Small Business, Small Steps: My First Craft Show

Puces Pop - English Muffin

Last weekend I participated in my very first craft show. 'Craft' almost feels like the wrong word, although it did happen in a church basement (very craft show-y, no?) the quality of the artists there was truly impressive, and conjured up more of a feeling of art and design show - in a church basement. But this post isn't really about the oodles of talented folks showing their work at Puces Pop (for that you should check out Michelle's post on Poppytalk), this post is about my experiences and what I learned, and more importantly what I can share with you.

A Little Push

This whole journey really began when I decided to apply to show my work at Puces Pop. You may remember I did a blog post after visiting the show for the first time back in October. When I received an email announcing they were accepting vendors for the March show I initially brushed it off, thinking my business wasn't ready yet, it would be so much work, but most importantly I felt like I didn't have enough new work to show. Luckily, Paule was over at my place taking photos for her illustration around that time, and she convinced me that the March show would be a great opportunity to test the waters, and that my fears about not showing anything new were unfounded as most people at the show would never have seen my designs. Touché! So I applied and a few days later found out I had gotten in.

T - 30 Days

After receiving the "congratulations you got in" email, I had about a month to prepare. Here's where I had the first mini meltdown. The meltdown wasn't about anything in particular, a month is plenty of time, mostly it was about having no idea what had to be done during that month. Random to do's kept popping up my head; I need a tablecloth, I have to frame prints, I can't forget change, and so on. I searched my favourite blogs for craft show how to's, first time experiences, or a list of must haves, but all my searches came up pretty empty. So here's what I wish someone would have posted for me...

Your Ultimate Craft Show Packing List

You'll need:

• a tablecloth (find out the exact dimensions of the table provided, if no table is provided you'll need one, and a chair or two)
• display items (frames, easels, stands, etc... things you'll use to display your work)
• pricing signage (price tags, a pricelist; have one for yourself as well as one on display)
• additional signage (business name banner, info sheets, general item signage and descriptions)
• office supplies (tape, double sided tape, stapler, markers, pens, dot stickers, scissors, elastic bands, calculator)
• receipt book
• cash box / purse
• change (I took $180 in change; 10 x $1, 10 x $2, 10 x $5, 10 x $10. If your prices end mostly in 5 then take more $5's and so forth)
• packaging supplies (kraft paper, stickers, thank you inserts, plastic/paper bags, tissue paper, ribbon, etc...)
• business cards!!! (I handed out so many, it would have been such a shame to not have had them)
• additional booth components (Big Chuck built me a structure to display my framed prints on)
• tools (the structure had to be assembled, so remembering the drill and screws was really important)
• camera (you'll want photos of your pretty booth)
• decor (bowl of candy, flowers, bunting, business card holder, etc...)
• the goods (whatever you're selling, bring some inventory if you can)
• display examples (I found that people like to touch the prints so have some for display purposes and encourage people to be hands on)
• a notebook (so you can write down all the things you want to remember)

I want to thank @neawear and @sewlounge for answering my tweets and making helpful contributions to my Puces Pop Prep list.

Puces Pop - English Muffin

Rainy with a chance of blizzard

I knew going in to this March show that it would be slower than the one I went to in October. I was counting on it in fact. I wanted to be able to test the waters without feeling too much pressure and Mother Nature was definitely on my side. Saturday was pouring rain, in fact we had a rainfall warning here in Montreal, and Sunday morning brought chilly temperatures, fresh snow and a blizzard. But people still came out, and while you can't control the weather you can take advantage of a slow day by talking with customers, experimenting with your display, and soaking up everything that is going on around you.

