May 16, 2011

Selling at Shows (A.K.A How We Sold Thousands of Dollars in Product in 14 Hours Despite Pouring Down Rain)

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Meredith @ 7:58 am

This past weekend, we did our first live event in several years. We don’t really like doing live events all that much. They’re a lot of work, they tend to be on weekends when we’d rather not be working, and they are exhausting. That said, we’ve decided they’re a useful tool for growing our business and meeting our customers, so we’ve decided to bite the bullet and start doing them. This past weekend we sold our tees and messenger bags at Art Star in Philadelphia.

Now conditions this past weekend were not ideal. The weather was gloomy and rainy, even pouring at some points. Our booth flooded. The turn out wasn’t what it would have been, had the weather cooperated. All of that said, we sold thousands of dollars in tees and bags, in just 14 hours. How did we do it? Here’s what worked:

1. Have an eye catching booth
One thing we noticed about this event, was that we felt like we were surrounded by a sea of white. Pretty much all the tents were white or beige. Many of them didn’t have much going on in the way of signage. At an event where everyone’s attention is split in a zillion directions, a color scheme that matches the scenery can be a real impediment.

The good news is you can order canopies, displays, table cloths, etc. in a variety of colors. So think about the colors associated with your brand and consider brightening your booth with bolder colors and larger, enticing signage.  Ideally, a large bold banner at the top of your booth should display your brand name along with a short punchy tagline about what you do.

At Ex-Boyfriend, our brand colors are red, white, and black. So we got a red tent and a big bold banner in black white and red featuring our company name, pictures of our most popular characters and our tag line “clothing that starts conversations” From across the courtyard, our booth stood out simply due to colors and signage.

2. Be Friendly
This sounds like a no-brainer but I can’t stress this enough. If you want to make money at these events, be sweet and friendly to every single person who comes up to you. I don’t care what they look like, I don’t care how they are dressed, I don’t care how old they are, I don’t care how sure you are they won’t buy. BE NICE! Be sweet to grandmas, be sweet to toddlers, be sweet to guys who look like they’re in Hell’s Angels. People will surprise you. Everyone is a potential customer and if you treat them like they’re already your friend and start chatting with them, they are more likely to actually become a customer.

When we saw people checking out our booth (and a lot of them did since we had a colorful display), we said “Hi! How are you today? Feel free to come on in and have some free candy and look around”. We said this to every single person we saw. And we sold products to people we might never have expected to sell to. People who looked nothing like what we had in mind as our regular customers. Some were buying gifts for friends or family, some were just people who surprised us.  We treated every single person we saw like we were happy to see them, because we were. No one was taken for granted. (If you click the candid photo above, you can see a larger version. Notice the body language and facial expressions on both the customers and our booth crew — everyone looks relaxed and happy, like they’re chatting at a party.)

If you think I’m belaboring this point, then listen up. The most telling thing I heard all weekend was this (from a mom shopping with her small children): “This is the best booth here this weekend. You guys are so nice. You’re the only ones who are smiling and said hello to me. Everyone else here is just scowling and acting like they are too cool to be bothered with me. You guys actually are cool.” No customer should have that experience at an event. I felt bad for her, embarrassed by the other vendors, and thankful that our crew brightened her day.

During the weekend, my friends and I took turns going on breaks and checking out other booths. I won’t say people were mean, but I didn’t find one other booth giving out the kind of warm reception we had at our booth. Not a single vendor even talked to us, unless we were buying something.  I am not at all suggesting you hard sell people. But making them feel welcome and comfortable, like they’re among friends, is going to make a huge difference in your conversion rate.

I think it also helps to work at your events with friends whose company you enjoy. If your booth crew is genuinely having fun, people are drawn to that. The more fun energy you can generate in your booth with your crew and customers, the more people you’ll draw.

3. Have freebies
Free stuff is a great for several reasons. It draws people in, it starts the conversation and it gives people something to take with them to remember your business. We had very nice glossy postcards printed with a popular print from our collection on the front and a promo code on the back. Everyone walked away with a free miniature print and our web address and a promotion code. The postcards we made didn’t look like ads, they looked like small art prints, making it more likely that customers would hang onto them, instead of throwing them away. We also gave out free candy at our booth, which is a great way to get people to approach and start chatting.

4. Put best sellers front and center
Although we sold some of everything at the show, we had particular items we sold out of entirely. They were hot items that everyone wanted. We made sure they were at the front and center of our display, because they drew people into our booth and got people talking about our products.

5. Take online orders
It’s impossible to guess exactly how much of something you’re going to need to take to a show, so have a back up plan for running out of hot sellers. We brought our laptop to the event so we could take orders. Anything that was sold out we offered to ship to our customers’ homes free of charge. Whatever money we lose on shipping, we chalk up to customer acquisition costs and don’t sweat it.

