Anatomy of a Craft Booth Failure (And How To Avoid It)

While we haven’t talked about it much here, we have a physical presence for Sprinkles and Sawdust – we’ve done several craft shows and farmer’s markets, and occasionally have seen some success.  We haven’t done as many as some folks have because we want to spend most of our weekends with our kiddos, but we’ve managed to make it to a few.  This past weekend we did our biggest potential event yet – a craft booth at a city-wide event much like a county fair.

I’ll sum up how well we did with an image:

Dumpster Fire!

Yep.

Bottom line?  We didn’t even make our vendor fee back.  Our losses were in the triple digits, between fees and materials and other costs, not counting the large amount of time on evenings and weekends leading up to the event planning and building things to sell.

We actually got a lot of great feedback on our items and even our prices from a few people, but only three sales from a day and a half of selling.  But feedback and compliments don’t pay bills, and when it comes to doing shows you’ve got to at least make back what you put into it.  We didn’t.  It was a complete and total failure.  And I think that if by examining it a bit we can help anyone else out there doing the craft booth circuit, then maybe it won’t be a total loss.

What Happened?

For us, the first people we end up blaming are ourselves.  Maybe our stuff wasn’t good enough.  Maybe our prices were too high.  Maybe our booth wasn’t great.  Maybe we misjudged the market.  And we’ll look at each of those things shortly, because I think a couple of them were factors.  But there were a lot of things out of our control as well that we’ll look at and maybe figure out how to deal with – it was extremely hot, it rained (both of those things coexisted, in the same weekend, in mid-September – welcome to Texas!), the vendor area was badly planned, and the traffic flow was terrible.  Those kind of things are out of your control, whether it’s an act of God or bad event planning or just the unpredictable nature of people.  In the end, a lot of those factors came into play and left us with a really awful showing.

Factors Under Our Control

I really, honestly feel like we did a pretty good job.  Here was our craft booth:

 

Craft Booth

 

We worked hard to create an inviting atmosphere and felt pretty proud of the stuff we’d made.  As I mentioned before, we got a lot of good feedback on our products and lots of good reactions and even some good remarks about the craft booth itself.  A couple of folks even commented that our prices were reasonable (even though they didn’t buy anything).  We included several items of local interest (sports teams, etc) as well to tempt the local market.

All in all, we were pretty proud of our showing and I’m confident we did the best we could.

Factors Out of Our Control

It was hot.  Oh BOY was it hot.  Mid 90s with 80% humidity.  We saw so many folks trudging by the booth already panting and red-faced after just strolling through the vendor area.  We actually lucked out and got assigned one of three booth spots in the shade, so we (luckily) weren’t miserable all day – but it sure looked like everyone else was.  Nothing kills your desire to buy like being miserable.

To add insult to injury, it stormed Friday night just after we all left the booths.  I showed up Saturday morning to waterlogged, well, everything.  But again we lucked out – only minor damage and a soggy rug.  The forecast throughout the week had kept promising rain so we had been prepared.

Those things are what we consider Acts of God, or Acts of Nature if you want.  We have zero control over that.  Unfortunately, the more problematic things were things that someone (not us) did have control over and seriously dropped the ball.  The event was at a city park with several fenced baseball fields, and the craft booth area was put on the field the furthest away from the main entrance.  Even worse was that the vendor area was not in a line of traffic where people were moving from one event to another.  To give the organizers some credit I think they were thinking more about overnight security of the vendors – the field was fenced in with just a couple of gates and they had hired security to watch the area overnight.  It was an easy area to protect.

But those same factors that made it easy to protect made traffic flow impossible, with limited entrances and exits and zero shade.  No one enjoyed walking through that.  And the worst part was that the general traffic flow from one event to another in the park went around the vendor area – people had to make a conscious choice to split off and come over to the area.  A lot of booth design is to entice people walking by to stop in and look – that job is made a million times harder when people aren’t walking by because they can’t be bothered to go over to the area and it’s ridiculously hot.  The event had a really good turnout but the vendor area saw maybe 20-30% of that traffic by my estimation.

Lessons to Learn From Our Failure

We couldn’t control any of those factors and so basically we had to just deal with them.  That being said, there were several things we could have done to either improve our showing or to make the most of what we had.  Honestly, I think these are great lessons for anyone working craft booths or even any kind of vendor presence at events.

