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Art Fairs, Craft Shows, Music Festivals, and More

Festival Network Online Newsletter Commercial/Food Vendor Edition -  September 2008
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A note from the editor

Hello FNO Exhibitors and Food Vendors,

I published this article for our artisans and crafts people this month but also thought it would benefit anyone selling and exhibiting at fairs and festivals.  Meet our new friend Glenda who has written for you an excellent article, from an accountant's perspective, about the art/craft show world.  Enjoy!

FNOBest wishes!

Julie Cochrane
FNO Marketing
Festival Network Online

« Newsletter Archive - To view previous newsletters, check out our archives!

A Craft-aholic Accountant Goes to a Show by Glenda Larsen
If there is a craft fair within day-trip range, I’m there!  I am an accountant and I am fascinated by the world of handcrafts.  Pottery, fiber, wood work, metal crafts; the finished products, the processes, the imagination, and the skills of the artisans all feed my soul and my own desire to create.  I also like to own pieces that I find beautiful or interesting.

I am an accountant by trade and I work with artists who are growing their art into life-sustaining businesses.  While I go to fairs and festivals to feed my spirit, I can’t help thinking about the money ebbing and flowing behind the crafting.  Shows and festivals are the heartbeat of the crafts business.  I’d like to share a few thoughts as a craft shopper/ purchaser, and as an accountant thinking about the financial part of the crafting business.

The Shopper

When I attend a show or festival, I try to see the whole event.  Some booths draw me in, while others get a walk-by.  There are a few elements that make a difference to me. 

If there is someone in the booth that is obviously engrossed in working on something, I tend to stroll by.  Somehow it feels like I am interfering with their creative process.  Time at a show needs to be time to sell, not time to create.  You might have a few works that are in various stages to talk about with interested folks, but focused creating, while fascinating to some, does not always contribute to a welcoming atmosphere for many shoppers.

On the other hand, I also tend to avoid booths where the artist or booth-tender looks bored, anxious, or kind of grumpy.  With these folks, I feel like the burden of the interaction is on me, and that if I don’t buy something, I am a big disappointment or a big waste of time.  I usually do not purchase anything on the first tour around the show.  I go back after I check everything out.  I’m more likely to revisit a booth where I connected with someone and had a brief, upbeat chat about the goods for sale.

Please try to have a great time when you work a show!  Smile at folks that come near your booth.  Initiate short conversations about your favorite pieces, what you like about the town that the show is in, what you just read in a magazine about your type of craft, where you are from, how you do your work…that kind of thing.  Try to avoid serious, in-depth discussions unless you can artfully include other nearby folks.  I tend to view artisans as magical people who should not be interrupted.  Try to stay alert to folks that are ready to buy.

I think it’s smart to have another person in the booth with you.  That person can say promotional things that the artisan couldn’t say as gracefully about himself or herself.  The artist can then be available to answer questions, to carefully wrap the items, and to be very grateful for the customer’s interest and purchases. 

Please be prepared to make purchasing items a simple and careful process.  Practice the routine if you are new to the show game.  When a customer is ready to make a purchase, try to be there to help them.  Many times I have put something back because the booth tender was engrossed in a conversation and didn’t seem to notice that I was ready to buy.  This is when having two people is really helpful.  One can sell, and one can process sales and package the items.  It is great when safe, easy-to-carry packaging is provided.  Bubble wrap and sturdy bags with handles are marvelous.  Pack things for folks knowing that they might need to carry it around the whole show.  If possible, put your name and an image of your work on the bag (free advertising).  Display the bag in your booth, so customers will know how you pack things. 

The Accountant

I can’t help but notice the money procedures in craft booths.  A systematic method of taking cash or checks, or processing a credit/debit card transaction sends a subtle message that you value the sale and you are prepared to manage the transaction efficiently.  Have a short check-list taped to the table so you don’t forget important parts of sales transactions.  If you are going to deal in cash, please invest in a dignified cash box, unless you are selling very inexpensive goods.  Something just doesn’t feel right when the seller pulls a wad of bills out of a pocket.  A cash apron is better if you must keep the cash close to your person.  Periodically put large quantities (more than you would need to make change) in another safe place so you are not flashing large amounts of cash to customers.

Take payments by personal check seriously.  Post your check writing information clearly:  “Make checks payable to…”, “please print phone # and Driver’s License # on check”.  Take the time to compare the Driver’s license with the number written on the check (and the person in front of you!).  Craft fairs are not usually haunted by predatory types, but anyone can overdraw an account.  Write or stamp “for deposit only” and your bank account number on the checks immediately, and deposit the checks as soon as possible.  I recommend that, if at all possible, have credit and debit card capability at your booth. 

Please take the time to write out a receipt for the customer.  Have receipts that produce a duplicate copy for your records. Note on the receipt the method of payment and attach the credit/debit card slip to your copy as well as the customer receipt.    It is a good idea to provide contact information on your receipt so the customer can reach you for additional purchases or refer a friend to you.   Sales receipts will help you evaluate the success of the show, so include information on them that will help you identify what was sold.  You may also want to gather e-mail addresses for newsletters, other marketing efforts, or after the show follow-up.

Pricing your goods is an art in itself.  I would recommend that you clearly mark the price on items at a show with the sales tax included in that price.  You will save yourself time by not having to look up sales tax, and you can deal with even dollars.  Post a sign that says “sales tax included in price”.  People feel like they’re getting a bargain if they don’t have to add on sales tax.  I know it doesn’t make sense, but it’s true.

If craft shows and festivals is where you sell your goods, take the time to evaluate each event before the memories go cold.  Tally up the costs for booth space, mileage, lodging, travel meals-all costs associated with being at the event.   Do an analysis of what items sold, and write up notes regarding the sales.  When you subtract the cost of creating the items for sale, and the costs of being at the event from the sales at the event; how profitable was the show?  Take some time to evaluate your sales and your costs to help you plan for the next year or the next show. 


Artists participate in shows and festivals for a variety of reasons.  Some like to be a part of a big event, some like to interact with the public, some like to put their products out there to get reactions.  Almost everyone is hoping there will be some monetary reward for their efforts of creating objects and showing up.  

In addition to quality work and correct pricing, making money at a show is directly related to how you work your crowd, and how you manage the transactions in your booth.  Focus on the people attending and the joy you get from creating.  Have systems in place to smoothly transact business.   Take someone with you to share the experience and the workload.   Evaluate the experience so you can plan for the right product offerings, appropriate pricing, and manageable costs in future shows.  

Craftspeople, thank you for sharing your work with the world!  I hope my perspectives as an accountant and a fan will help you make the most of your show experiences in the future.

Glenda Larsen is the owner of MoneyMatters-Asheville.  Her business provides gentle accounting, tax and business planning services to artists and small businesses in the Asheville, NC area.

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