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Vendors: Getting Started II – Choosing Your First Shows

Choosing shows. There’s nothing quite like opening up the calendar and being overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the options. It’s daunting. There’s so many. How do you choose?

This advice is from our experience. It is not a universal truth and – like all things – should be taken with a grain of salt. As always, search for advice from a variety of folks – and then listen to your gut.

This post is part of Getting Started series and is meant to be read after Getting Started I: Pre Shows.

Choosing shows. There’s nothing quite like opening up the calendar and being overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the options. It’s daunting. There’s so many. How do you choose?

Use ShowWiz

This probably goes without saying, but if you’re looking for shows in Eastern Ontario we are a powerful tool that can save you a lot of leg work. Our filterable calendar is a one stop shop for shows. Signing up has the added bonus of your inclusion in our Vendor Directory. Upgrading the Vendor+ will let you see additional information, including table size, cost, organizer contact information and more. To learn more click here.

If you’re not looking in Eastern Ontario, still consider the following.

Re-adjust Your Expectations

Yes, there is money to be made at shows. Yes, there are vendors who do consistently well at them. These vendors have practice: they’ve been there, done that. They have a system, they’ve figured out a display that works for them, they’ve got their sales pitch nailed and their any nerves worked out. And you will too – with time.

Shows take practice. They take trial and error to figure out what configuration of tables, stands, products, and and and work for each individual vendor. Even figuring out what fits in your car and what is simply infeasible takes time! Sometimes ideas that look magical on paper end up failing miserably when tried at an actual show. That’s fine. It’s part of the learning experience.

With this in mind, re-adjust your expectations from taking home hundreds at the first show to breaking even (and learning a ton!). And with this in mind…

A night market hosted by Vintage Pop-Up 613 at Happy Goat.

Choose Smaller, Less Expensive Shows

With the excitement of your new venture, it can be tempting to jump in headfirst and barrel straight ahead in large, expensive shows. There are a few reasons I advise against this that largely boil down to risk management and experience.

Gain Experience

As you gain experience your ability to sell your product will only improve. If you’re a maker, your product itself will improve and maybe even evolve as well. More importantly, your display, your ease using your payment system, your comfort engaging folks about your product will all improve.

Further, if applying to larger, juried shows (this applies mostly to handmade and fine art vendors), one of their criteria is that you have past experience at shows. They want to know that you’ve honed your display and developed your sales technique so that you will be a polished part of their show. Expending time on applications without this experience is a potential waste of your and their time.

The progression in Float or Fly’s display between 2014 and 2019 shows the value of experience and trial and error when it comes to display and craft.

Risk Management

Nothing is more disheartening than walking away from a show having lost money (not having at least made back your table). Starting with smaller shows means you’re more likely to see a positive return on your investment. These shows give you low risk ways of building your skills, experience and show resume. They also give you a chance to network with other vendors and build connections that will help you gather further advice.

The more experience you have the easier it is to pick up on potential red flags. The more connections you have, the more likely you are to be warned about potentially poor organizers, shows, and venues. Building this experience and those connections is invaluable.

Take Steps to Protect Yourself

One of the best things about the maker/vendor community is that it is just that: a community. Talk to folks about shows, get feedback about shows, organizers, and venues. Follow your gut. If something seems to good to be true, or not organized well enough – follow your intuition. I’ve written previously and more in-depth about ways you can keep yourself protected, check out that blog.

With all this in mind…

I recommend that for your first 2-3 shows you find a show close to you that has a tabling fee of $50 or less. Preferably find one that you know of someone who has done it before or is in a venue that you know has good foot traffic. A community center’s twice annual craft sale that they’ve been doing for numerous years is an excellent place to start, for example. Another example would be a re-occuring summer market, a fundraising event, or a locally run event series that allows for one day vendors (there are many)!

Shows are an investment. Make them worth it: pace yourself.

Agree? Disagree? Let us know! is an online resource that offers a comprehensive calendar of craft and vendor shows and a vendor directory. Currently serving Eastern Ontario and the National Capital Region, works to connect vendors, organizers, and shoppers with opportunities that work for them.

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