Buyer’s Guide – Choosing the Best Vendor, Craft Fair Tent [save yourself some headaches later!]
If you’re working outdoor events, you’ve considered purchasing a craft fair tent.
At my first show, I skipped the tent.
I’ll bet you know the punchline to that one… me.
A friend was enduring her first year as the coordinator of a brand-new farmer’s market craft show and was desperate for vendors. She thought of me because I had mentioned that I was looking for some extra cash to make ends meet and I’d made a necklace and earrings for a friend’s birthday.
So, she suggested that I pull together some inventory, and show at her event as a jeweler.
Since until that moment, I hadn’t considered selling my work, I had nothing. I had no idea how to pull together a first-time display (here’s what I learned about the four components of event display). I had nothing for inventory, no idea how to price, no display pieces – not even a table!
So, with all of that to figure out, and only four short weeks to create enough inventory to show, the last thing I thought I needed was to worry about a tent.
I mean, I didn’t know if I would do another event and event tents can be expensive!
Sure, it was October in Pennsylvania… if you’re not from PA, you should know that Mother Nature treats us like a never ending redecorating project. You can just imagine her telling the movers, “that snow would look better on the 6th. No wait, let’s make it rain instead, and the snow can go to November.” Endlessly.
Still, I figured, for just one event, I’d roll the dice and see what happened.
The good news is that it didn’t rain as Mother Nature had been hinting. Nope. Dry as a bone.
Instead, she decided that she missed August and that we should see how the Sahara felt.
And did I have any shade? None at all.
What I had was jewelry that was so scorching hot to the touch that no one could try it on without branding themselves. Oh, and sunburn… I had some of that.
I decided then and there that I would have a tent for the next event.
But when I started shopping for art fair tents, I found out that there are many more considerations beyond just four legs, some canvas cover, and a price tag.
I bought a picnic style pop-up canopy for my first tent, and I lived with the pros and cons until it was too worn to set up any longer.
And then I had to shop for a tent AGAIN.
Armed with what I’d learned over the years and some serious research, I felt much more equipped for that second purchase.
So, for any artist who expects to brave the elements for their art events, I’ve pulled together everything I’ve learned about buying a craft show tent. And to be even more useful, I’ve added some reviews of the more popular tents on the market to this Buyers Guide.
I’m nice like that. ?
Critical Considerations for Choosing your Craft Fair Tent
When you’ve decided to buy your first (or fourth?) tent, there are a few things you need to keep in mind while browsing.
How your tent looks is pretty important. But most people don’t think about the appearance of their art fair tent until after they’ve set it up for their first show. I’ll make this part easy for you. You want a white tent.
Why white when there are other options available? First, some shows require the white tent and won’t let you set up any other color. Second, it’s the best backdrop for most any product you can offer. It’s bright, airy, and won’t feel dark inside even on a sunny day.
Speaking of sun… a white tent will reflect some of the sun’s rays and heat away. Other colors absorb more heat, and you can end up feeling as if you’re trapped in a dark oven.
Trust me, go with white.
Unless you know you’re in this for the long haul, a craft show tent is quite an investment. For high-end markets, you might need to buy a branded or custom tent. These can set you back a pretty penny. But for the more typical events, you can expect to budget between $200 and $600 for a quality art festival tent. The more bells and whistles available, the more you will probably pay for the tent. And quality will naturally cost more than $100.
If you’re a full-time vendor with a full calendar of events, then you might invest more in your vendor tent.
But most people can get by happily around the middle of the range. At that range, you’ll be able to get neat things like sides, air vents, or a wheeled carrying case to make lugging the tent from show to show easier.
That brings me to…
Yes, the weight of the tent is a critical consideration!! Now, it doesn’t make as much of a difference as it would if you were backpacking with it. But, you will have to lug and cart this tent around. You will have to set it up, tear it down, and cram it back into its carrying case. You will have to load it into your vehicle.
And you will probably have to do all of this by yourself. Even if you have a partner, at some time you will have to do a show entirely on your own from set to strike. And at the end of a long day of solo-vending, you’ll wish you had a lighter craft show tent.
If you’re a big, burly guy, just ignore this section and move on. But for the rest of us, take this seriously.
