Thanks so much for your patience in me getting back to you! I have my first workshop this weekend so it's been a little nuts lately!
I've given a LOT of thought about the large show vs small show dilemma. When I first started doing shows in the spring I did a lot of smaller events. Sales-wise, I didn't do great at them. I was happy to sell one smaller weaving and make my money back from the show fee. And this was extremely frustrating at first. Like anyone selling their handmade items, I wanted to be a raging success right away -- I wanted people to start scooping up my weavings as soon as they were exposed to them.
But I learned very quickly that it's really a long game (running a handmade business, that is!). And smaller shows are extremely helpful in helping you overcome those initial hurdles that you'll inevitably face. Here are some tips for making the most of smaller events (sales and otherwise!):
- Build trust with your customers - There are so many opportunities for building trust with potential customers attending smaller shows. On the most basic level, just seeing you there in the flesh with your physical products earns a lot of trustworthiness for your brand. Too often with businesses that operate mainly online, we can forget there's an actual person behind the screen orchestrating everything we see before us. But the whole point of handmade products is that there's (usually) just one person behind that product whose unique, creative vision dreamed up this lovely item. Just seeing you sitting behind that table affirms that on so many levels. You cared enough to lug all of your products, a table, and YOURSELF out to this place to put your products in front of people. People don't discount that and neither should you!
But also, you get to have conversations with people! Face to face! Without having to click a post button! You can tell personal stories about your items, about your passion for sewing, about why you picked this particular fabric. You can joke about the ratty travel pouch you used to use before you were inspired to start sewing up travel pouches with bright, cheerful fabrics (that's probably just me... you would never use a ratty travel pouch, Nicole!). All of that matters. Those conversations humanize you, make people like you, make people more likely to purchase one of your items then or down the road when they're looking for that perfect bag for themselves or a friend.
People want to buy from people they know and like. We tend to get into the mindset that we need numbers -- we need troops of people exposed to our work. But really we need a small number of people who connect with our products and love them enough to share them with their friends (AKA troops of people). Smaller shows are great for having those chats with people because it is slower -- there aren't groups of people crowded around your table so you can really engage with those that are there.
- Plant a seed - This is pretty much my mantra when it comes to almost everything I do in my business. Whenever I'm freaking out about where I am in comparison to where I want to be, I take a deep breath and focus on how I'm planting seeds. Small markets provide a great opportunity for this: giving out business cards, getting new followers on Instagram, adding people to your mailing list. When people become followers in these ways, they're more exposed to your work and more likely to buy from you, rather than forget all about meeting you that one time at a market. And when they follow you and read your posts, you gain even more of their trust!
BUT, don't discount the impact of someone stopping by your table "one time at a market" and not grabbing your card or signing up for your list. I've spoken with a few more established handmade business owners lately that have said that they see so many sales from people during the holiday season who say they saw their table at an event during the summer and asked for the item as a Christmas/Hanukkah gift or kept it in mind for their own gifts. So you might do a small show in the summer and not do too well sales-wise -- but you might have also planted the seed at that show for an admirer of your work to become a future customer.
- Experiment - One of the best ways I've used small shows to my advantage is to experiment with my display. I've found what works, what is a pain to carry, what takes up too much space, what always falls down, and I've fixed those things. If I want to try something new with my display, I do it at a small show to see how people respond to it. But also, I use smaller shows to experiment with what I sell and how I sell. I used to sell smaller mini weavings, but I found that they were almost a distraction from my larger weavings that I really wanted people to focus on. So I pulled those from my display.
My work doesn't lend much to seasonal-changes, but I bet that you could experiment with your display or how you present your work based on season. When it's summer or the holiday time, you could put out a sign with your travel pouches to encourage upgrading your travel accessories for trips or vacations. Fall is back-to-school time -- you could push your pouches during that season. Cross-bags for concert season. I know it seems like people would make these connections themselves, but it's easy to forget when you're a seller at markets -- craft markets are actually pretty overwhelming. It's stimulus overload. People are walking by tables and tables of products. Giving them a little push in suggesting how your piece would fit into their lives might just seal the sale.
- Make friends - Last but not least, make connections with the people around you. When you're at a small market, you're more likely to have downtime to talk to your neighbor or even get out from behind your table and check out other people's displays/products. Making friends with other crafters has been invaluable for me. I've had new friends share my page with their followers hours after we met at a market, send me invites to markets who are looking for vendors, and also freely give me advice based on their own experiences as to what markets have gone well for them and which ones have not. Getting to know those around you opens up avenues for collaborations, trades, and even the occasional coffee chat! I can't recommend it enough.
I hope all this helps!! And I hope you do super well at North Market this weekend!