Fairs, Festivals, and Farmer's Markets


#1

My little town has several outdoor events throughout the year, and I have been approached a couple of times by people asking me to be a vendor;t-shirts, hats, stickers, trinkets, that kind of thing. Timing wasn’t good for me in the past, but I finally accepted a spot at a classic car show near the end of the summer.

I’ve been to many events like this, and I think I have a decent idea of how to go about it, but I would love to hear from other folks who do this kind of thing regularly… and I would bet I’m not the only one who could benefit from some general advice.

Some basics: I have a few plastic folding tables, and some pretty comfy metal folding chairs. I have a wireless/cell based credit card machine and a cash lockbox. I have plenty of unique/local-themed/show-themed items that I can produce. I have no intention of bringing the Glowforge, or doing any customization at the show. I have a nice big cooler for personal food and drinks. I still need to purchase a canopy and decorate/brand it.

Initial questions for those that have done farmers/art/festival/car-shows:

What am I forgetting?

Have you found display techniques that sell better - or- deploy/breakdown easier?
-i.e. displaying a single version of an item vs. an array/stack/bin
-shirts on racks vs. shirts folded and stacked on a table

Do you have canopy brand/style recommendations:
-fully open vs. half-walls vs full walls?
-inviting people in/open-booth/showroom-style vs. employees only/front-desk-style booth?
-any particular canopy brand with which you have had either great success or catastrophic failure?

Is it ridiculous to attempt this by myself? Do I need to conscript someone to help?

Other tidbits, tips, suggestions for a newbie? It has been almost 20 years since my last faire-booth job (selling leather goods at a Ren Faire)

I have plenty of time still, but I know how quickly the summer rips past.

TIA :smile:


#2

So I know a guy, and he only does booths with another guy who retails his stuff as well as having his own motorcycle gear. So this is second hand, but yes it would be ridiculous if you’re talking a multi-day, or even full day show. For something less than 8 hours you’ll be good if you’re not swamped. From what I’m told predicting how busy you’ll be is like predicting the lottery numbers.


#3

Vertical display of wares is always better than laying on a table. Also, there are often traveling sellers of cheap crap. Don’t bother competing on quality. Think unique stuff.


#4

Been selling pens at arts and craft venues for about 8 years now and I could go several hours with hints and suggestions.
A single person is at a distinct disadvantage when it comes meal or potty time.
Canopy is definitely a requirement, usually the show promoter requires it. Four 40lb weights are needed to keep the canopy in place during winds. And swimming pool noodles between the canopy frame and the canopy to keep rainwater from pooling on top.
EasyUp is a fair canopy. Undercover is more expensive but worth it.
Insurance is always a good idea - obtainable for about $130 a year.
Don’t use a cash box. Those can be walked off with in a blink of the eye. Keep your cash in your pocket.
These and many other suggestions are the result of years of experience.
Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you wanted.


#5

How long can you hold water?

:yum:


#6

lol, point strongly taken!


#7

Don’t alter your canopy with personalization. If you graduate to more well-established shows, some require you strictly to have a plain white canopy.

EZ-up style canopies can be hazardous in bad weather. In my salad days I flipped one on State Street in Chicago, even though I had 40 lb concrete weights on each leg. But a good one (LightDome, Showoff, Trimline) can be pricey.

Ditto on keeping cash in pockets, unless you have a very secure storage place on site. Thieves work in pairs, one distracting you with enthusiastic questions while the other looks for opportunities…

I did shows for 25 years and developed a way-over-the-top methodology (that turned heads during setup and tear-down). Sometime I think I did shows just so I could engineer something unique.


#8

Out of curiosity, what ren faire? I’ve worked a few of them over the last 10 years.


#9

Renaissance Pleasure Faire in Blackpoint, Novato, CA.
Developed into luxury homes and golf course mid-late 90s.


#10

Cool. :slight_smile: I’ve been to that one a couple of times.


