Folksy Ltd

Decline of Craft Fairs

(Ronald Koorm) #1

Hi there !
I wanted to get some feedback on craft fairs, and whether they are (a) declining (b) about the same as the last couple of years or © Increasing.

Talking to some traders in the south, it seems there are at least some which were quite popular at one time, but are now far less so, and declining in numbers and footfall.
This is not to worry anyone, I am just looking for information. Problem is, that the organisers often pretend nothing changes, where footfall is declining on some sites.
They have a constant battle to attract people to a craft fair rather than go to other events.

I noticed this again at a craft fair I attended yesterday.

There were a fraction of the stalls that used to be, many regular traders that we knew just not bothering to turn up, and this trend noticeable over the last year or so. Of course, it might be an isolated case, but I don’t think so. Fewer customers, many look, but relatively few spend. Even the ‘lookers’ are fewer, and big gaps .

When an organiser of several sites starts offering special incentives to get more people to other sites miles away, you figure out that it ain’t doing so well, but good luck to them.

So are there trends across the country, of decline in stall numbers, fewer people coming to regular fairs, or is this a temporary blip ? With a growing economy (as we are told), in theory there should be more customers, not less.

I am always staggered of the range of products I see at craft fairs, some really beautiful stuff, (yes, on Folksy too there are some great products).

Is the market for craft products (or certain types of products) saturated, and the market reducing , because there is a limit to what people will be prepared to buy ?

Went to a major canalboat festival recently, loads of people but I guess 80%-90% of the stalls were fast food, and very popular.
The non-food craft stalls, many of them, I guess were struggling, and this on an event which lasted several days, and probably cost a fair bit as pitch rental. Don’t want to be pessimistic here, but what we need is some realistic feedback, as we won’t get it from the organisers probably.

(Christine Shephard) #2

I haven’t noticed a consistent trend here in the south - some events are still popular, some growing and some declining, much as it’s always been. I think there were more new fairs springing up a few years back, when people were spending more freely, and some of these are maybe not doing as well now, and some that ran for many years successfully seem to have vanished in the last couple of years, but I don’t know whether that’s because the visitors didn’t come or the sellers weren’t selling much, it’s hard to tell.

When crafting became very popular a few years ago, a lot of organisers started to get greedy with higher pitch prices, as there were so many new sellers wanting space, but the crafters soon realised it was hard work selling and many didn’t cover their costs, so they have probably now stopped selling at fairs and just selling online instead. The organisers then struggled to fill spaces, allowed in a lot of imported stuff instead of just crafts, so the visitors stopped going as they saw the same cheap stuff that they can get on the high street.

The fairs that seem to be surviving - and indeed growing - are the well-organised ones that focus on genuine crafts, or offer something different, such as those at country houses/gardens, or with a specific theme. They are targeted to the right customers, advertised well and offer an interesting day out.

I’m rather glad that many are closing down - the market was getting saturated and standards were dropping. Much better to have fewer, high-quality outlets, where customers spend money!

(Helen Smith) #3

After doing a couple of summer fairs last year which were a dead loss I’ve been very wary of booking anything outside the autumn/Christmas season. It’s not just the outlay for the stall you have to consider, it’s your time and all the preparation and getting there etc etc.

Having said that, the Christmas fairs I did were great and an improvement on the same the previous year - although for me that might have more to do with my expanded stock range. I am very picky when it comes to choosing which fairs to do though, I try to visit the event before I commit to doing it if at all possible - especially if the stall costs a fair bit - which makes the decision a bit longwinded for annual fairs! And I’m wary of doing fairs where I know there will be too large and varied a food offering because that’s where the customer’s money will go - it may be good for attracting footfall but less good for us craft sellers.

I do think that, as with online paltforms, some fairs are becoming saturated with certain types of goods (costume jewellery, bunting etc). The best organisers work very hard to maintain a balance of different type of stalls, and I’d think twice about applying for a fair that wasn’t juried in some way. And with the best fairs that I attend the organisers also work to make sure that there are new vendors at each event and not just all the same old favourites, I do think that even a fair with a good reputation and footfall can go ‘stale’ if it’s always the same sellers. Maybe that’s what happened to the ones you visited?

So I think there are good fairs out there, if you can find them!

