October 22, 2012

the pumpkin festival: 10 valuable lessons

My first back-to-back weekends of craft shows are officially done!

I worked the Hunsader Farms Pumpkin Festival over the last 2 weekends and, boy, was it a huge learning experience. I'd only done 2 shows prior to Hunsader - a small church show in St. Pete and an indoor event at a Lakeland arena. So we went into Hunsader with much trepidation, unsure of how our product would be received given our limited experience.

I've compiled a list of 10 valuable lessons learned throughout the 4 days at the pumpkin festival. I hope these help anyone entering the craft show circuit for the first time.

1) Tons of people will love your product yet not buy anything. It's so easy to get frustrated when shopper after shopper raves about your items and sometimes even promises to come back later, and you never see them again. The lady in the booth across from me calls them "The Be Backs." Where do they go? To the unknown land of the Be Backs, I guess. It doesn't mean that your product isn't good or that the person is intentionally lying to you. They may have just arrived and want to look around some more. They may not want to carry something all day and by the end of the day, they've long forgotten about you or have spent all their money. Or maybe they're looking for a lower price. Either way, it's not necessarily a reflection of you or your product. I had literally hundreds of people smell my candles and go weak at the knees over how true-to-life they smelled, and in the next breath they'd turn on their heels and walk out of my life forever. It just happens. I learned not to take it personally.

2) Don't expect a stampede. Most people won't buy right away at the beginning of a show, as they'll want to browse the other vendors before making a decision. Even though the festival started at 9 AM each day and there were plenty of people there early, I never made my first sale until at least 10 - 10:30 AM. I started tracking on a piece of paper at what time I made each sale, and many of them turned out to be hours apart. There were times I would be standing my booth snapping my fingers and spinning around in circles just sooo bored. I tried to look busy by rearranging candles and chatting with my mom but sometimes the hours just ticked by with no sales. And then a rush would come in and I'd make one after another. And then another hour would go by with no one browsing. I learned a) not to expect steady sales all day - they come in spurts; and b) just because you're halfway through the day with only $20 in your pocket doesn't mean you can't end up with $200. There are last minute stragglers looking for deals. It ain't over 'til the fat lady takes her tent down and drives home.

3) Keep track of all sales. This is a big one. I bought a $1 memo pad from Joann Crafts to keep track all of my sales. This way I could go home at night and review it and identify trends - like the fact that no one purchased in the first hour ever. Or that more people bought autumn/holiday scents more than floral scents. I also kept track of how much each person paid and subsequently how much money I had in my till at all times. I would periodically count it throughout the day to make sure I hadn't made a mistake and over/undercharged anyone. This list of items sold also served as a running inventory list so when I got home I could check to make sure I had the right amount of product and that nothing was stolen. 

4) Know your limits. It can get really hot at outdoor fairs in Florida, and I imagine bitterly cold up north. Listen to your body and if you're sweating and uncomfortable to the point of heat stroke, take a breather. Ask someone to watch your booth for a few minutes and go get an ice cold drink and sit in the shade. Case in point, on the 3rd day my mother kept dozing off in the heat. Eventually she went to the car to take a nap because she literally couldn't keep her eyes open. She was also inexplicably sweating profusely and had a bad headache. At home later that night she was vomitting and realized she had food poisoning from something she ate at the fair. So definitely listen to your body and if you need to get out of your booth for whatever reason, do it. Your health is the most important thing.

5)  Wear bug spray & sunscreen. I cursed the craft show gods when they sent mosquitoes into my tent around sundown one Saturday evening. Many days later, my ankles are still swollen and itchy. Never again will I assume that because it's cool outside that we're safe from bugs. As for the sunscreen, after my 2nd day of the craft fair my father was diagnosed with skin cancer, largely due to his many years of working in the sun with no sunscreen. So wear sunscreen. Period!

6) Banners are our friends! I didn't want to invest in a vinyl banner my first couple of shows because I didn't think it would make a difference other than just looking nice/professional. But I'm glad I finally decided to spend the money (only $15 using a coupon and free shipping code through Vistaprint.com. Just Google 'vistaprint coupon codes' and you'll have plenty of options). I can't tell you how many people walked toward my booth and either pointed at my banner or read it out loud and then walked in. I kept it clean and simple, only displaying the essential information to entice people - the name of my company and what I sell/what makes my product different - natural candles, soy wax, wooden wicks. People were intrigued!