#11

It was a good one. The oak trees and the ability to have permanent structures really added a lot to the ambiance. And when I was really young, they let you in for free if you dressed up… which meant more people in period dress than not. That had ended by the time I worked there.

good to know. I print large canvases, wall wraps, and banners (among other things), so decoration/personalization/branding will happen… HAS to happen, I can’t help it… but I can do it in a non-destructive/removable fashion to be able to maintain a plain white exterior if needed. From what I’ve seen, there is no such restriction at any of the events in town.
Gaining more local brand-recognition to get people into my brick & mortar seems more important to me than the actual sales I would make at the show… although I can see how that could change if I end up selling a lot of stuff.

Thanks, and keep it coming, this is all very helpful!


#12

I still have an easy up in steel from way back and a set of walls that can go up quickly at need and if the setup needs to left overnight. Also a means that folk can look but not easily walk off with is a good idea if that can be an issue.

Also if there is ground and not concrete each foot of the Easy up has two holes with matching stakes driven at an angle to hold it in a wind.


#13

Some people do great at those things; I’ve never done great at the shows themselves but they’ve proven to be great for follow-up business.

Every show is different in character. The one I do here through my sisters store is a huge show - 400-something booths (almost all semi-permanent structures). They use the booth for two things: as an outlet (turn aged-inventory) and as a traffic driver to the brick and mortar. The booth itself doesn’t do bad - but it’s great for driving traffic. The last show I worked, I went to the brick and mortar near the end of the show and there were 3 customers in there that I had referred from the booth, with a 10% off card in their hands.

At this show are two types of people generally - the very early morning people who are looking for garage sale type deals (and appalled when you charge sales tax) and then a little later crowd that’s are out-of-towers, having a good time with their friends, drinking a little wine or some beers, and a little looser pocketbook.

You don’t need a lot of space for you - set up just a little spot where you can take the peoples money. You’ll get better real estate use setting up and letting them walk around the interior, touching things, browsing through garment racks, etc. Let them feel welcome, have a good vibe - music is a great thing to have in the booth. Classic rock seems to work well.

Bring along extra battery power. Last thing you want is to run out of phone juice and not be able to charge a card. Have cash change. Bring your girlfriend - even if it’s just to hang out with you and let you take a quick food or bathroom break. Print up something more substantial than business cards. Nice card stock 4x6” or some double sided 8.5”x3” takeaways.

Be surprised at what people buy and what they don’t. I always am, at least.


#14

You might keep bottles of water on hand for sale. If it keeps people from wandering off too soon to find a drink, it might be worth it.

It works here in the AZ desert. :slight_smile:

Any product that’s displayed on a flat table WILL get completely rooted through and re-disorganized.

White canopies stink, unless the material has a black-out layer laminated within it that actually blocks the sunlight. Otherwise, thinner/cheaper white canopies are just giant diffusers for light and will collect heat underneath.


#15

Night markets have become popular in our area, even though sun and heat aren’t a problem for most of the year here in the PNW. Seems like they ought to be a thing in the hotter areas of the country. Or maybe they are, and I just don’t know about it. :wink:


#16

I recommend lots of business cards and postcards type with some of your work - list what you can do, customize etc… with pictures.

My Cake Shop occasionally do this and we not only do we sell out our sweets at the market/show - we pull some of our biggest clients with the postcards of custom items.

Use a dolly/cart if set up is far away from your car

Easy to read price tags

Shopping bags - crafted or plastic ones. I find the crafted ones elevate your brand and you can ink stamp your logo/contact on them - plus better for environment

Saw this online before - really nice
image


#17

This is pretty huge but sometimes either overlooked or somehow “secret”. Most people won’t ask. If you feel the need, you can bargain down with someone but if you’re not confident of your own pricing you really should do some checking with people you know to validate the reasonability of your prices.

If there’s a price and they put it down you can offer a show discount if you feel the need or you can point them to something similar but less expensive. But if there’s no pricing you don’t have any clues to what they’re thinking and generally they won’t tell you it’s too expensive.


#18

Totally agree!

Also - if you feel someone is thinking of buying a few or more items but are debating… you can offer combo deal or offer a little discount to sweeten the deal.


