Think You're Cut Out for Doing VegFests? – Grape Cat

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Think You're Cut Out for Doing VegFests?

Posted on August 19, 2016

Why We Love VegFests (And You Should, Too!)

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On today's podcast, I talk to Victoria Moran from Main Street Vegan about the start of Grape Cat and give some tips on vending at a vegfest.

I started doing craft shows, farmers markets, and beach festivals fifteen years ago to promote my surfing and kids' t-shirt business. My wife started making jewelry, so I was selling that too. The jewelry was outselling the t-shirts, so I began investing in cheap jewelry that I would buy for a couple of dollars then mark up. The problem with this is that you need to sell a lot of cheap pieces just to break even for the table space.

We have been able to grow Grape Cat by being a vendor at VegFests. Here are ten things I wish I had known before becoming a vendor.

1. Visit a Festival: Before you jump right in and sell at a festival, you should visit one. You will get a better idea of the kinds of food and products for sale. You can see how many and what kind of vendors are there and whether the crowd is looking for samples or buying. Try to figure out how many people are attending. Check out the types of displays the vendors have and make a list of your favorites.

Take note of prices to make sure that when you do try to sell your prices are not too high or too low. My friend was selling his T-shirts too cheaply, so he raised the price by five dollars and didn't notice a drop in sales. Talk to the vendors at the end of the day to see how their day went and whether they would participate again next year. Ask the sellers if they had to bring their table, chairs, and tent. Sometimes, these are included in vendor fees.

Also, ask if they have a favorite event and write that down on your list of events to be a vendor. If you see a busy table or food vendor talk to the people there and listen to the questions they are asking. Ask people how they found out about the show and why they came.

2. Your Products: Now that you have visited a VegFest, you have a better idea about the products that exist there and those that are missing. If you are starting a business, does your idea match up with the information you acquired at the show? You will also need to decide if you are going to produce the product yourself or buy it wholesale. If you have a product already, then was there any competition at the festival? You can then make a list of the benefits of your products over the other vendors.

3. Which Festival: Now that you have visited a festival and made a list of other festivals, you need to decide which one you are going to participate. Go the festival's website and look for the exhibitors and sponsor page. Usually, they have a form or contact information for merchants. When reading the contract, look at what they provide with the fee. Some events provide a table, chairs, and tent.

4. Make A Budget: I have learned the hard and expensive way that not having a budget can hurt you financially. You need to calculate the cost of the show, gas, food, hotel, employees, cost of products, and government fees. Food vendors usually have to pay more to the festivals than product providers. Food vendors are also heavily regulated by the health department. These added expenses can destroy profits very quickly.

Make sure to check what the attendance at years past has been. If you are selling t-shirts for $25 a piece, the attendance is only 300 people, and the table cost you $100, you need to sell 8 to 10 t-shirts just to break even. If you are selling food for $10, you need to sell 60 portions to break even.

Finally, decide if you are participating in promoting your business or making money.

5. Items You Need: The initial investment for vending at a vegfest can be daunting. Indoor shows are usually more expensive than outdoor shows. During indoor shows, you don't have to worry about the weather, but outdoor shows bring more people. Is is also important to visit the show to see how much room you get. The indoor festivals that we have participated in provided us with a spot between six by six to ten by ten. The size of your space will tell you how much inventory you need to bring. At the Boston VegFest, we barely had enough room for the three of us and our merchandise. We had to leave a lot of merchandise in the car.

The outdoor shows are usually ten by ten spots, but we have participated in a show where there was just enough room for a three by a six-foot table on a sidewalk. What are some of the things you should invest in before doing a vegfest?

TentIf you are going to do outdoor shows, you need a tent. Having a tent is non-negotiable. A friend of mine tried to do the Bethlehem VegFest during a rain storm with his aunt's backyard umbrella. He and his partner had to leave and go to Target to buy a tent so that their t-shirts didn't get destroyed. A good tent can cost between $99 and $399. Make sure it is easy to set up and take down. I have watched other vendors spend an hour trying to put together their tent only to realize that they were missing a piece.

