My local town had its Yuletide Festival over the weekend and, while everyone else was enjoying the experience, I was analysing the hundreds of stalls to see who was making money and who wasn’t. I had a great time, this is one of my favourite events of the year as the entire town and local area seems to descend on the high street. Along with the craft stalls, there were fairground rides, the obligatory tombola and raffles, displays by local groups and, of course, donkeys.
This was my biggest takeaway (ahem), confirming something I’ve noticed over years of visiting craft fairs. The busiest stalls are those which sell food – especially food that can be nibbled immediately. Looking from a purely commercial perspective, if I were starting a craft business today, I’d look at making sweet foods to sell – fudges, sweets and cakes. These stalls were by far the most busy and it’s been something I’ve seen time and again, the busiest stall on any craft market is the one selling these things – fudge especially. Next down the rung tend to be stalls selling packaged foods such as jams and other preserves, packaged cakes and other food-related gifts.
As well as offering instant gratification, food also tends to be cheap (or, at least, it can be bought in variable quantities/forms, some of them cheap) so there’s no risk in the transaction for the customer, it’s a small “ask”.
Being good at your craft doesn’t mean it’ll sell
Most people come to a craft because it pleases them. They develop a talent for it and friends and family encourage them to sell their crafts so they give it a go. The problem with this approach is that, from a business point of view, it starts from the wrong end of the process. Just because you, or I, like a craft doesn’t mean enough others will to make it commercially viable. I saw some gorgeously and skillfully made products that had clearly taken hours of effort and true expertise – but I simply couldn’t imagine what on earth I would do with them. For example, a log with a man’s face carved into it – gorgeous but where would I put it?
To make a business out of your craft, you have to make sure there’s a market there for it.
Similarly, just because you can knit like an expert doesn’t mean that what you knit is going to sell. If I were going into knitted products, I’d make dog coats and similar because everywhere I looked on Sunday there were pugs and other small dogs in their warm jumpers. Simply making the same knitted dolls you’ve made for years doesn’t mean they’ll find a buyer.
Of course, the process of choosing the right craft isn’t just about what has most commercial potential (unless that is your sole aim). I love candle making and candles are somewhere on the next rung of popularity below foods. My love of candle making means I will invest the time needed to get very good at making candles and the processes around testing, packaging and marketing – I simply wouldn’t be so excited about fudge. However, I went through an extensive process of checking what the market was like for candle kits before we launched. If there’d been little commercial potential, we would never have started.
So, if you’re on the fence, want to start a business making things with your hands but aren’t sure which to go for, don’t fudge it any more, with the right product you can have your cake and eat it.