Organizing a Craft Fair

Organizing a Craft Fair

About this article


Much of this document is written from the point of view of a non-profit organization trying to do some fundraising. Any prices listed are in Canadian funds (CDN$ = $0.65 to $0.70 US$) and are used for example only.

Securing a Hall:

You need a hall in which the fair is to take place. If you don’t own your own hall, there are a number of options:

  • church halls;
  • legions/VFW;
  • community centres
  • town halls
  • Curling Clubs
  • Senior’s Clubs
  • Schools (may or may not be possible but if so, they offer a great source of foot traffic, particularly if you offer to split the proceeds with them in exchange for some help)
  • Local restaurants or inns
  • Scout Halls
  • Theatres
  • Golf Clubs

Look for a place that has a reasonably large open room where tables may be set up. If you have to rent the hall, some may have a dual standard whereby the hall is free or the fee largely reduced if the proceeds are going to charity, while if the fair is for profit, there is a higher fee. This may also mean that if you get the reduced fee, you will have to provide your own janitorial services.

You may also want to be able to have some kind of kitchen out of which you can serve food (see below.)

The hall should be reasonably accessible, of course wheelchair accessible but also easily accessible from main arteries; believe it or not, some buildings “on main arteries” (such as the service road of a major highway) can actually be very difficult to access.

Table Fees:

On a budgetary level, determining your fee can largely be determined by two factors:

  • your goal (both whether or not to raise money, and if so how much)
  • any rental fees and identifiable expenses directly related to putting on the fair

To determine the table fee, divide the budget by how many tables you can set up. The actual fee will cover the hall rental and has a small surplus for your group. Calculate your group’s small portion of the fee as being the difference between a round figure (such as $20) and the calculated average cost per table for the hall (for example $16.78). Also note that this difference will act as a buffer in the case that you are unable to completely fill your tables.

There are many forms of fees:

  • A set fee per table;
  • A set fee for one table and a second smaller set fee for a second table
  • A set fee for the table and a sales commission
  • A sales commission only

Depending on your market, the commission rate you use, and the table fee itself, a larger sum may be collected by using a set table fee. A fair with 45 tables can earn $800 at $20 for one and $35 for two tables, but depending on sales the same fair might only get $400 in commissions at 10%. (I go to one fair where the fee structure is a combination of set fee of $20 per table, $35 for two, and a 10% commission; it averages $800 in fees AND $400 in commissions. Another at $25 per table probably earns $1000 in tables but whose commissions, at 15%, probably earns at least as much; they have a ceiling of $60 per table for commissions.) Note that with aggressive marketing you can easily make your commissions into a larger portion without increasing the rate.

Decide whether or not to allow table sharing; this becomes a tradeoff situation in which you have to balance the possibility of two artisans who would rent one table versus neither renting a table at all. Usually this may not be an issue since filling tables is not difficult given reasonable advertising. To offset said tradeoff (and therefore allow sharing), use a commission rate as part of the fee structure. Using the combined set fee and commission also allows for you to keep costs reasonable to the artisan in the case of your group having to rent the hall.

Generally, the nature and quality (and ultimately the pricing) of the items artisans bring will increase with the fee. This is not to denegrade the quality or value of many crafts, but rather to point out that given a higher table fee, the more upscale the crafts (and their prices) will be since craft type and their prices will determine whether or not an artisan can afford to enter the fair.

If you want something along the lines of a fair that would easily compete with the nicest, most expensive gift boutique in the most affluent area in your city, charge $75 per day or more. Medium range will be about $35 to $75. If you want an eclectic mix of items — including the occasional upscale item — more like a street market, have a lower fee. Remember also that small towns and sparsely populated areas may not be able to support as high a table fee as cities with many competing fairs would, since the area may not be able to support high sales volumes that would be required to support a higher table fee.

When do you start organizing?

The earlier the better, numbering in months before your fair. Some artisans need time to build up enough stock, while yet more often the case being a necessary timeframe for artisans and more importantly to the purchasing public to know of your fair. Usually getting artisans to call you for information isn’t too difficult; by advertising that you’ll be holding a craft fair, local artisans will find out and start calling you to ask if there are any tables available. There should of course be a way to reach you in the advertisement, and the person answering the phone should either know your phone number or know to take a message to give to you.

