how to submit a successful craft show application
“Thank you for your application but we regret that we can’t offer you a space at our upcoming craft show.”
The first time an email like this hit my inbox I was devastated. Although I had been running my business, Random Nicole for a decade, had sold at hundreds of craft shows and knew I shouldn’t take it personally, I did…at first. I had been a vendor at this show multiple times. I thought my items fit in with their aesthetic. My photos were clear and well-shot. I’d recently revamped my website. So, why didn’t I get in?
After calming myself down with a glass of wine and writing about my disappointment, I reread the rejection email paying particular attention to the section of general points on why I may have been denied. I read each one and thought about which one may apply to me.
This one gave me an ah-ha moment: “If you’re a return vendor, how your work has progressed since participating or applying to our fairs over the years, and whether or not you’ve produced new items or designs since your previous participation.”
I thought about my line and how it hadn’t changed much over the past few years. My line was still selling well but I hadn’t come out with any new products or designs for a while. This realization led to some deeper searching of what I was doing with Random Nicole and asking myself why hadn’t I designed anything new for a while. That would have been an excellent time to take some time to examine my business with a radical sabbatical.
It’s been two years since I received that rejection email and I’m so thankful I did. I’d been going through the motions and had lost my passion for new design as I became used to churning out the same stuff and overwhelmed with the business side of things.
Now, I’ve changed directions and am taking break from Random Nicole to focus on producing Patchwork Show and Craftcation Conference. That rejection was one of a handful of things that made me examine the direction of my business and my art.
I’ve spent nearly eight years on the other side of craft fair applications, handing out acceptances and rejections for patchwork applicants. This fall as I went through the patchwork applications with our jury, I thought about my first rejection and all the tips I’d learned from both ten years of applying to craft fairs and eight years running a craft show.
Below are my top seven tips for submitting a successful craft show application.
Every application Patchwork accepts doesn’t get an A+ in all of these areas. However this is what our jury takes into consideration when reviewing applications. Every craft show has their own criteria, so know that all of these tips don’t apply to every show but serve as a guideline as well as a give a little insight into what organizers are looking for.
If you nailed the application and got accepted, be sure to check out our tips for a great craft show display by Janie XY.
Tips on how to submit a successful craft show application:
Make sure the show is a good fit for your business.
-Research the show before you apply. Look at their website and the branding of the show. If the show has a blog or Flickr page with photos of previous shows spend some time getting a feel for the aesthetic of the show. Ask yourself if it seems like your items are a good fit for the show’s demographic and overall feel.
-Check out the previous vendors. It’s also good to reach out to vendors who have done the show before and ask them about their experience.
-Attend the show as a customer both to get a feel for the show and to exhibit your support even before you become a vendor.
-Often our jury has to deny vendors whose products are well-made and lovely but just don’t fit in with the Patchwork aesthetic. We want to be sure their products are a good match for Patchwork attendees, not only to keep Patchwork’s branding consistent but also to help ensure that the vendor does well at the show.
They should be clear, accurate, well-lit and in focus.
-Be sure your photos are in focus, well-lit and accurately represent your designs.
-Photograph your items up close, but not so close that people looking at them can’t tell what they are. It’s also good to show the items in action, ie: lifestyle shots. Lifestyle shots are photographs of your designs on models or set-up in photo shoots.
-If you make tees, perhaps ask a savvy friend whose style fits your aesthetic to be your model in exchange for a tee.
-Don’t have a decent camera or know how to take photos? Reach out to a friend or on social media offering a trade for your items in exchange for the photographers time and set direction.
-Including a photo of your booth set-up is helpful, especially if your set-up is amazing.
-Make sure the background and props don’t overpower your items.
-Check out our post on how to DIY your next product shoot by Aurora.
INNOVATION + UNIQUENESS:
Your line should be cohesive, reflective of you and aesthetically distinctive.
-You are creative! You have a unique and personal story to tell and your line should reflect that. Instead of following the trends (we won’t name them all, but hello…birds!) Your line should be a reflection of you and how you see the world. If a particular image is popular, don’t use it unless it rings true to your individual artistic vision. (I still use birds in my designs BUT I have been using them for over a decade and they are part of my personal style).
