If you plan to apply to a juried craft show, fair or market, we’re here to answer all your questions! Our friendly friend Nicole Stevenson of Dear Handmade Life joined us in the Shipshape Collective Facebook group recently to help out.
Watch the video below, or read the transcript immediately following the resources on this page.
Why Your Craft Show Application Was Rejected
Grab the top ten reasons your craft show application was rejected that Nicole mentions right here:
Prepare For Success With Craft Shows
Nicole teaches a workshop that will get you all set, and has shared some blog posts as well:
Craft Show Success is an online workshop that gives you the tools, resources and confidence to prepare for and make the most of your time at craft shows so you can make money, build your customer base as well as your creative community plus get exposure for your brand. Whether you’ve never sold at a craft show before, have done a few, ever got that dreaded rejection email from producers or are a veteran vendor looking to sharpen your skills Craft Show Success gets you there.
If you’re just about to sell at your first craft show check out Nicole’s seven questions to ask yourself before doing a craft fair.
Video Interview Transcript
Arianne: Hi everybody. We are here, live now, with Nicole Stevenson of Dear Handmade Life, and she also puts on an awesome conference called Craftcation. She has a ton of experience with crafters and craft shows and things like that. Nicole, I’d love for you to just share what your experience with crafters and craft fairs, to start off. Can we get a little back story from you?
Nicole: Sure. I, myself, am a crafter. I don’t make my living as a crafter anymore, but at one time I had a clothing line, and had a product line. I sold at hundreds, I would say 3 or 400 different craft shows during the life of my line. So I have a lot of experience as a vendor, but I also have been producing a large-scale craft show for, I think this year was our 10th anniversary. So, with my partner Delilah, who’s also my aunt, called Patchwork Show, that’s our show. We’ve produced over 60 of those shows, and then I’ve also juried art shows and all kinds of things, so I have a lot of experience from that side, too.
I work really closely with our jury for Patchwork Show. We get 1000 applications every season, so I’m the one that’s going through there, teaching our jury how to make judgment calls, what to look for, helping them formulate decisions, and coming up with the criteria for which the makers will be judged.
Arianne: Yeah. That’s great. So you’ve been the jury and you have also taught the jury. I feel like that really helps me understand something better when I’m trying to teach it to somebody else. It all starts making more sense then, so I would say you’ve got a lot of experience in deciding whether an application is a good fit or not. So, I’m curious, when you’re deciding who gets into a craft show, about how long do you spend on each application deciding if it’s a good fit or not?
Nicole: It depends on the application. One of the things that I do teach our jury is to trust your instinct, so that gut reaction. That’s the first thing.
If you’re looking at an application, usually the way that we do it it’s digital, so there’ll be a link. So the first thing we would look at is their website or Etsy shop. Right when you go there you’re going to have a gut reaction. That reaction is definitely going to be based on your personal tastes, which as a jury it can’t really be all about your personal tastes, but it’s important to take that into account, of what you think. If you’re looking and you’re thinking, “Ew, what is that?” Or “Ah, cute.”
Then once you have that initial reaction, then you need to go in and start to separate your personal opinion from the criteria that you’re looking for. So, for example, me personally, I’m not a huge beaded or precious gemstone, kind of, gold and silver jewelry person. So when I see that I can tell right away, “Yes, this is a possibility. It’s not my style but I can see that for what it is, it’s high quality.” The photos are clear, well taken. I can tell what it is. There’s a clear brand. I can see the aesthetic of the line is clear, the price point fits, etc. So those are just some of the criteria that we’re looking for. But sometimes there’ll be something that I am in love with for my personal taste but I realize the people who are coming to our show, I don’t think this vendor’s going to sell as well at the show because the guests that are coming are not 4000 Nicoles. So it might be something that I’m in love with but it’s very, very specific to someone like me.
