3 Good Reasons You Should Not Take Custom Orders at Craft Shows

Crafting + Art Making, Creative Entrepreneurship | 5 comments

3 reasons you should not take custom orders at craft shows | the merriweather council blog

As you are probably aware, craft fair season is upon us! Generally craft fair season lasts throughout the holidays so even if don’t have any summer shows planned, the insights I’m going to lay out for you here may very well com in handy later on in the year!

Craft shows can be super fun and profitable (if you are prepared + informed) but raise a lot of questions for vendors because the format is so different than they are used to if they sell primarily online. One such question:  “should I plan to take custom orders at craft shows?”

Related post: Craft Show Must Haves

Many sellers dedicate a large part of their online business to custom work because it can be very lucrative to offer these sort of personalized items. If sellers who primarily take custom orders do shows, they need to bring ready made items to their booths, and YES that will likely inspire folks to ponder about the possibility of “this but in blue and green instead.”

It may feel natural to say, “of course I’ll take custom orders at a show!” but here are some very good reasons to reconsider.

People came to shop, not order

At best, shows attract a buying audience – people who came with the understanding that this is a shopping event and they are ready to drop some money if they see something they love. At worst, the events draw people who want to browse and window shop. In either of these situations, having items that can be purchased and taken away from the booth RIGHT NOW will make you the most money.

It won’t fill your booth

Visually appealing booths with lots of product will entice people in. If you show up to your booth with just a few samples, or MOSTLY samples, you probably will not fill your booth or create an enticing display (unless you have a TON of samples, which seems silly) … which will leave your foot traffic lacking and therefore, no one to sell anything to. If you are going to spend that much time making samples, you should just make items people can buy outright.

You’ll spend precious time with a single customer

Craft shows don’t last forever, and there are definitely peak hours. You want to maximize your presence, not isolate yourself to one single person who became all consuming. If you do custom work, you know there is a decent amount of discussion and back and forth that goes on before the order is placed. In the case of personalized items where maybe the options are just available from a list, there is still a process that needs to be gone through – and if you are there, available for questions, questions will be asked!  This takes time and therefore it takes time and attention away from the people who are wanting to buy the items you do have on hand. It will take up a lot of your time as the vendor, and you’ll have someone standing around in your booth for a while… this could diminish the returns you’d see on your show and that’s no fun at all.

What to do instead:

Rather than allot time and space to the idea of offering custom pieces – or taking orders in any capacity outright – keep this in your back pocket. If someone is showing a lot of interest in a piece but “would rather have it in blue and green” (or whatever situation) then you might consider offering them the ability to place an order. You can keep a form with you behind the scenes (and a clipboard and a pen) that you can pass over to the one or two very interested customers if needed.

Hot tip:

The truth is most people will pick from what you have if they don’t realize customization is an option, so don’t make it harder for them to decide or buy! Too many options is usually worse than not enough.

Related post: 25 Lessons Learned from Filling 2,500+ Custom Orders

The best thing you can do at a craft show is sell lots of whatever you make, outright! So bring inventory that can move, and don’t emphasize all the other options. Your craft show mantra: “This is what’s here today, need more options? Here’s my card.” Don’t make it difficult. Bring what you tend to sell the most of, bring what you think that audience will like, bring what can move and have fun!

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Oh, hi! Welcome to The Merriweather Council. I’m Danielle and I am a maker in business and mentor to other makers in business. I teach you how to turn your crafty tendencies into profits!

Oh, I’m also really into crafts, boy bands + iced coffee. Email me anytime to say hello or send cute Backstreet Boy videos or dog pictures .. or whatever! danielle (at) merriweathercouncil.com Thanks for stopping by.

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5 Comments

  1. I’ve done craft shows for a long time now and I totally agree with this concept. People do want a nice selection and most are very understanding that this is it, you want more, contact me. Sometimes I’m guilty of maybe having too much to pick from but sewing for dolls is addictive lol. I would be completely turned off by an order-only display at a craft show. I have however gotten some custom orders as a result of craft shows, doing exactly what you had said, giving a biz card and having them contact me at a later time.

    • ahaha I don’t think you could ever have TOO much to pick from ready to go! Plus once people start buying you have less and less. But when people have to pick for themselves from option they freeze up. Sounds like you have a good system.

  2. I’ve been doing craft shows for three years now. I SOLELY sell custom orders as I am a pet portrait artist – no one wants to buy a portrait of another pet – trust, me I’ve tried! So what I have done to adapt is fill my booth with colorful paintings all boasting my ability, style and talent. The booth seems to draw people in, but I feel like I still have some things to learn. There’s not a lot of advice out there for those who solely sell custom work.

    • ahh yes that does make sense for sure. I wouldn’t want to buy a painting of someone else’s dog. That is a huge challenge – to sell at shows if you ONLY do custom work in general. And people are crazy about their pets! I am one of those people so i know!

  3. This is my 4th year doing shows, so I’ve learned to balance. I have plenty of product in my booth, but also accept custom orders. For example, in the fall, I do a lot of handpainted ornaments, and I don’t always paint something that works for a particular person. But, I also have plenty to choose from that people respond to.

    I also make pendants using my original artwork, and I have been asked to make a pendant from a piece of artwork which I didn’t originally use in this way. So basically, I say, yes I do custom work, but look at all this awesome stuff I’ve already finished!

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