Selling at craft fairs, maker shops, and pop-up stores

bags of hand-made cookies

The shop small movement is going strong. According to data released in late November 2018, U.S. consumers spent an estimated $17.8 billion (a record high) at independent retailers and restaurants. This upward trend has been gaining momentum since 2010, when American Express launched Small Business Saturday in an effort to support local businesses after the recession.

The shop small movement, along with the rise of services like Etsy and Shopify, is one facet of the ecosystem supporting small businesses. Here, we’re going to cover another: local retail events including craft fairs, maker shops, and pop-up stores. In addition to selling online, artisans and entrepreneurs can use these events to get in front of customers without the cost and hassle of storefront real-estate.

These events aren’t easy or free, but they can be a very worthwhile investment. Meeting your customers in person can give you invaluable feedback and insight. There are also some products (think fragrant soaps and luxurious cashmere scarves) that just sell better in person, where customers can experience them with all their senses.

If you’re thinking about bringing your small business to a local fair, here are a couple things to keep in mind:

  • Although fairs are much less expensive than retail space, many do charge a fee (often a couple hundred dollars, but sometimes more) for a booth. Don’t forget to budget for the cost of setting up your booth, plus transportation.
  • It takes time and effort to prepare for a successful event. Creating your marketing materials, promoting your brand in advance, traveling to and from the event, and engaging with customers in person … it’s a tremendous amount of work. Claudia Monge, the founder of Hey Puppy, says she spends a significant amount of time each week traveling across California to participate in Molcajete Dominguero, the largest monthly Latinx pop-up in the country. She says it’s worth it, though; meeting her customer in person has helped her develop successful new products.

a booth at a fair

Your checklist for a successful pop-up shop

1. Pick the right spot

There are hundreds of fairs or pop-up shops to choose from. Your goal is to find one with the right customers for your product. Look for specialty markets and regional events that will attract your target customers.

Once you have chosen an event, it’s time to think about booth placement. Study the event layout; if you can, visit the pop-up location beforehand to check out the foot traffic. Try to get a spot with lots of traffic — no one wants to be hidden in the back.

2. Stock your inventory and display your brand

Half of the work of being successful at a pop-up is prepping your inventory and displaying it strategically.

Make sure you have enough sizes, colors, and styles of your most popular products. If you run out of inventory, you risk losing sales. Make sure your booth and displays are inviting and appealing. Customers at fairs are looking for an experience, and they want to support — and meet — local artisans and makers.

Also, be thoughtful about how your space represents your brand, and get ready for some face time with your customers. This is a great opportunity to get their feedback and suggestions.

3. Make buying easy

Customers expect a convenient, easy shopping and checkout experience. That means accepting credit cards (or even mobile payments and services like Venmo) as well as cash. Find a good point of sale reader, and learn how to use it so you can process payments quickly. Remember to ask if internet is available; if it isn’t (or it’s shaky), make sure you have a hotspot.

4. Step up your marketing game

If you have a customer email list, send a note about the event so customers know where to find you. While you’re at the booth, collect emails from visitors so you can engage new customers with promotions and tailored drip campaigns.

Don’t forget to use social media before and during your pop-up. Instagram stories are a great way to show a live feed of the event, and you can tag the sponsor and other vendors.

Consider printing business cards or small pamphlets that you can give to customers and other venders. These can be great reminders for potential customers who like your work but aren’t ready to make a purchase yet.

You’ll need high-quality content and marketing materials, so check out the many free resources you can use to create them.

5. Don’t forget logistics

It might sound simple, but don’t forget to plan how you’ll pack, unload, and repack everything you need. A good booth will need more than just your products. A labeling and packaging system for all your supplies, displays, tables, banners, and chairs will make the day less stressful.


Hi there! This post exists to offer you (hopefully) useful information but it cannot take the place of personalized professional advice. Please consult a qualified expert if you have questions about your business. Also, Azlo doesn’t endorse any third-party sites that are linked here.

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