Puces Pop - English Muffin

Real World vs. Virtual World

About two hours into the show I thought to myself, I'm not so sure if I fit in here. The vendors at Puces Pop are so cool. Cool with a capital C. English Muffin — not so high on the cool factor. I'm talking guys in tight jeans, hoodies and better hair than me. (Gosh, I really sound like a grandma). What I'm trying to say is that I thought I would fit in better at a show that was geared to kids/parents/families. However, over the course of the weekend I did interact with a few families, lots of aunts and uncles and people who were buying for themselves or their friends. I saw that almost everyone who passed my booth (ultra cool dudes included) would smile when they looked at my Polar Bear or Otter prints, that many folks were map lovers and boy did I have a selection of maps for them. I talked with other artists and illustrators who I never would have guessed would like my aesthetic but went on about how polished and cohesive everything looked, I had people ask me if I was from Montreal because my style was so unique. I'm not saying this to toot my own horn, but because this was probably the most valuable experience I had all weekend, watching people interact with my work. Having only ever sold online, I've never seen a customer's expression as they were looking at one of my prints. I've never heard their first impressions or witnessed the decision making process as they wrestle between the Otter and Dachshund prints. It made me realize that as excited as I get when I make a sale in my online shop, there's a customer on the other end who is just as excited! Who knew?

Here, take my card

I gave out so many business cards over the weekend that even though sales weren't through the roof I have a feeling I'll be getting a few orders from the Montreal area in the coming weeks. Even if I don't, I've planted the English Muffin seed and hopefully those people will think of me the next time they need a baby gift, or artwork or even design/illustration work. So many people commented on how nice my cards were that I was really happy I paid a bit extra to have them matte laminated and corner rounded. One woman said that no one is going to throw out such a nice card, a point that I hadn't really thought of - but so true! Spend that extra money on beautiful cards, people will keep them forever.


There are a couple things I'll do differently for next time, a few lower price point items, some more French options, tweak the table display a little, but overall I feel really good about my first craft show. There were no major stumbles and I even managed to eek out a tidy little profit!

Mostly, this experience renewed my excitement about English Muffin. Interacting with customers is really an invaluable experience and I have visions of new products for craft shows to come. Even with my initial apprehension, all the hard work and time that went into preparing and the crummy weather, I really am looking forward to the next chance I get to show my work. So if any of you are reading this while on the fence about a doing a craft show yourselves, I hope my experiences will encourage you to go ahead and do it. It is definitely scary at first, the car ride to the show on Saturday morning was the scene of my second mini meltdown, but like Big Chuck said, "It's going to be one of the best things you've done." So right Big Chuck, so right.

xo bess

photos: Charles Nock


  1. Congratulations! I'm always amazed what you can learn from one show. I'm really glad you took that leap. I always feel the same way as you: that my work doesn't fit in. But the visitors and artists generally surprise me and make me feel right at home. I agree that your work would do REALLY well at more family-oriented shows but people always have a little child somewhere in their extended family that they can shop for. I hope you do many more shows because that display Big Chuck built is awesome!

  2. BESS! You look SO adorable sitting there and your set-up perfectly suits your style & prints. Congrats lady!

  3. Congratulations! It sounds like it was an amazing day. These are such great tips for me as I've yet to do a craft show myself. I think a craft show would benefit me though as my papercuts would have more impact if they could be seen and picked up, as you did for your prints - now it's just a matter of finding a craft show and getting organised! Thanks for the inspiration ^_^

  4. Oh Bess, this was such an amazing post. So real and genuine about what it's really like to be on the other side of the vendor's table.

    The information you've shared is invaluable and am sure many will benefit from it.

    Your booth stood out for all the right reason and can't wait for you to shine again at your next market!! xo

  5. Thanks so much for writing this post. I'm doing my first fair on the weekend and I'm pretty nervous about it, this has helped put me at ease some.

  6. I love this series, great tips & advice!

  7. Don't be silly! You are cool with a capital C. I went to Puces Pop many time and you totally fit there. We nornally go every year but this is a special year (and it was easier because we used to live in Plateau Mont-Royal). Anyway, skinny jeans for men are so last year ;) (I have no idea actually)!!!