(Sasha Garrett) #4

Cambridge might be something of an unusual case due to the number of tourists/ students (and parents) as well as the locals and we seemed to have weathered the recession better than other areas of the UK. Here we have a weekly craft market and many of the surrounding villages have monthly markets which seem to be thriving but as a result many of the one off pop up events organised by schools aren’t being organised any more (but I never found those particularly successful even at Christmas). The organisers of these regular fairs do jury them to a degree and try and avoid them becoming saturated with a particular type of item, they also try and avoid the resellers of imported tat.
We have a major craft ‘event’ every July called Cambridge Open Studios which is growing year on year. Local artists/ crafters open up their studios for the weekends in July and people can look round, chat and buy (if they want to), last year we had 270 studios, this year there are more. 40,000 guides are produced and given away, there are adverts in local publications/ radio, there is a website/ social media and all the studios have eye catching yellow flags. Because of the guides and website people can check out the sort of work that an artist has on before they go so whilst foot fall might not be as high as at a craft market the sale conversion rate tends to be much higher. You also have the luxury of a lot more space than at a standard craft fair and plenty of time to chat with people about your work which can lead to commissions. Its not cheap to sign up for (£120 regardless of how many weekends you decide to do) but I’ve found it very effective at generating sales.

(Diane Burton) #5

I live near York and there still seem to be a lot of craft fairs organised by big organisations with big stall fees but not a lot of smaller ones with more reasonable fees for the small scale crafter like myself (selling enough cards to cover a £40-£50 stall fee and travel expenses is about as likely as a lottery win at the moment) I’ve been lucky enough to find a monthly craft market locally and the local craft group organise a couple every year both have reasonable fees but others that I can afford seem to fill up quickly or when I apply get told sorry we’ve already got a card maker coming, maybe I need to diversify :confused:

(Eileens Craft Studio) #6

Where I live we just don’t get them at all any more.

I used to be part of the organization for the charity one run in the village where I taught arts and crafts. It was gaining every year. However since I stopped teaching the classes and the venue has changed hands there is no longer a craft fare. There was a village fete but there was only one craft stall that didn’t sell a thing but the items were very old fashioned, badly made and there were a few trademark issues as well, while the food stalls sold very well. I’m glad I didn’t take a stall.

There was another craft fair promoter in the area but she gave up after 4 complete flops ie no footfall. I attended one of hers and only sold one item and that was to a fellow stall holder.

Very slim pickings down my end.

(Lowri of Twinkle and Gloom Art) #7

The ones through the year around my area aren’t great. Most of the stall holders do it as a hobby, which is absolutely fine, however most of them charge so little for their stock just to pass it on, that it makes everything else look expensive. I’ve been invited to a handful of fairs that are less regular but have a good reputation, but they’re quite a long drive. I’ll change on one at some point, but mid-year fairs can be so unpredictable can’t they.

(Liz Clark) #8

I’m in the SE and finding a good quality craft fair showcasing handmade is few and far between. Wealden Times hold their own Wealden Fair which looks great, but over a whole weekend which I couldn’t do. Things like church and school fetes I avoid as no-one wants to buy handmade at those events. There’s a local food event which is massively popular and I enjoyed visiting it this year, but most people go to spend on food and drink, not on the craft stalls (I did a stall there last year and sold one thing).

I no longer do fairs until I’m in a position (i.e. when the kids are older) to do a whole weekend one and pay the fees required!

(Marg) #9

I’ve attended a few craft fairs at which I have managed to make a small profit. I found it so time consuming, listing, pricing, packing, displaying, packing up and counting stock left. Although I did love the contact with my buyers, which you don’t have on an online selling platform.

I have come to the conclusion that more people are making, selling (probably because of the recent recession) but I think they might drop out of the scene if they are not selling enough either at craft fairs or online.

(Karen Ellam) #10

I haven’t tried selling at a craft venue yet. I’m not sure I will as I just couldn’t create enough stock to take with me.
I do however love visiting local craft fairs as I appreciate how much time and effort goes into each and every stall, and it’s lovely seeing all the amazing goodies.
I’ve definitely noticed the food/drink stalls are by far the most popular. My husband always makes a b-line for those and I trail behind admiring the jewellery, paintings, clothes etc…
Sometimes there’s a lot of people buzzing around, but not many cast more than a fleeting glance before moving on. It must be hard for stall holders to interact with passers by when eye contact isn’t made.

I think people are always looking for something different. I saw a man a few years back etching tiny drawings onto a single grain of rice, and putting it into a necklace or other keep sake. He was making them right there. The crowd was amazed and I suspect he did very well that day :smile:

May be one day I will try my hand at selling my Polymer Clay trinkets at a craft event, but for now I just enjoy having a nosy around and treating myself :blush:


(Joy Salt) #11

I was put off having a stall at a fair when I came to fill in the booking form.

It was £30 for an outside space - provide your own table, shelter etc.

The booking form was 7 pages long. It included a lengthy risk assessment including - Do you have a fire extinguisher / has it been checked and do you have proof of that.

Then came the question - could there be any risk attached to anything you are selling, if so please state all the possible risks …
I gave up at that point.
I sell glass.

Think the only stall they will get there will be a St John’s Ambulance and a Fire Engine.

