in who pays the fee. A juried show will feature crafters whose work is high quality, like yours, and will have clear rules about displays to ensure that customers will have a good experience. A non-juried show will have a lot of junk displayed and your top quality work will be lost in the masses. Jurying is done by a committee of the organizers through printed photos, photos on a CD or thumb drive, or sometimes in person. I much prefer in person as that also gives me a chance to sell myself as a devoted woodturner interested in participating with them.
For your booth space, you will need to have a way to display your work, something to attract customers into your booth. If outdoors and sometimes even indoors, a tent works well to not only protect your work but also to define your space. The standard craft show space is 10x10. If you use a tent outdoors, consider having tent stakes or weights with ropes to hold the tent in place in the wind. Hopefully you will have a level location where you can set up but give some thought to rain run-off if the weather turns wet. You will need a display method, something more than just a flat table with everything at the same height. You will need “height and light” as a way to attract customers. That single table display is boring. Have some riser blocks for the table and get some shelf units of some kind which will provide varying heights of shelves. When I started, I bought unfinished wood shelves from a woodworker who makes craft show furniture for crafters. Since I am a wood guy, I varnished those shelves so the wood would show. A few years later, in a very much delayed flash of insight, I realized that my wood bowls were almost lost on the wood shelves. I sold those shelves to another crafter, bought two more sets of the same kind of shelves, and painted them black. They look great as my wood display really shows up with that black background. Some shows will require that your tables be covered with a drape down to within an inch of the floor. My wife made fitted table coverings from black wrinkle-free fabric plus I have crushed velvet fabric which I lay over the table after I place my riser blocks in position. So now I have the table surface, riser blocks for height differences on the table, and shelves to further vary the height of my work.
I added light. I have black clip-on lights with black cords which clip on the front vertical edges of the shelf uprights and point back, lighting up my wood pieces displayed. With a black fabric backdrop behind the shelves, the black electrical cords from the lights are nearly invisible. Those backdrops also serve to block any view of the crafter behind my booth so customers focus on just my art. I don’t light the top shelf as room lighting is usually sufficient for that. I do have some table lights which I have used a couple times on the table when it is too dark in the room to display my work well. Having lights is generally unnecessary for outdoor shows as natural light should be sufficient.
Other considerations are these. Have some kind of sales table or stand where you can keep your sales receipt book, calculator, bags, tissue paper, and so forth so you can easily write up a sales receipt and wrap a purchase. I don’t keep my “cash box” under that counter. I keep it in my pocket as it is too easy to steal when your attention is diverted. Have a high director’s type chair as you will be at eye level even when you are sitting. If you have a sign, and you should, it should be hung up where it is visible even when there is a crowd in your booth. Hanging on the front of your table is the worst place for it when people are crowding around. I used to use an 8x10 rug which I unrolled in my booth, too, as it was one more thing to help attract customers into a friendly atmosphere. When I rolled it up, I rolled it top out so when unrolled, the edges curled down, not up. Consider having a “How It’s Made” display of some kind, either on a poster or displayed on the table, to show steps in making something. It is always of interest to customers and keeps them more interested in your work. You will likely have to pay extra if you want electricity in your booth but always be prepared to tape down electrical cords and have your own as all you may get is an outlet somewhere. Care cards and business cards are nice to put in with each item purchased. I sometimes use business cards with care instructions printed on the back.
How much do you display at a time? When I started out, I put everything I had out on display as I sure didn’t want to miss a sale to someone who might have bought something I had under the table. I quickly learned from the other crafters that having open space was important to avoid the cluttered look. Now I put a good variety of items out but keep some under the table to fill in when I have sales. To get it to the show, I put as much of my craft show equipment in plastic bins as I can and also use bins to store and carry my turned inventory. Those sort-of see-through bins are handy as you can tell pretty much what is in them without taking off the lid. I also have a hand truck which quickly converts to a cart on which I can stack my bins and other gear to move in and out of the venue. I have saved old towels for years to wrap my work when stored in the bins. Some craft shows will have volunteers who will help the crafters move in but don’t plan on it. You may have to do the whole job yourself.
