As President of the Vine Vendor Network, I’ve heard the same lament countless times in numerous ways: “I’m not making money at markets/fairs/vendor events!” For the small businesses that rely on markets and fairs for income, accessibility, and acquiring new customers, the investment into an event that doesn’t produce returns is frustrating and disconcerting.
Vending at fairs costs money – not just the table fees, but the cost of a display – and vending at fairs costs time. If you’re not making back at least three-to-five times the cost of your initial investment, you weren’t even being paid for your time. It’s no wonder that vendors often come to me with complaints about “events not being good.” However, before completely judging the event itself, I ask the vendor to consider the following possibilities that she/he did not make money at the event:
- Choosing the Wrong Event – Some vendors like to jump at the opportunity to vend at any and every event. Maybe you’re new and are trying to get your name out, maybe the table fee was inexpensive, and maybe you didn’t discern about the relevance of the event.
- The first step to success at vendor fairs is to choose the fair wisely. Read between the lines of the event. Is it a folk festival, flea market, car show, holiday fair, religious fair, bizarre, handcrafted market, etc? Is the event indoors or outdoors? Is the location a schoolyard, a brewery, a hotel, etc? Not every event is geared to your target market. For example, if a vendor sells high-end costume jewelry, he/she should avoid vending at anything that says “flea market” in the name. The idea of a flea market implies bargains and negotiable prices. A person selling ladies bags should probably avoid a car show because the target consumer is most-likely a man interested in vehicles…not ladies bags. It’s not about stereotyping; it’s about understanding the demographic and the most likely spending habits of that demographic. Don’t waste time or money on a show where you won’t find your people.
- You’re Not Engaged with Customers – Are you spending the entire time on your phone? Are you standing by your table and not sitting behind your display? Are you spending a lot of time chatting with other vendors and wandering, or are you striking up a conversation with customers who pass by your table? You have to be alert and engaged. People who come to these types of events are looking to shop directly with small businesses on a personal level, give them that experience. Remember to smile, be friendly, and never, ever talk poorly about another customer.
- (On the flip side of #2) You’re Being TOO Pushy – Give people a chance to actually come over to your table. Read body language. Are they walking by and slowing down to look at your table – use that as a sign to engage in conversation. However, if they’re not looking at you or are clearly not interested, don’t try to push them to visit your table. If someone is at your table and you ask them for some help and they say they’re just looking, give them the space to shop at their own pace – don’t crowd them and make them feel uncomfortable. Definitely DON’T try and get other vendors to come to your table to shop, whether by asking or sending over business cards or samples – remember they’re there to make money just as much as you are.
- Your Display is Unappealing or Stand-offish – Is your display so delicate that people are afraid to touch anything? Is everything piled on top of itself so people have to go digging? Are all of your products neatly displayed? Take a photo of your vending table and look at it from a consumer’s perspective, or better yet, ask an objective person for honest feedback. There are many ways you can set-up your pop-up to sell.
- You’re Not Making Payment Easy – It’s the 21st century, you need to have a credit card processing system. The days of relying strictly on cash sales are long gone. You can easily get and set up Square* for quick credit card processing (*this is an affiliate link). When you do take cash, make it easy, round, whole numbers. Even if you lose a little bit of money on the sales tax, you’re better off paying the taxes yourself than losing the sale. Always make sure you have small bills on you (especially to break twenty-dollar bills)!
- You’re Not Doing Enough Advertising – While the bulk of advertising should be on the organizer, it’s also your job to advertise the event as someone who is vending there. Let your customers know far in advance where to find you. Create a calendar for easy access, advertise it on your social media, send reminders out with your newsletters. Think about it this way – if all the vendors are doing this, they are bringing their customers to you as much as you’re bringing your customers to them.
- You Don’t Have Inventory for Cash-and-Carry – It’s certainly an investment to carry inventory. It’s also a pain-in-the-neck to truck your inventory with you to these shows. Though cumbersome, it is imperative to have the inventory with you for cash-and-carry. People who attend these fairs are shopping in-person because they don’t want to order online. Many purchases are impulse buys. For every product you don’t have that someone wants is a potential missed opportunity for a sale. Of course, it may be impossible to have everything with you, but if you have enough inventory people will at least feel the immediate satisfaction of walking off with a bag of your goodies.
- You’re Selling Too Many Different Things – People love sets, categories, and collections. It’s simply how our brain works – we categorize. When shopping at your table, people are looking for related products. This builds authority in your particular business because you appear focused and organized. Think about how strange it would be to walk over to a table of sports memorabilia and see fake pearl necklaces with cosmetics. Focus on one area for sales to make customers feel comfortable in your expertise.
- You’re Not Telling a Story with Your Brand – Whether you do direct sales, sell handmade items, or are a reseller, people shop small business, especially vendor tables, because of the story. Anyone could essentially get anything from a major retailer, it’s you who makes the difference while vending. For example, in my personal business, I handcraft candles – when people pick a candle to smell, I will tell a quick story about why I chose the scent or the inspiration for the name – people buy stories. The same works for any small business – maybe explain why you joined that direct sales company, why you love a particular product, a cool fact about how/where it’s made, etc.
- You’re Not Listening to Individual Needs – If you get to the point where a customer is asking you questions, you’re 80% close to the sale if you just listen. Ask questions to glean more information to help focus on a specific product for the customer’s need. Recommend products that actually appeal to those needs. When people can’t decide on what products to pick and smell at my table, I start by asking what scent categories best fit them – sweet, fruity, flowery, earthy – I’m not going to recommend a chocolate product to someone who tells me they love patchouli. The same goes for add-ons – it needs to make sense. If someone is looking for a necklace, listen to the designs they like and after they have chosen a necklace, THEN suggest matching earrings. You wouldn’t recommend matching sneakers to someone buying socks, but you would recommend socks to someone buying sneakers. Listen, listen, listen.
What are some of the troubles you have while at vendor fairs? Let us know in the comments so we can help you!