The rub is that a heavier tent has some benefits when it comes to durability (more on that later) since it’s heavier metal or fabric. And there are ways for the smaller framed amongst us to manage these if absolutely necessary. Or, you can rely on the fact that other vendors are notoriously kind hearted – there is nearly always someone nearby willing to give you a hand.
Again, this is where our burlier friends will chuckle and shrug. But before you scoff, ease of setting up the vendor tent should always be considered.
All sorts of things can go wrong on the show day, and they usually will. This is why most of us have what I like to call our Murphy Kit. (for more on that, read Why you need a Murphy Kit, and what you want in it). What does this have to do with setting up your craft show tent?
Alarms get snoozed too many times — accidentally of course. Traffic accidents can delay your arrival. And suddenly you arrive at your event with just minutes left to get set up before things begin.
An art fair tent that is difficult to set up will eat up precious moments that you need for getting product unpacked for customers to see.
Sure, those great neighbors I mentioned usually help get that tent up lickety split. But sometimes they’re already seeing customers or had just as crazy a morning.
You might think this is part of set up… and usually, you’d be right. But sometimes a tent that is easy to set up is still difficult to tear down – especially if you are alone. I always look at how the set up will reverse while I shop for art festival tents.
But even with those wonderful neighbors, I’ve gotten stranded trying to tear down a difficult tent. I was the last one packed up, and everyone had gone before I was ready to strike the tent (I’ve learned to keep an eye on that!!).
So, I’d also practice setting that tent up on your own. That way, if you’re the last one packed up and no one is around to help, you’re not stranded and calling your partner two hours away to come to help you. It’s happened.
Let’s talk about size. Your vendor tent is one place where size really does matter.
First, most events offer a standard size for vendor sites. Usually, we see ten foot by ten foot (10’x10’) sites at outdoor events.
You also need to figure out if the size has the capacity you need so that customers can walk around your displays comfortably. Customers rarely stick around long in crowded craft show tents where they might knock things over.
So, if you’re going to stick to the ten by ten standard, you’ll need to design your display to fit. But if you need more space than this, you can buy a ten by twenty tent. Keep in mind that you’ll have to reserve double sites. This means you’ll pay for two spots at every show, and you’ll need to specify that you have a larger tent needing side by side sites.
Most vendors do what they can to stay within the ten by ten site to save on costs. It also makes it less likely that you will be turned away from an event if they don’t have adjoining sites available to fit your tent.
This section is pretty straight forward. You’re going to put your art show tent through some wear and tear. You need to know how your tent will handle.
Consider the durability of its materials. How well will it stand up to being set up and torn down repeatedly?
If the frame is lightweight, is the metal strong enough to not bend after just a couple uses? Is the canvas heavy enough to cope with high wind?
A decent quality tent should last you between three and seven years with moderate weather exposure.
You want the craft show tent to protect you and your products from the elements. The obvious issue is rain.
Look for if the fabric is waterproof or water resistant? Waterproof will probably keep you (and your product) dry while you’re packing away your wares. Water resistant may only buy you some time to scramble everything into plastic.
Check out my article on how to Extend the life of your tent with our best craft show tent care tips for a handy trick for making any tent waterproof! It could save you hundreds on water-damaged products!
But rain isn’t the only protection you’ll need. Even a basic tent can protect you from the sun, so shade is covered. But will it help protect you and any meltable products from overheating? Tents with ceiling vents allow better air flow.
And tents some come with sides that have mesh windows. These are great for reducing the wind while not cutting off the air movement completely.
And while we’re discussing protection, you’ll want to investigate the fire rating of your tent options as well.
This is particularly important for vendors who use lit candles, incense, or who serve hot food. But really, it can be a consideration for anyone participating in outdoor events. One customer smoking a cigarette too close to the fabric could cause more than burn mark if the fabric isn’t fire resistant.
I mentioned sides, so it shouldn’t be surprising that many craft fair tents come with doors.
Typically, most vendors just leave off the fourth tent side and keep that as a full “doorway” for customers to enter and exit.
But some art festival tents do have actual doorways, particularly if you are using a larger tent.
