Tips for preparing/packing for an Arts & Crafts fair or other vending opportunity - for those who may be new to it
Published On: 11-25-2011 10:24pm
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Category: Tips & Techniques
I was getting ready to go to Steamcon II this weekend, and was thinking about what I could post about before I left. The answer became obvious as I started making up my lists of things I needed to do to prepare: Write out my tips and advice to those who may be contemplating selling their wares at arts & crafts fairs, vendor fairs, bazaars, etc who might have little or no experience at it. Why learn the hard way when you can benefit from the experiences of others?!
Unfortunately, time got away from me and I was unable to complete the proofreading/editing I needed to do before leaving for the weekend. As a result, you're getting this after the fact. Later this week I should have a follow-up article completed of what it's like vending at a larger vending event. :)
I'm going to do a quick side tangent and state that some of my experience & advice comes from my youth when I used to participate in horse shows. My parents both worked and would sometimes have to work on the weekends as well so, quite often, I would either ride with others or drive myself (when I was old enough) and I was pretty much on my own when I got there. I had to prepare for & pack for the horse show myself. It was important not to forget anything and it was nice to have extra things to help others out if they needed it. I've also occasionally participated in mostly small and a few medium vendor fairs here and there over the last decade or so. I'm just starting to get back into it and go to larger shows. I remember when I could pack everything into 1 or 2 bags - but that's enough digression for now.
The first and most important rule is to make a list of what you need to bring with you to check off as you pack. The more obviously necessary the item, the more important it is to be on the list. Seriously, nine times out of ten it's the simple or obvious item that I forget when I don't make a list and am sure I can just remember what to bring. This can include forgetting to pack the very items you are hoping to sell. There's nothing worse than having to lose set-up and/or selling time because you had to make an unexpected trip home for what you forgot.Depending on how far you are traveling, this may or may not even be possible.
Do not plan to get anything made the day before the event. It took me a long time to figure this out but it's true. There is a lot to be done. If you get your checklist accomplished then you can consider making another item(s) but don't count on it.It's far more important to have everything you *need* than to have more last minute items.
Review the information about the set-up for the place you're going to be vending at. Don't assume anything. For example, if you assumed tables would be provided and didn't bring any, it would be pretty disastrous to get there and find out you were wrong. You don't need anything fancy. I got my two 4'X2' folding tables at Target over a decade ago and they still work great.That said, this is not usually a concern at hotels (which are generally equiped for a variety of conference types) - mostly at events that are converted spaces or outdoors.
Remember to bring table coverings - it makes your set-up look more professional and a covering that reaches to the ground will also provide you a place behind which you can put your packing containers, personal items, etc without looking messy. I get table cloths on clearance for this. Plastic is fine as long as it looks nice and can be easier to maintain. You can also find table coverings at thrift stores. Layering works too. You'd be surprised how 3 yards of cheap lacy fabric can dress up your table. I use ironing board cover clips to secure my table cloths. I can usually find sets of these at the dollar store but they are pretty cheap no matter where you get them. There's variable lengths in the set and they have elastic to help keep things snug. They will keep your table cloth from flying up in a breeze if you're at an outdoor event.
Think about how you want to display your wares. This will depend on what you're selling so I'll give you some examples from what I sell. I have purchased most of my display items from either Fire Mountain Beads & Gems or Shipwreck Beads because the prices are often better than at local stores. I started out with 3 trays and added more a little at a time. I got the velveteen inserts for the trays. I also bought the jewelry pins to both help to display items and keep people honest. They aren't that expensive and made my set-up look much more professional. Impressions matter when you're trying to sell items. You don't have to have jewelry trays or stands to sell jewelry but you need to make sure your presentation looks polished. I've seen people use old picture frames and hooks to create jewelry displays. Be creative and, again, check your local thrift stores for possibilities if you're on a budget.
I'm going to be selling a couple mini top hats this weekend. I have some Styrofoam heads I got some time ago. I like the kind with a hole in the center (for hanging on racks) because I tape weights in the hole to help stabilize them. I also pin wigs onto the heads for the hats or hair flowers to be displayed. This works out much better than just sitting on the table and pinning or taping the wigs down keeps them from sliding off every time someone wants to try on a hat or hair flower. Halloween is a great time to find cheap wigs for this purpose at thrift stores.
