An open house is one of the ways that you can earn money to offset your craft habit or earn some extra income for your household. Many crafters would like to sell items they make, but don’t want to make a commitment of “becoming” a business. An annual or seasonal open house is the perfect answer to the problem. Also referred to as a home show or craft party, an open house is a festive setting for holiday sales.
The winter holidays are coming up, but don’t rule out having an open house during the spring season of gift giving for Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day or even Valentine’s Day. Christmas in July is also a very popular event celebrated by retailers. The second most decorated for holiday after Christmas is Halloween followed by Easter. What does it take to host an open house and what can you expect from your efforts? Let’s take a look at each step needed to have a successful home craft event!
Schedules And Other Timely Considerations.
I wish it was possible to just throw together an open house at the last minute, but that’s just not the case. You’ll need to sit down with a calendar and seriously look at all your personal activities and commitments. You’ll need to figure out how you can fit an open house into your schedule without adding too much anxiety and strain on your household. Especially for a holiday open house there is no need to add more stress to your life and activities. Planning and scheduling for this type of event will take a huge load off your mind. Here are some considerations and time lines.
- Check with your local government about any regulations they may have to you holding an open house. My own community treats this event like a garage sale. I’m not allowed to have more than 4 a year and each must be spaced about 2 months apart. I must not allow cars to block or interfere with my street’s traffic nor may I block any neighbor’s driveway. You should call your state’s Department of Revenue and find out if state sales tax must be collected. In the state of Florida, it is required that state sales tax forms be filled out and returned with proper payment even if you don’t hold a Sales Tax Certificate meaning that if I only have one open house I must collect sales tax on each item sold. If you aren’t discourage by the amount of paperwork you may need to fill out for your city or state, then answer the following questions:
- Do you want to hold your open house during the week or weekend?
- What dates are open on your calendar? Select one.
- Do you want your open house during the day or set evening hours? Or do you want an open house from an early morning hour through the evening? Set the hours of your event.
- Who can you invite? Start making a list.
- What will you sell? Do you want to invite other crafters to sell items?
- Where will you display the crafts for sale within your home? How will you display them?
- At least 6-8 weeks before the open house you should sit down and plan a time line.
- At least 3-4 weeks before the open house you need to get the word out by invitation or announcement.
- At least 1-2 weeks before the open house you need to have all the inventory (your handmade items) completed. Then you will have to price each item. You’ll need a list of all the items in your inventory.
- The week of the event you’ll need to get your home, especially any rooms needed for the open house cleaned and prepared for the guests.
- Day of the event you should have the home or rooms set up with all your handmade items with a receipt book and plenty of change ready. Post any directional signs on street to help guests find your home.
Inviting Your Guests
Design and prepare an invitation to the open house. This can be done by flyer tri-fold and staple, postcard or on blank greeting cards with envelopes. Postcards are the most economical way to invite family or friends, but if you plan on just inviting a small number of people you might consider giving each person a phone call to invite them. If you want a larger crowd you might want to post a flyer in your local craft store, a notice in a church bulletin or place a classified in your local newspaper. Who you invite is a matter of your own judgement and comfort. At my first open house I invited only a handful of family friends. With its success I felt confident enough to place a classified ad in the paper and posted signs (much like garage sale signs) along the road basically inviting the community to my open house.
Depending on whom you are planning to invite, you might want a morning open house or an evening open house. Weekdays tend to be better for people with families. Moms love a night out and families tend to plan weekend activities together. However, I’ve had very successful open houses that I held from Friday to Saturday. The smaller your inventory the shorter you may want your open house. If you choose to include other crafters who can help with the selling hours than a full day or two-day event is more logical and cost effective. Invitations need to be sent at least two weeks ahead of the event especially during any holiday season.
A good invitation needs to include:
Contact phone number (if case someone gets lost or has questions)
Hours of the open house.
Location with map if inviting anyone who hasn’t been to your home before
Items that will be for sale with the price range
It’s important to give the people you are inviting a good reason to come to the open house. I call this an incentive. I’ve used many and a good incentive works! It’s a little extra that once you’ve established a customer base will keep those customers coming back year after year.
- Refreshments. No need to be extravagant. Punch and cookies are just fine.
- Babysitting. Hire a neighborhood teenager to watch young children as mom shops.
- Discounts. The first 10 guests get 10-15% off the first item they purchase. One spring open house I had a basket of plastic eggs that each guest could pick one. Inside was a coupon for 5% or 10% off the total purchase. Get creative!
- Door prizes. Have an hourly door prize of small items. Or make a gift basket and have a drawing for it.
- Bring A Friend. Any guest who brings a friend along gets a prize or discount. I would make a special ornament basket letting both the guest and friend pick one.