If you’re going to go with a door, make sure it is tall enough for most customers to enter without ducking. They do not want to feel as if they’re entering a cave.
Generally, though, I don’t recommend doors unless they make sense for your particular setup.
Special Considerations for Online purchases!
Now that we’ve covered what you need to consider when vendor tent shopping, there is one more critical part. If you’re shopping online, like so many of us do, you want to know what sort of purchase experience you will have.
Check out the supplier’s return policy before you buy your tent. Rarely do you have trouble returning a tent you’ve never used. But you’ll want to know if you can test that tent when you get it to be sure it meets your needs.
If you test the tent, can you get a full refund? Partial? Store credit? Who pays shipping?
Many suppliers will let you test it once, so long as there is no damage from the test. And if you’re purchasing from someone selling on another platform (such as selling through Amazon), check that individual supplier’s policies.
Whenever you make a purchase online, I suggest reading the reviews for that product. I don’t do it straight through a search engine — I look right at that supplier’s site. And I’ll compare between suppliers.
Why do that when I could just use Bing or Google?
Simple. A lot of customers review products through the seller they used. But they comment on more than just the product in their reviews. Most customers will also talk about their buying experience. So, these reviews are really a two-for-one deal. I get real information on what people liked and didn’t like about a product, but also what they thought of the supplier I’m considering.
I particularly look at negative reviews. These most often are more about the supplier’s behavior than they are about the product. So even if I decide on a certain craft show tent by looking at product reviews on one site, I still look at the reviews on that supplier’s site.
You’re ready to shop!
Now you know what to look for when you’re shopping for a craft show tent. I wish I could just tell you “buy tent x, it’s the best!” But what tent works best for me, my product and the particular events on my calendar may not work for you at all.
What I can do instead is review some popular tents and save you some research!
And once you’ve purchased your tent, read our article HERE on how to care for your tent so that it lasts a long, long time!
Here are some pros and cons to some of the most popular tents I’ve ever researched.
I’ll start off with a simple tent. This might be a good choice for those of us who are just starting out.
If you’re not sure you’ll do another outdoor event, or you’re in a pinch and need a canopy fast, this tent has the right price tag.
As of this writing, it’s priced at $64.95. That’s a pretty low price, and I think that it would get you through at least a season of moderate weather.
- 10’ x 10’ footprint, with straight legs
- Rust resistant, powder coated steel frame
- 210 Denier, water-resistant canopy
- 99% UV protection
- Stakes & Ropes
- Carry tote
The reviews on this tent are extremely mixed. I think it’s really a case of you get what you pay for.
With a rating of just 3.4-Stars, this isn’t a tent that is going to last you several years. And it won’t have many bells and whistles. The best thing this tent has going for it is its price.
Some reviewers had trouble setting the tent up from the start, including a couple of bent poles.
None felt that it lasted all that long, just a few setups and it was toast.
I’ve had a similar tent to this one. It lasted longer than I’d expected, and I got my money’s worth out of it.
I can’t say for certain that I’d recommend this one beyond if you’re in a bind and not interested in a large investment.
When I was checking out this tent, I was impressed. Considering the price, you get a lot of bang for your buck.
At the time of this writing, this tent is priced at just $159.95. It’s a pretty basic set, but it provides all the essentials you need to get started.
- 10’ x 10’ footprint, with straight legs
- Steel canopy frame
- 300 Denier, water-resistant canopy
- Fire retardant
- Stakes & Ropes
- Wheeled carry tote
- 12-month warranty
- Lifetime Support Guarantee
It’s a simple set up tent — it doesn’t need any tools or other pieces.
And it’s up in minutes with two people on hand. At just 50#, it’s considered fairly light as well. It doesn’t come with sides or weights, so you’ll need to purchase any accessories separately.
This particular listing has a 4.7-Star average rating… not too shabby! Others who have purchased this tent say it’s easy to set up. A few were concerned because even with its ease of setup, they couldn’t do it on their own. Others could set up solo without an issue.
I think it’s probably a matter of the individual’s dexterity.
It may even be a height thing – my husband is 6’4” and can set these tents up alone. I’m only 5’1” and need help to set up.