  8. Thank you SO much for this Bess! As you know, I'm on the fence about doing my first craft show this summer and you are definitely tipping me towards the application side. I'm going to have to print out that list of yours! So helpful! I may have to borrow Big Chuck for a display design as well. I hope that's ok. Haha!

    By the way, you look super cute in these pics... with a capital C! :)

  9. P.S. I'm always curious about what people put on their business cards. I never seem completely happy with mine and am constantly redesigning it. Can we see yours in more detail?

  10. What a useful post for independant artists, Bess. Your booth looked incredible. Congrats on the new experience, so happy for you :)

  11. What a great story you posted! I've been doing craft shows since last spring and I love to hear about other people's experiences. Even though mine have been dramatically different (some dead and painful others crazy busy and successful) I am so happy to take the leap and I'm happy to hear yours went well also!

  12. It looks so great and, look at you! So beautiful. I like what you wrote about watching shoppers deliberate or have those reactions. Online we only have sales and abandoned carts to go by and it's much more cold in that way. I hope you enjoy many more shows!

  13. Your stand looks beautiful Bess....so perfect!
    hopefully we're close to each other in may? :) xx

  14. So glad you had a great experience, Bess!

    This is a great post for anyone starting out in the craft show/design show business. It really does make a huge difference to see how a customer (or potential customer) connects to your work!

  15. THANK YOU all so much for your comments. The amount of support from my online friends is really wonderful and a constant source of encouragement and inspiration :)

    @Amy Walters: Good luck this weekend!!! I'm sure you'll be great :)

    @Claudia: you're so funny ;) Agreed, all you men wearing skinny jeans - you're so 2010!! (kiddin'!)

    @Erin: Here's the link to my business cards: http://flic.kr/p/9p8njv

    @Paule T.B.: May???? I thought the next one was in October!! uhoh.

    xo bess

  16. so well said Bess and great tips! I had such a hard time knowing exactly what to bring with me when I did my first show, felt like I was totally going in blind, so this will definitely come in handy to many readers I'm sure! I'm thrilled to hear that you had such a lovely experience!

  17. Congrats on a great show - it takes a lot of hard work to pull it all off! You look adorable in your booth.

  18. Thanks for the great tips. I'm glad that this was a positive learning experience for you. Your products are awesome, and I think you can go very far with them.

  19. Yey Bess! We've done only a few "shows", including a mammoth bridal show here in Toronto and it can be really intimidating- glad to hear it went well and you are right, you may not have sold to many folks on the day but I bet you peaked their interest enough for them to look you up again in the future, which is really what it's all about. Well done :)
    Jess at Periwinkle in Toronto

  20. Bess, Loved reading about your first show. Great perspective regarding it all! The best of luck with your cutely cool work.

  21. Not only are a talented designer but also a talented blogger. I loved this post!

  22. Congratulations, Bess! What a fun milestone for your business.

  23. great advice and encouragement. I am just getting ready to do my first shows this summer, so this is very useful info :)

  24. bess, i love this post! it's nice to have a list like that, i know so many people will find that helpful.
    your booth looks fantastic, and totally in your style. i adore your business cards, and love the way you displayed them in the wooden tray, so clever!
    you are so right about seeing customers expressions. i always love to see what people choose to pick up first, and the look on their face as they weigh one item vs another, making their decisions. so cool!

  25. Congrats Bess for your fisrt craft show!!!
    I'm really glad for you !!

  26. That's the spirit! Thank goodness you conjured a lot of crafts for the event in just a month of preparation. Also, it is fine if you spent an extra buck for a presentable business card. That way, you'll be able to get more potential customers as time goes by.

  27. Wow that's so nice! It's the perfect venue to advertise your products to a broader audience. Who knows, it could be the big business break you are looking for. I bet you are very excited about it, hehe.

  28. Thank you for the great post! I am in the same boat - my small paper business is making the plunge and doing our first craft market. This post has been inspiring and very helpful in my preparation for the big day!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.