Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Tips and Things to Prepare for Setting up at a Vendor Event

This makes our fifth year of setting up a booth at a vendor market shows, fairs, Christmas Bazaars, etc. I will admit that this "season" looks so different from the past few years, but we do have at least one event that is still a go in September. After that, well, who really knows. Most of our big events are cancelled for the fall and Christmas season. 

Someone ask me for a few pointers on setting up for their first show and I thought it would be a great time to write an entire blog post about it. 

Tents: Most places rent a 10 foot space and a 10 foot tent is the most popular size. I have a white tent purchased at Sam's Club. It is pretty durable and we've been well pleased. It also has sides that can be attached in case of weather issues or rolled down to "close" your booth at night. The sides aren't the high grade fabric of the top, but they work, if you get your tent square when setting up. If it's not square, the sides won't zip! Our tent has straight legs. Why is this important? It means we can utilize the entire 10 foot of tent space. The "slant leg" tents result in you loosing square footage as the top of the tent is not a 10 foot square, so you loose covered space. Some events are "white tent only" so if you're going to invest in a tent, it may be wise to choose the white. The common cheap blue tents are usually slant leg and the frame will bend extremely easy. I've seen more that one go in a dumpster at the end of a show... (we borrowed a blue tent for our first show, needless to say, we didn't return it to the owner, because we broke it.) 
vintage market booth with camper by GypsyFarmGirl

If you are set up on grass, you can stake your tent into the ground. If you are on concrete or asphalt, you must bring your own weights. You can not skip this step! Before I set up the first time, I researched and found that 40 pounds of weight per leg is the usual recommendation. I accomplish this with 4, 5 gallon buckets of water. (1 gallon of water = 8 pounds.) Get buckets and lids at almost any hardware of feed store plus straps to tie the buckets to the tent. We've used bungees, twine, and / or ratchet straps. I hide my buckets in burlap sacks, so you don't see the ugly buckets advertising for another business. After the show is over, you can pour out the water and stack your buckets up. Can you spy the buckets in the next two pictures? 
Vintage Market Booth at County Fair by GypsyFarmGIrl

Fall booth at Vintage Market Days

One show, I watched two ladies from an upscale business literally have to hold their tent down all day long, because they didn't come prepared. Others scrambled to get spare tires and cases of bottled water to anchor their tents... classy? No and it leaves you unable to attend to your customers properly. You would be surprised how a little breeze can effect your tent. Whatever you decide to do, make it look like part of your display, but make sure you have ample weights and anchors. Even on the grass, we've used additional water buckets and additional spikes (Jeff had some big nails, we've used.) Sometimes the ground is too hard to drive in your staked or too soft and the stakes just pull up easily. 

Branding: How will your business be represented and how will they remember you after the show? Our camper has been a fun addition to some of our set ups plus our business cards have a camper on them (My last card reorder features my very on camper.) I highly recommend your social media and website links be visible in one or multiple locations in your booth. You want the customers to be able to find you after the show. A few weeks ago, our show wasn't the biggest one, but I left there with multiple inquiries in my inbox. You let the show feed your following weeks, months, and years. 

Christmas Show with Miss Gussie the Glamper by GypsyFarmGirl

Several months after our first Yamboree, I got a wedding order, because the bride to be talked to me in our booth. I also got a large pillow order 6 months later, but that show placed the idea for a board member to take back to her committee and they decided to order the pillows for a national event.

GypsyFarmGirl by Janice East - first vendor show

2020... what can I say, this year has definitely proved that you must be online to connect with customers and you can't rely on shows only. Many of our shows have been cancelled, but I have still been able to connect with our past customers who shopped in person, by shipping orders to them now. If you aren't branding and telling people how to find you, start now. It can be as simple as a chalkboard sign. I just recently purchased this banner. I got it for a tent (that show was canceled in the spring, but recently discovered it would "skirt" our table.. 
Always include ways for customers to find you, when setting up a booth.