(Sasha Garrett) #12

I know what you mean about time consuming but I find taking photos and writing listings just as time consuming. One of the joys of the open studio event is that it is in your ‘studio’ (or in my case kitchen dinner). I set up on the friday night and everything stays in place until its over and gets packed away on the monday morning although a lot of my jewellery gets stored on the display frames in giant plastic bags anyway as it can’t get tangled up and doesn’t tarnish too much and is easy to find if I make an online sale. The price tags also stay on until an item is sold so I only have to do it once! Thankfully no kids to mess everything up and an understanding OH who doesn’t mind that his meals go from freezer to microwave to dish washer during the event. I took as much money last July doing this event as I did in December doing Christmas markets (and a healthy profit). Not every area has one of these ‘Open Studios’ and not all of them are as well run as ours but they are well worth looking out for just to have a nosy round other people’s studios!
I agree with you - I think more people are making and selling especially things like cards and cheaper jewellery (partly thanks to things like create and craft tv and jewellery maker tv) and we might see a gap appearing between table top sales aimed at the cheaper end of the market and craft fairs where the organisers expect a certain level of skill and craftspersonship and so a higher price tag. We already have a ‘by invitation only’ Christmas event in Cambridge where the stall holders have to be invited to apply for a stall by the organisers who have pre vetted them to ensure that it meets the design and quality standards that they have in place. Its well advertised, anyone can turn up and buy but I’m still working on catching the eye of the organisers for that elusive invitation!

(Sams Gemstone Jewellery) #13

In 2012 I did lots and 70 % were good and I made a profit. I did the same amount in 2013, many at the same events as the previous year and all but 2 of them were dire so last year I decided I wasn’t going to do any. They were fun and I loved meeting new people but I work full time, so giving up a large part of your weekend and sometimes not even breaking even, seemed like a waste of time. I was also permanently tired and forever trying catch up things that needed to be done at home during the summer and at Christmas. It could be the area I live in (Reading) as we have quite a few large towns with new shopping centres ( and London) all within an hour or less.

(Ronald Koorm) #14

I agree with a lot of your points.
Yes, there were a lot of the old traders/sellers where I go, but some newer ones that I hadn’t seen before too. Must be difficult for organisers to attract new blood and particularly different types of skilled crafts .( Note, I used the word ‘skilled’ ! )

Definitely agree that some goods such as costume jewellery seem to be swamping the market. That is a shame for really unique, and quality pieces, which don’t get looked at as much as they should be amongst the lesser-quality items.

Good to hear there are some well-organised fairs still out there, hopefully with good footfall.

(Ronald Koorm) #15

There is a lot in what you say, as regards better to have fewer footfall but targeted customers who have an idea of what they are coming to see, and perhaps more likely to buy.

£120 is , as you say, not cheap. It all depends on the costs and prices and volume that you anticipate selling. When you are selling at around £2.70 for a handmade card, you have to sell a lot to cover the rental and the insurance, never mind diesel or petrol. (And a lot more from my cheaper sale box ! )

I do sell higher value items, but they don’t often tend to go at craft fairs, so I sell them through personal contacts, which also avoids the craft fair rent. Sometimes I have had people enquiring at my stall for really big pictures of London, and have been lucky to make a sale or two, several weeks or months later, to those contacts.

(Ronald Koorm) #16

I had the same problem with the bias of some organisers against having more than one or two sellers of handmade cards, but the cards I make are very different in some of the categories, such as my colour abstracts.
I also diversified by selling framed prints, monochrome landscapes, handmade bookmarks and picture magnets. I even started doing some miniature acrylic paintings.

The problem in diversifying too much with products, is that it can confuse the organisers, and even the customers. So I don’t take or display everything, and rotate the goods I bring to the fair.
The plus point about doing even a few paintings, is that if they work out OK, you can take a carefully aligned photo of them, or scan them, and make a handmade greeting card.

(Ronald Koorm) #17

Eileen, it’s useful to have this, and the other feedback from everyone. It all helps to give a truer picture of what’s out there.

(Rosesworkshop) #18

I’m in the Northwest where we have quite a mix of craft fairs. Over the last few years there have been a rash of village hall type fairs with hobby quality goods being offered for giveaway prices - I do my best to avoid these events because my target customer doesn’t go to them either.

The bigger events tend to be at National Trust properties, County Shows, or as a joint Craft / Vintage event. They have a higher table fee, but the people attending are generally more interested in good quality handmade goods at a sensible price.

My favourite is a regular monthly event, which last month had a counted footfall of over 2000.

(Leathermeister) #19

@rosesworkshop its good to hear that some at least are doing well. I think you’re right its about attending those events that have the better quality of product available its difficult to tell without actually attending them first to see for yourself. It must be lovely to attend a regular event with a good footfall hope you had lots of sales.

(Joy Salt) #20

Further to my comment above about paying £30 for a pitch without table or cover and having to fill in a full 7 page risk assessment, it seems that there are now only 7 possible takers so the event (which started as a 2 dayer) will be cancelled.
Which screams out, or should do, to the organiser - your charges are too high.