How to Rock Vendor Fairs

Jennifer Kalous shares tips on how to be a successful vendor.

Editor’s Note: This article was written by Jennifer Kalous, owner of The Pink Moose, an artisan business in Northern Colorado.  Learn more and connect with Jennifer on LinkedIn.

Have you ever wanted to set up a booth or table at a vendor fair? Do you already participate at vendor fairs but feel like you don’t know what you are doing?

When I first started out doing trade shows and vendor fairs I had no idea what I was doing. There are several things I learned very quickly to make these shows both successful and enjoyable, and I am excited to share them with you today.

Selling beverages at a farmers market

How to Find and Pick Vendor Fairs in Which to Participate

There are so many shows out there that sometimes it can be an overwhelming decision to pick which show to go to. When picking a show there are several things you need to consider.

Finding A Show

When new to an area or just starting out as a business it can be hard to find shows. Start with a google search. This can lead to websites that list shows in the area.

For example, I googled, “craft shows Colorado” and this is one of the first links that came up – It has all kinds of shows on there from hunting and fishing to home and garden and so on. This can be a little difficult with all of the other topics in there and a little time-consuming but you have to start somewhere.

Another way to find shows to participate in is to ask your friends and neighbors or other people you know who would be in your target market. At your first show ask other vendors about shows they have done in the area and where they have found success.

Ask: who is the target audience at the show?

As a handmade home décor retailer, I am looking for women in their mid 20’s on up. With my price range, I am probably narrowing that to women who are middle to upper class and established in their careers or have husbands who are established in their careers. The reason that socio-economic status is important to my business is that when at a trade show most of the purchases for my customers are impulse purchases. Those who have stable finances are more likely to make an impulse purchase.

Look at sex, age, socio-economic status, and interests when looking at your target audience. Does this show attract the same target audience as your business?  If it does, then it’s the right show – if not, you’re unlikely to make many sales.  For example, I have a friend who is a birth photographer, provides placenta encapsulation, and designs and sells baby onsies. She went to a Birth Without Fear Conference. While this wasn’t a fair or show, they had vendors at the conference and it was a perfect fit because of the target audience. She did well at the conference.  My business would probably not have done well.

Ask: is it a multi-vendor fair or a business-specific fair?

Think outside the box when looking for a place to sell your products and market your business. We have done many multi-vendor fairs, fairs that have both artisans/crafters and shows that have direct sales or MLM consultants (like Mary Kay). We do not do well at these shows. With that being said I have another friend who makes the most adorable children’s clothing and accessories and does very well at these shows. Sometimes you have to try a show to know whether it will work for you or not. It is ok to ask the show hosts questions such as number of attendees, other vendors attending, etc.

Try lots of shows!

Our first year in business we went to 17 different shows. This included farmers markets, multi-vendor shows and craft/artisan only shows. Some were low risk such as the farmers markets that were only $5 a booth space while others were higher risk such as several of the craft/artisan shows that the booth space was over $200. We found that the craft/artisan shows were a better fit for us with a much higher return on our investment. This year we narrowed down our shows to 7, with 3 of them being new shows for us. Each year we will reevaluate what shows we did well at and want to return to, along with looking at new shows we want to try to attend.

Vendor Fair Etiquette: Important Do’s & Don’ts

This is huge for me! I have had other vendors who are oblivious to their neighboring vendors and it is so frustrating. So here is my list of do’s and don’ts that bring success.

Do be kind to your fellow vendor and respect their booth space.

We had a customer in a booth next to ours try to get an item off of a shelf on their own which bumped our booth and sent items crashing. That vendor offered to pay for a damaged item in our booth. We declined as it was not the vendor’s fault (the customer should have offered and didn’t). It was the appropriate gesture from the vendor. I have also had a vendor put her coffee cup on my display table from the backside out of carelessness. I moved it back to her table and after she did it a second time I threw her half drank coffee cup away.

Don’t block your neighbor’s booth space with your signage, inventory, etc.

At many shows, you only have a 10×10 space or a 12×12 space and sometimes only a 6 ft or 8 ft table. While these spaces are tight and crammed you have to figure out how to stay within the space. I get that it is hard as we cram 6-10 pieces of furniture in our booth at each show. Sometimes the show will give you a buffer between you and your neighbor for overflow. When this happens still be courteous and share that overflow with your neighbor.