Pricing is the hardest thing I do. I want to make money. That is really sort of the point of doing craft shows. But I want things to sell without gouging someone with a really too-high and unfair price. A fellow crafter told me one time how she figured the price. She said to take the cost of materials and multiply by four to get a starting figure. Then look at that number and think about whether it is too high, too low, or about right. Just pulling a number out of the air may be difficult but this provides a method to at least come up with a starting number. But how about when you use “free wood?” Your buddy says he has a neighbor who lost a big maple tree in that storm last night and do you want some? You had to buy a chain saw to support your habit, you had to buy gas and oil for it, you had to drive to your buddy’s neighbor’s house, and you took two hours to cut up some wood and load it in your truck. You get home with it and you have to wrestle it out of the truck, Anchorseal it, and then later do more cutting to get it into useable size for the lathe, all before even touching it with a bowl gouge. So how much is that free wood worth now? Figure that into your cost of materials. Don’t sell too cheaply as you cheapen everyone else’s work at the show as well as your own. If you are taking only top quality work to the show, you can price it accordingly. It is YOUR reputation. The other thing about pricing is that you should have a range of prices. If you have low cost items as well as some high cost pieces, people will spend more time shopping in your booth as they consider how much they want to spend. That means they are picking up and looking at pieces and that makes it more likely they will buy.
I have often used the rectangular stick-on price tags on the bottom of bowls. That way, customers have to pick them up to see what the price is. Don’t leave those price tags on the front of pieces for very long as the wood may darken around the tag and when you take it off, you will leave a lighter patch on the wood.
Let’s talk business. You may need a business license where you sell. Ask the crafters at the show when you first visit. You will at least need a business name. That will give you fodder for your business cards, a must if you want to do craft shows. Business cards help customers remember who you are so they can look for you again at the next show and also give them a way to contact you between shows. Be sure to have a couple books of sales receipts. I use the simple two-page type. Some are three-page, making two copies for each original. In Virginia where we used to live, I was able to do a couple craft shows a year without having a sales tax ID number. Just download and file the Virginia ST-50 form after the show to send in your sales tax to the state. Other states may have similar options. Taking credit cards has become easy with the advent of smart phone credit card technology. One company which provides smart phone access is The Square (squareup.com). There are others, too, which provide a small device to plug into the top of your phone. Those are amazing and hugely convenient for crafters. (Note: I learned that the Square will not plug all the way into the phone with the protective case on it so had to remove it to make full contact with the plug.) Of course, credit card companies keep a small percent of sales, but your sales will climb dramatically if you take credit cards. Consider making up some nice tri-fold brochures about your work, too. Keep a change fund for cash customers. I always started with $75 in mostly ones and fives plus a couple tens and some change. Most cash customers will hand you twenties. Remember, too, that your homeowner’s insurance will likely not cover your business, even if you do it at home. You may need to get some kind of business insurance.
Some other action you can take for your customers is to have some small turnings such as tops available and drop one in the bag with the customer’s purchases. They will find it at home and be pleased at your generosity. It is fairly easy to have note cards printed with pictures of some of your work on the front along with your name and contact information on the back. If they like your work, they may be willing to buy a pack of note cards to mail to their friends. I often had a sign-in sheet available, inviting customers to give me their names and e-mail addresses so I can let them know about other shows I may do. I emphasized, both in the lead paragraph and verbally, that I would be the only one who uses the information. And you can have a door prize with a bowl into which people can drop a piece of paper with their names and e-addresses for a drawing at the end of the show.
Craft shows are a lot of fun. They are also a lot of work as you need to pack all your show furniture and crafts in your vehicle, take it to the venue, haul it in for set up and back out when done, and sit all day in your booth. Be sure to figure your time into your pricing. But it is great fun talking to customers as they are often very interested in what you do and how you do it. And they provide an outlet to help get rid of all that stuff you have been making to make room for more. When I was actively doing craft shows, I did four or five a year and they paid for my hobby. I bought equipment, tools, supplies, and materials out of my craft show earnings and deducted all my business expenses from my profits. I ran it as a sole proprietorship which means that come tax time, I just rolled it into our regular income tax filing using the IRS forms for business reporting. Good luck to you if you decide to sell your wares at a few craft shows and be sure to take a few club brochures in case you find someone who wants to give it a try themselves.