Articles

Tips for selling on the Road

April 2009
Advice from an expert with 20 years of show experience.

Nearly everyone at one time or another has attended a carnival, street fair, county fair, or other event at which sellers exhibited their wares for sale. As a side attraction to most events, little attention is usually paid to the rows of booths lining the perimeters beyond a quick gift for the girl or boyfriend or purchase to appease a child. In fact, these  sellers are the foundation on which events succeed, relying on payments made far in advance to lease space, exhibits, performers, promotion, and everything else a show needs to be a success.

Having sold at varied events for over twenty years, ranging from flea markets, renaissance faires, wine festivals, conventions, and private gatherings, we can assuringly say this business method is a viable, oftentimes lucrative money making option if one is willing to research, organize, maintain stock and vehicles, drive distances, acquire people skills, and to exert the physical strength necessary to set up and tear down a booth within a limited amount of time. Yes, to say it's hard work is an understatement, but the almost guaranteed fast flow of cash makes it all worthwhile. Selling on the road requires preparation months or years in advance but the result is well worth the effort.

The very first step to success is in acquiring a state business reseller's tax license. This is free and allows selling at all shows. Make sure to have a chart of the percentage the show's city or county charges and add this cost to each item for sale, deducting the percentage from the total earnings at the end of the show when tallies are totaled. Depending on the promoter or if the show is out of state, taxes may be collected at the end of the event, however one is still required to acknowledge taxes paid for each show.


The second item that may be necessary is insurance specifically per event. Not all shows require this but most do today. Insurance covers any liability towards the promoter or event itself and coverage required may vary. Information on the insurance amount required is included in the seller packet received beforehand and should be purchased as soon as possible so one can focus on production and not paperwork.
If one intends to sell at events professionally on a regular basis, insurance is available on yearly terms that is adjustable. Discuss it with your insurance broker for more details. We recommend duplicating these papers for your records and keeping them in a safe handy file, taking the copies or original, if required by the promoter, to each show.

A very handy item to have and that may make or break a sale is a portable credit card machine that is able to run on location. If you have one, post signs acknowleding the acceptance of credit cards and process them when purchases are made. Be wary of accepting checks.

Lists of shows may be acquired online, through city chambers of commerce, market publications, other vendors, suppliers, newspapers, or by word of mouth. Get a calendar book, do your research, note planning, and show dates.

Shows that are juried beforehand require a number of clear photographs of your products and booth set up. There's a jury fee, normally $25.00 in addition to the booth fee, which is unfortunately in most cases, non-refundable but tax deductible. Make sure you receive a receipt. The jury fee and photographs are sent in with the event's application and depending on whether you're accepted or not the photographs are normally returned with the seller packet or are available for pick up when checking in at the promoter's table the morning of the show. It's a wise move to reserve a space for the promoter's next event if the show was successful before leaving. Occasionally the promoter will hold your photos as a form of calling card, so either make copies or take a camera to the show and photograph your booth, both empty and filled with buyers.

If one wants to break into this market, the first event to sell at is an organized flea market to get the feel of how a show runs. For years we've sold at Pasadena's Rose Bowl monthly flea market, but don't recommend it for beginning sellers. Most sellers at the larger flea markets are professionals who've been doing it for years (as we have), arriving around midnight to wait for admittance to set their booths up at four a.m. and having to stay til the market closed at 6 p.m. We recommend starting at smaller events: the local flea market
that opens to buyers around 6 a.m., a school or church fair, or similar.

Preparation is the key to success, as mentioned. Hire someone reliable to assist at the show
a few weeks ahead of time. Make sure your vehicle is well maintained including fluids, tires and spare. Have your stock priced and organized for easy unloading and repacking, packaging materials, booth set up complete and in good working order, chairs, tables, table covers, trash bags and cleaning supplies, a broom if outdoors, a dolly or hand truck, food and drink, cash and coin, receipt book and calculator, tax chart, insurance form if required, seller packet, a warm jacket and seasonal clothing, comfortable footwear, even a rug for long standing hours.
Map out the drive, exact location of your booth, eateries for after the show, and make necessary hotel/motel arrangements beforehand. Gas up your vehicle and pack it the day before if you can and if there's an alarm on the vehicle, engage it.