Recruiting artisans for your craft fair:

  • List your fair in annual regional publications of craft fair directories. Go to craft supply stores – and craft boutiques too — and ask them if they are aware of any.
  • Put up posters in craft supply stores
  • Place ads in craft supply and craft oriented magazines
  • List your fair with the well-circulated newspapers’ Living/Lifestyle/Coming Events/Hobby sections that list upcoming events. Every season, particularly leading up to Christmas or other major local festivals or holidays, some even devote a few pages or a whole section to list craft fairs, dinners, rummage sales, bazaars and the like.
  • Advertise through other regular media (television, radio, newspapers, etc.)
  • Keep records of your artisans’ addresses and phone numbers, and in subsequent years send them application forms, several months in advance.
  • Go to craft fairs in your area and beyond, and bring a number of flyers and application forms. As you look around the fair, distribute flyers to the artisans. Some will be willing to fill out an application form and pay the fee right away. You should also look around and see any ideas that worked well or didn’t at that fair, which you can apply to your fair.
  • Place notes in LOCAL newsgroups on the internet and on websites soliciting artisans.

Advertising (to attract the spending public):

Your responsibilities go beyond providing a hall; they include attracting the spending public. This very important to remember if you are collecting a set fee for the table and you meet your budget regardless of whether or not the spending public arrives. Think of it in terms of collecting only a sales commission from the artisans; if they do well, so do you, BUT if they don’t, you don’t either.

Prepare a Press Release including the full, exact information:

  • the event
  • who you are
  • date(s) and times
  • location, access routes and bus routes
  • a short list of crafts you expect
  • any attractions such as a dinner or games for children
  • a contact name and telephone number for more information
  • Send the press release to the local daily and weekly newspapers, and television and radio stations. Ask them to list you in any listing(s) of fairs and upcoming events. Confirm with them within a week before that they will be listing your fair, and the exact information and wording (such as to avoid the price of your concurrent dinner appearing to be an entrance fee, or confusing dates and their respective times.) Look for a form that they will provide, usually in the case of newspapers, which will print said forms in their papers a few weeks in advance of the special section or on a regular basis
  • Arrange for a radio station to come do an onsite broadcast along the same lines as the promotional commercial breaks they often do for local businesses. Provide the announcer with complete information about location, times, and attractions. During their spots be prepared to talk about your organization and why you’re holding the event. Note that it is important that there not be loudspeaker that would distract the artisans and their customers.
  • List your fair with regional craft fair listings
  • Place ads in craft magazines
  • Have a large helium balloon strung on a long rope outside high in the air in front of the hall
  • Place a large, inflatable “whatever-you-can-get-your-hands-on” on the roof or in a plainly visible spot from the street to attract attention (such as large inflatable games, animals, clowns, etc.)
  • Place a sandwich board near the entrance several days before the event announcing the event, and tie helium filled balloons to it.
  • Place a big sign on your location wall which can be viewed and easily read by passing cars, at least a week in advance
  • Make flyers and:
  • have them available to artisans ahead of time so that they can distribute them at their other fairs
  • Deliver them door to door (if you sponsor community groups, ask them to deliver, as well as having your members deliver)
  • Go to mall parking lots in the area during prime shopping times and place them under the wipers of the cars
  • Ask local merchants to have a stack on their counter, or put one into each of the bags of their customers
  • Place posters in craft supply stores
  • Many supermarkets have community corkboards; place your poster/flyer on it!
  • Have a guest book with an attendant who takes down the names and addresses of all the people who come in; in subsequent years, mail invitations to – or call on the phone — these visitors to visit this year’s fair. You can also do this on a voluntary basis (no attendant) or with a free business card raffle.
  • Call all the names on your membership list and ask them to come.
  • Even the Internet can be useful. In the two or three weeks leading to your fair, regularly announce in LOCAL newsgroups that you’re having a craft fair. Take advantage of websites; does anyone in your organization or the organization itself have a website? Ask them to put up the good word. There are also a number of Internet equivalents to the above; look for craft groups, pages that deal in crafting and wander through the links until you get to a page that announces craft events in various regions.

The application form:

This should include information that you would find useful.

