How to Sell Your Handmade Goods at a Craft Market, part 3: Vendor Etiquette

In the last two posts, I offered some practical suggestions for creating an effective display table and interacting with customers at craft markets.  But there’s more to being a good vendor than just making your stuff look good and having an effective sales pitch.  Even if you’re not very good at salesmanship, and even if your display table looks pretty basic, you can still be a vendor that everybody enjoys having around if you make an effort to be a pleasant person who is easy to get along with.  In other words, if you have good etiquette.

First, all the usual rules of social etiquette apply at a craft market: say “please” and “thank you,” talk respectfully to everyone, and treat people fairly.  (If you’re bad mannered in general, nothing I’m going to say here will help you.)  But there are some additional things you can do to act like a civilized human being at the craft market.

  • Come within the specified set-up time.  Do not come earlier than allowed.  Being an early-bird is frowned upon by market organizers.  Do, however, make every effort to be fully set up before the market opens.  If you’re running late, call the organizer and let him or her know that you’re on your way.  I have watched vendors spend the first hour of an open market setting up their display, and not only didn’t they make sales during that time, but their stuff was all over the walkway and obstructing customers’ path.
  • Park as far away as you reasonably can.  Many Americans seem to consider parking  a competitive sport–whoever parks closest, wins.  It’s a stupid game, really, but it’s doubly stupid to take up a parking space that one of your customers might have used instead.  Think about it this way: the farther people have to walk in the parking area, the less they will want to walk around the market, and the less shopping they will do.  You want them to do more shopping, so leave the best parking spots for them.
  • You don’t get a lunch break.  If the market lasts more than a couple of hours, you’re going to get hungry.  But you shouldn’t leave your table to take a food break or stand in line at the food truck.  Unless business is slow, you’re not going to have time for a meal, and you don’t want to be talking to customers with your mouth full anyway.  Bring granola bars or other small snack foods instead.  And don’t forget to bring lots of water!  I usually drink 20-30 oz. of water during a normal market, and I’m still parched when I leave.
  • Stay sober.  Alcoholic drinks may be allowed or even served at the venue.  One drink may loosen you up a bit and make you more relaxed as you talk to potential customers, but buzzed or drunk vendors are obnoxious.  (Yes, I’ve seen this happen.  It’s not pretty.)
  • Be friendly to the other vendors around you.  Smile and shake hands.  Ask their names.  Compliment their work.  But don’t critique them, and don’t give advice–unless they ask for it, of course.  Keep your stuff out of their space.  Keep an eye on their table when they take a bathroom break.  They are your neighbors for the day, so do your best to be a good neighbor.
  • Don’t monopolize other vendors’ attention.  There are always a few vendors who come more to socialize than to sell stuff.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.  But if that’s you, don’t hang out in front of somebody else’s table and block potential customers.  Instead, stand off to the side of your acquaintance’s table, and back off as soon as a potential customer approaches.  You can always resume the conversation later.
  • Stay positive, even when things are slow.  When the organizer comes around to see how things are doing, it’s okay to be honest–but don’t be brutal.  “No sales yet” is fine, but better to say, “it’s a little slow, but I’m hoping it will pick up soon.”  They have worked hard to put this event together, and they are just as disappointed as you are when turnout is low.  Always treat the organizers like they’re on your side.
  • It’s okay to say “no.”  As a crafty vendor, you will occasionally get offers for all kinds of things.  It’s nice when you’re able to say “yes” to somebody.  But you do not have accept requests for custom work, requests for personal contact info, offers of “business opportunities,” or even offers of free stuff.  Don’t feel bad about saying, “I appreciate your offer, but I’m going to pass on that.”
  • Do refer business to other crafters.  The more you participate in markets, the more you will get to know people whose crafts complement yours.  For example, I make wooden spoons and spatulas to sell, but I don’t make wooden bowls.  I do, however, know one or two local people who do, and I’m happy to send potential customers to them.  They’ve also been known to send customers to me, so it works out great for everybody in the end.
  • Stay the whole time. I’m always amazed at how many vendors pack up early, especially since staying in place until the very end often pays off.  Last-minute sales are more common than you might think.  Other vendors are more likely to come over and purchase something from you once their tables are taken down.  Don’t even start breaking down until the market is officially closed or until at least half the other vendors have take their tables down.  Not only is it good manners; it’s just good business sense.
  • Leave a clean space.  Once you’ve taken down your display, double-check for any trash or other debris–even if you didn’t personally leave it.  You might even ask for a broom and offer to sweep up your area, and even beyond it.  Cleaning up after yourself shows that you value the venue.
  • Give gratitude.  As you leave, seek out the organizers and thank them for inviting you.  Even if your experience wasn’t ideal, be sure to tell them what you did appreciate about the market–even if it’s something small.  We all respond well to positive feedback.

The bottom line here is that you DO want to be invited back to future markets.  And even if you never attend that particular market again, the world of craft markets is pretty small and word gets around.  Market organizers talk to each other about vendors just like vendors talk to each other about market organizers.  You want to be the vendor that everybody talks about in a good way–not just because you have a snazzy display table, but because you’re pleasant to have around.

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2 Responses to How to Sell Your Handmade Goods at a Craft Market, part 3: Vendor Etiquette

  1. Jim Dillon says:

    I have typed responses to the two previous entries in this series and then deleted them, because they’re just long versions of “What he said.” We’ll see if I click “send” on this one . . . My pertinent experience is from 15 years ago, when I was self-employed making cabinets and custom furniture. I say “Amen!” to everything in these posts. All I would add is that for me, the real value in setting up twice a month at the local farmers’ market was marketing. My direct, on-the-spot sales barely covered booth fees and the money I spent on fresh produce, but people who got to know me at the farmer’s market became customers who purchased tens of thousands of dollars worth of cabinet and furniture after the fact. So I did pretty much everything you describe (though in 2003-4 there was no Square or equivalent so transactions were cash-only), not for the direct sales, but to become known in our small town as the go-to guy for custom furniture and cabinetry.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Jim. And you’re absolutely right that, if you play your cards right, just being present at markets can really help you build your business. If you think of it as advertising, it’s a pretty low-cost way to get your name and product in front of the right people.

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