Makers / How to Make Swag Bags Actually Work for You

Makers / How to Make Swag Bags Actually Work for You

At every craft market I host, we get the party started by offering our first shoppers through the door a free tote bag filled with goodies gifted by our vendors.

And, while visitors of our craft markets LOVE themselves a good swag bag, not all of our makers get overly excited about contributing to them.

Swag bags can be a lot of extra work at a time when you've got enough on your plate. 

BUT. I've hosted enough craft markets to know that with a little creativity and just a smidge of effort they can be amazing at driving customers both to your booth AND to your social channels, direct email list and more.

 Image of craft show organizer distributing free swag bags to two happy female shoppers.

It’s never mandatory to give away items as part of our market promotional efforts, and many choose not to for good reason.

Maybe the items you create are really valuable and can’t be given away.

Maybe you’ve gifted items in the past with zero return on your investment.

I get it.

By no means am I asking makers to devalue their work by giving it away for free. 

But you CAN make a big impact on potential new customers if you reframe your thinking and get creative. 

Think of swag bags as a marketing tool.

They're an incentive to get shoppers not only through the door (check out this line up of craft hungry folks just chompin’ at the bit to get their hands on one of our swag bags), but they can also work really hard to grow your customer base and generate sales POST market.

Line up of swag bag hungry shoppers at a Cheerfully Made Market in 2018 at the Bell Sensplex

In my 14 years organizing markets I've stuffed literally thousands of tote bags, and in that time I have come across some pretty pathetic no-wonder-there-was-no-return-on-this-investment contributions (I’m looking at you business card sized coupon), and I’ve also seen some truly brilliant ideas.

Here are just a few I thought I'd share in hopes of inspiring you to think like a real marketer.

Empty Sample Container // Skinny Dip Scrubs once used our swag bags as an opportunity to encourage shoppers to visit their booth by including an empty sample-sized container taped to a card in our swag bags. The card invited customers to come have it filled with their choice of scrub.

People love freebies, and Skinny Dip was smart enough to make them work for it! 


  • Shoppers had to seek Skinny Dip out among the many other vendors so they couldn’t miss her.
  • Once at the booth, the maker could engage with shoppers while filling their container. This allowed her to make a connection, offer education and up-sell her product 
  • No product was wasted on people who weren’t interested in body scrub.
  • At about $0.50 each it was a super low cost for in person marketing.
  • It was memorable! The card attached gave the shoppers all the information they needed to reach her after the show.

HOW YOU COULD MAKE THE IDEA WORK EVEN HARDER: Had Skinny Dip been introducing a new fragrance at this market, she could have invited guests to have the first sample. OR had the little card also included a coupon, she could have increased the odds of customers making a purchase at her booth.

Half of a Whole Item // As one of our show sponsors, Doree's Habit wanted to find a way to get shoppers from the market to their brick and mortar shop (about a block down the street from our holiday venue). Owner Brodie came up with the brilliant idea to gift swag baggers with a single earring. In order for shoppers to complete the pair, they had to visit her shop. And they did!



    • Jewellery has a high perceived value so the majority of shoppers who found one in their swag bags made the effort to visit the shop…where they could purchase additional items.
    • The maker was never left with more than a single extra earring!


    Soda Sample // Food and drink vendors can do extremely well with swag bags by giving away a tiny taste of what shoppers will find at their booth.

    The County Bounty once gifted each of our swag bag recipients with a full sized can of soda. Other food vendors have contributed small bags of coffee, cookies, candies and the like. 


    • Although the maker was giving small samples to visitors at their booth, we've found that many people are too shy to take a freebie themselves. Offering the full sized sample ensured that they tried the product (ain't nobody throwing away a full delicious can of soda. In THIS economy!?)
    • Country Bounty uses very adventurous and uncommon flavours. The gift of a sample encouraged shoppers to try something they may otherwise not have and gained them a whack of new customers!


    Branded Stickers // Stickers are having a moment and we're here for it! If you are an illustrator or use graphic design in your product design, consider turning them into a variety of stickers. And don't forget to include your website URL or social media handle in the design!

    Hot Tip! Sign up for emails from companies like Sticker Mule. They have regular deals that offer HUGE savings. Shop via this link for a $12.50 credit!


    • People (like me) save cute stickers and put them on stuff for others to see.
    • Free on going advertising for your brand!


    Golden Ticket // We have had a few generous vendors giveaway ONE full sized item to shoppers by way of a golden ticket or scratch off card. Each swag bag included a single envelope and a chance to win. While the winner of the golden ticket got the big item, those who didn't were gifted a discount coupon to spend at the market. 

    While dinky little coupons don't always work very well, the anticipation built around the possibility to win something big, encourage folks to go through the effort of opening the envelope and paying closer attention to the vendor who'd gifted it.


    DIY Scratch and Win Card // Did you know you can purchase little scratch stickers for SUPER cheap? Simply design a business card or postcard with a blank spot to hide a message, cover with a sticker and let the shoppers have some fun seeing if they've won!

    This example image taken from RodoCreative on Etsy. 




    If you're feeling inspired, I encourage you to take a closer look at the materials you use or the scraps that your handmade items produce. Could they be up-cycled into something both useful and, dare I say, CUTE? ;) 

    • Soap makers, could you offer a tiny sliver of soap in a ziplock bag stapled to a discount card?
    • Leatherworkers, maybe you could transform your scrap leather to make funky handmade bookmarks or wrist wraps to gift shoppers?
    • Quilters, what about turning that mountain of too-small fabric remnants to make a little scrappy brooch or keychain to include with your brand in the swag bags.
    (I got a little carried away by the inspiration found on Pinterest. Check out these scrap fabric & leather craft ideas)

      You could also create an "enter to win" ballot that shoppers have to return to your booth. This is a great way to collect email addresses or encourage people to follow you on social media and you only have to have one giveaway.

      Personally, I love a creative challenge, and thinking sideways about things so that they can work harder for me is one of my favourite things to do. 

      I hope you feel inspired to make good use of your next opportunity to market your brand via swag bags. Maybe even at our next market!

      xo Em