  • name of artisan, address, phone number
  • type of craft(s) – this is particularly important if you wish to limit the number of any kind of craft
  • number of tables requested
  • special requests (table location in the hall, electricity, wall space, relative proximity to a washroom, proximity to another artisan)
  • statement of any policy, such as:
  • no alcohol on your site;
  • they must keep their own cash *or* central cash;
  • their responsibility to collect and remit any applicable taxes in the case of the former (it generally being yours in the latter);
  • times when they may access your site to set up their table, and a requirement to stay open for the duration of the fair;
  • how confirmation is handled (such as their cancelled cheque being their confirmation and receipt, or a form will be sent with table location, etc.);
  • fee and commission rate
  • “for office use only space” where you can put in their priority number (first come first serve) as well as their final table number, and if you use a commission, how much they sold and the commission, as well as initialing spaces.
  • send out as part of your confirmation a floor plan with their table circled along with its number so that they know in advance where to find their table when they arrive.
  • Include a poster and four or more flyers in the envelope for them to help with advertising, and state that you have more if they want. Many artisans are willing to deliver flyers in their area, give some to friends and distribute them at their other fairs before yours; encourage them to make copies. You can also publish your flyer and poster in Adobe Photoshop, MS Word, etc. and make it available on the web for them to print out and make copies.

Attractions in order to get foot traffic for your artisans:

  • Have a spaghetti dinner or pancake brunch in a separate room – it is a great fundraiser for your group and can get people to come to your fair.
  • If your building has the separate rooms to support it, have:
    • games of chance and games for the kids (but not if it’s in the same room as the artisans – the calling out of “Another WINNER!” is distracting to the artisans AND their customers, the latter of whom may end up wondering what the fuss is all about and move on, without buying!);
    • local celebrities (but preferably in a separate area or discreetly in the corner);
    • Arrange for a radio station to come do an onsite broadcast along the same lines as the promotional commercial breaks they often do for local businesses. Provide the announcer with complete information about location, times, and attractions. During his spots be prepared to talk about your organization and why you’re holding the event. Note that it is important that they not have a loudspeaker that would distract the artisans and their customers.
    • Clowns for the kids if it’s in a school or similar environment where the kids can run off to play the midway style games while the parents shop
    • Concerts given by a local orchestra or band in the sanctuary of the church building (and craft fair in the hall); unfortunately, this may limit your fair since there will be a protracted period of no buyers, then a quick rush of buyers, then nothing again. Of course you could have a jazz band play one piece at a time, or small bands play short mini concerts of 20 minutes spread throughout the day.


A typical table varies between six and eight feet long and two to three feet wide. However, this can vary with your hall space; the tables that are available; and pricing structures.

Try to get all of your tables to be the same size and shape. If the tables available to you vary enough in size and shape, while you won’t need to try to find the right artisan for that groovy table you have, you have the flexibility to offer variable pricing on your tables, such as 6×2.5 ($20), 8×2.5($25), card tables ($15). If you have long table extenders (leaves) to suspend between two tables, use them as well and divide the table into two or three. If you have one oddball sized or shaped table, either don’t use it or charge the same price for it if practical. Also remember that there will be the very occasional but not unusual person who will either desire to bring their own table or prefer not to have a table at all, instead wishing to set up their own booth or set of shelves and racks.

You may also need to rent tables from somewhere; in this case, integrate this cost into your fee structure.

Organizing table space

The simplest way of doing it is placing tables along the length of the walls with a space equal to the width of the table between it and the wall as well as well as creating an “island” of tables in the centre of the room along its length. Larger rooms may allow for multiple rows of tables.

You should ask in the application form for any preferences such as wall hanging space, access to electricity, corner space, and proximity to a friend. These should not be guaranteed but rather offered on a first come, first served basis. This avoids things like offering a space with wall hanging space and electrical outlets to someone who requires neither while placing someone who does require either or both in the centre of the room, requiring a dangerous power cord being taped to the floor.

For organizing the floor space, make a floor map of the hall(s) with easy reference points (such as exits and the snack bar). Find out where all the electrical outlets are and mark them; you should also mark which walls are suitable for hanging things.

Then number each table (represented by a square) and fill in the name of the artisan. You should also have a list of all the artisans along with a brief description of their craft(s).

When you have a completed floor plan make a number of copies of each and post them at various access points to the hall and building. Often, this final version will be produced only a few hours before the fair, depending on how quickly the tables are filled and last minute cancellations and replacements from your waiting list.

