Thursday , 23 October 2014
I recently witnessed her sell the roof off a lovely community center at a local holiday show. I had a front row seat from my Energy Shop booth and plenty of time to watch the magic of her day unfold.

How to Sell the Roof Off a Craft Show

If there’s only one thing I know about Jan Szklennik of Sunlit Soap (by the way, there’s only one thing I know about Jan), it’s that she knows how to set up at a craft show with her beautiful array of handmade soaps. I recently witnessed her sell the roof off a lovely community center at a local holiday show. I had a front row seat from my Energy Shop booth and plenty of time to watch the magic of her day unfold.
All Natural Pink Grapefruit, Tangerine & Lavender Artisan Soap

All Natural Pink Grapefruit, Tangerine & Lavender Artisan Soap

Sunlit Soap at www.sunlitsoap.etsy.com

Hello, Jan and thank you for being my first blog interviewee! Your soaps are extremely beautiful and they smell delicious. How long have you been making soap?

Hello to you too, Lisa.  I am honored by your interview request, and thanks for the compliments!  I’ve been making soap for about twelve years now.  My “habit” was born the day my Mom (a talented crafter in her own right) gave me this book: The Complete Soapmaker: Tips, Techniques & Recipes for Luxurious Handmade Soaps by Norma Coney.  I was instantly, profoundly affected by the beautiful pictures, and thoroughly intrigued by the process.  I HAD to try it for myself, and after a few initial “learning experiences” (okay, so they were mini-disasters) I got the hang of it and have been smitten ever since.  I’ll never forget my first successful batch – I was thrilled to find a big solid soap in the mold rather than an oily mess, and I quickly cut a piece and thrust it under the faucet to see if it would lather (it did, and I must have looked the fool for the happiness it brought me!)  I love the entire process, from dreaming up new ideas to challenging myself with concept and execution.  I enjoy packaging or “dressing” the finished product in ever-evolving fashion, and if anyone wants to ask me about soap I can talk a blue-streak :) That’s saying something for a person who is probably recognized by people who know me as being a bit on the quiet side.

I can really appreciate the “sunlit” stamp you put on every bar. When did you come up with that? Do you feel it has helped customers remember your brand?

I put so much energy and love into my soap that it quickly became important to me to give it an identity that linked it to me and would be attractive and recognizable.  I think I had the stamp custom-made by Soap Impressions in 1999, and it’s certainly gotten a lot of mileage! Initially, I just stamped the impression into soaps, which looked nice.  Over time I experimented with stamping colors into the soap and hit upon the copper mica that you see on all the bars now. It’s (I think) unique to my soaps, and plays nicely with the Sunlit theme by really catching and reflecting light.  It photographs well, too.

Jan at Sunlit Soap Booth

I set up my first Energy Shop booth one aisle away from you at a recent holiday show, and I tanked. It gave me a first-row seat to watch the magic of your day unfold. It seemed like the people were coming just to buy from you! Was that your first year at that show? Do you feel like your customer-base grew year after year? Did any customers come just to get their next supply of your beautiful soaps?

Don’t feel bad, I think a lot of people tanked that day.  This year marked the fourth time I’ve done that particular show, although the last time was a few years ago so it hasn’t been consecutive.  I’d also been out of the circuit for a while.  The past shows were not as active as this one was, averaging about half the sales I was able to bring in this year.  I couldn’t say if any of my customers year to year were repeat, but I have had people buy from me more than once in the same show.  Sometimes they buy, and as they continue browsing and shopping they realize that the soaps make unique gifts (at a reasonable price point) for all kinds of circumstances: teacher appreciation, hostess gifts, party favors, stocking stuffers, etc.  I’ve found that once people try it, they like it, want more, and are more likely to give it as a gift.

Full Booth Display

Your selling space looked amazing. What were you using underneath that cloth?