If you buy the right tent, it shouldn't take you more than ten minutes to set up by yourself. I like Quik Shade tents available multiple colors to match your company's branding. You might also think about investing in canopy sides. We have done a couple of shows, like the Pittsburgh VegFest, that having the sides to the tent have saved us from water damage and given our customers a place to stay dry. They are also useful for blocking out other vendors.

Table and Chairs: Most of the vegfests that we participate in do not provide a table and chairs. You will need to buy at least one table, a chair for each person working, and a table cloth. The six by three table is standard. Get one that folds in half. It will be easier to carry and fit in your car. 

Displays: For your merchandise display, you can use pretty much anything. I like Store Supply Warehouse for clothing racks and mannequins. They also have an extensive selection of jewelry displays. I use Uline for boxes and carts. You might also want to purchase a handcart to make it easier to get merchandise to your spot. At most of the vegfests that we do, we need a cart. There are a couple of shows, like the DC and Bethlehem VegFest, where you can drive up to your area and drop stuff off. At the Vegan SoulFest in Baltimore, we had to walk our goods and equipment up a long path to the festival.

Money Box or Pouch: You will need a money box or pouch for cash. Depending on what you are selling, you will need a variety of bills for change. We bought our money box from Staples. It has enough room for bills and change, storage, and a lock.

Credit Cards: Apply for a free credit card reader at Square , PayPal, or QuickBooks. I know you don't want to give three percent of your sales over to the bank. Just think that ninety-seven percent is better than zero percent. If you don't take credit cards, you will lose sales. You might need a chip card reader to protect you from credit card fraud. We have never had a problem, even though it is a possibility.

    I like Square because you can sell from their website, track inventory, and print out reports, and it connects with QuickBooks. You need to decide which works best for you. Very few people carry a lot of cash. They like to save it for the food vendors that don't take credit cards.

    6. Printed Materials: Not everyone is ready to buy on the day of the festival, so it is a good idea to have either business cards, postcards, stickers, buttons or pamphlets ready to hand out. Make sure to have the name of the company, contact name, website, phone number, and social media on the materials. I use Vegan Printer for my business cards and postcards.
      7. Mailing List: I made the mistake of not collecting emails from people attending the shows. Don't make that error because your email list is one of your most valuable sales tools. I offer a small clipboard and the chance to either win a Grape Cat T-shirt or to be emailed our Vegan Accessories Guide. You can use any offer you like.
        8. What to Wear: Looking professional is important. Most of the events that we attend are outside and very casual, so we wear T-shirts with the Grape Cat logo on them. You can get embroidered shirts at Queensboro. They have quality shirts and hats with a small minimum order. Don't forget to wear comfortable shoes because you will be standing for eight to ten hours.
          9. Talk to the Other Vendors: Be friendly to the other vendors because you never know when you will see them again and might need them to watch your booth while you go to the bathroom or get food. They are also a great resource for other events and tips.
            10. Make It Easy to Shop: Make sure that you have a clean and organized space for people to shop. I like having my table face out to the festival to make it easier for people to see what I am selling. Some vendors like to make their space into a U shape, and some people find it intimidating to walk into the tent to look around. Once you do a couple of shows, you will quickly see which set up works for you. If you have packaged food, sampling can motivate people to buy; other times, you are just giving away food hoping they will come back and buy it from you later. Also, make sure that you have your products clearly labeled. Even then, you will still get a lot of questions about how much different things cost.

              Bonus, Have Fun: The most important aspect is to have fun and smile. The people coming to vegfests are there to get information and have an excellent time. Make sure to greet everyone that stops by your tent. The most offputting things are when the salesperson is on their phone or totally ignoring you.

              Check out or events page to see where we will be next to make the world a better place for animals, people, and the environment.

                          Please email questions or comments to the Grape Cat Fashion and Business Podcast.

                          We are looking for more vegan business owners to interview. If you would like to be interviewed and tell your story. Please email the Grape Cat Fashion and Business Podcast.

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                          1 comment

                          • Mary Finelli: August 19, 2016

                            Excellent advice! Thank you for sharing it.

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