6. Have an email sign up
Be sure to have a notepad out that customers can use to leave their email address. When you go home with your new list, send those customers a custom email welcoming them to your list and thanking them for visiting your booth at the event. Remind them of any special offers you’ve still got running related to the live event, so they feel encouraged to place an online order, even if they didn’t buy something at the show.

7. Have purchase incentives
There’s a reason people selling cars throw in things like free maintenance for 1 year or 0% APR. These little sweeteners can move a customer from undecided to yes. You want to do the same thing at your booth. Consider offers like free gift with purchase or discounted pricing for buying several items. These offers encourage people to make purchases and make larger purchases.

8. Learn from your customers
As you sell at an event, take special notice of who you sell a lot of product to. Are most of the people handing you cash moms, teens, lesbians, dog owners, etc.? This is a really important thing to notice because it can give you ideas about who to market to when you’re planning your marketing efforts. You might uncover a new niche market you haven’t catered to before, that loves what you do.

Also pay attention to what people ask for. Do they want to know if your products come in a certain color. Do they want to know if it comes in a certain size or with certain features? These requests can help you shape your product development efforts, so take notes on what people are asking for.

9. Have a big mirror
One of the friends who came to this show with us loves hats. He was checking some out at a booth that only had a hand mirror. He ended up not buying because he couldn’t see himself well enough in the hats to decide if he wanted one. If you sell something people are going to wear, even if it’s jewelry or bags, bring a full length mirror. If people can try something on and see themselves using or wearing it, they already start envisioning owning the item and are more likely to buy it.

Don’t forget: Crowds and and a fun atmosphere attract more crowds, the photo above was taken shortly after the first photo featured. As pictured above, the number of a our visitors doubled in just a few minutes.

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  1. Some shows only permit artist to use white tents in an effort to keep a uniform look. So check the rules of the shows you want to be in before you invest in a colorful tent. I’ve never seen restrictions on sign color or table cloth color.
    I’ve been advised to put less expensive items at the front of the booth so people feel safe coming into the space. What are your thoughts on this practice?
    Great article, thanks.

    Comment by Lori Buff — May 16, 2011 @ 8:37 am

  2. Hmm, haven’t heard of a show that dictates booth color before, but if that’s the case, I’d definitely still recommend doing colorful signage, table cloths, displays, etc.

    I think best sellers are probably the thing you want to merchandise up front, regardless of price. If it’s the thing most people are buying, getting it right in front of customers will probably sell more of it.

    That said, having items at a range of price points can be helpful. So you can accommodate varying budgets.

    Comment by Meredith — May 16, 2011 @ 8:41 am

  3. I practice all of this (except for the mirror–I sell soap). There is only one thing I might add, that you might try–put your table all the way to the front. I vend most often at farmer’s markets, and when the merchandise is right at the front of the booth, people are more apt to stop and have a look. When they must enter a booth, not so much.

    Of course, you made a killing on that day, so your setup obviously works for you. I think it’s worth a little experimentation. My tables are set up “in the round,” with both tables pushed together into a larger square, and everything is displayed in the center and sides of the tables. The back-middle section of the table is where I keep the bags, cash box, etc. There is space on the sides for folks to wander in, after they’ve discovered the front of the table.

    Just a thought. New vendors would be wise to heed all of your advice. This is a great post.

    Comment by Amy Kalinchuk — May 16, 2011 @ 9:31 am

  4. Super information! I’ve been selling at shows for the last 5 years, and have cut way back on them this year. They ARE a lot of hard work! But, like you stated, they’re a great way to get your products in front of new customers. I love your idea about sending them home with a postcard or freebie, that has our web address on it. Thank you for another really helpful article!

    Comment by Lisa O. — May 16, 2011 @ 12:57 pm

  5. This was such a great post! One other thing I might add, especially when selling things like art, is to only put out one of each item to create a feeling of scarcity. I nearly doubled my sales last time I did the Farmer’s Market when I tried out this technique. Booth color is SO important! Great post!!

    Comment by Studio MME — May 17, 2011 @ 8:00 am

  6. This is a great article. I think the best part is the part about being friendly. It is very true that vendors don’t always do well at interacting with others. They bring a chair, sit behind their table, and never bother to look up at people entering the booth. Being friendly goes a long way. It is so important to give a good impression of the craft community and acting like snobs is not the impression I would like the community to be giving people! I’m going to share your article in my link love post tomorrow. Thanks again for yet another awesome post.

