Farmers Markets Vs Craft Fairs, what is the right venue for you?

handmade market tote sewn from recycled grain/feed bag
Wrangler ranch market tote

So you have a great idea, you’ve been giving them away as gifts and selling them through word of mouth, now you are ready to expand. Fantastic! But where do you expand to? How do you know what will net you the best profits: the craft fair circuit, the farmers markets, flea markets, in your own yard at a roadside stand, on commission at brick and mortar stores, online….There are so many choices.

As I began researching I began a Pinterest board with crafting ideas. Then I eventually created another just about displays (which grew to contain other aspects) at farm stands, farmers markets, and craft fairs. I quickly concluded my own little farm stand would be ideal, but we just don’t have the traffic passing by that I would need. And, for now, I like not having people at my house.

Three big things affect your initial plans. First and foremost is the quantity (while maintaining quality) of supply. You do not want to overcommit, so make sure you have the time to make, the necessary materials, and the room to store your supply. Second, you need to consider your time. Do you have the time not only to produce your materials but also tie up every Saturday for a Farmers Market or would you rather do a three day craft fair and then have a break? Lastly, you need to consider the audience. There is absolutely no point to having plenty of amazing products if you are going to waste your time trying to sell to people who aren’t really interested in your product. The final considerations are fees, set-up, travel, and general impact upon your life.

Time can be a benefit or a challenge to us all. It toes in directly to quantity and quality of product as well. You MUST consider how much time you need to create or prep your products before ever getting near a sales table, plus how long it takes you to put up (and take down) a good display, travel time, and time you might want with your family or doing other things.

Audience is the one I am stuck on right now, the repeat buyer versus seasonality of my product. If I sold gourmet fudge, then there is a good chance that I could have repeat customers every week at a Farmer’s Market. But since I focus on selling market tote bags, what are the chances of repeat buyers every week? I expand my line with other products, some of which are seasonal like winter hats, these would also not be a weekly repeat. So the question is do I have enough variety that I could make enough sales every single week at a Farmer’s Market or am I better off at a variety of Craft shows?

You need to also consider all the small costs that add up. Regardless of which type of venue you probably need to purchase table, table clothes, maybe a tent and weights, display items, storage items, money box, bags…There are also the entrance fees or percentage of sales, and an often hidden cost – a donation or raffle item.

I found I needed to make a spreadsheet of dates and times of potential markets. I quickly realized that most Craft Fairs overlapped with Farmer’s Markets and I would have to choose one or the other. Where I live also affects the seasonality of markets. I can do more craft fairs and markets in the winter as there are only a couple farmers markets located inside, and therefore active in this climate. Many Farmers Markets give preference though to those vendors that commit to being year round members so that may be worth more than one day of sales at a craft fair. Or it may not be worth it, when one considers the time invested, one Saturday versus every week…. One does need time to produce as well.

There is no magic formula that you can foresee. The number of sales determines your success, so knowing the audience is key. Will there be a huge audience of one time sales, a medium audience mixed with repeat and one-time sales, a steady audience of repeat sales…

Another whole factor is trends and seasonality. If you sell mostly pickles and relishes, January might not be a good sales period. Likewise, one of my crafts that I sell a lot of is crocheted winter hats, but I don’t expect to sell many at summer markets. If you have a wide enough range of markets, it is good to follow the season and have clear photos of your other products. I might display two hats of different styles in my summer booth and then have a photo book of others on display and my card to hand out to anyone interested in purchasing them later. I always point out how to find me online and let them know that I can personalize their color choices. You need to be aware of trends, whether you hop on that particular bandwagon or not. You don’t want a huge surplus of products when the trend wanes out. Personally I try to have items that are more unique or that are not attached to the trends so I don’t have to worry about the trend petering out.

So what piece of advice have you found to be the most helpful? What is the deciding factor for you between craft fairs and farmer’s markets?

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