The wonderful thing about craft fairs…


The following essay was produced as part of my 2013 effort for the November National Novel Writing Month effort. As such, please understand that while I did give it a quick review, it has not gone through the same proofreading and editing I normally try to give all of the material posted on this site.

I always make some mistakes. There are errors to be found throughout this web site, and many exist despite dozens of attempts to correct problems. That said, ask that you approach this material in the spirit intended – a basic thought, slightly worked out and very informally researched, delivered in the hopes of writing more than 50,000 words by the end of November.

Thank you.

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So far, the fall craft season of 2013 has been one of the busiest ever for ComplemenTerry Designs. And some of the biggest elements in keeping us moving have been several incredible things that we have experienced.

First and foremost… ComplemenTerry Designs.

More than 15 years ago, Terry and I were discussing her talents and craft efforts. She had an extensive background, including amazing experience in floral arrangements and design. (We make no attempt to disguise it, while I am involved, there is a reason “Terry” is in the ComplemenTerry Designs name.) We decided to begin some operations under the new name… and ended up taking things slowly.

We have regularly participated in only a handful… if that many… events annually. The grand total has been at least one each year since the beginning, but really never more than two or three and possibly a special project added in.

Until 2013.

An amazing set of circumstances and coincidences allowed us some flexibility in our schedules, and we decided to load up on craft and vendor fairs. The month of November alone has featured five events… a booking on every weekend and taking place over six days.

Over this time, we have met some incredible people and learned an amazing amount about the secret world of craft and vendor fairs. Some things we already had a feel for and opinions about… and some were lessons to us that you really only learn by doing multiple events, in a variety of settings, while working with different people. And I thought I’d take a few moments to share some of the secrets with you…

It’s a close group… surprisingly close and supportive.

Frankly, it’s stunning.

While I just mentioned that you need to work with different people to really get a grasp of things… such as the highs and lows… it is by working with the same people, and establishing relationships and friendships, that the true magic develops.

They buy items from each other.

They discuss upcoming events, make recommendations, and share information about as well as networking could ever be done.

I remember about 20 years ago, Terry and I went to a local renaissance fair. Inside, there was a guy that made dragons out of wax. He also offered creations like mushrooms, wizards and other creatures. (In speaking with him, he also did lots of other sculpting efforts as well. Anyway… dragons…) He put some on driftwood. A few had pieces of castle wall incorporated. They were candles. All this time later, I still have his name… Michael Mills.

We used to buy at least one piece from his stand each time we visited the fair. As Terry put it, she believed in supporting artists, encouraging talent… especially for people doing quality work that deserved appreciation and recognition.

Fair enough.

Now keep that story in mind, along with the theme of supporting quality artists. Because that is exactly what these craft fairs can be like. It’s a group that wants to support good people that are doing good work.

It’s amazing… like there is some unacknowledged signal beeping away, drawing the best people together. And they start talking. Exchanging details and histories. Making connections. And by the end of a single day you have phone numbers and e-mail addresses and Facebook information.

At the risk of being somewhat biased since we have found ourselves included in these groups, it generally seems to be the people that are the most friendly, and almost always offering tremendous items for consideration, that become part of these groups.

And it goes beyond making friends and chatting.

People exchange information about other events… and often send along contacts. This year alone, Terry and I attended two fairs we didn’t even know existed until someone told us about them. We got to talking to people, they took a look at some of our items and then said: “You guys would do wonderfully at such-and-such.” Expecting nothing in return, they provided details and information that allowed us to find and register for these events.

And… quite often we shared places we were planning to be as well.

They offer encouragement. They offer experience and advice. They are truly ambassadors of the community.

It’s also networking on a simply unreal level.

You’d be surprised what you learn… especially about doing business.

During the run up to our very first craft fair with ComplemenTerry Designs, Terry decided she wanted to expand her selection. Actually, she decided she needed to expand her selection. Up until that point, she mainly had wreaths and some traditional arrangements (such as holiday centerpieces) as the primary creations in her inventory.

She wanted more. She wanted a few smaller items… where things being sold for a couple of dollars, even ones that weren’t complicated to make (but also weren’t expensive to make), and eventually those dollars could add up. She also wanted some items to catch eyes and attention, maybe spark conversation, and potentially get people to spend more time around her table.