The booth and display set up is as important as your product line. Never underestimate this. With customer mentality in mind, buyers attend events for diversion from the everyday world, and unless you're selling sunglasses or reading palms, keep your selling area interesting, clean, and simple to navigate. There is nothing more irritating to buyers than a dirty, over-loaded booth that confuses the mind and eye.
Most purchases made are spur of the moment, but if a buyer is like me, they will have perused all the sellers and return to make purchases at their convenience later.

All items should be clean, clearly priced, and organized. Just like in a department store, your booth and customer relations should make purchasing easy and pleasurable. Don't be the seller that immediately "jumps" on the potential buyer, over eager to make a sale, but also don't be the seller that growls, moans, or ignores the buyer because you can't put down your book. Speaking of taking books to shows- do it if you must (after years of selling on the road, you'll consider it), but only read after the booth has been cleaned, restocked, and no one is around.

Keep storage boxes, cleaning supplies, personal items like handbags, etc. concealed. Cash for making change should also be kept in an area away from buyers as many sellers have had their cash boxes stolen. A hip pouch is ideal and may be obtained from army surplus, sports or bicycling stores.

Speaking of security, this is an issue with nearly every vendor. Set your booth up so people cannot walk through it to another booth or aisle. Panels are available that velcro onto booth poles and provide privacy. Get to know your neighboring sellers and watch out for each other. (This is also a good way to make friends and learn more about shows and selling.)

Meet the security team on their rounds and have them stop to chat. This in itself deters some would-be thieves but not all. If problems arise, try to detain the person and have your helper or neighbor get security. Do not make a large issue of it as it does happen. To keep it from happening in the first place, keep your small expensive items in cases buyers cannot reach into and only take one item out at a time, regardless of the number of buyers waiting for service.

Sincere buyers will understand and wait. Make eye contact, keep a conversation going with them about the product, and watch their hands and movements. Having a booth that's set up in a reverse U shape facing outward gives the seller more control over the complete stock. More secure display options are cases and hanging objects on racks that require a reaching up movement to remove.

After years of selling at events, our observations on what is profitable vary. We sold handcrafted jewelry, which is almost always lucrative but have seen the market flooded with imported mass produced jewelry, and most buyers in the 15 to 40 year old range (our market) choose the mass produced items for their lower price.

Product success varies though according to event. Higher ticket items do well at specialty shows: wine events, art and photography shows, and most juried shows. Unique, handcrafted items sell well depending on season and event location. Service related: face painting, crafts making, and similar do very well at shows aimed at children but require forethought in safety and health issues and may require higher insurance costs.

Always keep your product line geared towards the event, expected buyer base, the economy, and season. (No hand knit mittens in summer or collapsible book lights at a handcraft show.) Food and drink vendors nearly always do very well, outselling all other vendors, but selling those items require special (expensive) licensing and insurance, mandated storage and preparation areas, are subject to inspection akin to restaurants, etc., which is a whole other discussion. If interested in that aspect, contact the state board for current information.

A final note: sometimes, regardless of how well the same show was the previous year, events flop for whatever reason. Take it in stride, knowing the next show will be better. Improve your product line, booth set up, seller skills, and whatever else may be necessary to succeed in this business. There's absolutely nothing like returning home after a long weekend of selling with handfuls of cash.
Best of luck selling on the road!

Comments

Thanks.  This is good advice for someone just getting started.

By Ken on October 22, 2009

THANKS FOR THE INFORMATION.  LOOKING FORWARD TO MORE BUSINESS THIS YEAR.  GINNY

By VIRGINIA BOHANAN on January 1, 2010

WOW great advice,  I am going to make a copy and take it on the road with me!  Thanks Suzanne

By OnTheRoadJewelry.etsy.com on February 21, 2010

I am just starting out. Excellent overveiw.

By Neal Peyton on November 17, 2010

Wow, just starting and didn"t know there was so much to do! Just moved from Floida too and have no clue what the laws are in selling from home!
I have all my christmas crafts ready for sale, but no liscence, now what?
Maybe I’m to late for this christmas?
Thank you for all the info, it’s greatly appreciated

By Annett Carter on November 22, 2010

Been in this for years, and what you have said has merit.  I started reading it with skepticism, but think you did a good job.

