This past week, I ventured into the unknown. I have had an online store for about a year now – the Mission Market, but wanted to see if those items would speak to a more traditional venue: the craft show. After all, the items I offer are crafty: journals, stickers, books, cards, framed artwork, etc.
The event looked like it was going to be big on Facebook, and the cause it was raising funds for was something that I believe in, the Humane Society, so I figured… why not try it? Oh, and the table price was right: only $20 for an 8-foot table.
My motto is to push churches beyond the Chicken BBQ and Rummage Sale and into new venues – I wasn’t sure if craft shows might be something that I would encourage churches to explore to raise funds for unique ventures. I had done a few craft shows when raising funds for mission trips, but that was *ahem* decades ago, and I wasn’t sure what had changed, and in an age of COVID, if the craft show had died in favor of the online marketplace.
I will never advise you to do something I’m not willing to first try myself, so onward I plunged into the world of the craft show. An hour to set up, using an upcycled baby gate to display greeting cards (thanks, Dad!) and other found items to display my wares. I was happy with how everything turned out. So happy I posted an image on social media to show the world how cool everything looked – if it’s on social media, you know it must be good!
The woman next to me was the perfect tablemate. She sold items for Trades of Hope, an organization that helps women get out of poverty; the women are the artisans, and she sells their wares. There are thousands of vendors across the country who sell wares for these global artisans. Her pitch was spot-on, and she essentially was in the same business as me – selling items to help other peoples’ programs. She was outgoing, friendly, and passionate about her projects. It helped that we had a mutual friend from my church that we could talk about. I learned so much from her about how to approach people and how to talk to them.
I learned to stand up instead of sitting down. I learned to ask people questions. I learned to listen.
That’s one thing I learned from the craft show: learn from the people around you.
Because there was another vendor, the woman across the aisle from me, who was a SUPERSTAR. She had this beautiful, spiky grey hair (that’s going to be me in 30 years) and sold bowl cozies for $3.00 each. I think she sold more pieces than anyone in the whole building, because she thought to bring two “bargain bins” to put next to her table with 25 cent items. There wasn’t a time when people weren’t at her table, hunting through these bargain bins for… well, what I thought was silly throwaway items (boy was I wrong – people were totally into it!), but they got people talking to her, and she skillfully brought them to her other items.
Another thing I learned from the craft show: you can sell more things if they’re priced lower – people are drawn to a “deal.”
I think if I do another craft show, I won’t bring anything that’s over $10. Which is hard, but that’s what I got the most traction on – the more inexpensive things. That woman sold probably 30 of those bowl cozies – and I think it was due partially to the low cost of the item. I sold mostly lower cost items, handmade cards, stickers, and some earrings.
My table neighbor Kim taught me another thing about craft shows; they’re more about planting seeds than about making sales. She is interested in telling people about the organization, and hoping they reconnect for a lifelong partnership. She wants people to be passionate about keeping women out of poverty and human trafficking.
And I don’t mean pens with your name on them, or things that people don’t want. I mean shirts with fun sayings. Or journals that inspire people, or cards that people can send to each other to lift them up. Bring a variety of items that could speak to the masses, the unchurched or the barely churched. Use your creativity here or reference the Mission Market for inspiration. Tools to create the kingdom, seeds that you can spread throughout the community.
That’s where I think craft shows, when chosen carefully, can come in handy.
Kim told me she only goes to craft shows that cost $40 or less per table. I can get behind that ethos. Because it’s not about making money, it’s about getting to know people. And not in a, “have you met Jesus” kind of way, but in a “Christians don’t look or sound the way you think they do” kind of way.
One of my favorite conversations at the craft show was when someone saw my Beloved Collection stickers and pointed out how she was happy to see that kind of merch on a ministry table. That she believes God is love and that God made all people, regardless of gender. I got the chance, in that moment, to be an outward expression of evangelism without saying a word.
Plus, the power of that connection led to the most sales I had gotten all day – talk about a major confidence boost!
As the day wound down, I wondered if I would come back to a craft show. If it was worth the hard work and the (literal) headache from the din of the people. And you know what? I think I would come back. Not super often, but often enough to meet new people, bring my business cards, and try to connect with new artists and ideas.
I also wondered if it would be the best idea to come back to a church-based craft show or a more secular event like this one?
On one hand, the secular events are much bigger. They tend to have more vendors and more attendees because they draw from a broader support base. But on the other hand, most people didn’t resonate with a faith-based fundraising outfit. My items weren’t exclusively faith-based by any means, but I felt people bristle.
Going to a secular event was braver, in my opinion. Redefining evangelism in a new space is daring, and knowing that people will walk past without looking is part of being at a craft show. But the message did resonate with some people. We had some unique pieces of jewelry that people loved, and we got to talk with people about the ministries we support, like the urban artists in East Harlem and Church in the Wild.
I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer, but I’d suggest you branch out if you’re going to do an event like this. Redefine evangelism. Or at least put a new face on it. Show the world who you are, and you never know where those seeds that are planted will lead you and your ministry.
So, should you go to a craft show as a way to raise funds? It depends on your definition of “success.” If you’re hoping to earn hundreds of dollars towards your initiative, I’d suggest you find something other than a craft show. If you’re looking to learn new things and meet new people, maybe a craft show could expand your network. It’s impossible to know how it will turn out – it could be a rough day where you stay rooted in your seat and don’t look at anyone because you’re nervous, or it could be a fun day where you laugh because you’re surrounded by great people. No one could come, especially in a world of COVID. Who knows?! Scary thought, to be sure, but for me it was worth the $20 investment and the Saturday’s worth of time.