When possible, if the site has electricity available to use, bring portable lights to make sure you're displaying your items to the best advantage. Remember to also bring an industrial extension cord and a power strip. It's better to have them and not need them than the other way around.
Bring a trash bag. Sometimes there aren't any garbage cans to be found or they are far away. Having your own place to dump garbage means less time running around away from the booth or having things pile up in a messy looking way. I get the drawstring bags and usually tie them to the leg of my one of my tables *behind* the table cloth. You can find these at a dollar store.
Bring baby wipes and/or hand sanitizer. People don't think about it much but money & credit cards exchange many hands and can be very dirty/germ filled. These can help you avoid post event crud.
Bring paper towels or cloth towels. You never know when you might need to clean up a spill and you'd rather be prepared then have to run to find a bathroom.
Bring a travel size package of Kleenex.
Bring pens you don't care if someone walks off with. Bring enough that you still have at least 1 at the end of the day.
I recommend your exhibition kit should at least include the following: several ink pens, a black or blue marker (poster pen), a couple safety pins, measuring tape (if you're willing to do custom orders & need measurements), pencil, eraser, stapler, scotch tape, masking tape, note pad, extra price tags, thumb tacks, scissors, bandaids, some paper and/or card stock, hand sanitizer, a garbage bag, and business cards. I have used every single one of these items before. Sometimes I've forgotten signs and needed to make some on the fly. This is why markers are good. I once forgot my pin display so made one with some card stock. At outdoor events I have sometimes found it necessary to tape down my stand up displays if it was windy. Sometimes I want to staple a note to a card or receipt for various reasons. I also give out instructions for my hair falls and at least once I forgot to staple them in advance. Some places it works best to tack things to the wall with a pin and others require only tape be used. I usually have signage I want to tape to my table and tend to prefer scotch tape for that. Sometimes you want a pencil - not a pen. I have unpacked items I was sure had been priced only to find there is no price tag. Dealing with the public and handling money means germs: Hand sanitizer is your friend. You never want to get some place and find you don't have business cards. I have all of the basic office supply items & my business cards in my cash box. They live there so I just have to check and make sure the pens still write and the business cards are current, etc rather than having to gather these items up every time.
Print any signage you may need in advance (and print extras). If you have access to a printer you can make nice signs even if you have a very small budget. I used some coffee paper I bought some time ago to create my signs for this weekend. They looked good and fit with the "Old West" sort of theme. Printed signs always look nicer than hand written ones (and are easier to read if you write like I do). You should include a sign for what methods of payments you accept and your shop name at a minimum. I understand Vista Print now has low cost banners along with their free/low cost business cards so I will be looking into a more permanent business sign option in the not too distant future!
If you, like me, have difficulties standing for long periods of time, check if the venue has chairs available/room for chairs. I have some very nice camp chairs I like to use for events because I know they are wide enough, tall enough, and have a tray that I can set my lunch and/or drink on. Mostly I bring these to outdoor events or converted indoor space events when chairs may not be available or in limited quantity.
Another side note: If you have good chairs and tables bring them to any outdoor or converted space event you're going to just in case. Most hotels have tables and chairs available for vending. Restaurants, bars, warehouses, and outdoor events may not or may have limited quantities of tables and chairs and I'd rather be safe than sorry. Also, if someone else forgets their items or forgot to check if they were available you can cultivate good will with both your fellow vendor and the event coordinator by offering to either let them borrow your portable tables or to let them have the table you reserved. It never hurts to be helpful - especially when event coordinators are having to pick and choose who they have room for.
Bring water. Don't assume it will be available or handy.If the event is busy you will be talking all day and if it's indoors it can get warm if a lot of people show up. You'll need water.
I strongly recommend making a item/price sheet for the event. I prefer to use a spreadsheet for this because then I can copy and paste items from one event to the next if I still have them rather than create a whole new list every time. I leave room to check off items that sold so I can compare it with my totals at the end. This is also helpful when a price tag falls off or has been forgotten. Leave room for items that may have accidentally been omitted or were created after you printed it. Do not mark this off your list until it's been printed AND packed with your gear.