Arianne: That’s a good thing to keep in mind. So when you’re putting on a craft show, you have a target audience there for the craft show. You know what type of people are coming, so that’s something that really needs to align with the vendors you’re selecting too. So people who are applying for a craft show, they shouldn’t be applying to every possible craft show that exists, because there are different styles of craft shows and different audiences coming. I’m sure you’re trying to see how that target customer syncs up with the target customer of the people who are going to be vending there. Because you want them to have a positive experience at the show, I’m sure, and you want the customers to have a positive experience, so that all matches up.
Nicole: For sure, and that’s a big thing that we take into account is we try to predict how the vendor will do at our show. Which is impossible in many ways, but it’s definitely part of the criteria that we take into account. Just for example, we have a craft show in Long Beach, which is a beach area, and then we have another one that’s in a downtown location, inland. Somebody, for example, that maybe does photographs of beach scenes, or does some kind of found object thing with shells or something like that, we probably wouldn’t let them into our urban location, where we may let them into our Long Beach one. We’re not only taking into account the general demographics of our show, but also the specific one per location.
Arianne: Yeah, and that makes sense. So if you get rejected with your craft show application, it doesn’t mean that there’s necessarily a problem with your business or even your application, maybe it just wasn’t a good fit with that show. It doesn’t mean you need to get discouraged, you just need to check the fit a little bit better. Are you, I feel like the answer to this is probably “no,” especially on a bigger show, but are you guys able to respond to people to give them tips about why they got rejected, or that’s just, they have to figure that out themselves?
Nicole: We’re not able to respond. Well, yes and no, actually. Over the years, over the ten years that we’ve been doing this show, I have basically compiled a list of every reason why anybody’s ever been rejected, and it’s about ten different things. I send out a form rejection letter with these ten things, and I say, “If you were rejected, 99% of the time it’s for one of these things. So, take a look at this list and see which one applies to you.” Then, I do offer a personalized review of the application, but not while we’re in the season of the show. So, I say, “If you would like specific feedback on your application, please send me your question after the shows are over, so it would be after this date.”
Arianne: That is very generous and helpful of you. So is there anything that stands out as a must-do thing for makers that want to get into a craft fair? Like, what always stands out positively when you’re looking at an application?
Nicole: Well, great branding. I know that I’m talking to the branding guru here, but your website or your Etsy shop, which includes the photographs you take of your stuff, your actual products, your branding, the aesthetic, everything, is kind of like putting on your clothes and taking a shower and brushing your hair before you go outside to meet somebody. So, if you just imagine that your website, online shop, all of those things together, that’s how we’re seeing you. So when somebody’s branding is off or their photographs are … There’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking photographs with your iPhone, as long as their clear. I mean, iPhones are great now. You don’t need a DSLR anymore. But, make sure they’re clear, they’re not blurry, you’re not taking a busy background that I can’t tell which thing is your actual product.
So if all of that stuff is off, it’s like going to a job interview in your pajamas, with unwashed hair, and unwashed face, and unbrushed teeth.
Arianne: Yeah. And that’s interesting, right. The first thing you guys are looking at is the website and I feel like a lot of people get frustrated with their website. They just go, “Oh, it’s good enough.” But that’s the first thing you’re going to use to decide if it’s a good fit. So it’s definitely something … Spend a little time brushing that hair on that website.
Nicole: Yeah. And if you don’t have a website, that’s fine. I would rather have somebody not have a website and send me a link to their Etsy shop, and have a really well curated, well laid-out Etsy shop, than to have a website that says, “Under Construction.” Or you can tell that it’s their old blog and nothing’s been done to it since 2002. I would even rather have somebody just send me to their Instagram, to their business Instagram than to be looking at an out-of-date, unprofessional website.
Arianne: You want to see a well-curated collection and know exactly what you’re looking at at the start. Not digging through somebody’s blog posts.
