Craft Market Survival Tips by Sketchy Notions

Art Studio Confessions: Surviving (and loving) craft markets

It's been a long journey from my first craft fair back in 2013. A LONG journey with many missteps, sunburns, profitless weekends and disappointing drives home.

I wrote a blog post in 2016 (on my OG blog) about the changes I had made to my booths just in the span of those 3 years. Now it's 2021 and while I'm still tweaking my booth with every market, I more or less have a system now for how I arrange my booth and prep for making every market a success. Or at the very least, enjoyable!

The photo above is from my last Holiday market of 2019 in San Jose and I loved this set up! Compared to the photo below of one of my first markets, my booths have come a long way. Once we're allowed to do more craft markets again (*shakes fist* stupid Covid) I have big plans to shift my booth set-up around even further! 

I have a LONG list of tips I've learned over the years below and a big checklist at the very bottom of the post. If you just want the checklist, here's the link to it here but I hope you'll read on for more tips and tricks!

I also compiled an Amazon list of lots of items I've used over the years so here's a shortcut for your market prep shopping!

Tip 1: Invest in quality equipment.
I'll admit that when I was first starting out I didn't have a lot of spare money to spend on market supplies. A canopy, weights, tables, chairs, table clothes and display items all add up very quickly! I borrowed from friends and family for quite a few of my first markets (which made for a very eclectic display...yikes) until I had enough money to buy my own equipment.

When I was ready to invest in my own equipment, I made sure to spend a bit more on higher quality items to ensure I wouldn't be replacing tables or canopies after just one season. I still use the same folding tables and wagon! So save up to buy the better canopy, the sturdier tables and the more reliable wagon.

Tip 2: Do your homework
Research your potential market's online presence and even reach out to past vendors to get their opinions. Stalk the market's Instagram and check their tagged photos by previous vendors to find them! I'm very open to people asking about the quality of a market and I find most fellow vendors are just as forthcoming with information about their experiences, both the good and the bad.

Doing your homework also includes researching your location within the market. If you're doing the market solo...request a spot closer to the restrooms and food. If it's outside, consider which way the sun will pass over you so you're not baking in your booth or melting any perishable products. Plan your booth layout to provide shade for your customers so your booth is inviting on a hot day. And also make sure you plan for neighbors who may have unsightly booths...I always bring my canopy booth walls so I can block out the back of my booth and any messes around me. Always check the weather too to see if you should bring extra weights to hold your booth down in the wind! 


Tip 3: Keep it cohesive
My booth was a mess in the early days. Sure it was cute, but it was a hodge-podge of borrowed supplies that did nothing to elevate my brand or make my products more appealing. There's nothing wrong with borrowing supplies for your first markets at all, but make sure the items help sell your items rather than hurt potential sales.

Stick to a white topped and walled booth (unless you can coordinate the color of your booth walls to your brand). Try to stick to a color and material scheme that goes well together... I now use pine toned wood for my card displays and card bins and dirty turquoise and copper for other accents and bins. I use chalkboards and mini chalk signs for signage in the booth for prices. Bright white table cloths are always a good way to go instead of busy patterns that your items can get lost on. You want your booth to be inviting, and Instagram-able! 

Tip 4: Don't procrastinate your prep. 
Oh man, I'm still guilty of this one. These days I can more or less get everything done the week leading up to the market but I will inevitably leave something to the last minute. That said, I try to make sure in the two weeks before a market I have a plan for when I'm going to do things on my checklist (link at the bottom). I plan when I'm going to more change, check and restock inventory, buy gas and snacks and load my car in advance. It's NO fun being up until 2 am the night before a market loading your car in the dark with last minute inventory.

Prepping also includes checking your supplies! Is your card swiper charged? Do you have enough change? Do you have extra batteries or a charging brick for lights and your phone? If it's your first time using a new canopy, check that you can assemble it beforehand (especially if you're doing the market solo). Same thing goes for new displays. I have some friends that do full mock-ups of their booth in their driveway to plan the layout and displays ahead of time. This is a great option if you have a new booth location (corner versus middle of a row). 

Tip 5: Learn from every market.
Take lots of photos so you can revise your floor plan and display layout for the next market, or replicate your display again. Don't be afraid to change things up mid-market either! I've moved whole tables of inventory in the middle of the day because they were straight in the sun and no one wanted to roast and shop!

What if you're not selling an item? Take a step back and ask yourself why this might it the demographic of shoppers? Are your prices accessible to this location? Is it just a bad weather day so turn out is low?

At a slow market? Study who is walking the aisles...if there are lots of moms with kids, consider if you have items that they'd want to buying. Put yourself in your shoppers' shoes and see what gaps you could fill in their shopping experience at a future market. Especially if you plan to sell again at this market! 

Tip 6: Come with a good attitude, and keep it through the weekend
I try to make friends with my neighbors, or at the very least get their names. I often do my markets solo and it's helpful to have a person nearby I can ask to keep an eye on stuff while I run to the restroom. When I post about the market on social media, I make sure to tag my neighbors too since they're likely to repost it on their own accounts. I've also made many friends that I shopped from (or traded goodies with) that I still am friends with today! 

Part of keeping a good attitude is keeping my expectations in check. At my very first market I sold one card, which wasn't even enough to make my measly $10 booth fee back. It was crushing. While there's nothing wrong with being hopeful, I wasn't being realistic. In hindsight, I should have checked my expectations since it was a cheap a Whole Foods parking lot in Santa Barbara. The demographic of shoppers weren't coming for me, they just passed by on the way to their errands.

Even though it was a bad market, I still didn't pack up early. A bad market is NOT an excuse to pack up early! Packing up to leave early can signal to shoppers that the market is over and that hurts your fellow sellers' potential sales. And bailing early ensures you won't be invited back.

Need a list to get your started for your market prep?  Click the image below to download my own market checklist!

Not sure what should you buy? We have a list of some of our favorite market supplies on Amazon right here!

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