What I learned at the craft fair: Lesson 3 -- Free stuff is still stuff

How to do a giveaway the right way
Everyone likes free stuff. I learned this lesson when I managed a website, many years ago. I posted downloads (like resume templates and cartoon assistants) to attract visitors to the site (and entice them to pay for software). I loved being a year-round Santa, delighting geeks and office workers. 

So why couldn't I do the same thing at my table at the craft fair? Pull folks in, make more sales. Hah! If only it were that simple.

Lesson 3: Do your giveaways the right way

This was the first time I'd given anything away at a craft fair. It was also the first time in a long time I'd taken my dad's advice (sorry, dad). He'd just finished an online course on irrational behavior, and one of the things he learned was the power of free stuff. Before my craft fair, he suggested doing a BOGO -- buy one get one free. No way, I thought. I'm not giving away half my inventory. But I could give away other stuff.

Like candy. Everyone likes candy, right?  No wonder I attracted so many kids to my table! Turns out they all have CANDAR -- they can spot a bowl of candy through crowds of people and across acres of bright shiny stuff.
How to do a giveaway the right way
Bite me
It happened over and over. A bored child, dragged past tables of dangly earrings, ceramic bowls, and metal lawn art, suddenly stands to attention and turns toward my table. Her eyes widen and her hand rises, pointing toward the candy bowl. Some kids shrieked "CANDY!" Others, less sure of mom or dad's approval, snuck over and snatched a piece or two.

But did the candy bring in more sales? I doubt it. And the candy itself made me feel like a hypocrite. Upcycling is all about reducing waste. Waste like hundreds of tiny paper candy wrappers.

So I tried a second giveaway -- mechanical pencils attached to my business cards.
How to do a giveaway the right way
You know you want it. Don't you?
Everyone needs a pencil, right? Not so much. Grownups don't have PENDAR. The only way to give away a pencil is to shove it directly into someone's line of sight. My husband could do this naturally, without shame. But not me. I didn't want to make people take one more thing they didn't need. Plus I felt like a cheesy saleswoman.

Like Cinderella's slipper, the third try worked like a charm. I made hand fans out of oversized playing cards. Sweaty customers spotted these on my table easily, without prompting. The smiled when they discovered the cards were actually fans. And they couldn't believe I was giving them away for free.
How to do a giveaway the right way
Are you a fan?
So why did the fans work?

  • They were something people needed at that moment. They didn't need to be stuffed into a bag, dragged home and later thrown away. Their value was obvious.
  • They illustrated upcycling perfectly.
  • They were unusual. I bet no one had seen anything like them before.

Lesson learned! On to Lesson 4...


  1. The fans are so clever. I admired them on your earlier post. Do you think they helped your sales at all? In other words, was your dad right?

  2. Of course my dad is always right ; > I think the fans helped people understand what upcycling is, and that may have translated into sales. One thing I realized (and plan to write about) is that I wanted to encourage people to try upcycling at home, even make things themselves instead of buying them from me. Lots of people liked my book cases, and I told folks to look for instructions on this blog so they could try it at home.


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