Will the Economic Downturn Negatively Affect Indie Craft Fairs?

Gift Tags at Luna FestMy first craft fair of the season was this weekend, and it suuuuuuucked. Well, partly sucked. Most of the stuff that I really like about craft fairs was still there–checking out the other vendors, gossiping with customers, my daughter drawing with permanent markers on brown paper bags at my feet.

There was really only one thing that didn’t happen: the buying.

There was looking, mind you, from the fewer than normal customers who attended the craft fair. There was admiring. There even was buying, of some of my items in the $1-$5 range. Overall, though, it was slow, slow, slow.

It was a pretty conventional craft fair, with a few fair trade craftΒ  or indie craft vendors like myself. And it left me wondering–is this whole craft fair season going to suck?

Traditionally, the crafts industry has been thought to be pretty stable (if not totally hot) during times of economic downturn. The theory goes that the more people struggle economically, the more interested they become in handmade.

And businesses seem to trust in this logic. The publishing industry, in particular, has been noticeably turning to the publishing of crafts and other how-to books, and some crafters like The Crafty Chica and Amy Butler have been establishing themselves in numerous markets.

The thing, is, though, that while this likely reflects an increase in the average person’s interest in making, say, a Mother’s Day present, or a few picture frames, it may not at all reflect any interest she might have in buying any of the stuff that I’VE made. Especially if I charge what I believe they’re worth.

I’m afraid that indie craft fairs, in particular, being a niche market in the already-niche craft fair industry, will suffer even more than more conventional craft fairs.

Or not? Most of my sparse sales at Sunday’s Luna Fest came from members of the all-girl roller derby teams that were handing out flyers for their season–they appreciated themselves some comic book pinback buttons and kitchy record bowls enough to shell out their hard-earned cash, and to do it with appreciation for my work and excitement about their new cool stuff.

Could I make a living wage setting up a merch table at roller derby games?

5 thoughts on “Will the Economic Downturn Negatively Affect Indie Craft Fairs?”

  1. I’m wondering the same. My first show of the season was also last weekend, and it was on the slow side. Not terrible, but not stellar either. Maybe wait and see is the best strategy right now….there are more fests coming up, and maybe this first one was just a fluke?

    And it totally sounds like you found your niche with those Derby gals! I bet they’d let you set up at their games if you asked. I have a friend who’s vended at a few in her town, and she does pretty well there.

  2. I’d say the economy has had an effect on Craft Fair sales. I had my first show of the season two weeks ago, and barely made expenses. I had intentionally stocked my booth with a fairly low price point – $10 – $20. Several of my neighbors who had a higher price points $50 and over sold nothing. Sad.

  3. This is a great topic that I think so many sellers are too afraid to discuss.

    I’ve been doing shows longer than I care to admit. Just when I think I might have figured them out, something changes, so know there’s no rhyme or reason. Where I live, some areas I sell like you wouldn’t believe, couple blocks away (with more attendees) nothing, zilch.

    I think in the current times, it’s a matter of each seller selling where they feel comfortable. Choosing shows is never easy. I can’t take some of the risks I did in the past (since being laid off from my FT job) I am choosing shows that first have other events going on at the same time (such as a derby), going green, etc. and with reasonable fees. Although higher fee shows in the past also had more attendees, those same attendees are feeling the financial squeeze too.

    I think it’s going to be a slow year. It’s going to be important to do the follow up…hand out info to everyone, have a sign up sheet and really push the handmade and supporting each other. If you have an online shop, offer a coupon for free shipping to everyone who stops by your table. Maybe they won’t buy with cash that day but they will with credit online.

    Who knows except we don’t know if we don’t try….and keep trying!

  4. What a great topic!!! A year ago I had personally started to see a slump in sales at the craft fairs. Thinking that I had the corner market or niche in selling fishing lures (Handcrafted by ME) I would be able to survive. Wrong!!!! For the most part I have had to pull out of craft fairs as the table/space money was way to high for the $1.00 – $5.00 items being sold. Thank you for sharing your insight!

  5. Pingback: A Crowd Ready to Rally | handmade in PA

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