I was a Renegade Craft Fair vendor; here's everything I was scared about but shouldn't have been

I’m still pretty new to selling things that I make, to strangers, in public places. So after a moment of joy, when I found out I would be a vendor at the spring SF Renegade Craft Fair, came the panic. I had about one month to prepare for the biggest craft show I'd ever done!  

I went to the internet with questions like: How much inventory should I bring? Will my booth be an embarrassment? How much money am I really going to make? Will there be a parking spot for me? The internet really let me down. Zero helpful answers. For anyone out there who is suffering from similar anxieties, this blog post is for you.

Huge Fear #1 I am going to be totally embarrassed by my lame booth display

RCF is lovely and organized on the back-end (just as you would imagine)! They give lots of great information to vendors including pinterest boards dedicated to booth design inspiration. These are filled with phenomenal images of people who have built entire kingdoms in a 10x10 space. And, they do nothing to quell the fears of someone sweating about assembling their display with a tablecloth and some wood crates.

Take a Deep Breath: Yes, there were people with amazing booths that they built on-site. AND there were people with tables and plain tablecloths, like me. It was actually nice that nobody’s set-up looked the same. It’s okay if you don’t require power tools to build your booth. If your work is looking good, you’ll be fine with a simple display. Here's mine:

 

Looming Fear #2 I am not going to have enough inventory

300 amazing makers! 20-30k shoppers in a weekend. O. M. G.

Take a Deep Breath: Worst case, you sell out. That’s the worst case. Um... that’s a pretty awesome scenario. I brought what I needed to have a full display and tucked a few containers of back-up inventory under my tables. Back home, I had another container of inventory ready to go in case I needed it for day two. (In this case, I did not need it.) 

Below are charts of # of sales throughout the weekend. I noticed that traffic picked up in the early afternoon but sales picked up later in the afternoon. I attribute this to people arriving and walking around the show before making decisions and actually purchasing. This trend might be unique to me/vendors selling heavy items like pottery :) 

Saturday Sales 

Saturday Sales 

Sunday Sales

Sunday Sales

 

Paralyzing Fear #3 I don’t know what to expect. Where do I go? What does it look like? What is happening??!?!?!?????

Yeah, that was me.

Take a Deep Breath: San Francisco is hilly and trafficy so plan lots of extra time for getting to Fort Mason, drive slowly, and you’ll be fine. Once you drive through the gates of Fort Mason, head towards the buildings along the water. The Festival Pavilion is along the back, jutting into the water, and looks like this:

There is a decent amount of parking. It will cost $14 for the day; you pay at any of the automated stands in the lot. The earlier you arrive, the closer to the entrance you will be. So, if you don’t want to walk really far between your car and the venue, arrive earlier. If you want to get your steps in, then just arrive during the suggested window. Bring your own handcart to make your life easier. Throw down the $ for early load-in if you are an anxious over-prepared freak like me.

When you load in, you tell someone at the front you are there and then just do your thing. If you paid for wifi, you get your password from the front desk too.

This is what it looks like on the inside, before everyone has set up. These are the rental tables -- standard 6ft ones. Consider using table risers if you are building your display mostly with these tables. 

This is what it looks like on the inside, before everyone has set up. These are the rental tables -- standard 6ft ones. Consider using table risers if you are building your display mostly with these tables. 

Pro-tip: Before you leave on Saturday, cover your display with an extra tablecloth or sheet. This is the universal sign for “I’m closed for today.”

Pro-tip: Before you leave on Saturday, cover your display with an extra tablecloth or sheet. This is the universal sign for “I’m closed for today.”

Load out is pretty easy too. In the spring, there is a Sunday farmers market that takes up a bunch of parking spots. Just saying. Consider coming on the early end of the window they suggest, so you'll be able to carry things out to your car and avoid the load-out zoo.

DON'T PANIC -- THERE IS A COFFEE SHOP AT FORT MASON In the back of a cute little bookstore in Building C, there's Goody Cafe that sells good coffee. Just get there for your mid-day fix before they close (4pm on Saturday, 3pm on Sunday).

Irrational Fear #4 I am not going to make any money.

The vendor cost is no small fee. Add to that a charge for wifi, table rental, parking, gas to-and-from, business cards… this is adding up! Is it worth it?


Take a Deep Breath: At the end of the day, I just about broke even. Maybe, maybe there was a teeny profit but certainly nowhere near that whole "you're going to make 3x the entry fee" estimate that's floating around the craft world. Thank goodness I didn’t splurge on a hotel room in the city for the weekend!

But, I think were was a lot of non-monetary value to participating! I had oodles of people take my business card & lots of people signed up for my mailing list. My website traffic surged leading up to and during the show. I talked to lovely people. I made new vendor friends. I connected with some potential wholesale buyers. And, I survived my first big craft fair!

The marketing, new relationships, and experience totally made this worth it. I have a bunch of big shows coming up this spring and feel much more confident about how to be successful at them after having this experience. I'm so grateful to the RCF folks for taking a risk on this newbie; I hope to be back at Fort Mason this winter!