The holiday season provides many opportunities for the professional crafter to market their products. Many PC’s report that the bulk of their income is earned during the last four months of the year. Most retailers will report the same fact. Consumers have a reason to buy during the fall and winter holiday. They need gifts to give. Take advantage of the holiday buying season by investigating all the market places. Some options are unique to the season; other markets are available through out the year.
Store On The Move
There is probably at least one craft show each week somewhere in the United States. The holidays, however, is a time when many promoters or groups schedule their annual shows. The number of art and craft shows has grown tremendously in the last few years. There are plenty of “show guides” published to help you locate shows. You can call your local chamber of commerce to find out about annual events in your area. Word of mouth and networking with other PCs is one of the best sources of the profitable shows. To participate in a show, you need to apply to the show, which is generally filling out an application and paying a show fee. Some shows do jury. Jurying requires a photo or set of slides of your work and display be included with your application. Some shows charge an additional fee to jury your work. A show juries to limit the number of exhibitors with a specific craft or to keep the highest quality of work exhibited.
The plus side of the craft shows is that you are selling retail, rarely is a commission taken from your sales. It is also a chance to meet and learn from your customers. Your customers can be a great source of information when you ask them what they are looking for, what colors appeal to them, and what they would like to see on your shelves and tables. Thirteen years ago, a customer came to me asking me to make rag dolls. I hesitated at first because I didn’t make dolls at the time, nor did I want to. The customer persisted and the dolls were finally made for her. Not only did I enjoy making dolls, this craft became my best seller at shows. Many times since then, I have added different items to my production because of customer interest.
The down side to shows, especially outdoor shows, can be the weather. Shelters or canopies are a must for the outdoor market place. Wind, sun, and rain can take a toll on the best of us. Displays must be designed for compactness, travel, set-up, and breakdown. All the concerns of travel need to be considered here. You’re a store on wheels. Money for change, folding chairs, tables, table coverings, and a good attitude need to be packed for the show. Security needs to be kept in mind, especially for those specializing in jewelry or high-ticket crafts. Add it all up and for many of us, the art and craft shows are a great holiday marketplace.
Your Store Within Their Store
Craft Malls dot the country. A mall gives you the opportunity to have a mini store within the structure of a larger storefront. Most malls ask you to sign a contract. You are agreeing to rent a specific amount of space for a specific amount of time. A contract of six months or a year is norm. Craft Malls do not require you to spend any time in the mall, other than the time you spend stocking your space or changing your display. The mall provides employees to sell the goods, collect the sales tax, and prepare a statement for the vendor of goods sold on a weekly or monthly basis. Some craft malls have programs for out of state/off-site vendors. The mall will receive your goods and set up a display of your work. The program varies little from a local craft mall except that there is a fee for set up and you have little control over the display. Record keeping is important to keep track of what work was placed in a craft mall display and what has been sold. Keeping track of what is selling, however, gives you a better idea of what crafts to focus on in production.
A craft co-op is slightly different from a craft mall. By appearances the two may seem the same, however in a true co-op, every member shares responsibility in the store operations. Co-op members often put in an agreed upon number of work hours/days per month or quarter. Every member is contributing to the overhead costs of operation. Co-ops usually “approve” or jury new member’s work. Co-ops will not have competing work or craft styles within the shop. This form of selling can give great insights to the process of running a shop. Membership means you are part of a team. Co-ops often offer addition services to members like rental of credit card systems to use, group purchasing from distributors of raw goods, or group health insurance options.
Consignment is a third alternative. This form of selling is hotly debated. Most love consignment or hate it. Tread carefully. The shop owner (consignee) will usually take a percentage of the selling price of the item. In other cases, the PC (consignor) states how much they want for the item and the consignee will add their mark-up. The shop owner in a sense is acting as a sales representative. You still retain ownership of the goods placed in the shop. It is best if you control the selling price. Be aware that damage to the items is not the responsibility of the consignee. A draw back to consignment is that payment for goods is slow. Read all agreements and contracts carefully to fully understand both parties’ responsibilities. The shop may only sell consigned goods, but consignment may be an initial way to get into a gift or specialty shop. If an owner is unwilling to buy an unknown item outright, the owner may be more willing to take on a new product if for a short period the item is on the shelve with no financial risk to them. If the product sells, ask the owner to buy your goods when you go in to restock.