One of the items she came up with that first year was a doorstop. It was quite a project. Basically she took a precast patio brick, painted it white, and then used a few pieces of felt and a pipe cleaner to turn it into a snowman. Because of the efforts involved just in painting the bricks, it turned into an all-hands-involved affair, with Justin, Jay and I all taking turns and getting involved.

Now… were they hard to make? No. Not really. Were the expensive to make? Not at all.


They were a tough sell.


I mean… really… why? They were cute, priced right, and frankly, appeared to be a steal. People stopped specifically to look at them. They were everything Terry had hoped to bring to her area of the craft fair… something different and relatively inexpensive that was going to get people talking.

And they did talk about these snowmen, in glowing terms.

What we hadn’t figured on was how heavy they were.

Oh… we knew they were heavy. We each moved dozens of them.

But what we learned… what we hadn’t anticipated… was that people couldn’t comfortably carry them. At that year’s particular craft fair, the set up wasn’t one where after a visit to the vendors a return to the car was planned for the near future (or even easy to make).

And these lessons are all over the place.

Here’s a good one… a very meaningful one on several levels… and I’ll toss it in as a gift to you. Always plan on kids being around.

Now… there are obvious items that go along with this idea. The hands of children do not often mix well with fragile displays. But those items aren’t the concept I want to share.

Kids are the enemy of laid back, slow moving, careful consideration and browsing to be done shopping trips. They want to go, go, go… and often the parents have to go, go, go just to keep those hands from getting too busy exploring breakable items. And that means those parents will move along after spending only a handful of seconds… and likely after making no purchases… at your table.

So… do you have anything in your area to attract the kids, make a group with kids stop, and encourage a purchase?

When it’s bad, it’s bad… I probably shouldn’t admit this, but here goes…

You know those wooden popsicle sticks? The ones you could use to build a model log cabin? The ones you could set up to be a great art project with some yarn? Those popsicle sticks.

Well… many craft fairs have loud voices in the ranks. And, often these voices are used during times of frustration. For example, when sales aren’t as good as had been hoped.

Many times. Many… many… many times… the people behind these voices are selling items that look like they were made out of used -- and never washed after use -- popsicle sticks.

Now… that’s a joke.

A joke.

It’s meant to be funny.

It’s meant to be offer an example that’s easy to appreciate, while honestly describing a situation so extreme that you couldn’t possibly believe that it’s real.

Although… honest moment… yeah, I have met a couple of people that were misguided enough that, even though they didn’t, I actually could see them using used popsicle sticks. But this is not the norm. Instead, poor sales aren’t normally because of poor work quality. Most often it’s because of a poor inventory. Or…

More to the point, the items being offered for sales aren’t connecting with the customers that are looking around.

And my point about that being bad (and, for some of the vendors, a reason to get noisy) is that unfortunately, sometimes people approach craft and vendor fairs with unreasonable expectations. They seem to view it as some sort of golden ticket lottery…

…where the investment of $40 to $50 for supplies… and a few minutes working on projects during commercials instead of fast-forwarding through them… is going to generate thousands of dollars from customers.

…where a creative and even well-designed product not selling is viewed as the fault of event organizers.

It’s incredible.

No accountability. No responsibility. Instead a viewpoint from entitlement.

Please… PLEASE… go back and see what I said about the craft community. When it’s good, it is beyond incredibly good.

But the people that are really good don’t treat crafts purely as a hobby. They are treating crafts with the respect, effort and focus of a professional. They not only want their work to be as good as it can be, and a positive reflection of their talents… they also want to be surrounded by people that feel the same way…. they also want their work to be enjoyed.

Just because you like something -- or think an idea is genius -- does not mean someone else wants to spend $20 for it.

And, unfortunately, the loudest complaints seem to come from the tables offering goods you don’t want to spend any money on.

Some of the people are unbelievable… with most being unbelievably good.

This goes for other vendors… and it goes for customers.

We’ve have been blessed with people that have literally shown up this year at multiple events to find us in three different states. Great people.

When someone comes back for more… when someone tells you that a piece you made for them has become virtually a family tradition for holiday decoration… when someone explains how they love the way you brought a unique or unexpected twist to a design…

Craft fairs are wonderful things.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at