Small Farmer's Market booth by GypsyFarmGirl

Also, if you make or sell a product that you can wear, you should be rockin' it on show day! When you are walking through the venue to the restroom or concession stand, you want others to ask where'd you get that shirt, or purse, or earrings. Whatever the case may be. I've had people chase me and my booth down to find my flannels, because they saw me walking through the aisles. Ride for your brand and be proud of the things you make and sell! 

Taking Payments: You must be able to take credit card payments. Let me repeat that again. You have got to be able to run cards! I've had shows run from 40-100% credit cards. I will never ask a customer to leave the premises to go to an ATM machine  get cash, because chances are, they will not be back. Yes, there are some fees attached to running cards, but that's part of the cost of doing business. (Every online transaction for my store incurs fees, so it's really no different.) I personally find it highly offensive to add a card processing fee onto an order. New laws allow you to pass on up to 4% of credit card fees to the customer in some states, but the practice is frowned upon my a large demographic of the population. You also have to register with credit card companies and post notices, before doing so. 

You can get a card reader from PayPal, Square, etc. I have a chip reader provided by my Shopify website service, along with a PayPal chip reader. My card reader runs cards faster than the big box stores and you operate through apps on your phone.
You will need to have cash bag with change as well. I've got to where I'm wearing a crossbody bag, to keep my money close, so it's not left alone, while I move around. It'll also hold my phone and notepad. 

Recently, I also instituted contactless pay through PayPal. I have a printed QR code displayed in my booth and the customer can scan it with their phone and be taken to the PayPal app on to pay. I've had several people use this feature. One had a small child in tow and didn't have to dig out her wallet, so it was more convenient, since her phone was handy. Currently, there aren't any fees applied while using this option with PayPal. (subject to change, so check with them to confirm.) 

You can see the QR code here, plus hand sanitizer is a part of every booth now. 

I have also started accepting Venmo, as several customers are liking that option. (I personally would only accept this for transactions that don't require shipping.)  

Recently one customer was so thankful I could actually run a card, instead of that "v__ s#!t" - different customers prefer different payment options. While one demographic loves the venmo, others prefer a simple insert their card and be done. (my chip cards don't require a pin or signature, so it's fast.) 

I liked to also keep a paper record of all my sales, so I can track inventory and sizes afterward. I have a small notebook handy to record details, along with request for custom orders. 

Display: We've learned an interactive space is more inviting and brings the customer into the space. If they can see everything with a glance, it's much easier to walk on past. 

Two ladies set up behind us one show and had a table at the front of their booth and sat behind it. It wasn't welcoming and the crowd walked past and they were upset and pulled out of the 3 day show, prior to the "big day." 

This also brings up another point about setting down. I strongly discourage you from bringing a folding or lawn chair. Bring a stool that allows you to rest a minute, but be closer to eye level to customers and you can transition up to standing without much effort. Why is this important? Customers don't want to inconvenience you by asking questions and will be less likely to interact with you. I rarely ever sit at a show, unless I'm eating or there's a lull in the show. 
Vendor booth at County Fair by GypsyFarmGirl and Rooster Tails

When I hear vendors complain about their booth not doing well, they are often the ones who are setting low, nodding off to sleep, and not greeting the customers. If you are working a show, you are there to do a job, so treat it like the business that it is. 

We stand up, greet the customers and offer to help if possible, then I try to stand back and let them look. If they need help with getting something down (we are often setup to the rafters) or help them find a size, I will, other wise, let them browse in person. I also have a few signs places that let customers know we are the makers behind our products - it lets them know who they are supporting and it's not just massed produced in a foreign country type of item. I've also got a sign that thanks everyone for shopping and supporting our small business. In case I don't get to talk directly to them (depending on crowd size) I want them to know they are appreciated. Remember, support doesn't always come in the form of a money transaction on the spot. It can be a facebook share or a recommendation to a friend later, or coming back after pay day. 

