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 Selling at Craft Shows --
Juried Vs Nonjuried Shows
What's the difference?

By Karen Booy
 As published in  CRAFTLINK Newsletter


When you meet with your customer face-to-face and exchange a product or service for money, it is considered retail sales. Most crafters start out by making and giving their crafts to their friends and relatives. After a few years of hearing "You should make these and sell them," some people finally do start their own business. 

Craft Fairs

Craft fairs can be the best way to get your business off the ground. Since you are meeting with your customers face-to-face, it is an excellent way to do market research for your product and its price. As you sit quietly by your table, you will receive all kinds of unsolicited advice from the crowds of shoppers passing by your booth. It seems somewhat magical, the minute one walks into one's craft booth, one turns invisible and customers will discuss your products as though you aren't there - what a great opportunity for market research.

Selling your product at shows is sure to help you develop thicker skin. All the negative comments can really wear you down (and your confidence level too), but you must learn how to handle the negative and turn it into a positive. See if there are some suggestions on how to improve your product or your presentation. If you get on the defensive immediately, you may miss a great opportunity to improve on your product. During a day you may have 100 positive comments but it is the one negative one that you got that can drive you crazy. Be sure that you don't miss the lesson by being on the defensive for your product!

You must learn to separate the wheat from the chaff. Some comments have absolutely no positive merit at all! It may simply be that your product just does not suit the taste of the shopper, or it may be the fact that some people are just downright miserable. There aren't a lot of people like this; they just get around a lot! The comments from these people are best ignored; they probably couldn't come up with a nice comment if their life depended on it. It can be difficult after a long day of selling to be pleasant to these people but you must, your success depends on it.

People like to buy from people that they like. So be pleasant even to the rude ones and perhaps they may surprise you and buy something. Maybe they are just having a bad day. If you are rude to them in return it won't accomplish anything.

The other side of this is you will also hear wonderful comments about you being so clever and talented. This can be better for your ego than cash in the bank. Be prepared that you may run into some negative customers every once in a while, but generally the people who attend craft shows are the kindest customers anywhere!

So keep your ears open and listen for the positive! If you do this, you will get lots of ideas for improving your business, even tips for improving your display, and the information you receive, especially regarding your prices, can be invaluable.
Juried Vs Non-juried
What should you choose?

There are two kinds of craft fairs, juried and non-juried. When crafters are first starting out they often exhibit in non-juried fairs, usually based on the low price and the fact that they really don't understand the difference between that and a juried show.

Non-Juried Craft Fairs

A non-juried fair is a sale that accepts its exhibitors on a first-come, first-serve basis. "You pay your money and take your chances." The costs to exhibit are usually very reasonable, anywhere from $10.00 to about $65.00. Craft fairs are seldom more expensive than that; the most common price is about $20.00. Occasionally, as an alternative, you may pay a small table fee and then a percentage of sales, usually 10%. Often this money is donated to a good cause. 

These fairs are usually held in churches, community halls and schools. They may be organized by the ladies of the church or the PAC. These shows may also be associated with a summer or fall community fair. If the fair has been held for several years in a row, it has probably established itself and is supported by the community and by people who value and appreciate handmade items by local artists. These types of fairs can be an economical way to start your business. However, non-juried fairs are not always a success.

Non-juried shows do not have a selection committee, so you could arrive at the show, only to find jewelry on 35 of the tables. There are 40 tables. You have jewelry - it is going to be a long weekend!

By operating on a first-comes, first-serve basis, the craft fair promoters do not exert much control over the type or quality of crafts that are exhibited. Also, if the people who organized the fair did not think to advertise, you may be part of a very slow sale. If the craft show is a fundraiser, the organizers may be volunteers with no experience in running a craft show. If this is the first year of the show - you may be the guinea pig - and may find that the show is highly disorganized.

When making the decision on whether or not to participate in a non-juried sale, ask the organizer the following questions:

1. How many years has the show been held?
2. How many exhibitors are there in the show?
3. How many people went to the show last year?
4. How is the sale advertised?

The craft show organizer should be able to give you good answers to your questions. If they appear disorganized, perhaps you may want to look for a different fair. A well-organized fair will result in better profits for all the exhibitors, so the key thing to look for when choosing fairs is ORGANIZATION.

