Fiber Festival Fun

Specialty Craft Market Success

Fiber Festival Fun

By Ed Crowley – One way to maximize your wool value is to target a fiber festival which includes spinners, weavers, and dyers. As a small producer specializing in fine wool sheep, our business depends upon finding innovative and profitable ways to market our wool. As a small producer, we have limited time and marketing resources (cash). In Kentucky, small producers like ourselves are the norm — not the exception. Based on a recent study of fiber producers in Kentucky, most wool producers have small flocks with less than 17 sheep producing an average of 82 pounds of wool per farm. So as a small producer with limited resources, how can you get the most value out of your wool clip?

SPECIALTY CRAFT MARKET

The specialty crafter market which has been sized at $750M-$850M annually in North America, includes over one million customers spending an average of $819 annually (according to the needs arts association). Reaching this market of widely dispersed, individual buyers, isn’t easy, but it is possible. There are multiple channels for reaching the market including online markets such as Etsy and Facebook, selling through retail specialty fiber stores, and in person through craft and fiber festivals. In our case, we have had great success with Etsy. However, typically, it takes more than one channel to maximize your market opportunity, so this year we decided to expand our channels and begin targeting fiber festivals.

So why should a fiber producer like Kentucky Meadows care about fiber festivals and spend the time and effort to market through them? The first reason is the price premium received at fiber festivals. For example, according to the USDA weekly wool report, the week of May 21, 2019, fine wool of 18.6 to 20.5 micron had an average price of $6.18 to $5.87 respectively. An informal survey of wool prices for fine wool at the Kentucky sheep and Fiber Festival this year was $12 to $25 per pound for fine fibers. Effectively, the fine fiber was receiving a 200% to 400% premium at the fiber festival over “commercial” prices.

CONSUMER CONNECTIONS

The second reason is accessibility to the end customer. Unlike commercial wool markets, where your wool gets sold to a middleman and then goes through several stages of sales, warehousing, and processing before being delivered to the end customer as a garment (or other finished product), at
fiber festivals, producers can sell directly to the end customer either raw wool, processed fiber, or even handmade finished goods. This lets the producer build a brand and following that is difficult to do in the commercial market. And while it is possible to have this kind of one-on-one access with the end customer through online markets (like Etsy or Facebook), the “in-person” aspect of being able to show them your product and let them feel the product, are much more personal than the online shopping experience.

fiber-festival

FIBER FESTIVAL

For all these reasons, we decided to try exhibiting at our first fiber festival, The Kentucky Sheep and Fiber Festival in Lexington, Kentucky. So, armed with our Cormo, Rambouillet, and Merino wool we set up shop! This event had 75 exhibitors and over 4,500 attendees. According to Kentucky Sheep and Fiber Festival Director, Sarabeth Parido, “This was a banner year for the Kentucky Sheep and Fiber Festival! We celebrated our 10th year as an established festival with beautiful weather, record-breaking attendance, and wonderful vendors. We look forward to the next 10 years!” From standpoint as a vendor, it certainly was a success. The festival was a great experience and we were really pleased with the outcome. Our average sales price was $25 per pound, and we sold a significant amount of fiber. However, like all first timers we had a lot to learn. Our signage could have been much better. We even reworked our booth layout midway through the event to make it flow better. Based on our experience, here are some of the things that you should keep in mind for your first fiber event.

MARKETING YOUR SHOP

Pre-show marketing is important. Using social media, direct email, and even postal mail to let existing customers know that we would be at the show is really important in creating early booth traffic.

There are a lot of really talented people at a fiber festival. That means you need to find creative ways to make your booth stand out. We brought some
of our young, friendly rams to attract customers to our booth and it worked great. Nothing like a cute lamb to get people to come to your booth.

Make your products easy to see. Lots of shelves and good organization are key to creating an appealing booth environment.

Leverage your booth with more than just one product. We had wool, yarn, and we even sold a few dairy shares at the festival. Other booths had soap, finished goods (hats, felted crafts, etc.), and other items. Not all customers want raw fleece, or wool yarn, or a finished craft item so the broader your range of goods, the better your sales will be.

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RESEARCH

Before exhibiting at your first festival, check out a few festivals. Look at what seems to be working for other vendors. How are they arranging their displays? What does their signage look like? You need to develop your own booth look and branding identity, but by watching what does and doesn’t work in other booths, you have a much better chance of success.

So how would I sum it up? We managed to gain new customers, we meet our sales goals, and we had a great time. If you are wanting to get more value from your wool clip — consider trying a fiber festival, it’s great fun!

What other tips do you have for being a successful fiber festival vendor?

Originally published in Countryside July/August 2020 and regularly vetted for accuracy. 

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