By Jim on January 7, 2011

Generally, very good advice.  I sell sunglasses and our booth is very well planned and impeccable.  We have a strategy that we developed and our sunglasses are categorized and easy for the customer to see.  We also demonstrate and do a lot of customer service.  So I disagreed with what you said about “unless you sell sunglasses” comment.  I do believe that your booth should be in tip top shape no matter what item you sell.  This is especially true if you sell food items.

By Rita on February 25, 2011

I have a line of handcrafted flavor infused olive oils and balsamic vinegars that my husband and been out selling for the past year.  We still wait to find that show where we take home hands full of cash.  I’ve redone my booth so many times and all have looked great.  We just did the MN Food and Wine show and that also was not good…..I think it was more about the free wine and beer then buy products.  If anyone knows of a good place for us we would appreciate any help.  Even tho people tell us our product is great its just not selling like I had hoped.  Maybe its just the economy that is hurting everything right now.

By Rebecca Bouchier on March 12, 2011

Alexa! Great advice for a rookie and an excellent reminder for others! :)

I would like to comment on the paragraph “The booth and display set up is as important as your product line. Never underestimate this. With customer mentality in mind, buyers attend events for diversion from the everyday world, and unless you’re selling sunglasses or reading palms, keep your selling area interesting, clean, and simple to navigate. There is nothing more irritating to buyers than a dirty, over-loaded booth that confuses the mind and eye.
Most purchases made are spur of the moment, but if a buyer is like me, they will have perused all the sellers and return to make purchases at their convenience later.”  This is KEY to any business!! Such a simple point - yet overlooked!

One other point is PRESENTATION ON THE OUTSIDE (Booth Itself). I recently attended an art festival in Dallas, TX and saw booths that could barely stand up (the legs looked bent and crooked). In fact, I was afraid to go inside. There was another booth that had problems with its top and the artist had placed 6 pliers in total on the booth to keep the top attached to the frame. When planning an event, I’d definitely keep a look out for a bolt-on top for a 10x10 booth—probably the E-Z Up Eclipse II, 10x10 Steel (not the AL). Reason being, the AL is lighter in weight and more expensive and is rust resistant but does not withstand heavy weather conditions. If you are an artist and are looking to do 8-15-30+ shows a year, your best bet is to go with the 10x10 Eclipse II tent that are SOOO E-Z to set-up and are real EZ on the fingers too!

There are tons and tons of TENTS out there and lots of E-Z Up’s too and there are people calling their tents EZ ups when they are not anywhere close to the word. Picking the best one is KEY! There are certain Ez up tents that are cheaper and don’t last more than 2-3 shows. I a 10x10 Pyramid II in 2006 and that lasted only 2 shows. I then bought another cheap tent from Ez up for $250 (including the walls) - I believe it was the Express II Value Pack and that lasted for about a year (4-5 shows).

Then I met this E-Z Up dealer in Texas -  Splashtents. They are just terrific—they don’t push you to buy what they want to sell, in fact, they listen to you and ask you relevant questions and give you various options and let you make your own choice! I got my Eclipse II, 10x10 white tent Steel with graphics, 4 side walls, 10’ roller bag, sidewall storage bag, 4 weight bags—all for under $1000. Unlike other dealers that sell just the Tent for $800! 3 words for this company: Reliable, Experts, Lowest Prices compared to all other dealers! (I had spent 15-20 days comparing prices from other dealers and I found these guys to be lowest - plus I was given exceptional customer service!

I hope this response is helpful for new comers and also helpful for those having trouble with their booths.

Glad to help….

Ciao

By Andy on April 5, 2011

Any advise for new food vendors?

By thornton vending on March 28, 2012

I have written a life time adventure story and am thinking about traveling around selling books and T shirts and some hand made wood products.
I would like some input on the possibilities of that working. I won’t make much off of each book, but the other things are nice too.
Have a nice day; Jack Mallory

By jack mallory on December 30, 2013

I am a beginner at owning my own business and going out on the road selling products. I would follow the food vendors. Is there any information on it that you can provide. I would like to tap into this marktet for selling homemade deserts on the road. Any information pertaining to this will be very valuable. Thanks, Chandra Foster

By Chandra Foster on January 13, 2014

Great article, thanks! I was hoping to find suggestions for do-it-yourself clothing rack designs. I sell tie-dye and want to cover 3 sides of my 10x10 tent with upper and lower clothes racks. I wondered how much weight the tent would support if I use the legs or top frame to support my racks? I don’t wanna be unsafe but cost is an issue since I’m just getting started. All ideas welcome! :-D Much love!!! ~Leslie

By Leslie on May 14, 2014

Free , sound advice. Way to go Alexa! I commend you for your willingness to offer free advise to new vendors as well as to some that have been doing this for awhile. Great article. I am sure there are vendors that will read the article and feel as if it was like a large breath of fresh air. There are obstacles along the way of becoming a new vendor but nothing that can’t be worked through. Follow your gut, follow the rules. It will pay off.