Home Front is the Storefront
If zoning allows, you can set up a shop right in your home or on your property. The city or county government should be contacted before you even think about this option. If you get the go ahead, you will have to set “shop” hours and be available to customers during this scheduled time. Simple Country Pleasures, a shop in Melbourne, Florida is off the beaten path. It is part of an orange grove business that has been in the family for generations. Carolyn, the owner of the shop wanted to get out of the groves and pursue her first love, decorative painting. After careful planning, a small shop/workshop was built on the property. Carolyn has a complete wood workshop upstairs with saws, sanders, and other tools of the trade. She cuts her own wood pieces for her crafts, takes orders for customers, plus pieces for classes that she teaches. Downstairs the shop in divided in half. One side is set-up for painting classes and the other has Carolyn’s creations. Carolyn also takes in consignment items from many of her students.
Jill Bunker, a doll maker, allows her customers to call and make an appointment to come over to her house to buy. “Normally, I only sell at outdoor shows, but people pick up my business card and call asking for items. If I don’t have a show coming up in the area, I will invite the customer over for weekend or evening hours. I do this so my husband is at home when a customer comes. I set up a few tables in the garage and let the customers go through the inventory boxes. Someday, I would like to have a permanent display of my work in my home.”
Have A Party or Open House
Home parties can be held in your own home or in the homes of friends. Tupperware is a great example of how well the home party system can be a tremendous success. It takes planning. All PC’s should keep a mailing list of customers. Have a place within your booth where customers can sign up. Names can be taken from checks. Decide on a location, date, and time. Invitations should include a map and contact number. The most successful home shows use the setting of a home to its full advantage. Place crafts in a kitchen or living room as if the items belonged there. This type of selling let’s you show how the crafts can be used, a mini course in home decor for your customers. If using someone’s home offer a percentage of total or credit towards purchasing your goods. The party can be formal with a small presentation or informal with the customer browsing.
Another version of the home selling concept is a block party or open house. The holiday season offers plenty of opportunities to invite the neighbor in for a chance to do some shopping without the hassles of going to an over crowded mall. Offer gift-wrapping service or free gift for the neighbor who brings in the most customers. Nancee McAteer, a PC who makes jewelry and personalized Christmas ornaments has had great success with a biannual open house. “I have two big open houses a year, one in the spring and one after my last scheduled fall show. It’s great. In the spring, it motivates me to get new work done for the outdoor shows I do. In the fall, I am really trying to move my holiday items out. I offer a discount on the Christmas ornaments. I’ve been having the open houses for over five years and my customers are always asking me when the event is and don’t forget to sent them an invitation.”
Odds and Ends
- Set-up a temporary holiday display in a beauty shop or restaurant. Most businesses decorate for the holidays and this is a chance for them to have a new look. Tag the decorations with a business card and leave plenty of cards for potential customers to take. Give the business a percentage of all sales.
- Other mini-marketplaces you might over look are doctors and dentist offices. A display in the waiting area will liven the place up. It might be best bother the staff with on sight selling of your crafts, but to leave business cards.
- Another option with businesses is to offer a discount to them if they purchase the decorations. Ask that a business card be displayed on the work.
- Many non-profit organizations have fundraisers at this time of year. Have a display of tree ornaments at a location that is selling Christmas trees. Give a percentage of sales from goods sold.
- Many different types of groups are looking for fundraisers. Contact PTAs, scouting troops, and others and offer a program of incentives for the goods they sell. Give them a percentage in cash of what the group sells. If they can sell candy bars by the case, they can sell your items too.
- School teachers, hospital administrators, and other managers often have to give out many “small” gifts to volunteers and staff on a limited budget. Offer a discount when a quantity of goods is purchased or offer to personalize the items at no additional cost.
- Malls often have carts or rent square footage to vendors. The holidays might be a time to investigate costs. Hours are long, but crowds are good.
- Pets get gifts during the holidays and are often overlooked as potential customers. OK, they may not have money, but their owners do. Veterinarians, pet stores, groomers, stables, and kennels are also great outlets for selling. Adapt or add a few items for man’s best friend and his relatives. Personalizing for pets is a plus.
- Conduct a workshop or teach a class. You will meet more potential customers and be paid for your networking effort. Contact local craft retailers, museums, toy stores, or gift shops.
- Volunteer. Networking and being out in the public gives you more contact with buyers.
- Develop and keep a mailing list of all you customers. This will give you a good base of contacts for any of the ideas mentioned in this article. Keep in touch with postcards and send out announcements when you have new items.