    Comment by Martha / Sunday Afternoon Housewife — May 22, 2011 @ 12:38 pm

  7. […] theme a little still is a great article from Smaller Box on selling at craft shows. The article, Selling at Shows (A.K.A How We Sold Thousands of Dollars in Products in 14 Hours Despite Pouring Dow…, is a total must read if you ever do craft fairs of any kind. All the tips are fantastic, but tip […]

    Pingback by Sunday Afternoon Housewife » Blog Archive » Monday Link Love: Build Community, Have a Great Fair, Promoting Other Blogs and More! — May 23, 2011 @ 6:55 am

  8. Excellent article. I was just having a conversation with Martha (above) a few weeks ago about how being friendly really does drive the sales. I see people who sit at booths and not say a word to people and then complain at the end of the day that they barely made their booth fee back. We stand and engage as many people as we can and tell everyone that we can get into our booth about our products. I’ve literally talked myself hoarse before telling people about what we sell. When you’re informative and show that you believe in what you’re selling it really comes through. Everyone at a show is selling something different and we all have a unique set of challenges to selling but the one thing that everyone can do is just simply be friendly and engaging and the sales will come!

    Comment by Shan — May 23, 2011 @ 7:09 am

  9. I had one of my best shows yet this past weekend too, and I couldn’t agree more about greeting people, smiling and being friendly. Just like you want good customer service at any store, the same goes for your booth at an event!

    The all white tent rule that Lori mentioned is often found more with juried fine art type shows. But I have heard of a lot of shows that do that, including a couple of local arts market. Also, from my personal experience and the experience of a lot of other vendors I know, the white EZ-up brand tents tend to hold up better than some of the other tent brands that you’ll find at a sporting good store or something. I know people who bought some of the slightly cheaper tents and had them collapse or blow away with the slightest bit of wind! But yes – there are still lots of ways to add color, with signs, tablecloths, display materials, and even curtains or fabric hanging from your tent sides. (The plastic side walls that come with many tents are great for rain or if you leave your tent setup overnight, but I’ve found they’re very stuffy if the weather is warm!)

    Comment by Mallory — May 23, 2011 @ 8:26 am

  10. GREAT advice, all of it. I’m thinking about doing my very first show this year sometime, and have been thinking about all these but there are a few I didn’t think of so thanks!

    It all looks like so much work, but so much fun. :^)


    Comment by Heidi (AlpineGypsy) — May 23, 2011 @ 10:02 am

  11. Yes, I totally agree with all your points, especially the one about being friendly to EVERYONE who passes by your booth. I have seen people who were “just looking” turn into customers once I started talking to them and connecting! And I met so many people who I would otherwise not have the chance to meet. Thanks for sharing and congratulations on a great event!

    Comment by Andreea — May 23, 2011 @ 6:00 pm

  12. this post is perfect timing! I am gearing up for my summer shows! Do you have links to colorful booth walls & backdrops? Also, how did you hang your banner across the top of your tent- it’s cut off in the picture.

    Comment by Crystalyn Kae — May 26, 2011 @ 1:04 pm

  13. Crystalyn, for setting up a colorful booth, I recommend scoping out some fabric stores. You can buy fabric in a variety of colors and prints by the yard, and create your own backdrop that way. If you have a white tent, this is probably a fairly easy, cost effective way to go.

    If you want a colored tent, that’s another easy way to add color. That is what we did. If you search for 10×10 canopy on you’ll find canopies in just about every color — red, blue, green, yellow, etc.

    To hang our banner, we got electrical conduit pipe (usually sold in lengths of 10 ft at hardware stores like Lowe’s, and they will cut it in half for you and should only cost a few dollars). Then we taped the pipe to our tent’s legs with electrical tape and attached the banner to the pipes with mini bungees, which stood out above our tent.

    Comment by Meredith — May 26, 2011 @ 1:53 pm

  14. Wonderful post and I think that putting out freebies is the best way to attract people and bestsellers up front is totally a great idea. I’m planning to do something like this at the near festival and I will definitely use some of the listed ideas here 😀

    Comment by Melissa Finn — June 2, 2011 @ 3:29 pm

  15. This is super helpful and well thought out. Thanks so much for taking the time to share!

    Comment by Katie — June 2, 2011 @ 7:34 pm

  16. Thanks so much for the info! It’s super nice of you to share what works! If only I could sign up for a craft show where more than 20 people show up, I’d be ready…usually 15 of them are my friends and family…

    Comment by Heather — June 3, 2011 @ 8:00 am

  17. […] determine what’s making their marketing work. Are they getting a ton of press? Are they doing live events every weekend? Do they have their products in hundreds of stores? Are they dominating on Google? Do […]

    Pingback by Smaller Box :: Blog :: Why Your Talents as a Maker/Designer Have Little to Do With Your Potential for Success — July 6, 2011 @ 6:45 am

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