#19

I feel like all of the big ones have been mentioned, so I’m just going to hit on a few details off the top of my head:

A 10x10 EZ Up is a good starter canopy, and you can usually find them on eBay for a decent price. I’d spring for the side walls - even if you keep them rolled up during show hours, they’re helpful in securing the booth at night if needed (or for camping inside the booth if it’s that sort of event. Definitely get the carrier case with the rolly wheels. Also get one of the convertible hand trucks that switches from vertical to horizontal.

Those tents will walk (and even fly!) in a windstorm, so weights are your friend. The pool noodle trick is great for preventing rain damage.

Displaying items at eye level really helps, as does anything that you can do to engage people and get the item(s) in their hands. While we’re talking about hands, any small/easily grippable items should be kept close to where you’re sitting/standing, and displayed at a height that makes it easy for you to see their hands. The GF should allow you to create some great flat pack displays & risers.

If you’re selling jewelry/wearable items, bring a mirror and hang it visibly (many people will not ask for help - make it ready and available for them to find on their own). If you’re selling clothing, consider how you might create a private/changing area where folks can try things on. Have everything tagged, and be sure to create signs for products that need (or are more interesting with) any additional info.

LED lights are rad, generators are obnoxious. Have tons of biz cards, promo postcards & schwag if you’ve got it. If you have room, a portfolio is a great/effortless way to engage people and to give them an idea of what all you can do.

Table covers will give you a more professional/put together look, and as an added bonus, they’ll hide all the boxes and junk that you stash under the table. You can find the “banquet style” table covers on eBay in a wide array of colors. These are the ones where the table cover/skirt are all one piece, so they’re easy on & off.

Get comfortable chairs for you/your staff (manning a booth all alone really, really, really sucks - avoid it whenever possible). Director’s chairs are awesome. If you can, bring a spare chair; you never know when you’ll meet someone really interesting, and sometimes show-goers get overheated or overwhelmed. It’s a nice gesture to offer those folks a chance to sit and catch their breath and/or have some water. They will remember your kindness. On that note, keep some extra water on hand (I wouldn’t charge for it, just consider it advertising/hospitality) and maybe some granola bars or fruit.

I like to have some sort of floor covering - I’ve had sturdy rugs dedicated to this, but that interlocking foam flooring is good too. I’ve even seen people use astroturf. It gives the booth a finished look, and it’s super handy during wet or dusty shows. Helps to keep your merch cleaner, and also makes it more comfy and inviting for customers to come in.

Spare/oddball things:
plenty of change - coin, ones, fives & tens
small box of random booth supplies (duct tape, safety pins, pens, notebook, hooks, tools)
small 1st aid kit (and again: lots of water for everyone!)
breath mints, snacks, hand sanitizer & paper towels
a broom (you’ll rarely need it, but when you do, you’ll be sooo glad it’s there)

Make sure to organize everything the day before for an easy pack in (brownie points if you’re able to pack the car the night before). Get a good night’s rest the night before, and do not fall into the rabbit hole of staying up late before the show to finish that one last thing (even if you DO manage to finish it, it’s truly not worth being tired or cranky the next day when you have to be happy and “on” for 8-12 hrs).

Bring a partner, and be sure to give each other breaks so that nobody gets burnt out.

Walk the show, meet other vendors, get a feel for the crowd.

If sales are slow, don’t let it screw your whole attitude (which can wreck sales too). I remind myself that all it takes is one good customer to make my day, so I’m just waiting patiently and keeping my spirits up till that person comes along… and if they don’t show up, oh well. It happens - every show is a learning experience. I’ve had terrible shows where I didn’t even break even, but I met someone/some opportunity that totally redeemed the whole event.

Be kind to your fellow vendors. Especially during set up & break down (do NOT be that jerk who parks in the other guy’s booth while you’re loading out!) and treat your show organizers with respect. You may see these folks again, and it’s nice to have them on your side.

So. That turned in to an essay. Sorry about that. Hope there’s something useful in the midst of all the word vomit :wink:


#20

Zipties and a Leatherman!