October 15, 2012

chandling ain't easy

I like to think of myself as a chandler - one who makes candles - now that I've left my corporate job and am working craft fairs to pay my bills.

Well, this weekend I learned that chandling ain't easy.

It's hard to know where/how to sell your candles for the most exposure. Being as I don't have the means of having my own store ala Yankee Candle, craft fairs seemed like the logical choice. You get fresh air and are almost guaranteed that the people coming out for the fair are there to spend money on homemade trinkets. Now whether they want your homemade trinkets more than they want the next booth's is the catch.

This past weekend, with the help of my parents, I worked the Hunsader Farms Pumpkin Festival in Bradenton, Florida. It was Saturday & Sunday from 9-5. Temps started at 70 degrees and crept up to 95 both days. The heat was brutal but it was a carnival-like atmosphere with pumpkin picking, live country music, and deep fried Oreos. I learned (and ate) a lot.

The first day began with an early morning (5:30 a.m.) drive to Bradenton (an hour away). Once at the show site we began setting up the tent and the display and scoping out the competition. To our left were two women selling personalized college football duffel bags & purses. To our right was a retired couple selling tea towels and some kind of solar powered lamps emblazoned with sports team logos. Across from us were two ladies selling hair bows and assorted crocheted items (scarves, headbands, accessories that are generally way too warm for Florida).

The lady across from us sold hand-painted wooden signs. She told us she'd been doing the show for 10 years and that each year gets worse as the economy does. She didn't think she was going to come back next year because she felt people aren't spending money like they used to. Not the most encouraging thing to hear at your first craft show, but onward we went anyway.

Once the show started, it was an hour before anyway had made their way back to our booth (we were one of the last rows from the parking lot). We made a large sale right off the bat to a lady and her friend who collected candles, but things died after that. We watched family after family walk by without so much as a glance in our direction. No one was noticing us, not with the sparkly, glittery princess costumes and tiaras from the booth down the way or the guy selling water balloons affixed to rubber bands that kids were swinging at each other. Our booth was designed to look like a cozy little general store but we were hidden among the razzle dazzle of more kid-friendly products (there were a lot of babies and young children at this event, and, being as candles involve a lit flame, they aren't among most parents' ideas of happy fun toys).

So what to do? We racked our brains as we sat in the festering heat and at 5 p.m. we put the sides up on our tent, bid adieu to our mini general store and got us some sparkle. We went to both Joann and Target and bought the most glittery Halloween decorations we could find and the next morning we hung them in the entry way of our both. Hey, if you can't beat 'em join 'em. 

When the sun hit the shiny Frankenstein and the smiling candy corn man, people noticed and wandered over to see what we were offering. Some people even asked how much they were, thinking we made them. People are attracted to shiny objects, no doubt about it. 

We also made the executive decision the night before to move our display as far out into the aisle as we could. We moved the tables a yard or two closer to the front of the booth so people would see/smell our candles from down the lane. It worked! We made 200% more the 2nd day than the 1st.

Overall, we only made half what my sales goal was for the entire weekend, but we took a bad situation and turned it around in the course of 24 hours. I'm proud of us! We are working the same pumpkin festival next weekend so hopefully armed with these new improvements we will have a successful 2 days and get closer to that sales goal so I can continue to merrily chandle my way through the holiday season.

Special shout out to my dad for busting his hump in the heat to turn fence wood into candle crates for me, and to my mom for her awesome aprons (she sold her first one! Yay!).


  1. Great photos! It looks like a lot of fun!

  2. Replies
    1. Thank you! Trying to think of another item to add to fill up the tent / bring in more customers... Hmm...

  3. As someone trying to get psyched up for my first craft fair, it was so great to read about your experience both here on in the CFIAL thread on Etsy. Wishing you huge success next weekend, and congrats on having a positive learning experience!

    Btw, your booth looks AWESOME! I'd never have guessed it was your first show from looking at it!

    1. Thank you, Aviva! It was actually my first really big show but I've done a couple of smaller shows. This is the first back-to-back weekend show so I vamped up my display for it.

      My #1 piece of advice to you is to remember that a LOT of people will look at your items, tell you how much they love them, and leave without buying anything. You'll get your hopes up every time someone walks in, so just remember not to take it personally if they don't buy - it's just the nature of the beast!

      Good luck & have fun!


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