Juried Craft Fairs

The larger fairs are generally juried. The jurying process usually involves sending in a portfolio that includes photos of your work and a resume, along with a jurying fee. When you call or send for an application form, all the information regarding the jurying process will be included. Some fairs will have you send in actual samples of your work, however, this is becoming less common.

A selection committee will look over your photos (or samples) and will then make their choice based on originality, creativity, marketability, general appeal, and quality of craft and booth design.

It is a very rewarding experience when you are selected as an exhibitor for a major show. It shows that you are now ready to compete with "the big boys." Don't be too nervous once you are selected for your first large fair. The selection committee is made up of craft professionals and since they selected you, they think you are ready. Simply pat yourself on the back, rush into your workshop and get busy producing! You are going to need the extra stock to take with you to the fair.

The booth fee for a juried fair is much more expensive, but the number of people who generally attend this type of show is much greater. Juried shows start at about $100 and go upwards to as much as $3500 depending on the size of the booth and the type and duration of the show.

Notice that now you are not just renting a table, you are purchasing a booth space. At a large show your fee usually covers the floor space and the dividing back drapes. Everything else must be rented or be brought from home, including your tables, chairs, lights and carpeting.

Why pay so much for a show? There is a saying that "you get what you pay for" and being a part of a large fair can do wonders for your bank account. The large crowds these shows attract provide great exposure for your business. By going into one 4-day show, you can often make more than you might make in 5 to 6 non-juried shows (that could total 10 -12 days). Rather than spending weekends selling at small shows, you can instead spend time in your workshop creating more product to sell at your "big" show.

Perhaps you are not ready to participate in such a large show this year, but it may be a good goal to work toward for next year. In order to be ready to exhibit at a large show, be sure that you do your market research and attend all the possible shows this year as a show attendee so that next year you can be an exhibitor!

As your business grows you will want to spend more time in your studio actually producing your items and less time on the road selling them. When you reach this point it may make good business sense to put all of your exhibit fees into one pot and only go to two or three larger shows a year. 

NOTE: It is not a question of whether or not a juried craft show is better than a non-juried one. It is more a matter of being very well prepared when you are doing your research to choose your shows for your show schedule. There are many low-cost non-juried shows that have been running for years and these can be a gold mine for the craft exhibitor. In contrast, you can pay hundreds of dollars for a booth and still have a slow show. You must do your homework and learn about the shows and also be well prepared with your booth display, your product and your pricing. As a business owner you must take all the information and make the best decisions with the information you have collected. Still, one of the best ways to judge if you and your product are a good "fit" for a show is to attend the show and see if it "feels right" - unscientific? Perhaps but effective!

More and more shows are becoming juried. As there is more competition within the shows, many show promoters have found that running a juried show is more profitable for them and for their exhibitors, the primary reasons being that the show then has a higher quality of exhibitors and products.

David Gernhart of the Milton Farm Fall Craft Shows, is a show promoter from Brantford, Ontario. Each year he receives applications from over 320 crafters and since he only has 140 booths in his show, we asked David how he made the cuts.

David first ensures that the product is handmade in Canada by the artist or craftperson, his show does not include handcrafted imports of any kind. Paying close attention to submitted photos, David looks for product quality, originality and uniqueness of craft. For a well-balanced show, David accepts only a few exhibitors from each craft category (eg. Jewelry, pottery, painting, Christmas decorations, etc.).

Booth display plays a very large role in the acceptance into the Milton Farm Fall Craft Shows, and once accepted, exhibitors continue to work hard improving their booths since the show hands out booth display awards. David attends other shows and looks for new exhibitors where he is able to check out displays first hand. In addition to a quality product and traffic-stopping booth design, David also juries crafters and artisans on their attitude. He looks for professional conduct and also asks about the years of commitment to their craft. 

Closely scrutinizing the product, the display and the crafter, David is proof positive - you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

When submitting your product for the jurying process, pay close attention to all the small details. If you don't print or write clearly, type whenever possible. Ensure that you have good quality photographs, with each marked with your name and return address or phone number. If you are submitting your application by mail - be creative with your media kit. Spend some time and some thought. Use the envelope as an opportunity to peak the show promoters interest! 

If you are attending a jury process where you leave your product and return later to pick it up show up at your appointed time and be on time! Create a little mini display of your product. Bring some small props or a small piece of fabric to place your items on. Be sure to include your business card with your display. This is your time to shine - you need to capture the juror's interest. Don't be lazy and just place your items on the table. Go the distance!

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