Toronto Craft Show Tips! Tips! Tips!

In all my years of participating in Toronto craft shows, I don’t think I’ve ever seen as many as there are this year. Like dozens of them. Every single weekend. Fighting, struggling, clawing their way to the top of the Blog TO events listings for your attention and your dollars.

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And the thing is, they aren’t all created the same. Now, I’ve done a whole bunch of craft shows this past year, not to mention several other years, dating back to the Middle Ages, when they first invented Christmas craft shows, and have picked up on a few tips for those of you who are new to the craft show business (disclaimer to follow).

Some tips:

1) Sell small and cheap. Especially cards and other stationary. For serious, people are

Full.

Ape.

Shit.

for cards these days. Probably something to do with printers being so cheap, and OCAD spitting out alumni like a prospector spitting out tobacky juice. And if you aren’t into making cards, do change purses or clutches made out of upcycled fabric. Don’t do jewellery though – organisers have a special auto-reject pile for jewellers. If you really want to sell jewellery, apply with another medium, and just sneak those coil wrapped gems in on the sly.

2) Make sure that whatever you’re making has some kind of gimmick. Upcycled, organic, gluten-free, wind powered, covered in silk screened pictures of bicycles or moustaches, whatever. Do your research into what Toronto is buying (hint: all of the above).

3) If you’re selling in Toronto, do not use any bright colours. Ever. The only colours that ever sell in Toronto are: black, white, navy, olive, dark grey, light grey, brown and beige. But don’t combine more than two of those colours. It’s too garish for anybody’s condo. Fabric that looks like burlap but isn’t burlap also sells well. Especially with a silk screened image of a bicycle (or moustache) on it. Fashion update: I just remembered that the newest trend (as of 2013) is to mix beige canvas with exactly one neon colour. Add that to your coin purse.

4) Research your venues. Find out if the venue has a weird secret hidden closet that the organiser might be using for extra table space (for example, 918 Bathurst has two weird side rooms and a storage closet, and The Gladstone has many weird side rooms and multiple floors). If so, you stand a chance of dropping $80 on a table that gets zero foot traffic, because even if the organiser makes an effort to send shoppers off to your desert island table, you’re still too remote for most people to bother visiting. It happens fairly often, even with well-known craft shows, so just beware.

5) Don’t EVER drop more than $80 per day on a table fee, if it’s your first time doing the show. Unless the show is super popular, and the organisers can prove that they bring in over 3000 shoppers in one day, it’s not worth the cost. Truth. Stampsies no erasies.

6) If the venue is hard to get to, or if no one’s ever heard of it, move on. Reality is that no one cares about your handmade crap as much as you do. And try as they may to tell us that they’re just as populated and interested in handmade jank, the East End really isn’t holding up their end of the handmade-jank-buying deal. Seriously Leslieville, step it up. And I’m not even acknowledging the Beaches “It’s called the Beach!” People.

7) Get to know your table neighbours; they’ve probably done several other craft shows, and will give you the honest-to-goodness lowdown on which shows are worth your time and which are not. And if the show sucks, y’all can take turns cracking mad jokes about it, which is way more fun than sulking over your lost expected wages.

8) Don’t be the annoying aggressive sales freak. Okay, we get it, you need to talk up your product and build a rapport with potential buyers, but for the love of sanity, keep it low-key. Remember your indoor voice. Don’t go whipping your hair around in an ever-increasing frenzy each time you make a sale (real life story). And for those of you on the opposite end of the spectrum, please at least put the phone down and say hi to people who look at your display. And smile a little, it can’t hurt. And if it does hurt, tough shit, you’re peddling wares today. Smile through the pain.

9) With more and more people hopping on the craft show organiser bandwagon, you stand a higher chance of losing money on a crappy gig. So keep your wits about you, and tell your artisan friends when somebody does shady business. We’re all in this together, after all.

10) And here’s one for the shoppers: Be nice. If you don’t have anything nice to say about somebody’s handmade work, shut the hell up. Smile, say hi to the artists, even if they look bummed (it’s a long day), and dig deep for something nice to say. It makes a difference.

*Disclaimer: I’m so totally over craft shows. My shit doesn’t sell well enough to make up for both A) my table fee, and B) the fact that I’m sitting at this table for several hours. And I’m so totally not alone on this. I’ve talked to many table neighbours in recent months who just don’t make enough money off of these gigs. Craft shows are hit and miss, even the popular ones. So if you’re starting out, just go slow, and don’t expect bags of money (unless you’re making organic burlap change purses with silk screened bicycles printed on them).

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4 responses to “Toronto Craft Show Tips! Tips! Tips!

    • That’s a good idea, Samantha. I think it’s fairly common to make connections and sales that take place after the show, and having a sign that advertises your custom work seems like a practical move!

  1. I agree with your table price, I have been to several shows that charged $200.00 just for the table (no free coffee/muffins – nothing) I have never done well at these expensive shows even if they tell you 2000 people came through, they must be buyers not lookers for you to make $$$. Stick to a lower table price so you can at least make a profit!

    • $200 is a big hit to take for a show that doesn’t come with any guarantees (or muffins – boo!). And you’re so right about the difference between buyers & lookers, too – I did a show once where almost all of the foot traffic was homeless people dropping by for the free coffee that was advertised. Nice promoting job, guys.

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