What I’ve learned from vending at Farmers Markets and Art Shows

by BellaLinaBath

I officially quit my “worker ant” job at the end of February 2013 and became a full-time entrepreneur in May of 2013. Luckily I took the leap after moving to Jacksonville, FL and applied for the Riverside Arts Market(RAM). 2013 was an amazing year thanks to RAM and a couple smaller markets. But I have to say I was still a newbie even though I’ve sold my wares at Farmers Markets since the beginning of 2012 in Orlando and surrounding cities and towns.

2014 was my first full year and it made a world of difference! I was able to see the highs and lows of seasons. I also was able to compile I list of what I’ve learned. This list is constantly changing, and it’s my own personal opinion. This could totally differ depending on what you sell and your surroundings.  So here we go:

  • If you’re goingto be in an outdoor market make sure youhave a tent.
    • As a soaper the elements can and more than likely will cause havoc on my products. In the beginning I bought a cheap $60 from Walmart that said it was 9ft but kind of tapered at the top so it made it more like 6 or 7 shaded space. No bueno. I ended up returning it for a white 10 ft. tent with walls. The walls make a HUGE difference in not only saving your products and samples but also making your whole set up look a lot more professional. Walls are also essential when you’re at a dirty market. By dirty I mean an outdoor market in a field that more dirt than grass. I made sure to get white because some shows require white tents and buying a tent isn’t a small investment. No matter what, take weights!! The last thing you need is a lawsuit because you didn’t weigh down your tent.
  • Keep a positive but professional attitude.
    • If you’re an artistic soul. Going to arts and farmers markets are like a whole new world! You finally fit in and aren’t the weird one anymore. Everyone is weird! But just like high school these shows especially if they are weekly have their own cliques. Stay out of it!! Keep in mind that you are there to sell your products and MAKE MONEY.
  • Greet every potential customer.
    • I have a whole schpeel(is that how you spell that?) within 10 seconds of someone entering my space. Always start with a smile and a hello. Then I say: “Please feel free to pick everything up, smell it, try it out whatever you’d like. I have a sample for everything. Let me know if you have any questions. I make everything from scratch.” I make sure that I’m standing, because it’s just rude and lazy unless of course you can’t stand. With that being said, it’s important to invest in a good pair of shoes keeping in mind that you’re going to be standing for an extended period of time. Also, don’t think that you’re being rude by cutting off your neighbor who’s in the middle of their life story to greet your customer. Because like I said before you are there to make money and share your passion with the world. If your neighbor doesn’t understand then obviously they aren’t there with the same goals as you are. Make sure that even if people aren’t buying something that you thank them for stopping by. They may not have the funds or need for your product now, but they will remember you and come back when they do and bring a friend that they think would love what you have to offer.
  • Pack your lunch.
    • Every dime you spend comes out of your profit. Buying food every week can be costly and really effect your bottom line. If you pack your lunch and take a Thermos of cold water will make a world of difference on your energy level and well-being. Let me tell you dying of thirst and having bubble guts is not the best environment for selling.
  • Use a credit card reader!!
    • I can’t stress this enough! The average person doesn’t carry cash with them. Most likely if they do carry cash it’s for their veggies, or it’s because they have a certain amount of money budgeted for extras. By taking credit cards you’re adding more money in your pocket. It’s pretty important now-a-days to have a smart phone. All of the card readers are free as long as you download the app. I find that having a tablet and using a tablet pen also just adds a little more professionalism to your transactions. If you’re going to invest in a tablet make sure that it has the ability to have its own internet. Never expect your show or market to provide wi-fi because if they don’t or if it’s down you just gained an edge on your competition.
  • Dress appropriately!!
    • The saying if you got it flaunt it does not apply here. I can’t tell you how many women I see selling jewelry with just a leather vest on and some tight jeans. I just want to shake them and say “you look fan-freaking-tastic but if I’m walking by with my man the LAST thing I’m going to do is see what you have to sell because I don’t want my man looking at you.” Let’s face it, I’m not the only one that thinks that way. If a woman is walking by and you’re dressed a certain way they just don’t want to look at you either. They may want to look like you but you’re not there for that. You’re there to make money. Cover up! Dress comfortable but put together. Solid colors always work best with minimal jewelry. I also find that when I wear big blingy jewelry especially when its real people think that my prices are too high. But if I dress plain with minimal makeup, jewelry, and distractions I sell a lot more. I can’t tell you how many people either don’t wear good deodorant, or don’t wear it at all. Please do yourself and everyone around you a favor and WEAR DEODORANT! Look put together, clean, and professional. You are selling a product and you are the face of that product, keep that in mind at all times.
  • Don’t give away too much.