By Witman's BBQ Pits inc. on June 24, 2014

I do knit scarfs, socks for gifts to friends, family at Winter Holiday season every year. I made 20 pairs this time, but got situation, needed money very much to help my daughter to relocate.
I saw an add in local newspaper about Winter Fair at local school and decided to attend. Did not know any rules and regulations and never sold anything before. But just made right is putting to my trunk little folding table/ chair.
When arrived, were asking to pay $25 fee to attend, that was too much for me, and I negotiated to $15, but gave $20.
The only place was available in basement of building, but I was not along, about 50 vendors were there. Nice booths, big tables. Ooops, don’t have place to type more… My point is - put a right price on your product - I sell almost all, but others were not so lucky.

By Albina on December 9, 2014

Thank you so much for this article! It was long but it was worth the time reading this! I will definitely check into your recommendations of getting a portable credit card reader, a fanny pack, and a lockable case to show off my more expensive jewelry from.

By Sarafina Broughman of Chimera Jewelry on May 28, 2015

Thanks I needed this. I have been asking my downline if they wanted to do events so I took a lot of this info and shared it with them.  Thanks for sharing.

By Faye (Biscuit) Peebles on September 6, 2015

Thanks so much. Wrote 3 pages of notes. Want to learn so bad. I make poster size diamond plate frames and they are no where to be found. What do you think would be the better shows to go to.

By John Harmon on December 11, 2015

Yes your comment on sunglasses does not have merit. I have been doing flea markets, trade shows and the like for years. I have switched to sunglasses in the last couple of years. I can tell you without a doubt if you have your shades organized, out where they can see them and carefully planned out your mirrors, you will make more if you just set them out and hope for the best.

No one wants to skip from display to display when they are looking for a particular pair. Plus if you know what they are looking for you can direct them to the right area.

Also for other sunglasses sellers, use a 4 x 8 sheet of msd, drill holes for the sunglasses and make a pvc rack so the display is tilted at top away from the customer, when they see such a large selection, it draws them in. Paint your display. I use wall stickers, i paint the display and put like a Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, James Dean and so forth on each one then I drill, the first time I did this my sales increased over 50 percent. People need to notice you before you can sell anything. Also invest in 3 x 5 or 3 x 10 banners, or whatever size you want. Mine say compare to Gucci etc.. since I don’t sell knock offs and the other ones say 2 pair for $14.00.

By nick savage on August 14, 2016

Thank you for sharing your experience. The information you have given is very usefu.l
have done one juried art show. The one thing that was wrong is that there was a triathlon going on in the area and streets were blocked off and people couldn’t get to us. That was poor planning. I will research the event like you said. I look forward to participating in the future. I am a Textile artist and a jewelry designer.

Best Regards
Kathy Crayton
DBA
Express-Thyself

By KrafteeKathy on November 8, 2016

Would appreciate ANYTHING you could tell me about where, how and when I can sell my homemade scented soaps and quilts. Mostly I make baby quilts, microwave potato bags, baby bibs and take orders for larger quilts. I am a widow, willing to travel a 150 mile radius from home( Bristol, Tennessee) and money is tight. I need this business to work badly! I am 60 years old and in great health…just need a mentor!! Help!!!

By Denise Thacker on March 17, 2017

Awesome advice.  I had so many questions.  I am always learning and researching.  Thanks so much

By Nicole Jackson on May 17, 2017

Hello, I am seasonal vendor and have recently been making candied apples for fall ...but with Winter coming up I am finding it hard to think of a unique product to sell…any ideas?

By Dorian Rodriquez on October 24, 2017

Leave a comment

Name:

Email:

Please enter the word you see in the image below:

 Reload

find festivals
within miles
      Advanced Search

Newsletter

Sign up for complimentary newsletter and event listings.

Name:
Email:
join our community now
sign up now

If already a member Click here to Login