7) Believe in your product and yourself. You should be your biggest fan. The more passionate you are about what you're making/creating/selling/doing, the more passionate your customers will be. Be confident that what you have is unique from the others. There were 3 other soy candle booths at the fair but mine were unique in that they were in rustic mason jars with homespun ribbons and handmade tags tied to each one, plus they had wooden wicks, which none of the other vendors used. This style appealed to a lot of people who commented that they'd never seen a wooden wick before. Quite a few people asked where I purchase my mason jars from as well since they wanted some either for their wedding or for their house. Hold your head high and speak confidently about the product you've created and people will follow suit and be intrigued.

8) Be organized. I may not dust or vacuum my apartment as much as I should but I can tell you where every doojamahicky is in that place. I know which drawer the broken stapler is in and what coat pocket my boyfriend left his keys in. I'm an organized person and this helps alleviate undue stress in complicated situations, such as craft shows. I recommend labeling everything. It'll take about 15 minutes now and save about an hour of angry searching later. I labeled my boxes with what candle scents were in each one and I placed my tins in one tote and my jars in another. I filled up a backpack with scissors, twine, a map of where my booth was, and any other in-case-of tools I thought I might need. It's a small thing but really helps you keep your head on straight in the middle of loading/unloading craziness. 

9) Don't be a salesperson. Just be helpful. This one isn't for everyone. Some people, like my boyfriend, are natural born salespeople. Like the line from Tommy Boy goes, he could sell a ketchup popsicle to a woman wearing white gloves. Our first church show was so successful mainly because he was very energetic and talkative with every single customer. They were charmed by him and his salesmanship. I, however, am not comfortable approaching people with a pitch. At the pumpkin festival, at first I would only smile and say hello to each guest. It took a couple of days but I finally thought up some simple conversation starters such as, "Hi, how are you? If there's a certain scent you're looking for just let me know and I'll point you in the right direction." Helpful but not overbearing. Sometimes they ignored me and left. But sometimes it led into a conversation about what they like to burn at home, how the autumn scents are perfect because the weather is cooling down and what kind of scents do I recommend for their mother-in-law for Christmas? Other times I would see that someone purchased a bandana for their dog and would comment on how cute it is and which booth did they get it from? That would make them see that I was friendly and interested in them and would result in sales more often than when I simply said hello and nothing else.

Also, be educated about your product enough to answer questions. I was asked many times where soy wax comes from, how are wooden wicks different from cotton ones, how long does each candle burn for, etc. People love when you can teach them something new so try to be as helpful as you can!

10) Make people notice you. Our 1st day was our least successful and I blame most of that on my ignorance in not knowing that I needed to stand out from the crowd. It isn't enough to have a great product - you have to lure people into your booth to see/smell/taste/feel it. Our booth was set up beautifully but no one would ever know it because no one stopped to look. Our tables were tucked far into the tent while our neighbors had their items hanging from the front, sides, and in the doorways of their tents. There were sparkly tutus and tiaras, and colorful handbags everywhere you looked. So after a disappointing 1st day we went to Joann Crafts and Target and bought glittery pumpkin decorations that we hung in our entryway. Well, it worked because people really are attracted to shiny objects.We also pulled the tables as far out into the aisle as we could without blocking our neighbors/breaking any rules. It was like someone turned a light switch on because that next day we doubled our sales from the 1st day, and our entire 2nd weekend we made 200% more than we did the 1st weekend. Success!


  1. Isn't that funny I loved selling at the farmers market cause so many people love love love to tell you they LOVE your product but they don't buy it LOL. Yes it's good you learned so fast I see others at fairs and markets making the same mistake each week? I used my kids to lure people in. I made more money when they were with me working. Table set up and placement DO create more sales it's just crazy so glad your doing well!!

    1. My next show is in a smaller space so I will have to rearrange my set-up so it's only 1 table instead of 2. Should be interesting...

  2. Yep! Especially #1. Some people really only come to craft fairs to look.

  3. Great tips/lessons learned! And since you quoted Tommy Boy amongst them, I bookmarked to come back and read more. ;)



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