If you’re looking to get bang for your buck, then hear this: participate in the fairs and festivals with more expensive entry fees. Sure, a show with a low fee is easier to get into, but rarely will you reap the rewards in revenue.
The best craft fairs I ever did had a more expensive entry fee, but they paid off. But it wasn’t just the entry fee that mattered — I checked off a host of other criteria to validate which would be good fairs and which wouldn’t for me as a maker.
Why these criteria matter to you as a maker
These criteria matter because they help you determine if attendees will be serious buyers or not. They give insight on how many buyers you can expect to have. They provide an explanation about who your fellow vendors will be and if there will be multiple vendors selling the same product.
(1) Entry Fee: Again, I experienced that the more expensive, the better the show. But the entry fee can never be used exclusively to determine the value of a fair. It’s really just a reflection of the other important criteria, and it’s typically worth the investment.
(2) Years in operation: Newer fairs often struggle to draw big crowds — the kind of crowds you need to make it worth your while. If a fair is established, it likely has a solid reputation in the community and people attend year after year.
(3) Attendance: Have you used the break-even calculator to determine how much money you need to make at a fair to cover your costs? This same tool provides a breakdown of unit sales and expected profit. Obviously, the more people who attend a fair, the larger potential customer base and the greater your chances of hitting it out of the ballpark and not just making meager sales.
(4) Juried: Some people groan at a juried show, but I welcomed it with open arms. Juried shows mean conscientious staff running the fair. It indicates that the staff will protect vendors so that you aren’t set up right next to someone else selling the same thing. They also ensure that all products are high quality and protect the fair’s reputation and integrity — and it’s this reputation that draws attendees who are serious about buying handmade goods.
(5) Rides and Games: These activities distract attendees from buying handmade goods — and if a show has rides and games, it’s likely that attendees came for these activities instead. I tried to avoid shows or festivals with rides and games like the plague.
(6) Geographic Area: Is this fair located in an area where people can afford to buy your handmade goods? Is the location too remote to draw a big enough crowd?
(7) Number of exhibitors: Typically, this number goes hand-in-hand with attendance. Small shows draw small crowds. Serious buyers who will hand over cash for handmade goods are looking to attend big fairs. Don’t be intimidated if there are many other vendors — just get prepared with how to tell your own story.
How to find these criteria for fairs and festivals in your area
When I was operating my candle business, there was a print (yes, actual hard copy…) guide that listed all the craft fairs within my state. It provided all sorts of information about each fair: entry fee, average attendance, years in operation, whether it was juried, if there were rides and games, number of exhibitors, dates/times, how to apply, etc.
Most good resources require payment to view these criteria on craft fairs, but the small investment is worth it to select fairs that will actually pay off! A couple good online resources that provide information by state are: