Lessons Learned from Craft Shows & Online Shops

BusinessAnnie JohnsonComment

I started selling online as a whim after much prodding from my friends.  (I hear this is pretty common for a lot of Etsy sellers).  Like most newbies I thought, "if you list it, they will come" but boy was that a let-down when days and weeks rolled by without any sales.  So I started doing a lot of reading in the Etsy Seller Handbook and I've learned a lot from it since then, as well as with each sale I've made.

With an Online Shop, I've Learned:

  • Photography is KEY - believe every article you read when they tell you this.  Think about how you would hold, inspect, and tell a customer about your product(s).  Use this as inspiration for your photos.  
    1. I like to include an "artsy" shot to catch customers' eye in a search line-up, 
    2. an overview to see what it is, 
    3. a close-up for texture & color,
    4. the back, inside, or "wrong" side of the product,
    5. and another descriptive image like all wrapped up for shipping/as a gift or in a (gift) set or in use.
  • Wrap products like a gift before shipping them out to their new home.  Include a handwritten thank-you card + a couple business cards so the recipient can pass your shop along to interested friends or to include with their gift.
  • Don't forget care or washing instructions.  Currently I write these in the thank-you note but I eventually hope to have sewn-in tags on my items with these instructions.
  • Think of your Etsy shop as a landing page and YOU have to get your customers' eyes on your products.  Etsy is not going to do your marketing and promoting for you.  Even your customers may not remember your shop name - most just say, "I got it on Etsy" - so tagging your items with your shop name and *branding* your shop is KEY to getting your shop name in your customers' minds.
  • Take your shop seriously.  If you don't treat it like a real business (separate bank accounts, work hours, etc), others won't either (friends expect free work, free products, etc).

Now that I've learned most of this (above) from selling online a few years, I thought I was ready to branch out into Art & Craft Shows to expand my customer reach.  This has proven to be amazing in the amount of increased sales per day and increased exposure to interested customers.  However, I quickly learned that selling in person can be VERY different from selling online.

June Art Walk 2015 |

First, you don't have to worry about photographing & editing each individual image (yes!), but you do have to make sure your products are presentable, neat, clean, (no cat hair, wrinkles) and recognizable.  A customer should be able to tell if that knitted ring is a bracelet cuff or a mug cozy.  Packaging does wonders for this kind of presentation.

More Craft Show Lessons:

  • offer a freebie to entice customers to walk up to your table and engage in light conversation.  I keep a bowl of my scrap bracelets handy and usually offer them to children, but happily offer them to adults as well.  This creates a great opportunity to ask customers about themselves or their day and possibly point the conversation to your wares.
  • Have a cute baby or dog present draws people over to coo over the little bundle.  Even better if they are modeling something you are selling.
  • Have a go-to set up, instead of winging it every time.  This allows your regular helpers to help you more efficiently because they know what the end goal is.
  • Ditto for cleaning up and packing the vehicle at the end of the show.
  • Schedule your Facebook, Twitter, and blog posts ahead of time to publish at intervals leading up to your sale.  You won't have time or the mental capacity to compose and publish to all these platforms when you are setting up shop, etc.  
  • Pack everything the night before.  Possibly even in the car.
  • Try to use double duty props that also act as travel storage (crates, boxes, totes).  Pack like items together, ideally in the tote that doubles as its display case.  Keep all supplies related to check-out in one tote to keep them easily accessible during business hours, usually under the table at your feet.  Keep your lock box behind a display case and out of customer sight, but in front of you and at your finger tips.  I usually have a travel mug of coffee next to it. :)

Obviously this isn't a complete list, but a work in progress.  I look forward to updating it after hearing your thoughts:

I'd love to hear what you have learned since opening an online shop or selling at shows!  Please tell us all about it in the comments below!  Be sure to click "subscribe via email" to receive comment reply notifications.

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