-80% of the vendors that apply to Patchwork are jewelry vendors. If we accepted all of them, we would be jewelry craft fair. This is not to say that if you make jewelry, you won’t get in. However, you should be sure your line is unique and stands out in a sea of other jewelry vendors.
-If you make several different things: jewelry, clothing, art, knit goods and accessories you need to be sure that all of your items carry your branding (the quality that makes your items unique and ‘you’). The quality of all the items should also be consistent. If your tees are well-made and unique but your jewelry line isn’t cohesive yet, perhaps hold off on including it on your application.
Pay attention to the directions and be professional and thoughtful.
-Follow the application directions. We can’t stress this enough!
-Know the application due date and be sure the organizers receive your application on time.
-Fill out the application in full. Double check for typos, especially in your email address as this is how the organizers will be contacting you.
-Describe your items well and truthfully. If you don’t sew your shirts yourself, don’t say you do. Be honest about your methods of production.
-Artist statement: Be concise. Don’t tell every detail of your life story. Pick and choose interesting tidbits of your story as well as your process. Genuinely describe your line concisely as well as your process. How are your items made? What is your role in their production? Are you the designer? The sewer? The printer? Or all of the above? Where are your items made?
-If you’re applying for a shared booth: deeply consider all of these factors when choosing your booth-mate. Just because your mom started making knit hats doesn’t mean that she’s a good fit as a booth-mate. You and your booth-mate should both meet all the criteria for a stellar applicant.
ONLINE PRESENCE AND BRANDING:
Your online presence should reflect your line and be up to date.
-Have your website or Etsy shop stocked and representative of your line and branding.
-Your online presence is the first impression organizers get with regards to not only your work but how seriously you take your business. Make that first impression amazing!
-If your website leaves something to be desired and you’re not techie, consider doing a trade with a friend or reach out on social media to exchange web or graphic design services for your items.
-Put your best foot forward. Show only the stuff that you make that is excellent.
-Have all your social media ducks in a row. Set-up a Twitter, Instgram and Facebook and brand all of your pages with the look of your business. You should be doing this anyway but it’s just one more way to show organizers that you are a professional that takes your business seriously.
Be honest and spread the word.
-If the organizers ask if you would like posters or postcards to distribute to promote the show, only ask for the amount you can hand-out. We don’t look an application and think, “wow this person wants 5,000 postcards, we should for sure let them in.” Posters and postcards are expensive to print and use resources and we only want to print as many as will get used. If you plan on doing all your promotion online, let the organizers know that this is why you don’t want any postcards.
-Promoting the show benefits you! If the organizers encourage you to share info about the show on social media, do it! be sure to tag the show in your posts so the organizers know how dedicated and pro-active you are. Showing that you support the show during the application process shows the organizers that you are an active member of the community and supportive.
Be professional and kind to the organizers.
-Know the vendor notification date and don’t email the organizers before that date to ask if you’re in or not. If you haven’t heard from them and the notification date has passed. Send them a friendly email letting them know that you didn’t receive notification.
-Don’t email the organizers asking questions that are answered on their website, emails or application.
-Be professional in all regards. If you get rejected don’t be an jerk about it. Organizers know it’s hard for vendors not to take a rejection personally. Remember my post on how hard it was and is for me to learn how to take rejection and criticism gracefully. Rather than lashing out at the organizers, take this as an opportunity to examine your line and application and try to improve it for future shows. Remember that the organizers generally have 2-3x’s the amount of applications as they have available booths. The organizers are the people who may accept you in the future and being nice and professional is always a good idea. Don’t send threatening emails or letters. It never hurts to graciously accept a rejection by emailing the organizers and saying something like, “thank you for taking the time to review my application. I know this decision must have been hard and I appreciate the opportunity. I look forward to attending the show as a customer.”
-If you get denied, ask for feedback and be patient. Organizers are usually juggling a huge amount of things at once. Email the organizers and ask them when they would have time to review your application in detail and give their feedback.
Do you have any tips on how to submit a successful craft show application? Have you been denied from a craft shows before? What did you learn from the experience?
If you’re looking to make the most of your time and effort at craft shows check out our online workshop:
Craft Show Success: Make sales and build your business, confidence + community through selling at craft shows.