Policies to adopt:

Announce that your registration policy is first come, first served. This is to be defined by the date (and even time in certain circumstances) at which you have their registration fee in your possession. Sometimes you are going to adopt policies which favour some return applicants (or against some) such as being willing to advance some returns who are late to the top of your waiting list or displace some other late new applicants to the waiting list. As much as possible, avoid unreasonably favouring artisans. To avoid it, call up artisans you expect to return when your tables are almost full to remind them about the fair, and offer to deliver and pick up their registrations.

Cancellations: Have any of the following:

  • No refunds;
  • No refunds after a certain date;
  • Partial refunds and only before a certain date;
  • Substitutions may be allowed provided that the new artisan agrees to all stated policies as though they were the original artisan, and will be managed by the artisans themselves (ie as far as you’re concerned, the new artisan showing up will be in on the original artisan’s fee, which you will keep), OR not allowed if your fair is juried or the substitution would conflict with other policies (ie. your food policy if present.)

Have a waiting list of artisans who can be called up at the last minute (often right at opening time) who are willing to take a table. If you call them after a certain date (usually within the day before the show) offer the table at a reduced fee.

For a two day fair (such as Friday night and Saturday) if you have a lunchroom where you will be serving dinner on the Friday night only, offer “Saturday Only” tables. Or organize a pancake brunch for the Saturday morning.

For a two day fair (such as Friday night and Saturday) if an artisan does not show up on the Friday night, they forfeit their table and table fee; call people on your waiting list and charge them a reduced table fee. Make sure that this policy is clearly marked in the application form that they complete.

Have a food policy. Depending on the type of artisans you may get calling, some may ask if they may bring homemade jams, jellies, preserves, syrups, candies, or home baking. You may decide that this isn’t a problem; or, if your organization has a bake table with any of the above, you may not want the competition. Regardless, you may want to set a policy of either allowing all kinds of food, or none. Having it as either yes or no is easier since, in the case that you decide to selectively allow food depending on what your bake table will have, you don’t have to explain to artisans why the person beside them is allowed their item when they weren’t.

If your organization is going to have a home baking table that typically runs out very fast (such as within 15 minutes), advertise that the bake table will only open two hours after your fair opens (and cover said table with a sheet and have “security guards”); allow someone to use the emptied table to run their own bake table (at a reduced fee, of course)

Clearly explain whether the fair is open to only artisans (crafts) or to home tradespeople (Avon, Mary Kay, Tupperware, children’s toys, etc.) or the stuff people cleaned out from their attics and garages as well.

Depending on your area (and the number of tables your hall can accommodate) you may wish to limit the number of tables with the same kind of craft. You can either use a first come, first served policy for each type of craft (putting other artisans with the same types of crafts on a waiting list) or use a jury to decide which crafts will be in your fair. In the case of the former and should you still have a lot of tables left, you should begin calling the artisans on your waiting list about a week before your fair to confirm their reservation.

If you are using a commission system, provide to each artisan a simple tally sheet. This can be as easily made as a photocopied sheet of paper with a grid of three columns and twenty rows drawn with a pencil and ruler, along with the table number, artisan along and the date. Ask that it be filled out.

Treat your artisans, and particularly your return artisans, well:

  • Give return artisans the same place they had last time (unless they request otherwise);
  • provide waitering service
  • provide helpers for setup and take down (particularly helping to move their crafts to and from their cars)
  • give complimentary coffee and tea tickets to the artisans;
  • give complimentary dessert for them if they order one of your meals;
  • Go around during the fair and interact with the artisans, and where possible, accommodate their needs
  • Figure out how to always include at least one or two new artisans at your fair each time. Repeat customers to your fair come back because they always find something they like to buy, which over all your customers includes some who come back for the same artisans and others who come hoping to find something new.
  • Go to far away craft fairs (of course within one or two hours’ driving distance) and pass around word to the artisans that you’re holding a craft fair.
  • Find new avenues of advertising your fair each time, while maintaining and improving your existing contacts with previous venues;
  • Ask your artisans to spread the word to other artisans at their other craft fairs by providing them with your advertising flyers in advance.
  • Note that by using a first come, first served policy will help diversify your fair since as word of your fair spreads, new artisans will send in their registration fees and gain priority in your list.
  • Occasionally you may find extra space by attrition. Typical reasons may include your fair being too far, too small, their previous sales being too small, conflict with another fair, desire to change venues, lack of stock, they stopped making their crafts, illness in the family, other commitments, and moving out of the area.
  • If you have a juried fair, always try to include new artisans. In practice this may be easier given a first come first served policy
  • there will often be new artisans quick to take up the spaces in your fair, and there will often be artisans who do not call you back in time. If necessary, remove your lowest sellers each year and open their spaces to new artisans.
  • You should also ensure that there you only have one artisan with a particular type of item, or that artisans with items similar to others’ also have a variety of items not otherwise sold in your fair.