- Free gift tags. Especially great for a Christmas open house. I would create gift tags using my computer and address labels. Each guest who purchased $25+ would get a sheet of the gift tags. One year I designed my business card so it could be folded. The front of the folded card was a doll graphic, inside was blank and the back had my name and phone number. I got lots of calls from people who had been given one of my items as a gift and wanted to order more of the item.
- Sneak Peak. This is something I started after hosting several open houses. For special and loyal customers, I would offer several hours of shopping the day before the actual open house. This way my loyal customers got first pick at the items up for sale.
- Guest book. Anyone who signs the guest book for future open houses is given a small item as a thank you. This is one of the best forms of advertising. Word of mouth can help grow an open house. Always remember to ask your guests to sign in with mailing address and phone number so they will be notified of your next open house.
Handmade Items to Sell
You can have an open house displaying only your craft items or you may want to invite a few of your friends to help you host the party. It’s best that each person involved have different work from each of the other members. It’s too difficult to compete for sales with the same type of items. If your circle of friends all sew, then have each one sew a different type of item. For example: one might sew quilted throws while another concentrated on pillows while a third makes pot holders and cloth coasters. The items all complement each other, but don’t directly compete against each other. I like sharing the responsibilities with at least one other crafter. Work shared makes it less time consuming and let’s be honest…it’s more fun with a friend.
Depending on the timing of you open house you may want to concentrate on items that fit the season. The winter holidays are easy. Christmas ornaments, tree skirts, children’s toys, stockings, and other home decorations. Keep in mind that items you can sell in the price range of $5-10 are usually hot sellers especially for folks who need to buy many small gifts for acquaintances. Higher ticket items do sell especially home décor items like centerpieces and door or wall wreaths. The open house is an excellent market for higher ticket items because you can add value and your own salesmanship to the sale in the cozy setting of a decorated home environment.
Don’t limit yourself to seasonal or holiday motif items only. Have a selection of items that can be given year round or displayed year round in a home. Items like candles, bath salts, baskets, clothing or framed art pieces don’t need to be limited to a theme like a Christmas stocking or Easter wreath are. Do your homework on what colors, techniques and motifs are currently popular in your area and region. Colors like blue or rose are classics that fit into most homes. Techniques like decorative painting or cross-stitch samplers are always popular. The consumer favors motifs of the garden or relaxed country in general. Consider all these points. You can make the most wonderful eye glass cases, but if you use only bright orange or pea soup green you will not sell as many as you would using more contemporary colors. The first lesson I learned when I began to sell my own crafts is that my taste is not necessarily the taste of the public. Look outside of your own home and take a trip to a local JC Penny, Hallmark or Wal-Mart. What colors and textures are these trend-setting retailers stocking? Take advantage of the extensive research of the popular department and discount stores.
Pricing Your Work
Even after about 15 years of selling my work at an annual open house and art and craft shows in my home state of Florida, the pricing of my work is still often the most difficult part of my job! It’s hard to be objective when you’ve put your heart and soul into creating a handmade craft to sell. If we were all truly paid our worth for such items we would be living on easy street! However, we all do need to price objectively and without personal investment. The most basic of pricing formulas is to simply 2X, 3X or even 6X the cost of materials/supplies used in making the item. A refrigerator magnet that cost .50 in materials could be sold at $1, $1.50, $2 or even $3. How do you know what price to place on such an item? Look for a similar item in stores, catalogs or on the web. Compare and price to the similar item. Your magnet is ceramic apple and you find ceramic magnets priced at $3 in a catalog. Go for it. Or you could decide to place that catalog beside your own magnets and price your magnets at $2.50 emphasizing that your magnets are handmade, not machine generated. That’s called, value added!
Another pricing formula is to add your material cost and labor. You’ll decide on an hourly wage for your work and figure out how much time is spent on each item. Let’s say you make lap quilt (machine quilted) that costs you on average $6.00 in materials and takes on average 3 hours to make. I’m considering that you will not want to make one quilt at a time, but several tops at a time, then machine quilting them, then finishing each. This type of work is called, ‘production’ style. In the long run each quilt will take you less time than if you did create one lap quilt at a time. Be reasonable in your hourly rate. I’d like to always earn $35.00 an hour, but it is not a realistic wage. I consider $7 per hour a fair wage for production work for myself. So my lap quilt would be priced at $27. I would check out similar items and compare my price. I’d also consider the economy of my local area. I live in a high tech, service-oriented community that in general has extra money to spend. My area has lots of professionals whom are starting families and decorating homes. I know that if I display my lap quilt right, my potential customers will pay my price.