Have bags for the items you sell. I have found small gift bags for 3/$1 and medium size bags for 2/$1 at the dollar store. Sometimes I decorate them with stickers. I also pick up a pack of tissue paper while I'm there. When I sell something I put a sheet or a half a sheet of the tissue paper in the bag and put in the item AND a business card. It's professional looking and makes it more special for the customer.If they already have a bag I still like to wrap the item they purchased in tissue paper so it doesn't get accidentally damaged in transit. Make sure they have a business card when they leave to remind them who they got the item from so they can tell their friends.
Remember to get petty cash! Remember you usually need to get this at a bank during bankers hours. If your event is on the weekend, get this done no later than the Friday before.
While we're on the subject - consider the need for change/petty cash & tax when pricing your items. Coins are HEAVY. I strongly recommend you figure out the tax before hand and round up to the nearest dollar. You need more 5's and 1's than anything else.
I recommend you look into a way to accept credit/debit payments as well. The fact is that many people are using debit and credit cards more and carrying cash less, in general. You are more likely to have sales and larger sales if you are able to process debit and credit card payments.
If you make jewelry - take the time to bag each item both BEFORE and AFTER the show for transit and storage. Don't just throw it all in a box or large bag and plan to deal with it later. It's truly amazing how quickly you'll end up with a very large mess of jewelry in knots. Add price tags to the mix and things get really exciting & fun! Jewelry has nothing on x-mas lights in this regard! It may seem like a pain at the end of the day when you're hungry and tired but it's far better to take the time to put things away properly than having to sort out the tangled web and possibly deal with broken jewelry later. Yes, I'm speaking from experience.
Bring a variety of snacks. Selling can be hungry business and there may not be food nearby.
If you're vending outdoors - buy or borrow a shade structure of some sort. I got a sunburn on the top of my head at the first outdoor event (which was also the very first event) I vended at. I can tell you it's not at all fun. Also, make sure that whatever shade structure you get is also rain proof - particularly if you live in the Pacific Northwest like I do. FYI - hand weights can be made into temporary shelter weights if need be. This is handy to know if you have not made other arrangements and find out it's going to be breezy at your outdoor event.
Dress in layers so you can be comfortable if the site ends up being either warm or cool. Consider your footwear carefully. Pick shoes that you will be comfortable standing in for long periods of time. I shared a booth at Emerald City Comicon for the first time this year. There were 2-3 of us working the booth and we were all on our feet most of the day because there are a LOT of people at that event. At another event this summer we were set up in a warehouse space with sun lights and no A/C. Fans were necessary and clothing needed to be light and breath.
Take some time with your personal appearance. It matters. I don't wear make-up on a daily basis but I do when I'm vending. Having your hair up can make you much more comfortable if it gets warm where you're vending.
I recommend asking a friend to either sit with you in the vending booth or to share booth space with you if you can. Having someone to spell you for eating & running to the bathroom is really nice and you can keep each other motivated and cheerful. If nothing else, I recommend arranging to have a friend or loved one bring you lunch or coffee or something in the middle of the day. If the day has been going well you get to share it with them and if it's not so great they can cheer you up. A friendly face can give you the energy boost you need to finish out the day with a smile.
Don't make plans after the event aside from eating and otherwise taking care of you if you can help it. Being "on" and "out there" all day to customers is exhausting - even for an extrovert. Ask anyone who works a customer service job or any other job working with the general public. I recommend some good food followed by a nice hot bath or shower.
The reason you don't plan to make anything on the day before the event is that you need to spend that time making and checking off your lists, packing items, running the errands you need to run, etc. Then you need to try to go to bed early. It's not uncommon to have trouble sleeping the night before an event. Also, set your alarm to give you plenty of time to get ready and go - more than usual, in fact. Plan to get to the site as early as they will allow for set-up because it's far better to have time after setting up to relax and tweak things than it is to be rushing to get things done in time or still be setting up when customers start coming in. Give yourself more than enough time to get to the site in case there are unexpected traffic issues. Make sure you know where you need to move your car to after set-up if necessary. You'd rather have the prime parking spots available for the customers after all.
Okay, I think that's a fairly extensive list and should get you through most events/issues. These lessons and tips have served me well over the years. I still sometimes forget things but not usually anything major that I can't work around. This last weekend was my first experience vending at a larger convention so I'll follow this up with my lesson's learned from that experience.