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How to be an Awesome Vendor

craft_fair2012-3 I’ve participated in craft shows for years; first as a shopper (and a supporter of my crafty friends) and then later as a vendor. Last year I took on a craft show from a completely different perspective: as the organizer. I agreed to run and coordinate all aspects of our elementary school’s successful Art & Craft Fair.

I had a good sense of what I was getting into. I’ve organized events before, I’m connected to the crafty community in Portland, I’ve been watching my friends run craft fairs (sometimes lending a helping hand, sometimes just going out for a celebratory drink when they were done), and I had sold at shows. But organizing a craft sale with 50+ vendors is a pretty big undertaking. I didn’t want to run it by committee in my first year because I wanted to make sure that I had a good handle on all aspects of the sale before I started bringing new people in. So my super-awesome husband and I did just about everything. We coordinated the marketing and the volunteers and the space and the logistics and the vendors. So many things went smoothly but one of my biggest complaints (and the thing that wasted most of my time) were flakey or difficult vendors*.

*Before I go any further, I want to emphasize that the vendors at our show were generally very, very awesome and I would welcome almost all of them back next year. Many of the anecdotes below occurred with vendors that did not end up selling at our show and stories I’ve collected from other craft fair organizers. 

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Whether you are applying to your first craft show this Spring or you are a seasoned veteran, here are some tips on how to make your overworked show organizer’s life easier (and increase the chances of being invited back for another year).

Read and follow all application instructions carefully.

If the show you are applying to has put out an open call for vendors, your organizers may be sifting through hundreds of applications. Make their job easier (and increase your chances of acceptance) by reading the application thoroughly and following all directions. If you are asked to return three signed pieces of paper, return all of them at the time you apply. If you are asked to provide photos of your work, do not say in your application “see my website for samples of my items.” Your organizer does not have the time to chase down missing items or photos. Take the extra 10 or 15 minutes to make sure your application has everything that is required. Your show organizers will appreciate it and your application won’t be set aside because something is missing.

Include great photos. 

Providing images of your products is the best way to catch an organizer’s eye, especially if they aren’t familiar with your work. Include the number of photos requested and make sure they are representative of your product line. If the images are sent digitally, make sure they are high enough resolution that they don’t appear pixelated when viewing, but not so large that they crash an email server (I personally think 1200×1200 and 72 dpi is plenty big). The images need to be crisp (not blurry), well-lit (not dark and shadowy), and clearly show your products (if it’s a photo of one of your necklaces, make sure it isn’t covered up by a sweater). And finally, if you intend to sell your line of small ceramic bowls, don’t send pictures of your paintings.

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Limit the number of “special requests.”

If you have a legitimate need that must be accommodated (say, for example, you require a back wall in your booth for your display), by all means, list that in your application and make it clear that it is a necessity. But requesting two specific booth neighbors, a scent-free environment, lots of natural light, an electrical outlet, and at least 10-booth lengths away from any jewelry vendor is nothing short of impossible for your organizer to accommodate. Try to limit the number of requests to those that are absolutely necessary.

Help promote the event! 

Your show organizers have a marketing plan and are hustling to make the event successful. You can do your part by helping to spread the word. If there are postcards, posters, or other marketing materials available to vendors, take as many as you can and canvas your neighborhood, favorite coffee shop, and local boutiques. Talk up the show on social media and your website and use any logos or other digital materials that the organizers make available. Only you can reach your targeted customers to tell them about the event. Everyone at the sale benefits from more exposure!

Be nice to your organizers and fellow vendors.

This seems like one of those tips that shouldn’t have to be shared, but we all know that some people struggle with manners. There is nothing worse for a show organizer than spending hundreds of hours prepping for an event only to get yelled at by a vendor for something they either have no control over or for a misunderstanding. If you have a beef with another vendor, save it until after the show. If you don’t like where your booth is located, let your organizer know later (not during cleanup) why that space didn’t work for you. And try to provide positive comments as well. I’m not going to go into a lot of detail here. Just remember to be understanding, respectful and professional. And don’t forget to say thank you!

Participating in a craft show is exhausting and stressful, for the vendors and the organizers. Just remember that we are all in this together! A successful event is successful for everyone.  Do you have sage advice for other vendors? Feel free to share tips from your experiences below.

bettiebiowashi

Bettie Newell — Little Paper Cities

Bettie is a business lawyer and lifestyle photographer living in Portland, Oregon. An avid thrift shopper since she was 15 years old, Bettie loves all things vintage, red and polka dotted. She has two beautiful, sassy daughters, two tiny, ridiculous dogs, and one incredibly patient and supportive husband. With one half of her professional life, Bettie counsels businesses ranging from solo creative ventures to large corporations on all issues from start-up to dissolution. She spends the balance of her work time shooting portrait sessions (and the occasional wedding) with an emphasis on real moments and unique stories. You can visit her at littlepapercities.com

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4 Comments on How to be an Awesome Vendor

  1. UniqueNique
    April 9, 2013 at 5:14 am (4 years ago)

    Well written – funny how a little common sense and good manners can make things so much simpler for everyone. Good luck for your next show

  2. Hip Hip Handmade Shows
    April 9, 2013 at 5:46 am (4 years ago)

    Wise advice! As a fellow organizer, I was nodding my head to everything you said. Sadly, I’ve dealt with difficult vendors too — it seems like every year there are a few when you have that many people. Often there is nothing you can do to please them as their expectations are out of whack. The real bummer though is that carrying that attitude is something customers can usually see and that affects their sales. My advice would be to go in to any event having done as much preparation as you can and learn to roll with things you can’t control. Have a strategy if you get stuck in a bad spot or don’t have lighting, etc. Most of all: Think of yourself as a part of the craft fair team — lend a hand when you can, give constructive criticism, follow the golden rule, and realize that everyone is doing the best possible job they can. Shoppers don’t see organizers, they see vendors, so you are “the team” to them.

  3. Wendy Gilmore
    April 9, 2013 at 10:31 am (4 years ago)

    Great advice for all. I would also like to add something that is a major pet peeve of mine as a vendor. When setting up, unload your car and then move your car before setting up. Many times you vehicle will be in the way of other vendors getting to their space. At the end of the show, break down and pack up everything BEFORE you go get your car. There is nothing worse than being tired, all packed up and ready to go only to have to wait for someone who is still mostly set up with their car in the way.

  4. Val's Art Studio
    April 9, 2013 at 2:36 pm (4 years ago)

    I love your tips, and your common sense approach to finding success. I can sympathize with how difficult it must be to be the show organizer. A well run show is worth it’s weight in gold to the lucky vendors in attendance, and word spreads quickly among vendors and attendees when a show is run just right. I know you can’t please everyone all the time, but a good show will always find success. I wish I was closer so I could be one of your vendors!
    x, Val