1.  Choose Events That Fit Your Intended Market

This event wasn’t really a craft show, where people come to buy handmade things.  It was a fair, with events and food and concerts and shows.  When you think about a fair, what kind of things do you see people buying?  Usually fair food and toys for the kids.  People don’t really come to fairs to shop, they come to enjoy the entertainment – and the things we were offering were not necessarily “impulse buys”.  We honestly were the wrong kind of booth for that type of event, and we’ll pay more attention in the future about the types of events that we do to make sure we’re selling to the right market – it will help remedy some of those factors out of our control by avoiding them altogether.

2.  Be Flexible and Adapt Your Approach To Your Situation

We’re not salespeople by nature.  We engaged with folks at the booth well but didn’t do a lot of “selling” beyond greeting them and making small talk.  When Leslie was with me at the craft booth she did much better than me at talking about the items folks were looking at and encouraging them to take a card and making sure they knew we did custom work if they didn’t see something they liked.  Even if they weren’t buying that day I could have done better at trying to get a sale down the road.   I spent a lot of the time painting a new sign as a demonstration, which we thought was a good idea.  But for this crowd they didn’t really seem to care and I should have adjusted after a while and abandoned that.  Once it became apparent we were stuck in a situation where we weren’t going to make any sales, our focus should have shifted to networking and getting our name known.  I came home with way too many business cards.

3.  Prepare For The Worst When It Comes To Weather

You know what would have been amazing if I had thought of it beforehand?  An air conditioner seat.  We have a small window unit that would have worked and we had access to electricity.  A place to sit and rest for a second on a scorching day with AC on you?  We would have had a line!  Would it have helped sell anything?  Maybe not, but we would have been remembered.  That’s the kind of thing that makes a booth stand out and we knew ahead of time that it was going to be stupid hot.  We could have even considered handing out bottled water if we had wanted to invest in it as a marketing tool.

Secondly, be prepared to have to sit out in that weather as well – we did good on this one.  We brought plenty of water and a fan and made sure we weren’t going to get overheated.

The rain posed another challenge that we managed…well…okay.  We were actually pretty well prepared for a day of rain showers.  We had made booth sides out of shower curtains and everything we set up was modular in order to be able to consolidate it under the craft booth tent if necessary.  What we didn’t prepare for was a major storm with high winds and heavy rain.  We should have been – living in Texas means living with those kind of crazy weather conditions.

4.  Sometimes You’re Just Going to Fail, and That’s Okay

This is my biggest takeaway, honestly – I’m the type of person that basically looks at things in a black and white, win or lose type of fashion.  This day was a total failure and that makes us total losers.   But that’s not really the truth at all.   Talking to some of the other vendors who had been playing the game much longer than us enlightened me to this – sometimes it’s just not a good day.  People are unpredictable.  They’re fickle – their mood to buy can be influenced by so many things (like whether they’re browsing craft booths on the surface of the sun or not).  Sometimes it’s nobody’s fault and we’ll just learn what we can from it and move on to the next one.  It’s hard for me not to be discouraged by this showing, but I also know that I can’t live and die off of one weekend of bad sales.

Don’t Quit What You Love

Honestly writing this has been somewhat cathartic for me.  I avoided it for a week because I didn’t want to talk about failure.  But I hope this encourages anyone else who has failed at vendor events before and encourages you to keep at it as long as you can afford it.  And I hope that sharing some of the things I learned from this experience might go a long way towards helping someone else not have the same kind of weekend we had.  We’re not quitting, and you shouldn’t either!

Got a craft booth story to tell?  Let us know in the comments below, or on Facebook or Twitter!

How We Failed At A Craft Show, and 4 Things You Can Learn From Our Failure - click through to find out!

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3 Comments

  1. So sorry about your debacle of a weekend but you two are survivors and you will figure out a solution.

  2. Gosh…. that sounds perfect awful and exactly why I fear doing craft shows. I do hope things get better for you!

    • Thank you:) No doubt they will! I just wanted to use our situation to hopefully help others too. Shows are always a risk, but if you don’t risk something, you rarely get anything.

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