Having an in and out of the booth helps, if you have the space to create two openings. This allow someone to not feel trapped, if others come in a booth behind them and makes things flow.

Use all your space wisely. Don't just set your display flat on a table, as that's just not very exciting. The displaying gets fun and creative when you look for new ways to display your goods. 

Oh and please hide your boxes! No one wants to see your tubs, totes, or boxes under your table. We had a check out counter in Mineola that allowed us to store our personal items, sacks, and lunch, so customers didn't see it. One show, I hid my cooler in a burlap sack, so it wasn't as obvious. I've been using a 6 foot table with a chenille bedspread as a table cloth and I can hide my tubs under the table. A tidy location makes everything run smoothly and look more inviting. I have some collapsible bags and trunk organizers for t shirts that are easy for me to handle and put away, when they are empty. 

Other things to think about
Food or drink. I take at least a thermos of ice tea and water to every event. and depending on when and where it's at lunch or snacks. If I know there's going to be food available, that I like (I'm a picky eater), I won't always take my lunch. If it's a great show, you won't have much time to leave your booth to go to the concession stand, so I plan accordingly. At one show, I know by 11:00 on Saturday, the crowd will  pick up tremendously and be non stop for hours, so I try to eat before then. If the food service is supporting a great cause (4H, youth vendors, organizations who give back to scholarships for the community, etc), you bet I'm going to help support them by getting my lunch with them. If there's homemade desserts, I will indulge! :)

Phone chargers - will you have electricity to charge your phone or rely on a battery back up? We always have electricity in our spaces, but I've found I prefer my battery back up pack to me more convenient, so I can still have my phone in hand, as I walk around and help customers, instead of it being left on the counter in the back of the booth. 

Will you take custom orders at a show? I do for some of my items. 

Do you have plenty of help to put up and take down your set up? My farmers market space this summer has been an easy up and comes down in 15 minutes. I've figured out how to pack it all up and load in just a few minutes. Our bigger shows, involves the "road crew" aka husbands and family that help out. A lot of times they work for a piece or whole pie! Last year, we were packing and the concession ladies were selling discounted pies at the end of the show. My guy liked that! 

We love folding shelves that pack up easy and take less space when hauling, so that's something to think about as you look for your props. 

What type of bags will you use to sack up purchases? I've got to where I purchase craft sacks with handles or brown lunch bags. (You can get the bags on eBay, etc.) At first, we were using just any old grocery sack, but once again, that advertises for another business and I decided selling quality items deserved a better sack. The brown craft bag is always something the customer can reuse for a gift bag. Sometimes I will add my stamp to the bag or a sticker, but not always. 

Have a tool box with some extra supplies: zip ties, nails, tacks, s hooks, tape, string. scissors, wire cutters, chalk for writing on signs etc. We showed up at one place and could actually tack into the wall, so we were able to hang up signs and shirts. Zip tie gridwall together or string to tie back curtains, hold together displays on windy days, etc. Scissors to cut off tags for customer to wear their new items out of your booth (it happens!) Wire cutters to snip your zip ties at load out time. You get the ideas. 

When working an in person event, I've found a chalkboard sign with prices for shirts is easier than pricing each one individually. Keeps it simpler and if I decide to run a sale, we just change the sign. I do have a tag on each shirt with our shop name, website, and Made in East Texas plus we have a sticker size tag, that allows you to see sizes at a glance without having to open up every shirt to see what size it is. I still will refold lots of tees throughout a show, but it makes it easier for everyone to see sizes. 

Often times, vendors get restless, if the crowd isn't steady. Take this time to rearrange your booth, mingle with other shops, and work on social media post. It upsets me to see vendors close up early, just because there was a lull in the traffic. Stick it out and wait for the next wave to come through. Rearranging your space brings new light to different items, that someone didn't see in another location. We moved booths from one location in the building to another. Items had been in the booth for months, but once they were in the new space, we sold several items that had been there. Change is good and keeps people looking to see what is new. 