    • I can’t tell you how many people ask me how I make my product. I used to tell them the ingredients, the process, and just basically answer anything. I found that some people really didn’t care to know, or they wanted to know so they could turn around and make it themselves. If you have a popular product the poachers will come, take it as a compliment. Guard your recipes and techniques with your life!! Poachers can also be your peers at these shows. Never tell people how much money you make! It sounds like common sense but  a lot of people out there looking for that next get rich quick scheme and you may be the answer. Simply saying the internet has some great resources is a great way to end that uncomfortable conversation.
  • Not everyone will love you and your product. That’s okay!
    • Selling natural products I’m constantly getting the “this is too expensive” or “irish spring/dove works great for me” “this is stupid” “don’t buy that I can make it for you” and so on, you get my drift. First I have to say, you get away with saying a lot if you smile while you say it. When people say it’s too expensive, I usually start with “Well if you don’t think your skin is worth it, I totally understand.” or when people say “Dial works great on my skin”. I usually say with a smile “Come back to me in ten years and lets see how great that’s working for ya.” Or if someone says I can totally make this, I usually smile and say “Well I wish you the best, I’m sure my constant research and development over the last seven years will be just as good as what you can whip up.” Be professional but at the same time don’t let people doubt your prices, work, or worth. Always ask and be thankful for feedback on loyal customers! But some people just go out looking for something negative to say, don’t let your business, listening potential customers, or your self-worth suffer.
  • Don’t say yes to everything.
    • In the beginning I was super thankful to get into any market. But I realized when it was a good time to move on and find something else. After about six weeks if your booth fee isn’t at least 10% of your profits it may be time to move on. Sometimes exposure comes into play. For example: I attend a market twice a month at UNF that doesn’t always fit into that equation but I get a lot of exposure from my target audience. With tons of market research over the years I know that my target audience are women from the ages of 18-35 married and single. The students I meet don’t always have the funds to buy but they do tell their friends and most of the time come back to RAM on the weekends with a group of friends that all buy. So in this case at the moment, it makes sense for me to continue that market as long as their fee isn’t raised. If 80% of the patrons entering the market are your customers, you’ve probably outgrown that market.
  • Listen to your loyal customers.
    • Your loyal customers may come back with reviews, testimonials, and constructive feedback. Listen. Their advice is invaluable. They take time out of their day because they genuinely care about your growth and success. You don’t have to implement everything they suggest but take it into consideration. Your loyal customers are your best form of advertisement. They will tell everyone they know, and best of all it’s absolutely free for you.
  • Spend your slow times of year wisely.
    • Your first, second, third, or even fourth set up isn’t perfect. As you grow your set up will change. Spend those slow times of year making your set up more efficient and aesthetically pleasing. Make sure your set up and products match. Your set up should reflect your business plan. For example my products are natural, biodegradable, and my logo is a mermaid. So my set up has always been very neutral. My tablecloths are muslin, I use recycled crates, and boxes that I’ve painted with paint I already had.
  • Your set up shouldn’t take away from your product.
    • Try to keep things clean, organized, and plain. Your product should be the star of the show. My banner is super colorful to attract from afar but my set up highlights my product. If someone asks you where you got your props, then that should be a good indicator that your products aren’t highlighted correctly.
  • Social Media is your friend.
    • Embrace the fact that people will forget everything but their phone. By having a social media outlet you can attract new customers, let your current customers know where you are, and remind the forgetful types. Make sure to post at least once a day. Stay relevant.

There’s so much more I can say but I think these are the highlights so far. I’m certainly not an expert so this list may change and be added to as time goes on. I will say if I had read this before I started, I would have saved myself a lot of time and heartache. The bullet points aren’t in any kind of order. I just wrote them as I thought of it. So here’s some pictures of my set up over the last few years.

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March 2012

This was probably my six or seventh time ever selling my product. This picture was taken in March 2012. I realized later that a night market in downtown Orlando while people were in and out of restaurants and nightclub didn’t work. I had to understand my target audience. Reading Guerrilla Marketing helped me with understanding my prime selling environment. I bought the book on Amazon for less than $4.

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March 2012

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April 2012

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August 2012

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March 2013

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June 2013

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July 2013

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November 2013

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June 2014

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January 2015

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