Are Craft Trade Shows for You?
There are trade shows for almost every industry and interest group including crafts. Trade shows serve as outlets for the latest trends and designs in products and services provided to any given trade. Attendees include store buyers, interior designers, architects, museum buyers, sales reps and mail order catalog buyers.
When you’re ready to expand on a large scale, wholesale shows are the logical means. Before you sign up for one though, you should have a clear picture of what trade shows require of you and what you can expect to gain. Most important, you should also be clear how you want your business to grow. You may receive orders for your work totaling tens of thousands of dollars.
A wholesale craft business requires substantial inventory and the production capacity to fulfill orders on a deadline.
Wholesale business can mean longer work schedules, delays in getting payments for orders, higher exhibit costs, and hiring help to fill larger orders.
Large craft trade shows give you easy access to thousands of buyers. These buyers are keenly aware of what sells and what doesn’t in their stores. Talking to them gives invaluable guidance for designing and producing art and crafts products.
Use trade shows to learn what trends are coming in specific market groups, like interiors or fashion.
Trade shows make it easy to develop relations with store owners in a friendly, relaxed way. Some of these personal connections can last for many years. Big shows can mean big orders. Many craft exhibitors get enough business from these shows to last all year. I know of two sisters who wove clothing and displayed at the Dallas Market Center. They took over $20,000 in wholesale orders on Saturday. Feeling they had more business than they could handle, they decided not to open their booth the next day.
There are several organizations that produce trade shows for crafts. Here are some:
At these events, you can see what other artists in your medium produce for the wholesale crafts trade. Don’t be discouraged if you find a number of competing exhibitors in your media. The more products you see similar to yours, the greater the likelihood of your success because their presence indicates an existing demand.
It is quite likely, your crafts can be marketed through several different wholesale trade markets. Gift trade shows can work for many items you make. Fashion shows are a targeted way for marketing clothing and accessories. Interior designers and architects attend trade shows for products used in designing crafts and office decor.
A more complete list of the major craft trade show promoters are listed in the Appendix of The Basic Guide to Selling Arts & Crafts. You can also find reviews of trade shows published in craft periodicals like The Crafts Report and Sunshine Artist Magazine.
It’s important that you find the right show for what you’re selling. If the show doesn’t reach a receptive market for your product, the financial and emotional disappointment could be a serious blow.
Research the show carefully. Attend the event in person, talk to past exhibitors, read reviews of the event in trade magazines like The Crafts Report. Call the show management. It’s in their best interests too that you find the appropriate show for your products.
It’s worth an exploratory trip to see what happens at these events. Managers are likely to give you a guest pass if you call in advance and explain you wish to attend to evaluate the show.
If you already have wholesale accounts, ask them which shows they attend that might work well for you. What do they look for when they go there? What kind of displays draw their interest?
In researching a trade show, find out the following:
- Is this show going to attract the kind of buyers that want your product? How many attend the show? What was last year’s sales and attendance? This information should be available from the management when you request an application. If it isn’t, call and talk to the manager before you apply.
- How many other exhibitors?
- Does the show coincide with any other large trade show nearby? Sometimes promoters tie their show dates and locations closely to draw more attendees. List all trade show schedules and compare the dates.
- What will be the total cost of doing the show? Booth rental fees on the larger trade shows will cost anywhere from $500 to $2,000. Add $100 to $300 more for corner or specific spots. How big is the space? How are cancellations handled? If you ship your display, what will the freight cost?
- What do you get for your money? Is electricity, backdrops, tables, chairs, parking, and unloading fees included in the rental or are they a separate charge? Must union electricians and dock workers be paid for setup?
- Where is the show held? Is this the first time in a new location? Location changes often affect attendance. How easy is unloading and setting-up?
- Can you produce the inventory to fill large orders? Can you deliver on time? You’ll be taking orders to ship at later dates, so it’s important that you know in advance the amount of orders you can fill and when you can fill them.
- Can you afford to sell to large stores that require payment terms of 30 to 60 days? What if an account delays or fails to pay for an even longer time? Can you continue to buy materials, exhibit at shows, and other operating costs?
- Are you willing to hire employees to keep up with the demands of increased production?
- Exhibiting at a major wholesale trade show isn’t for the timid. Besides the high cost of booth rental, trade fairs require intense personal stamina and enthusiasm. Demands go far beyond the more relaxed, local art and craft shows.