Thursday, March 03, 2016

So, you want to be a vendor?

The siren song of throwing out a table and taking easy money is calling your name?  Let's talk. 

It's been ages since we started this particular journey.  In a college course, I was assigned the task of doing a paper on the history of one of the out-lying farmer's markets in the area.  While interviewing the owners, we learned how inexpensive booths were.  We just HAD to set up.  It was research after all, and that paper *did* wind up being published by the historical society, so it was sort of worth the effort.  It was late October and early November.  Outdoors.  It was certainly an educational experience.

It was The Green Dragon Market in the late 70's.  The booth was $9 and we got to stand outside from dawn til 9 pm on those blustery, frigid Fridays.  Big learning curve!  We made stuffed primitive calico tree ornaments - that people insisted on sniffing (a sign of things to come).

We've got some war stories.  There was the time the bird nest loaded with eggs fell from a tree into our (unwrapped) soap display.  There was the sick kitten that walked across our table (really, don't ask), the high winds, the time the organizer ran through the fest, yelling about the violent storm headed our way, cars stuck in mud, stifling heat, exploding bottles of violet syrup, and worst of all, crowds that saw us as scenery to the main event.

On the other hand, we've made some great friends at craft shows, gotten valuable business advice, made some incredible contacts, and almost always wind up with a couple of new wholesale accounts and a speaking engagement or two.  Our first published book was mostly because a publisher was a few booths down and it was an opportunity that we just couldn't let get away....

Some of the things we've learned:
  • It may be really hard to stay positive, but try anyway.  This is a tough one for me because I start thinking about the work and orders piling up at home during slow shows.
  • Add height and different levels to your display to boost sales.  A flat display doesn't generate interest.  This can be done as simply as sticking smallish boxes under the tablecloth.  Always have a tablecloth.
  • Resist the urge to make 100's of everything.  Usually a dozen of any one item has been sufficient for us - except when we've released a new book or something similar.
  • Cover a wide range of price points if you can.  We've had days where we made our money one dollar at a time on incense, and other days where the high ticket baskets and garden art sold.  You won't know until you get there which will work, AND if it is a multi-day festival, no two days will be the same.
  • Change is important, and you need to bring it along.  For a decent show, take 50 ones, 6 fives, and a couple tens.  Don't forget coins, either.  Write down the exact amount that you take along so that you know to subtract it from the money box at the end of the show.
  • If the show doesn't go well, make it valuable in another way.  Talk to other vendors.  You might be surprised what can be learned, traded, or sold.
  • Comfortable shoes.  Maybe more than one pair so you can switch during the day.
  • Make your display work for you.  We went from displays that required hours of set up to those that go together in minutes.  We stole an idea from Susanna at The Rosemary House.  She uses crates that can carry AND display wares.  Baskets are great too.  Use them, sell them, poof!
  • If you don't bring food and drink, there might not be any available, or it might cost a fortune.
  • Have a show box that you do not unpack between shows.  The things inside STAY there, so you can be sure you always have them.
Your show box may have additional things, but these are pretty standard:
- money box with change
- tablecloth(s)
- tape
- Command hooks
- stapler
- Sharpie or Magic marker
- calculator
- pens
- tacks
- scissors
- label paper
- writing tablet
- festival paperwork/rules
- credit card charging equipment
 It's funny how much this list has changed in the years since I wrote it.  It used to say "knuckle-buster" and tablet, for instance.  Soon you probably won't need a pen, money box, calculator, or writing tablet.  I'd still want them, though.
Other things that we've come to feel are absolute necessities would be wheeled conveyance contraptions and a step ladder.

Vending can be a lot of fun.  It can also be hot, sticky (or cold and clammy) long days of growing disenchantment.  A lot of that is up to you, but if you get terrible neighbors there's not much you can do about that.  In time, you may be able to control who your neighbors are a little bit, and lessen the chance that they will encroach on your space, use your booth as a walkway, or any number of other rude and annoying habits of bad neighbors.
Have fun, and here's to blue skies, calm breezes, and good crowds!

1 comment:

Iris Weaver said...

Such excellent advice! I started doing craft shows when I was 16 in the early 70s. Have done so many in many variations, and then selling herbal stuff in later years, and in the last few year doing farmers markets. Yep, so much experience and learning!

It's funny, when I started college, in the early 80s, for a marketing class I did a comparison of what several different crafts earned at craft shows. Turns out weaving (which I did) was really low on the earnings scale, and jewelry on the high end. No surprise there!

Thanks for the post.

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