The First Step
You did it! You signed up for your first vendor event and your application was accepted! WOO-HOO! Whether the event is a small one with just a few vendors, or a huge event, the basic preparation is the same.
First of all, take a second to take a deep breath. I don’t know about you, but I was a hot mess before my first event. I had every possible scenario running through my head, and I almost cancelled several times. As business owners, especially if you make your own products, we have a tendency to be extremely hard on ourselves. It’s pointless for me to tell you not to be, it’s something that even I struggle with, and I’ve been doing this a long time. Just remember to not let it get the best of you, and in order to help you prepare, I've compiled this list of the top 10 things you need to prepare for your first vendor event.
Hopefully you have given yourself enough lead time before an event to plan properly. If not don’t worry, we have a super speedy list for you to look at too. Ideally, you want to give yourself about 2- 3 weeks ahead of an event to properly plan and to ensure any inventory items that you are working on will be done in time.
Your inventory isn't the only reason that you want to give yourself time however. In case you need to order any packaging or display items, you want to make sure that everything will arrive in time. Also, it gives you the opportunity to practice setting up your displays and to make adjustments if necessary.
Pro Tip: Set up your displays in your living room or other open space, and once you get it to look how you'd like, take a few pictures so that when you set it up at the event you have an easy guide to go off of.
There isn’t really any one thing on this list that is any more important than the others, they are all pretty much equally important; however, you definitely need your product(s) or else nothing else really matters.
This is your bread and butter. This is what you’ve spent your time developing, creating, cultivating. In the days leading up to the event, make sure you go through your products and check that nothing is damaged or broken. Make sure things are tagged appropriately (if you choose to tag). Ensure that everything is packed up neatly so that when it comes time to pack your vehicle for the event, everything is in a central location; this will keep you from forgetting anything.
Table(s) and Chair(s)
This is largely event specific. Some events provide a table and chair, others do not. My advice is to purchase your own so that you have them for any event that does not provide them. Also, I always take a table with me and keep it in my vehicle, even if the event provides one. I’ve learned the hard way that sometimes there aren’t enough tables to go around, or the table that is provided for me is broken.
For your chair, pick a chair that is not only comfortable and portable, but that you can stand up easily when a customer is near. Anytime you engage with your customers, it’s best to do it from a standing position. You want to make sure that your customer feels valued. If they are taking the time to walk over to your booth, you should take the time to stand up. You don’t want your customers to feel like it’s a chore to interact with them.
Take time to research different visual setups and displays. What type of vibe are you trying to portray? What is your brand? Are you whimsical and fun? Modern and streamlined? Use social media to your advantage; search Pinterest and Instagram for ideas. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different mediums, i.e. wood, metal, plastic, etc. One key thing to remember is that you want to create height variations. You don’t want to just lay your products out flat on a table because, not only is that very boring, but you are trying to grab your customer’s attention. If everything is all on one level, a customer can just glance over and take everything within thirty seconds. If you have height variations and dimension, you are giving them more of a reason to walk over.
The word tablecloth probably evokes memories of grandma’s oilcloth or the doilies on the coffee table, but let me tell you, they are more important than you think. Not grandma’s doilies (well, those might be important for sentimental reasons), but tablecloths are very important for ensuring that your displays have a polished look. You want customers to take you seriously. If you just lay your products out on a bare table, you are telling the customer that you don’t care about their experience. You took all the time to develop and create your products, so be sure to display them with the same care. Some events have specific criteria for tablecloths, i.e. color and length, but most do not.
Pro Tip: Once you figure out what works best for you, look into getting a tablecloth or table runner that has your business logo on it. That is one way to take your business display to the next level.
Bags and Packaging
Take a look at your products, are they fragile, do they require being transported a specific way? Be sure to have packaging on hand to accommodate your customers. You don’t want to just throw a delicate pair of earrings in a large bag. Take an extra second to wrap them in tissue paper. Tissue paper is relatively inexpensive and the extra care you take will show your customers that you really care about your product and their experience.
Pro Tip: Invest in a rubber stamp with your logo, or a simple Thank You stamp and stamp each bag. It’s one extra way to leave your customers with a positive sales experience.
Wagon Or Cart
This. Is. A. LIFESAVER! There are a ton of options out there and as embarrassing as it is to admit, this actually took me longer than I would have liked to figure out. When I first started out as a business owner, I made A LOT of trips back and forth from my vehicle, hauling bags and boxes. I would work up a sweat before I even started setting up my display. It wasn’t until I saw another vendor with a wagon, that the lightbulb went off. I still have to make a couple of trips, but I’m not exhausted from carrying everything.
The wagon that I have has been a tremendous help for me because I can load almost everything into it and just pull it to where I need to go. Another option is a roller cart. If you have larger totes/plastic tubs, you might have an easier time with something that you can stack those totes on and roll. Take a look at how you have everything packed and decide what makes the most sense for you.
These don’t need to be super fancy. You can order them online, or you can print them out at home. The main goal of your business card is to provide a customer or potential customer with a way to find your products. On my business card I have my name, email, website, and social media handles. Have a few of your business cards on the table for customers to easily grab in case you are helping another customer and can’t get to them quickly.
Another smart idea is to include your business card with their purchase. Whether you use bags or boxes, be sure to include your card so customers know where to follow you or get more of whatever they just purchased. You want to make access to your merchandise as easy as possible for future purchases.
This is an absolute must have! Every event that I’ve ever been to, I’ve used my tape. I carry both scotch tape and masking tape because they each have very different uses. Just a few reasons that you’ll need tape: to keep your signs from flying away, to hold down displays, to tape a busted bag, to tape a broken sign, to tape your business card to box or bag, and so much more! There are tons of reasons to have tape on hand. Trust me, you will definitely need it.
Water and Snacks
Oftentimes there are food and snack vendors at events, but don’t rely on that. Hopefully you will be too busy with sales to step away from your booth, or worst case scenario- there are no food vendors! *GASP* So, to be prepared for either scenario, be sure to bring some snacks and drinks. Also, be sure to check your local weather. Obviously if you live somewhere warm, you want to make sure you have EXTRA water and electrolytes, even if you will be in a shaded area. That heat can sneak up on you without you realizing it.
Square/Clover/Mobile Payment Device
In order to accommodate all of your customers, you should have a portable payment option that enables you to accept credit cards. Physical money is becoming more and more scarce, partly due to shopping habits, but largely due to the pandemic and people wanting more contactless options. This is definitely not a make or break item, but if you want to ensure you can snag all of the sales that you can, you should definitely look into one of the many options. Be sure to shop around and compare the prices and fees.
You Got This!
Hopefully this list was helpful for you and can serve as a checklist. If this is your first event, or you’ve been doing this awhile, it’s always good to have a list. As your business grows, your experience will grow, and you will find a system or list of items that work best for you. I’d love to hear about your must-haves! Tell me in the comments what you feel are your go-to items!