5 tips to gain more customers for your craft store

Lessons I learned from selling online and at vendor booths

Shamontiel L. Vaughn
Dec 2 · 6 min read

Close your eyes and picture who you expect to see in an arts n’ crafts store like Michaels or JOANN. Chances are you’re thinking of someone older, probably with gray hair and whose claim to fame is knitting. Guess what? While you will find those customers in either store, there’s a younger crowd navigating those aisles, too. I should know. I’ve been painting ceramics since high school, so I’m no stranger to a craft aisle.

The kissing kids were painted by my mother. The handyman and men playing Checkers were painted by me. (Photo credit: Shamontiel L. Vaughn)

But while my mother’s interest in painting and five years as a Girl Scout boosted my interest in crafts, I used it to make side money in college and beyond. When Valentine’s Day, Halloween or housewarming parties rolled around, my ceramic sales significantly increased in person and online — and it was mainly from my peers.

While retail stores such as Michaels and JOANN are tweaking ways to get younger consumers into their stores, craft vendor booth attendees are too often not taking notes. People just assume millennials are not interested in the arts and crafts that they’re selling. Meanwhile Etsy and are luring those customers right in.

Selling online is smart business. But for craft vendors (or any vendor, really) who want to ditch the shipping and handling and rent festival booth spaces instead, here are five tips that they should keep in mind for a younger crowd.

These crotchet items were all handmade by my mother, courtesy of her business Ada’s Student. (Photo credit: Shamontiel L. Vaughn)
  1. Know your audience before picking out the items to display.

At a charitable event for a prior job, I displayed various crafts — and , too. Two of the items were a 3-foot tall African-American handyman and an equally tall black Jesus. Then I piled a few crotchet bags, blankets and kitchen decor (crotchet cupcakes, ice cream cones and chocolate chip cookies) off to the side. While my main attraction was meant to be the ceramic pieces, I sold numerous crotchet dessert items, bags and blankets. My co-workers were primarily white, not handy nor particularly religious. I didn’t sell one ceramic item regardless of how well they were selling on the joint Etsy account my mother and myself were using.

Photo credit: /Pexels

2. Stop requiring checks and/or cash only.

In a digital age when the Tubman Twenty will probably release when every single retail store and restaurant go cashless, there are still some vendors who have this dated mindset about payment methods. In 2018 alone, 46 percent of consumers don’t care about having cash on hand. Why? There are multiple other (and traceable) ways to make a purchase.

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Now that doesn’t mean you have to go out and immediately open accounts with Bitcoin, Zelle, Square Cash, PayPal, Cash App and Venmo. But at least have one electronic payment option. Or, have a link to your Etsy account so an in-person customer can buy that same item online. Etsy takes care of the payment options, and the customer gets the item in person. Even though — via Western Union — the consumer still has the option to purchase online.

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3. Have eco-friendly bags or paper bags handy.

I’m always perplexed by vendor booths that have no bags. Not having takeaway bags for your customers just looks like you never planned to sell anything. And in an eco-friendly world, especially for artsy sellers who can make their own bags, consider the upsell. Sell your bags and your other items for a “set price.” If that’s not an option, consider paper bags or collect donated plastic bags from retail stores such as Jewel Osco and Target. Millennials, Generation Xers and Generation Yers will wholeheartedly appreciate it — and you save yourself the lecture about climate change.

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4. Pay attention to what potential new customers are interested in.

JOANN has mastered what their customers were looking for — and it wasn’t just cut-out fabric. In addition to , the retailer now has a concept store to create (perfect for meme lovers), a “Sew & Go” studio and . With 12.62 percent of customers between the and 10.4 percent between the ages of 30 to 49, this was a smart way to entice millennials, Generation X and Generation Y all at once. This demographic is big on quotes that can be posted on Instagram. Some were even adamant enough to get hip-hop reality show competitors to make song lyrics into clothing items. “” I see you, Troyman!

Photo credit: /Pexels

5. Pay attention to your booth location and signage.

The last lesson I learned more than a decade ago was as an author, not a ceramic artist. I completed several book signing/table booth events with various authors. At one college, I sold a total of two books while sitting in a corner spot off to the side with another author. Meanwhile a third author walked in much later than I did and had a center table. He was a graduate from the university and a member of Omega Psi Phi, so he had two sets of supporters at the ready. Again, this feeds into knowing your audience.

But what else did he have? Promo material. I had no signs and just a box of books. Anytime someone came to my table, I had to give a long-winded explanation of the book summary and hope for the best. And it is cringeworthy to see someone go “Oh OK” and slowly back away. (At least with ceramics, they can get a general glimpse and respectfully dodge me.) I memorized what he did and approached my next book signing a completely different way. I ordered two huge cardboard stand-up signs of my two book covers, ordered postcards with book summaries on them and paid for a table right near a hotel ballroom entrance. As soon as you walked in the door, you saw me, picked up the postcards and mingled.

Meanwhile, other authors were all in one big square of the same ballroom, near the catered food. Some had promo material; others didn’t. However, people were so distracted by the free food that they walked right by them. I sold more books total than they did individually. Regardless of what you’re selling, confirm that you are in a reasonable booth spot. And make sure you have some kind of freebie that people can take with them. Even if they’re not interested now, they may revisit you in-person or online later.

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Shamontiel L. Vaughn

Written by

14-year journalist; freelance writer/editor (Upwork); Wag! dog walker; Rover dog sitter; Unity Toastmasters member and 4x officer; Visit Shamontiel.com

Window Shopping

If you’re into retail and food news, business tips and Internet shopping, read on.

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