Nicole: Yeah, and along that same line, one of the things that I’ve found has been really helpful to our jury is having a link to what a vendor’s booth looks like, set up. When the jury first goes through, vendors are categorized immediately into the following categories: “yes,” “maybe,” “no.” Then “maybe” gets expanded into: “maybe yes,” “maybe,” and “maybe no.” So anybody that’s in that “maybe” category, they’re getting a lot of attention on everything. We’ll be together looking at products and everybody’s kind of on the borderline and then we’ll hop on their Instagram and see that they happened to take a picture of their booth at a craft show, and their booth is awesome. We’re on the fence about their product but their booth is so professional, looks so great and inviting that everybody’s just like, “Yeah. Yeah. Yes.” So, if your booth is awesome, it’s helpful to have a picture of it.
Arianne: Yeah, that’s great. That’s a good idea. I feel like sometimes people get so caught up in what they’re doing that they forget to take that picture of all their hard work making the booth. So even just taking the picture so you have that for future shows is a great idea.
Arianne: So Erin is asking us what the ten things are that you send people as the 99% of reasons why they get rejected. I don’t think we need to go through all ten, because I have a bunch of questions to get to here, but maybe you could mention your top two or three that are just like, “Absolutely not. Next.”
Nicole: Photographs. That’s really what we see, photographs.
Price point. If somebody’s doing, let’s say for example, super fine jewelry that the pieces are $500, the customers that come to our show, that’s not going to work. At the same time, prices that are too low. So somebody, maybe, that’s a hobby crafter, that they’re not pricing their products according to, they’re not making a profit and they’re undercutting and underselling other vendors. Someone, for example, that’s making this coffee mug for fun and they’re like, “Oh, I’m just going to sell it for $5 because that’s what I pay for a coffee mug.” Then we have a vendor on the next row who’s making a coffee mug, who’s actually making a living at it, selling it for $15. So, prices that are too high, prices that are not properly figured out.
Not following directions.
Arianne: Yeah, that’s a big one.
Nicole: That’s super frustrating, and that can be an automatic no. Not taking the time to get to know our show and see what our aesthetic is.
Arianne: Yeah. You need a good match.
Nicole: Yeah, or to see what our requirements are. Like, we don’t accept vendors that sell, what’s it called, like a Mary Kay or a LuLaRoe or something like that where you’re reselling something that somebody else is making or designing.
Arianne: Right, like the multi-level marketing thing?
Nicole: Multi-level marketing. Yeah. So, a lot of people-
Arianne: That’s not a craft fair item for you.
Nicole: Yeah. But I would say photos. Photos, branding, researching to see if they’re a good fit, and then, I’m sure there’s one more but I can’t remember it right now.
Arianne: You probably have something about this on your blog, right?
Nicole: Maybe I can share a link after this. I don’t, but it’s something I should add. Let me see because I probably do have something on there, reasons rejected. I look it up and try to send you something to share.
Arianne: Nicole’s going to dig something up for you guys. So I have a couple questions about getting started with craft fairs. So Erin asked, “I’ve never attempted a craft fair or any live selling events,” but she’s very interested. She wants to know how you find craft fairs to attend.
Nicole: Erin, I would love to know where you live, first of all. I feel like you probably live in a pretty small place if you’re not sure where craft shows are. There’s pretty much, most major cities have a craft show. The best way to find out is Googling. I would just put in there, like let’s just say you live in Cincinnati, Ohio. So, “Cincinnati, Ohio craft show,” “Cincinnati, Ohio craft fairs,” “Cincinnati, Ohio craft festivals,” “DIY markets,” and just try a bunch of different Google terms and see what you come up with.
Oh, Sequim, I don’t know. That feels like it might be a small town.
Arianne: Sequim is out on the peninsula here in Washington, so you’d probably want to travel over to Seattle and go to the Renegade Craft Fair, which they’re doing once or twice a year now, or Urban Craft Uprising, which is the really big one we do here. I know a lot of people who will travel back and forth to Portland craft shows, as well. They’ll drive down.
Yeah, Portland’s got Crafty Wonderland and probably some other good stuff going on. So that’s a load everything into the station wagon situation I think, and see what’s going on.
