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Making money with craft fairs and flea markets

Updated on April 24, 2013
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Need extra cash? Sell Something

There are lots of ways to make some extra money, especially if you have the weekends to do it. My personal favorite is craft fairs and festivals. I make extra money and have a ton of fun. It's a great way to get out and make money instead of spending my weekend spending money.

The first craft fair I did was a few years ago as a fundraiser for my son's elementary school. I just thought it sounded fun and maybe I could make some extra money out of it. I spent a total of $200 for inventory and little more for tables and displays. For two days, I chatted and got to know the parents an students from his school. There weren't too many people outside the school that came through, but that was fine.

I did feel a little self-conscious because so many people around me clearly were veterans. One couple had a glass making company in their basement and been doing it for years. They brought their own jewelry counters in. It looked like a mall kiosk they even brought in their own walls. Another lady had hand wood art that sold for $40 each.

It made me a bit self conscious about my $3 jewelry set up on card tables, but I just accepted that I was new and they all had been doing it for a while. Obviously their displays would be more polished. So I carried on, focusing on the students and parents coming in to buy Christmas gifts. Because it was a fundraiser, the fair was set up like a mall and customers paid volunteer cashiers who kept track of our earnings. They kept 10% for the school and gave us each a check after they finished.

I was pretty tired after standing all day and then packing all my stuff back up. One of the volunteers came up to me as I was finishing up. She told me that I had earned over $900 that weekend and that my booth had sold a full 10% of everything sold at the craft fair. That shocked me.

After I tallied all the expenses compared to the money I brought in, I was shocked. I had earned $600 plus I still had half my inventory.That was after I figured in the one time costs of extra tables and a few jewelry displays. I couldn't afford to materials for to make expensive jewelry, so I make simple inexpensive things that I sold for 4-5 times the material cost depending on the time required to make it. I had accidentally stumbled into the best selling items by doing that. I was hooked and I've been selling at craft fairs, flea markets and street fairs since then.

Even if you don't think you have experience enough to be a vendor, odds are good that you really do. The requirements to get started are simple math, communication skills and a willingness to talk to people.

That's it really. If you're just starting out, it can be tempting to try to make everything perfect and wait a while before you give it a try. That's not really necessary. If you have some inventory, a card table and a vehicle, you're pretty much set. As you look at craft fairs, you may see really elaborate set ups and think you can't compete. That's great that someone has a super polished display, but if you're at a regular craft or street fair, it's possible they didn't make anymore money than the little table run by a couple of kids making simple jewelry.

Can you really make money at craft fairs?

Despite what everyone says about the economy, there are people people spending money. If someone is looking at booths in a fair, they are there to spend money. It's a lot easier than trying to get your friends to buy make up or whatever is a popular direct sales business in your area. If you've tried that venue unsuccessfully, don't think the same thing will happen here.

You're not bothering someone when they walk over to you, so it's less intimidating than direct sales. Plus you have the extra bonus that the customer can pick up something and touch it which makes them more likely to buy it. That's useful to know so I'll say it again: holding something in your hand, makes you more likely to buy it. Also when you talk to someone at a fair, you're not really intruding.

What they may not realize is that all they want to see something that they need. There's a festival atmosphere, people are having fun and they want to buy something. Or their kids want to buy something. Even if your product isn't for children, it's beneficial to know the kids influence a full 45% of the adults' purchases. So, kids being at a fair is a good thing.

What to sell?

Even if you aren't that crafty, you can find things to sell. Some people sell antiques, I've seen direct sellers like Mary Kay and Pampered Chef reps. But It seems the people who do the best are the ones who are happy to be there and just sell something people can afford.

Honestly, I see more and more people reselling. They pick things like inflatable toys to sell when at festivals, or jewelry to sell at school craft fairs. The only direct sales people I've really seen do well right there at the fair were people who had inventory to sell. Those were usually toys or books.

One place I suggest checking when you're looking for inventory is ebay.com. I do a lot of buying there. Someone starting out doesn't have to have a tax ID to purchase. Plus you can see trends of what's popular. You can get a better variety as well because you don't have a minimum purchase just to get what you want. Many wholesalers have minimum purchases of $150 even if you can get around the tax ID number. That means that you're a bit limited on variety if you don't want to spend more than $300 initially. You can only go to 2 wholesalers with that.

But on ebay, you can spread that $300 out among several vendors and get a wider variety.Remember that when someone is making a purchase from you, they will likely buy more items if you have something else they want. Even if someone across the fair has the same thing for a little less, people will likely just buy it from you because they're already buying.

So you want something that has a bit of variety. For example, at my first fair, I had jewelry made from lots of different materials and I created a bunch of different styles. I also made sure to have men's items too. I just happened to have materials to make 2 dozen festive candles. That caught people's eyes, so they came to look at my table, and then bought more from me even if they didn't buy the candle.