The product listing describes the tent “waterproof.”
But this is one point where I’m going to disagree. Many reviewers pointed out that the tent leaked after a while. So, it’s a water resistant tent, not a waterproof one. But – there are ways around that, and I’ll tell you about them in a later article.
Several reviewers were disappointed in the wheeled carrier bag.
The zipper has broken for most of these customers. This is a common problem for many of the tents I’ve researched, so we’ve been looking for better ways to store and carry the tents – I’ll keep you posted on our research!
This art show tent has some important things going for it. While I’m writing this, it’s conservatively priced at $257.99. This tent is a bit more durable than the first one we looked at, and it comes with some accessories you might like.
- 10’ x 10’ footprint, with straight legs
- Steel canopy frame
- 500 Denier, water-resistant canopy
- Fire retardant
- Stakes & Ropes
- Four standard sides, one-half wall, one mesh wall
- Wheeled carry tote
- 1-year frame warranty
- Lifetime Support Guarantee
This tent is slightly heavier at 70 pounds, but it has the handy dandy wheeled carry bag to help make lugging it around easier.
In fact, I doubt that the warranty is even necessary since one of the sales images on the listing even has a man standing on the frame!
Another thing that I like about the frame is that it comes with nylon tips on the feet. This is great for if you’re using your tent frame indoors because you won’t damage the floor of the venue.
Should you need replacement parts for any reason, they are all available online, including replacement canopies.
The canopy rating is that it’s 100% waterproof and that it is UV protective. And it is constructed with 500 Denier polyester, which is pretty strong.
This listing includes some of the accessories you normally use with a craft show tent. For example, it comes with four sides, including a mesh wall, and a half-wall. These make for versatility in set-up options.
Customers also loved the super sturdy canopy – they said that even higher winds never tore the canvas. Some reviewers said the tent goes up easily with just one person, while others say two people can easily manage.
Another thing that I love about this listing is that several reviews talk about the customer service. And they have great things to say. These reviewers mentioned incredible customer service and immediate replacement for things.
One reviewer cautions that if you’re using the sides and aren’t weighted down, the wind may cause the tent to “skate” a bit on hard surfaces.
Wind of about 15 mph caused a bit of a sail effect, which isn’t unusual at all when using side walls on a tent.
Once again, there were reviews that bemoaned weak handles on the carrying case and others mentioned a weak zipper. Another complained that the Velcro straps and zippers on the sides broke and ripped.
The only unusual complaint that I found in the reviews was about the buttons on the frame.
It appears that the buttons that secure the sliders are exposed and easily bumped. This causes the tent to suddenly come down in that corner and could be a bit freaky for customers.
This is probably one of the best tents on the market. There are only a couple of reviews available for it right now, but that’s not uncommon for a higher-end product. Even with just a handful of reviews, this tent has a solid 5.0-Star rating.
Currently, it sells for $459.95, and it ships free domestically. Plus, it has one of the best warranties I’ve seen!
Here’s what you need to know about this one. It’s 80# and has the expected carrying case. But this carrying case is durable, has large, 4.7” wheels.
One reviewer even said it’s easy to put this tent back into its case, which is extremely rare.
The canopy is a high-end commercial grade. It’s extremely durable. One reviewer remarked that it even survived a windy Caribbean winter. The winds in the islands are strong and are notorious for destroying canopies on the beach. But where this customer would usually lose two or three canopies, this one lasted the entire season, and they expect it to last another.
I can easily see a tent of this quality lasting five to seven years in normal weather across the US.
The durability extends to the frame, too. These legs are less “bendable” than usual because they’re hexagonal rather than square.
This particular tent also comes with sides.
There are three solid walls and one with a zippered “door.” The zippered door also has a roll-up bug screen to keep pests at bay at the end of the night while you’re packing up. Now, one of the reviews points out that these are not as durable as the canopy, but that’s usual for craft show tents as well.
If you’re planning on showing your art at outdoor shows for the long term, I’d highly recommend investing in this tent.
So, there you have it.
I’m sure one of these four tents will do well for your needs. If you have another tent to recommend, let us know. We’d love to share your experiences with the rest of our readers!