I asked my Dad (another talented craftsman, do you see a trend here?) to make me something that I could use to elevate the soaps on my table and give it some depth.  His solution: beautiful handcrafted boxes with hinged lids that fold out and, when turned upside down, create a stair-step platform. Perfect for lining up and displaying soaps.  This year was the first year I covered those boxes with the same material I use for the tables beneath, and I think that made a big difference in the overall look and flow of the booth.  A good friend of mine suggested I consider doing that, and I initially rejected the idea because the boxes are beautiful and have real sentimental value to me.  I’m glad I decided to try it. I learned from that experience that you can benefit by being flexible and open-minded.  I used to be annoyed by constructive criticism; now I treasure it!

Your display was so tall that you had to stand behind it. Have you ever sat down at a regular table for a show?  Do you feel that the height helped you engage the customers?

My first few booths were regular table-style.  I learned by watching other, more successful, vendors that you need to capitalize on the “footprint” of your space, and use it to its full dimensional capacity.  Eye level is ideal, but can be challenging depending on what you’re selling.  I also think it’s best to create a space that customers can walk up-to (bar-style?), but aren’t forced to walk in-to (u-shape.)  People don’t like to feel crowded or trapped, and most craft show booths are 10×10 or smaller – not enough space for tables, product, vendor and customers.  Another benefit to a “tall” display that sits between me and the customer: I get non-viable space to bag items, write receipts, or put together more gift items to (hopefully!) sell.  Another important component to a successful booth is signage, which can be challenging.  Sometimes I feel like I could staple signs to my forehead and people still won’t read them!  I’ve found that pictures grab people’s attention, and make them more likely to read.

All New Solid Perfumes!

You recently opened a shop on Etsy! What made you decide to try that website? Do you use (or have you used) any other online selling platforms?

Etsy is my first online platform, and I chose it because it makes the process of “going virtual” simple and painless.  You post what you have to sell and aren’t married to the production of a certain product unless you choose to be.  I like that.  I’m in the process of learning how to drive traffic to my shop, and am enjoying meeting amazing people out there who are doing the same. I love that Etsy is for and about creative people, from the weekend crafter to the full-time entrepreneur, and it encourages sellers to work together rather than focus on the competition…refreshing!  I was raised in a loving, creative environment, and I have a built-in appreciation for people who allow their natural talent to flow.  I love and wear the beautiful bracelet I bought from The Energy Shop not only because it looks great, but also because I know someone (you!) put their heart, soul and own two hands into it.  It wasn’t spit out of an assembly line or forced from impoverished laborers.  Because it was made out of love, it is worn with love.  I think people who look to Etsy get that, don’t you?

I sure do! Thank you, Jan!

You can visit Jan and see the rest of her amazing products at Sunlit Soap on Etsy.blog ad1

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32 comments

  1. What a great read, it’s nice to know that despite the economy some people are still managing to pull through, and some sage advice on running a booth.

  2. I did my first show last year and was glad to make my booth fee. Talking with customers and other sellers was wonderful. I will be better prepared this year. Don’t forget the business cards!

  3. What an interesting interview, especially as I am planning what craft fairs to attend this year and how to make my display stand out. Really good ideas – i’m going to go and think what I can do!

  4. My booth set up at my local craft fair is similar to yours in that I have the table covered in fabric and then have tiers set up across the table which are covered in the same fabric. This gives me different levels to display my jewelry. It has worked well for me and I have gotten many compliments on my display. And I also have room under the top tiers on my side of the table to keep my cash box, packaging materials etc. Great read. Thanks
    Denise
    from
    BeadedEmbellishments
    http://www.etsy.com/shop/beadedembellishments
    http://beadedembellishments.blogspot.com

  5. Great interview and products by both sellers. Keep up the good work.

  6. Very nice interview. Nice clean looking display…good job!

  7. Great article! Stunning soaps, Really nice, looks so good with the copper mica stamping. Just wonderful.

  8. It is always a treat for me to get some insight from other crafters trying to sell their wares. This interview was great–perfect questions and perfect answers. I get compliments on my display, but I always fret that it could do it better. For example, I knew about multiple levels and taller tables but have struggled with how to do it. This article has made me move it to the top of my “to do” list. Your display is very, very nice!