The stand by for many people is jewelry because jewelry sells. It's something that people always look at. You only need so many pictures on you wall at home, but people will almost never say, "I couldn't possibly find a use for another bracelet." They may say they have too much jewelry, but they'll still buy it.

Toys sell really well too. Kids are the same everyone, they want more toys. Especially if they happen to be bored at that moment. If you're allowed to sell food items, prepackaged snacks and drinks sell great on a hot day. The food vendors may be crowded, expensive or far away, and if you sell cokes and chips on the side, people will thank you for it. A warehouse store like Sam's club or Costco is a great place to get those things. People will gladly buy a cool drink as they're looking over the rest of your booth.

Finding a place

So you have inventory, now you need a place to sell. There some easy places to get into such as school craft fairs. You can often find booth space that week. When starting out, it's good to start small, which means smaller fees. Yes, a trade show will have more people walking past. But the fees will be a few thousand dollars just to get floor space. In a smaller venue, especially fundraisers, the fees are more in the line of $50-200. That's a bit easier to handle if the weather stops people from coming out.

Good places to find venues are online, the newspaper and even in classifieds. You can see lots of "vendors needed" ads there. There are online resources such as festialnet.com where you pay a yearly fee but you get more information of what's in your area. You can always google "craft fairs" and then your state or city to see what's there.

Also know that you don't have to sell dog stuff to be a vendor at a dog show. I've been people selling purses and perfumes very well at places like those. Just because your items don't fit the theme perfectly, don't discount the idea of trying to sell there. If you sell something people want, you just have to get in front of them with it. It doesn't matter that they're there to see ponies, if you sell something that's really cool, they'll buy it anywhere.

Read the rules to be best prepared

Each event is different. While at a renfair, your replica swords are a really welcome addition, an elementary school may have them banned. So read the requirements so you're not surprised as you're setting up.

Some places require you to collect sales tax and give it to the organizers at then end of the day. Expect that if you go to a county or city run fair. you don't want to be caught off guard as your packing up.

If you have questions, be sure to ask. Sometimes there is extra help available loading and unloading that isn't mentioned if you don't talk to a real person. It's better to know requirements that don't apply to you than find out you missed something you were or weren't supposed to do.

Preparation before the big day - a checklist

Whenever I do a fair, I get excited and nervous. So I make myself a checklist of what I need to do or bring with me:

To do:

  1. Check and label inventory boxes for easy access
  2. Clean tables, table cloths and displays
  3. Check that inventory fits requirements of that fair
  4. Get help packing and unpacking the car
  5. Get change before the day of the event
  6. Find materials to do last minute fixes at fair

Things to bring:

  1. Water or drinks
  2. Snacks
  3. Sunblock
  4. Something to hold money - I use a purse slung over my shoulder so I don't loose it
  5. Business cards or at least paper to write information on
  6. Something to do if it's slow like to make more jewelry
  7. Calculator
  8. Bags for customers


This is just my list, There are plenty of other things you can bring, Just remember that at the end you may be tired when you have to pack everything up to go home.

Good luck

There is plenty more to be said about this, but for starters, this will do. If you've never done it before, it's best to just prepare the basics and jump in.

If you're nervous about trying this because you don't have a partner, don't worry too much. Make sure you can manage everything on your own. I've almost always done this alone. I usually chat a little with the vendors around me. If there isn't a volunteer to watch my booth when I run to the bathroom, usually another vendor will keep an eye on my booth and tell people that I'll be right back.

I've usually had very good experiences doing this, but even the bad ones weren't so bad. I've had much worse experiences with garage sales than I ever had selling at a fair. Give it a try to I'll be excited to see what people are selling at fairs in the year.

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    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      I have wanted to try peddling my wares at a flea market. Maybe with these tips I'll have the courage to give it s try.

      Thanks.

    • Kara Skinner profile image

      Kara Skinner 2 years ago from Maine

      Thank you for this hub. I love to go to a craft fair as a buyer and I've been wanting to go to a craft fair as a vendor but I've heard that the profits isn't worth the effort and it's best as publicity if you own a business. It's goo to know I can make money that way after all!

    • profile image

      Helen kurivial 3 years ago

      Do you have any advice on how to find the small venues? I have a both at our county fair every summer but I have no idea how to find the small weekend shows to sign up for them.

    • Wise fool profile image
      Author

      Wise fool 4 years ago from Colorado

      I agree. Plus it's a lot of fun to do and I see more and more popping up all the time.

    • breakfastpop profile image

      breakfastpop 4 years ago

      I think you have outlined some very good advice. I used to sell at craft fairs and flea markets and there is money to be made.