Food Service:

  • Have a coffee shop. This can range from offering coffee, tea, lemonade, and homebaked cookies to a full luncheon menu (sandwiches, soups, hot dogs, hamburgers, full meals, desserts, and the like.)
  • As an alternative or in addition to a full menu, ask a local pizzeria to deliver pizzas in bulk and sell pizza by the slice at a small profit. Any excess pizza can be sold at the end at cost.
  • As an alternative to your providing food services, if your fair is in an inn, country club, golf club, or other venue that normally has food services for its own functions, invite them to operate their kitchen during the fair.
  • If you have a dinner (for evenings) or brunch (days), have an advanced sitting for the artisans before the public may enter so that they may eat before their customers arrive and so that you may clear up tables faster for when the public arrives.
  • Place at each artisan’s table a fully detailed order form. On it should be every item you offer in your coffee shop along with their price and the spaces enter how many of each item they want. Clearly state when their order will be delivered. Include an envelope with their name and table number and a time when you will collect the envelope and cash.
  • Offer waitering service for the artisans. This can be as simple as having some of the children of your organizing team – or another member of your organizing team – go around every half hour or so offering to pick up something from your coffee shop. If you have enough artisans, your waiter(s) won’t have to worry about being bored! As an incentive to the children, tell them to keep the tips that they will surely earn.
  • Offer meatless selections on your menu such as vegetable plates, salads, fruit plates, muffins, toast, your standard meal without the meat portion, meatless tomato sauce for your pasta, and vegetable soups.

Combinations that do or don’t work:

  • Raffles DO work – you can often ask the artisans to donate an item to a fair raffle. This also works as a display venue for the various crafts that are at the fair, but you should be sure to individually label each item as having come from whom and how to find their table (such as a number corresponding to a table number on a floor map.)
  • Games of chance and/or children’s games in the same hall as the artisans DON’T work; this distracts from the selling. They DO work if in a separate room and can actually be a drawing point, particularly in a community where you’re likely to have a lot of children attending (or who might convince their parents to come and spend money)
  • Generally entrance fees at the door DON’T work. Why take away money that would be spent on purchasing the crafts or food at your lunch room? It may also just keep some people from attending altogether on the premise “So I have to spend money to get the right to maybe spend money?”
  • Usually artisans DON’T like the combination of a craft fair and rummage sale or flea market, ie. people renting a table to sell the results of their spring or fall cleaning. Similarly, craft and trade fairs don’t usually mix well. If you wish to do any combination, have separate halls and/or fairs for each.

An alternative approach: The Boutique

If you have a large staff from which to draw, organize your fair as a boutique. Instead of having the artisans sell their crafts individually behind tables, ask them to lend you their stock and you can place their crafts throughout your hall on tables and other display venues. As an example, you can bring in some artificial Christmas trees and hang all the tree ornaments, and arrange wooden children’s toys underneath like gifts; this would allow side by side crafts from different artisans. This would necessitate – a central cash – individual identification and pricing of each item – an inventory list for each artisan – a lot of security (in the form of many staff members from your organization, and perhaps even professional security guards, particularly overnight)

This model also allows you to charge a slightly higher entrance fee and commission rate, as well as take advantage of a larger area throughout a building that has a lot of floor space but only a very small hall. It also does not limit the number of artisans your fair may have since you may take fuller advantage of the floor space for crafts as well as the various nooks and crannies of the building, such as a country club’s fireplace and mantle, porches, and halls.

Don Buchan malak& (&=@) Mtl, Que, Can, Winemaking linx & FTP, rec.crafts.winemaking FAQ, firestarter FAQ, Scouting FTP & Ask-A-Scout(er), Star Trek linx & FTP, Help Stop Spam, Zee Svedish Cheff, Summer Camp selection


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