Social Media - you need / must share sneak peeks of your products and show details leading up to a show. If I was hosting a show, I would make this part of the contract that social media posting would be required, that's how strongly I feel about the issue. Then again, I have built this business on free social media, so I know it works! If you don't show it, why would you expect anyone to show up to support you?

Create Facebook events of your own or in conjunction with the event host. Create a graphic with details for your followers to share, with all the details on the event. 

I had one customer that kept telling me she was coming to our show, but then didn't show up on the day of. The next week, when I was picking up feed from her store, she told me that she was busy that day and none of the other vendors had shared any pictures that enticed her to rearrange her schedule and come that day. She said she knew I came to her store weekly and could bring the items she wanted from my shop. 

I've had customers plan trips to East Texas from Iowa, based on our show schedule and sneak peeks, they've drove 6 hours across Texas, and came from neighboring states. Our Yamboree booth can easily have customers from Utah and beyond, since it's a homecoming type event (our town of 5,000 can have up to a 100,000 visitors Yamboree week, although it's cancelled this year.) But they have to plan these trips. You can't just post on the morning or afternoon of the show and think they'll show up. Folks like to see the behind the scenes and connect with the maker, so use the free tools to your advantage! 

For some (but not all shows) if you tag them in your post, they will share on their pages and it gets everyone more exposure and builds more interest and engagement. 

While we are on the social media subject, you need to be posting consistently. I listened to a business advisor say daily facebook post will prove you are serious about your business and it'll reward you like a business instead of a hobby. It's definitely has helped me grow my brand, but keep in mind you can't sell to people all the time, so throw in those behind the scenes, tutorials, humor, personal stories, 
 tip, and tricks along the way.

Remember to have fun and smile. Even if the very moment it's not the greatest sales, don't forget that 
great things can come afterwards, so always be friendly and welcoming. Online, a conversion rate can be less than 4% for many websites. What does that mean? Only 4 out of 100 eyes on your product may actually close the sale and purchase, so it takes lots of eyes on your items to get them moving out of your booth. Keep a good attitude! Oh, and did I mention, eat lots of pie!! Yam pie for breakfast! 

Our Farmer's Market booths have been different this summer, compared to our bigger booths, but they have still been good (sometimes better that our "big" booths.) I can work the afternoon by myself and be set up in less than 30 minutes and packed up and on the road in about 15 minutes. It's outdoors and with this table, I'm able to stand back away from the customers, unless they need assistance. My umbrella is easy for me to create some afternoon shade and cost less than $50. It would not protect from a rain event, but it's been nice for the local shows and of course we love the fringe! 

Support your fellow vendors! I do a lot of my Christmas shopping at shows and I've been loving getting goodies at the Farmer's Market this summer. I think its a great way to build community and support each other in the maker / small business world. 

Shows are hard work, but they can be equally rewarding. Also, be patient and learn the traffic / schedule of your event. At the Yamboree, Thursday afternoon is good, Friday is better, and Saturday is the huge day at the fairgrounds. Several vendors pulled out of the show on the first or second day and didn't hang around till their was long lines on Saturday. (After the parade, crowds gather for the BBQ lunch and livestock sale. You won't set, eat, or hardly take a potty break during this time.) You must be patient and learn the schedule. Farmer's Market is usually busier the hour before we officially open, so come early for best selection, although one time 25% of my sales came after the other vendors started packing up early. Some shows are busier before or after people go eat lunch. 

At the end of a show, I like to find the host and personally thank them and offer to help with anything they may need to finish the show. I also follow up every show with a thank you to my shoppers, with a post on social media. Kind of a way to sign off on that show and let them know when the next will be. (advertising for the next show, needs to happen during the current event, by including fliers, posters, and announcing the next dates.) 

Of course you can follow along with us to see show and event announcements at or

What experiences and tips do you have that we should add to our list? 

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