Nicole: But I also think if you’re just starting out and you haven’t really done craft shows yet, and you do live in a smaller town, there might be holiday things at a local church or arts community center for you to kind of get your feet wet and get in there without having to fork out a really big booth fee, application for a larger show like Crafty Wonderland or Urban Craft Uprising, or something like that.
Arianne: That’s a good point. Even in my neighborhood in Seattle, we have the Phinney Neighborhood Association that does a little craft show in an old school house. It’s not a huge thing, but it’s a great place to get started.
Nicole: Or if you know other makers in your town, you might want to do just like a little thing at a house or something. I’ve definitely done all of those thing before. And then the other thing is you’re lucky to be in Arianne’s group. So reaching out and asking in there and just saying, “This is where I live. What are your experiences with shows? What would you suggest to a beginner?”
Erin, I’ll put a link to, we have some posts for early craft show people on our website. Oh, shoot, I forgot, I also did a whole workshop called Craft Show Success. It would be perfect for. So, I’ll make a discount code and I’ll send it to you for that. It’s really inexpensive, it’s like $45 or something.
Arianne: So, related to starting out doing craft fairs, Yolanda asks us, she says, “I’ve done several fairs last year, big and little, and I’m still perfecting my booth and methods. How many fairs are too many?” She’s worried she’s spreading herself thin, there.
Nicole: There’s never too many. I think you’ll know when you’ve done too many. One of my busiest years as a craft show seller I had three or four different people working for me, and me, all doing craft shows at the same time. So, it’d be a Saturday and my stuff would actually be at four different craft shows all over southern California. I was kind of done after that, needed to take a break, but I think the ones that you’re making money on, continue, or where you’re getting some other kind of ROI, some other kind of return on your investment. Whether it’s maybe you don’t make tons of money at a certain show but the booth fee’s only $30 and it’s only five hours, and it’s in an arts community center and they serve you free sandwiches while you’re there and everybody’s super nice, and 10% goes to charity or something, you have to look at the bigger picture and decide which shows you really want to do.
I have an evaluation thing that I go through. So after each craft show I look at, “Okay, how much money did I make? How much did this cost? What are my other returns on my investment that I got? Did I meet fellow makers? Did I connect with wholesale accounts? Did I get some press? Did I do this, did I do that?” And kind of go through there so that the next season I can whittle down that list into the ones where my effort is going the furthest.
Arianne: Yeah, that makes sense. We’ve had clients who, they’ll just do the circuit, they’ll do every Renegade Craft Fair across the country and it’s like one of their biggest income streams. Some people love doing that, and some people absolutely hate it. When I did my course this fall, the main goal of one of my students was to get out of the outdoor craft fairs and never have to sit outside in a tent again. So it also depends on your personality. Do you enjoy going out to craft fairs? Do you get energized and have a good time selling, or are you just sitting there like, “I hate my life?”
So, let’s see, I have got some good questions here about once you’re actually at the show. So Erica wants to know about show discounts, would you advise them or not advise them? She says, “The retail cost mark-up should be covering my expenses to do the show,” so of course she’d prefer not to do discounts and she doesn’t want to decrease the value of her products, so she is wondering how you feel about offering people discount at a show.
Nicole: I feel the same way that she does. She basically answered herself. I think she probably has some experience definitely doing craft shows. I think she just wants us to say that that’s okay. But I totally agree with you. The right customer isn’t going to need a discount. So just keep that in mind. The way I think about it is discounts and sales are there for a reason. If you think about a department store, they’re not just randomly like, “You know what, it’s a Sunday and it’s raining outside. Let’s just do 25% off underwear today.”
Arianne: They’re not.
Nicole: Everything is very, very, very well planned out there. They’re doing it for a reason. They’re doing a discount or sale because it’s last season’s stuff and they need to get it out of there to make room for summer bathing suits or winter coats, or whatever it is. This does actually happen in department stores, but things that are imperfect. Maybe somebody returned something and there’s a snag on it. For a maker with a smaller business, that might be you’re screen printing your T-shirt and one of the prints was a little bit crooked and it’s not perfect. Well, you can have a sale bin and have that there. I just don’t believe in random discounts. I feel like they should be strategic and planned out.