We try to get a corner booth space as much as possible because then we can cheat into the isle slightly. Even then be cautious so you aren’t impeding on the walkways which slows traffic, causes accidents, and can cause broken/damaged inventory.

Do know the rules of the show.

When is set up? What are the expectations of you to market the show? Can you break down and leave early if you are not having success (generally this is not ok)? Do you need to file your taxes at the show or later? In general, follow the rules. I watched a vendor leave early at the last show I was at. Everyone watched with wide eyes. The show coordinator was very upset with this vendor and even purchases from this vendor. My guess would be that she won’t be purchasing from them again and I know I won’t purchase from them.

Don’t take patrons away from other booths.

All vendors are there to sell and all patrons are there to buy. If someone is looking at an item at a booth next to yours do not talk to that person until they have fully moved on from that booth.

How to Market Yourself at a Vendor Fair

In marketing, you want to brand your business. I have seen many vendors do a great job with their business cards, their website, and their banner for their booth but it stops there. Having good marketing on paper isn’t enough. When at a show you must carry that brand over into your presentation of your booth, your personal appearance, and how you approach your customers. Here are some things that I have actually seen vendors do that are good and bad.

Pay Attention to Your Booth Set up

It is very important to have a booth that is set up and displayed well.

This can be a challenge as you want to have a display that sets up and breaks down easily, is compact and portable yet sturdy. We have seen some very creative booths from doors used as the corners of the booth to tents with walls, ladders with shelving, and so much more.  Need ideas? Try these sources for vendor fair booth inspiration:

  • Pinterest is a great place to get some ideas.
  • Follow the Instagram accounts of other similiar vendors to see photos they share when at a show.
  • Try doing a Google search for booth display photos.
  • Go to a show and look at how various booths have their space set up. Look for ideas that you like and write them down. Ask if you can take pictures. (Note: It is always important to ask if you can take pictures of their booth or products.)

Your booth should go along with your product/service and compliment it. We sell rustic décor so we use lattice, old ladders, burlap and other natural, rustic items to create our booth space. Before our first show we set up our booth in our driveway to make sure everything worked and to save us time at the show. We don’t do this anymore as we have had enough experience but it is a good idea before your first show.

The Pink Moose Booth Photo 2
Display of items with PVC Pipe, Curtain, and lattice wall.
The Pink Moose Booth Photo 1
Old ladders make for a great display above a plastic table covered in burlap.

Dress Nicely

You don’t have to dress in your high school formal but it is important to dress nicely any time you are representing your business. We have seen vendors in ripped blue jeans and shirts with paint on them. I always wear a skirt and shirt or dark blue jeans with a dressy shirt and shoes.

You can be comfortable but it needs to look nice. Sweats aren’t appropriate (unless you are a fitness business). What you wear projects an image and still speaks to your brand. When you walk a show to look at booth spaces check out what vendors are wearing and ask yourself if it speaks to their brand. I always have pink on as that color is in our business name. Maybe you always wear a scarf. Or maybe you have shirts made with your logo on them.

Stand and Greet

So many times I have watched vendors sit on chairs at the back of their booth on their phones. And if they aren’t on their phones they stay sitting to say hello. It is a long day or sometimes 2 to 3 days. I get it! BUT what do you want to say to your customers about your brand?!

For longer shows we will take stools and put them at the back of the booth, almost hidden, to sit on when there is a lull in traffic. As soon as we see customers walking by we are standing and greeting them. Believe it or not, I have even seen folding camp chairs placed in the middle of the booth!

Greeting your customers is equally important. Treat this the same as you would if working in a retail storefront. You want to say hello, ask how they are, and offer to answer any questions they might have. I then do the ‘dance’ of moving around the booth to be out of the way of the customer or even stand to the side of the booth if space allows in the isle and as long as I am not impeding on another booth.

You’re On Your Way!

By picking a show that reaches your target audience, marketing your business brand, and being courteous you should have a successful show with lots of sales.  I hope this post was helpful and I wish you the best of luck along with some fun!

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