It took me a few years to learn to make wooden spoons and spatulas that people actually wanted to buy. But when I started trying to sell my work at local craft markets, I learned something important: selling things is a learned skill, too!
The important difference is that I had nobody to show me how to make spoons. But I have a daughter who has both talent and experience in presentation and sales.
She taught me a lot, and while our display could still be improved, we’ve found that it does sell our work. So I want to pass on what I’ve learned to you.
SCOPE IT OUT
Deciding to sell your handiwork at a market seems like a simple step, until you actually try to do it. I highly recommend going to the market as a customer first to see if your own handcrafted work will fit in. Walk around, talk to other vendors, pick up their merchandise, and check the price tags. If you think your items will fit into this market, find the organizer and ask about becoming a vendor. Be sure to ask about the table fee and whether you have to bring your own table. Also find out if you’re expected to have a business license and/or collect sales tax. (If you are, then unless you are already really committed to making a serious investment in going commercial, you should find another market.)
While you’re there, take a close look at how different vendors display their items. You’ll find a wide variety of displays, some attractive and effective, and some, well… not so much. Take mental notes (and even a few pictures) of how the best displays are set up.
DESIGN YOUR DISPLAY
The good news is that you are already a creative, crafty person, so you can approach the design of your display table in the same way that you design a new piece of craft work. Even if you don’t have your own table, you can build your display at home using a dining table, workbench, or even the floor–as long as you mark out the space that will actually be available on the market’s table.
1. Make a sign with the name of your enterprise and any other information you want potential customers to have.
The sign doesn’t have to be fancy, although you certainly can use your creative skills to make something that looks really cool. Hand-painted signs are awesome. But you may want to change your signage occasionally. A large picture frame with a computer printed sign slipped into it can make a very attractive sign that’s easy to change. I opted for a medium-sized bulletin board for which I built a collapsable stand.
2. Price your work clearly. Individual price tags work just fine, but if most of your items are the same price, it’s okay to put your prices on one big sign instead. How to price your work is a whole different issue, but I’ll say here that you should have a range of prices. On my table, I always have a few $5 items, even though most of my items are $10-$20. But I’m not afraid to put out a couple items priced at $50 or $75.
3. Set out enough items to spread out over the entire table–but not more!
Your first time out, you’re not likely to bring too much product, but the more you go to markets, the easier it becomes to over-load your table with merchandise. A cluttered table is difficult to browse. But a sparse table won’t draw people’s eyes. You have to strike the right balance. Hold back a few items to replace items that you sell.
4. Don’t just lay your items flat on the table. Use the vertical space.
You need to raise some of your product up above table level. Not only does this allow you to fit more product into a small space, but it also allows you to make your items visible from a distance. Whatever kind of items you’re making, there’s going to be a good way to use your vertical space. (If your table is going to be outdoors, be sure that everything is weighed or fastened down securely. You’d be surprised at what a sudden gust of wind can knock over!)
5. Take pictures. Once you’ve built your display, you need to step back and look at it with an impartial eye. But don’t look at it directly. Instead, snap a few pictures from different angles, as if you were an approaching customer, and look at the pictures. Is the product easily visible? Are your most appealing items featured prominently? Is your sign readable? Is there clutter visible on or around the table? You’ll be surprised at what a camera will reveal to you.
Most creative types don’t like to think about money. It stresses us out. But if you’re going to sell your stuff, you have to think about money–at least a little bit.
A lot of customers still come to craft markets with cash to spend. A surprising number will have exact change, but you do need to bring enough petty cash to make change for several transactions. You can make things easier on yourself by pricing your items at or close to round numbers–$5, $19, $30, etc. But if you have a lot of items that cost $6, $17, or $31, you’re going to have to bring a lot more petty cash.
And yes, you do need to be able to process credit card payments. Fortunately, smartphones have made it pretty easy to do that nowadays. A lot of vendors use the Square. I use PayPal Here. I’m sure there are other options. They all work pretty much the same way. You use a little device to scan the credit card, and the company processes the payment, minus a standard transaction fee, often a small percentage of the sale. If you think the fee is exorbitant, build the fee into your prices–or offer a discount for cash purchases.
So what about all the other little things that make a market table look really professional? Should you have professionally-printed business cards? What about bags to put items in as you sell them? Those are nice extras to have, but they’re not actually necessary for your first few times out. Simple paper bags can be bought online for cheap, and I think those are a good investment. They show you care about your handiwork.
People expect crafters to have business cars, so I do provide them. I think I can count on one hand the number of sales I can confidently attribute to a business card, so I keep them at the back of my table.
You can get business cards done professionally if you like, but you can also make them yourself. I make mine using a template provided by my word processing software. I print them on cardstock and cut them apart with a paper cutter. It’s cheap and quick.
IT’S ALL WORTH IT
At this point, you’re probably thinking that setting up a simple market table to sell your stuff is a lot more complicated than it seemed at first. And you’re right. It is a lot to think about. I eventually made myself a checklist to ensure I don’t forget anything when I go to a market. The list has about 30 different items on it.
Just like making things, selling is work–hard work–and that’s why you’ll be getting paid to sell your stuff, not just to make it. But when your first customer walks away from your table happily holding a handcrafted item that he or she bought from you, it’s all worth it.
So what about you? If you shop at craft markets, what kinds of displays do you find attractive? What turns you off?
(In the next installment, I’ll share some things I’ve learned about the act of selling–how to engage with customers and encourage them to make a purchase without manipulating them.)