Having said that, when I was selling at craft shows I always had a two-fer discount. So, on my T-shirts, if it was, I can’t remember how much they were at this time, but if they were $25 each, they would be $25 each or two for $45. That worked out really well for me, but-
Arianne: Yeah, that makes sense, and it’s also giving you something. You’re getting people to increase their order when they might not have otherwise. Another thing I’ve seen is if somebody’s traveled a long distance, maybe they don’t want to bring all their inventory back home with them. Maybe towards the end of the show they might do a discount. That’s serving them, there’s a purpose to that. But for me as a craft show attendee, usually it’s like a one-time event that’s just happening just once per year, I’m not expecting a discount. I feel like it’s a special thing already happening for me.
Nicole: Well, and they’re saving on shipping…
Arianne: Yeah. There’s that too. Right, not only did they save a bunch of money to ship to their home and they’d have to wait. That’s great. So, let’s see here. Erica has another question. She wants creative ideas to entice her booth visitors to join her email list. She says she’s seen some interesting approaches like having a raffle for all email joiners at the end of show for a gift product. Have you seen anybody do anything interesting there?
Nicole: Yeah, I actually love the raffle idea, and I have seen people do that and that was something that I did back in the day. I definitely did the raffle thing. But I think when we’re thinking about newsletters, you have to think about why would your customer want to sign up for your newsletter. Although we are not our customers, it is helpful to think about why you sign up for a newsletter from a brand with a product line. Maybe it’s because you want to see behind the scenes, and you want that peek at that behind the scenes. Or maybe it’s because you want to see what their new product is that’s coming out. You want to be the first to see that, or you want to be the first to know about sales.
Or, one of the ways that was really helpful to me when I was getting people to sign up was, “Sign up for my email list if you want to hear about other shows like this.” Because people are at the craft show, and they’re having a really good time there. Sometimes they randomly found out about it, and I always would let people know the frequency of the emails. So, “I send out an email once a month with behind the scenes peeks, sales or discounts, or whatever, and any other local craft shows like this.” That worked really well for me and I didn’t even have to give them anything. Plus it was a very honest approach, which I think people appreciate.
Arianne: That makes sense, and I think it helps people stay on your list. Because if they only joined because they wanted something for free, you now have a list full of people that want free things, which is maybe not the best way to sell things online. So, it’s not that you should never do a raffle, but you should know that a lot of those people are probably going to unsubscribe from the list once they realize they didn’t win the freebie. They may not be interested in hearing about your upcoming show schedule or anything like that. So the more you can tie your offer to what they’re actually getting, the better.
I feel like the first step to getting people on your mailing list is first figuring out what’s fun and interesting about your mailing list. If there isn’t anything fun or interesting about your mailing list, it’s going to be really hard to sell it. Then once you do have some fun or interesting reason for people to be on your mailing list, then it’s easy to talk about it.
Nicole: Yeah, I fully, fully agree with that, and the kind of authenticity in advertising of, “This is what my newsletter is about. This is what you can expect.” Because you’re trying to build a relationship with that customer, you’re not McDonald’s where you’re just trying to get people in, get them to eat, and get them out. It’s not a business of convenience, you’re trying to build this lasting relationship with this person. So, how are you going to build that relationship? You’re going to open that conversation. You’re going to talk about yourself. You’re going to invite them to talk about themselves. You could even do things in your newsletter where you have, “Pick our next product,” and you have three products that you’re going back and forth, and really involve your customers in that creative process.
Arianne: Yeah, that’s a great idea. I’m even thinking, like for instance, if you sell scarves, you could offer people that you have 101 Ways to Wear Your Scarf, or something. That could just be an automated email they get the second they sign up for your list. Then they’re so interested and intrigued they’ll stay on there. Now you’re talking to people who are interested in scarves and fashion and it all makes sense. They’re happy to be there, you’re happy they’re there, and they might buy another scarf because now they have 101 ways to wear it.