Displaying Your Crafts
Displaying your crafts is where all your creative juices can really start flowing. You need to decide which rooms in your house you will use to display the crafts for sale. I’ve used literally every room in my house (except the master bedroom) in different combinations including my garage! One year I used only my living room with a huge 12’ real Christmas tree. The smell was heavenly. What better way to display Christmas ornaments than to have them sparkling on a lighted Christmas tree? One year I used only the kitchen and second bathroom. What better way to display items that can be used to decorate the bathroom than to put these items in a bathroom for display? Items for the kitchen have much more appeal when displayed in a real kitchen. That’s the plus of having an open house as your selling marketplace.
It is important to have a few rules when displaying items in your home. Because first and foremost, it is YOUR home.
- Never display items in the master bedroom. This can be the room where all your own treasures can be safely stored during the open house. I had to laugh one year when a customer was adamant that she wanted to purchase the wreath over my fireplace. My mom had made the wreath and it wasn’t for sale at any price. This customer was rather frustrated that I was “displaying” an item that wasn’t for sale. It’s best to remove personal items from any room you are using and place them in the “safe” room. The day of the open house I place a neatly printed sign that says, “Private. Please do not open this door,” on any room I do not wish customers to enter. Think twice before using a family member’s bedroom. A child’s room with the child’s permission is acceptable, but most teenagers’ really don’t like the idea of having others invade his/her space.
- Have enough help so that no room is left unattended or out of eye range. It is important that your home is protected from small children who might be tagging along with mom or customers who you may not be familiar with. Plus having help in each room to answer questions or help re-stock will keep your customers happy.
- Keep the check out area away from high traffic areas. You need an area where you can tally a customer’s orders, write out a receipt and bag the items sold. You should have a change box. You’ll need a good supply of change including small bills because you can’t just run out to the bank when you run out of singles or quarters. Never leave large sums of money in the change box at any one time. Take breaks and remove all but about $35 dollar from the change box. Place this money in an envelope and tuck it away in the master bedroom.
- If more than one crafter is selling items in the open house, color-code the price tags/stickers. Have a sheet of paper at the check out with each crafter’s name on it. Remove the price tag/sticker and adhere it to this sheet. It’s important that you have a way of knowing what was sold so that each crafter will get the total amount due to them at the end of the open house. Color-coded price tag/stickers is one of the easiest methods to keep track. Or assign a number or letter to each crafter. One individual should be responsible to keep an accurate record of all items sold. Have each member selling at the open house keep a record with receipts of any expenses. Each member should be reimbursed for reasonable expenses incurred.
Get creative in your displays. Place items that can be mixed and matched together. Give your customers an idea of how they can use your handmade crafts in their own homes. Hang wreaths or wall decorations on the wall. Place collectibles on shelves or a fireplace mantel. Group dolls or pillows on a chair or sofa. Use props. I’ve seen crafters display plant sticks in pretty pots of ivy, display teddy bears in an antique traveling trunk and display fabric pumpkins on a bale of hay. Have fun! Make each display eye catching. Take a few moments to step back from each display and view it, as your customer will. Make it welcoming and inviting. If you need more ideas for fun displays visit a few gift shops and make some notes to yourself when you see any display that catches your eye. Was it a color that got your attention? Was it a prop or the setting as a whole? Add some soft background music to the mix of your open house and make your customer’s shopping experience even more pleasant and relaxed. Scent plays a role too! Simmer some vanilla or spray a soft powder scent in the house. Never use an overwhelming scent; rather use a subtle pleasant aroma in the house to make it more enticing to your customer. The idea is to make your open house an event that your customers will remember and look forward to being invited to again in the future.
An open house can be a small cozy event with just a handful of family and friends or it can be a huge extravaganza with hundreds walking through your home. You decide what type of event you feel comfortable in organizing. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time and don’t stay up half the night before the open house with last minute crafting. You are far better off with a good night’s rest than making a few more items to sell.
An open house is not an event for wimps! You will need to get organized. And you need to prepare for “emergencies” that might pop up like a crafter backing out two days before the event or running out of fruit punch to serve your guests. Don’t let the small things bother you and try to look at the big picture. Your first open house should be considered a learning experience and a trial run. One year I almost sold out at my “preview sale” for my most loyal customers. I panicked. I had about 100 guests arriving the next morning prepared to buy crafts and I had less than 50 items on display. I was sure I’d have some angry folks on my hands! But, the revolt never took place. When a guest asked where all my inventory was I simply explained what had happened. Everyone was happy for me and wanted only success for the open house. No one even grumbled.
Much success to each of you who will try your hand at an open house in the future. Please drop us a line or send in a photo of your open house. We’d love to hear both your successes and any obstacles you might have had to handle.