I share the tips and tricks I’ve learned from vending at over 300 craft shows and producing over 40 of them. You’ll learn how to: find and apply to the right show, develop your “look” using basic branding, prepare for shows with products, checklists, staff, and a pitch, merchandise and display products for maximum effect, deal with pricing, permits, and taxes + MORE!
Craft Show Success teaches you how to:
- Find and choose the right craft shows for your brand
- Determine and achieve your craft show goals
- Get organized and be prepared before, during and after craft shows
- Submit a stand-out application with great photos
- Create cohesive branding for your business
- Maximize your booth space and create unique on-brand displays
- Price your goods for profit
- Navigate licenses and permits
- Maximize your time at the show
- Build and solidify relationships with your customers, creative community and show producers
Click below to preview our Craft Show Success online workshop.
This is such a great post, both for new folks selling and for experienced sellers to be reminded of. Thanks for putting it together so concisely!
thanks miriam! i wish i knew all of this stuff when i started doing craft shows! it only took me ten years of selling and 7 years of going through apps to figure it all out! ha ha 🙂 -n
Thank you, Nicole! I’m hoping to apply for a few shows this year for the first time ever and this wonderful advice.
Question about the multiple items branding. My jewelry for a specific niche market (nearby university sports fans …Southern ladies & their football 😀 ) and has been very well received. My drawings and paintings, however, are eclectic. I also do some fiber art. Can I display these at the same fair?
I’ve had in mind arranging the booth like local high end gift shops …my thought process being that the different types of wares will attract interest. This is based on personal experience: I tend to speed through booths with only one type of item for sale, but stop and browse at booths with different things displayed. What are your thoughts on this type of arrangement?
glad you liked the post. regarding your different items: it’s up to you. as a producer if i see an application that has different items ie: jewelry, clothing, art etc… i don’t worry about it as long as it has the same aesthetic. what i mean is, that the overall booth looks composed and professional. it really depends on what type of fair you’re applying to and what they’re looking for in a vendor and in product. displaying your items and making your booth look like a well-designed retail store is an excellent idea. vendors should for sure think of their booth as a retail shop and take the same care and pride as they would as if it was a bricks and mortar store, since essentially it is. best of luck 🙂
This is a super helpful post. I’m always wondering what considerations are made beyond “do we like this stuff.” 🙂 This really helps me to know if I’m doing all I can. Looking forward to the next round of Patchwork! It’s always an awesome event.
thanks jennifer! it took me years to understand and learn how to apply to shows – which is why i felt the need to share the info 🙂 we’re looking forward to spring patchwork shows too 🙂
You know, sometimes a rejection note is an excellent kick in the pants. My husband is in the tech business while I am an artist and decidedly NOT tech savvy. A a result, the website my hubby concocted was more akin to selling computer services than selling my art. And when that Patchwork rejection note came, it gave the reason that my website was not quite up to scratch. My dear hubby’s immediate reaction was to make it MORE complex! More complicated! More! More! More!
I made a rare tech decision. No… it would be simpler. More artistic and suited to my business. In fact, I would learn to do it myself. I discovered that Go Daddy has an excellent and simple website builder that I could muddle through without too much pain. It put the focus on my work, my mission and my professional credits. Heck, I even posted some photos of my work with Hollywood celebrities!
Without that rejection letter, I would have left that outdated and boring site up without a second thought. Now, I am proud of my work and my website.
Lume di Luna Designs
Hi Nicole! I’m a brand new artist and excited about the prospect of selling at Patchwork. Hopefully all my ducks (or pots) are in a row. You mentioned something about taking great pictures as well as having a lot of stock. I didnt notice a place for that in the application. will you be asking for those later? And since I’m a new artist, I dont have a previous booth design. I do however know how I’m going to set it up. Let me know if there is something I’m missing with that part of it as well.
thanks so much!
Hi Julie! Great pictures really help us know what you sell. There is a place on the application in the “Tell Us About What You Sell” section that addresses your photos. We recommend setting up your booth at home and figuring out everything in advance so that you know exactly what you are doing the day of the show. Hope that helps!
Thank you for this!
I am a weaver and have been in three shows. On my fourth, I was denied and it hurts like heck.