So, okay, we have got another good marketing question. Trisha says, “I get quite a few buyers that come into my tent and ask for my card to purchase online later. What’s the best way to get the sale that day? 90% of them don’t end up placing an order.” Imagine that.
Nicole: Oh, yeah. That is such a pain in the behind about craft shows. It’s hard for me to say because as a shopper at a craft show, I’m like that too. I think you can always mention, “Sounds great. I’ll be here until five, and if you get it at the show remember you don’t have to pay for shipping.” Or just some little thing. I think the worst thing is trying to press them, like, “I’m only here today. Are you sure you don’t want to get it right now?” That’s not going to work out as well as, “Okay, sounds cool. Be here till five.” Just real casual about it. “Be here till five, you don’t have to pay for shipping if you get it here.” You know?
Arianne: Yeah. If they’re asking for your card, I would be tempted to see if they want to exchange cards. Then maybe you have a way to follow them on Instagram or be on your mailing list, or something like that, like just to keep the conversation going.
Nicole: Yeah, I actually went through a period where I didn’t have business cards on purpose. If somebody would say that I would say, “Well, I don’t have any cards but you’re welcome to sign up for my newsletter list and I’ll send that.” Or, “You’ll get a link to our website when we send out our newsletter.”
Arianne: That’s genius.
Nicole: If somebody really cared, they would sign up for it.
Arianne: Yeah, I like it. But I know what you mean, as a shopper myself, I’m often the perfect target customer for the businesses there. I see tons of things I want, but I can’t buy everything. Then I do feel like, at a craft show, you do just forge a personal connection there. So it feels bad to be like, “Oh, I love this. I love all this. Okay, but I got to go. I’m not buying anything.” So I do think you get a lot of people to make the request for your card or something like that, because there’s only so much their wallet can handle that day.
Nicole: Yeah, and it’s going to happen. I mean, think about your own experiences as … I’m talking to the person who asked this question. Think about your own experiences as a customer. When you go into a store there’s going to be stuff that you pick up, and you look at, and you like, but it doesn’t always mean you’re going to buy it.
Nicole: And sometimes there’s nothing that anybody can get you to say to buy it.
Arianne: Can you talk about Craftcation for one second?
Nicole: Sure, I love talking about Craftcation.What do you want to know?
Arianne: How about if somebody has not heard of Craftcation, what would you tell them Craftcation was all about?
Nicole: Craftcation is the annual business and makers conference that I produce with my partner Delilah in Ventura, CA. It happens once a year, every spring. Arianne will be there teaching. She’s amazing and we have over, I think, just about 200 different classes, business classes and hands on classes. Everything from how to do branding, to accounting, to finance, to website, to SEO, to any business topic, PR, that you could possibly think of. Then we have craft classes too, block printing and indigo dying and sewing, and jewelry making. There’s ten different classes happening simultaneously at any time, so you have a lot to choose from.
Then we have parties and lunches, and dinners. We have a dance party, and this year the theme is, “Thank you for being a friend,” i.e. the Golden Girls. We have yoga and meditation on the beach to feed your self-caring side, your woo side. I don’t know which side that would be. But then we also have crazy dance parties where people drink beer. There’s really something for everyone.
Our early bird registration ends, I think, February 1st. Or, it’s actually regular registration and then it goes into late registration. So if you’re thinking about coming, get your ticket before February so you can save some money. We have a private Facebook group where you can reach out and share hotel rooms to save money. We have a blog post on doing it on a budget.
Arianne: It’s just darn fun. It’s so much fun. Okay everybody, well that was really fun. If you missed the start of this you’ll be able to replay it in the Facebook group after we close out here. Thanks for coming and asking your questions. And thank you so much, Nicole.
Nicole: Thank you.
If you enjoyed this, you may be interested in our other podcast and audio interviews.
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