  9. I’m preparing for my first craft fair this Friday evening. Thank you so much for the great input! xo

  10. Inspiring! Thankyou.

  11. great article, A wonderful way to raise your booth to eye level is to use inverted planter pots (8″ size works well). A really good reason to do this is to keep people from having to bend over to see your goods. After walking around a few hours at any show you will see that it can get painful on your lower back and/or knees. Bringing things up to eye level really does make a difference in the willingness of potential customers to stop and look.

  12. Great ideas – love your table ! Totally agree about making sure the customer doesn’t feel trapped !

  13. Very nice article! Your table is great! The best thing I did for my booth last year was buy plastic bed raisers at Walmart. They go under the feet of my tables and raise them about 6 inches. I also use boxes and other display items to raise my jewelry up higher so buyers don’t have to lean over.

  14. Great tip about the signage, glad you’re doing so well, thanks for sharing!

  15. Thanks for sharing these wonderful ideas. I have so much to learn and appreciate those artists who are willing to share what has worked for them.

  16. Great interview, lots of good ideas, thanks for all your input!

  17. Great article (and gorgeous soaps Jan!) –I have found a big difference in a successful booth and a “not so” successful booth is the standing vs. sitting issue.

    I stand as much as I can (which for me is usually the entire show) and engage in customers constantly and I usually have a great show even when others tell me they did not.

    If you look excited about your product (rearranging, straightening, etc), people will see that and be drawn to you and engaging them with a huge smile and a genuine greeting will make them feel happy and stop and look and then you’ll be able to chat more and tell them about your items!

    I truly think this is more important than how beautiful your booth is (although it is important to portray the look and feel and quality of your product).

    Anyway, just my 2 cents! :)

  18. We, wife and I, sell at a farmers market and do pretty good. Then we tried a High School craft show and it was a flop. It wasn’t just us, some sold but not that good either. The craft show was before Christmas and based on Christmas sales. This year I look for it to be tougher sales because of the gas and economy. The people are fun and great to talk to. Great interview thank you so much for sharing

  19. Great article! May you continue to have success.

  20. Nice article! I’m looking at doing my craft shows myself! It’s a challenge for us to hang all of our artwork at each show! But I’m always glad I did it.

  21. Interesting article, thanks for sharing your insights.

    We have a show coming up the first week in May, and I am trying to learn more tricks and hints to help make the show successful.

    —– Athens, GA –

  22. Thanks for the info!! My shows start later this month!

  23. Great interview by both! Thanks for sharing your expertise with us. You are 100% right about being flexible and accepting criticism.

  24. Great success story! Thanks for sharing all your trials and tribulations!

  25. Super great and inspiring! The tips and tricks you mention are really what makes a huge difference! Wishing you continued success :)

  26. I absolutely love the idea of using hinged boxes as risers! I’ve only done a few shows, recently started again and have been trying to come up with ideas for displays.

    What’s even better with the hinged box concept is that you can pack your merchandise in the boxes – small enough to transfer without doing a number on my back.

    Great idea. Wish you every success!

  27. thank you for the informative read from an experienced seller. I have found that school shows( especially elementary) do not fare well for anybody, Unless they have an incredible organizer & even then…
    most people don’t hear about them, or think they are worth it to go. It is good to do them to gain some experience, but don’t invest to much time/$ on them. The larger shows are where real $ is going to be spent so it is best to be prepared! read as many articles like these WAY before
    it is time, set your booth up at home for practice & to see how it looks that way you know if you need to buy/make anything to add that extra oomph, & have fun!

  28. I really enjoyed all your tips, I will definitely re-think some of my strategies. I have also learned that if you present too many different options for people at your craft shows, they can get confused by the explosion of color or mix of subject matter.
    All the best.
    Mary-Jane

  29. I like what I read about tall displays. Lucky for me, with greeting card racks that’s just a natural. We got our first show in 2 weeks, looking for all the tips we can get! Thanks so much.

  30. I really liked your interview. I have been making soy candles for several years. There are good shows and not so good shows. Having an attractive booth is a must, and being friendly is the biggest plus. I have seen some of the crabbiest vendors…and they wonder why they don’t sell anything!

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