As the temperature heats up, so do opportunities for selling your products. Warm weather will often spur outdoor shopping marketplaces like festivals and other events that can be great outlets for merchants of all types and sizes.
If your business is a traditional brick-and-mortar store, these venues offer a chance to tap into a different experience, exposing your brand to new customers. If your store is online only, events give you a chance to test in-person retail. This type of selling is called on-site activation, which is breaking from your normal sales channel, selling directly to customers, and starting real-world conversations between customers and your brand. On-site activation is part of an omnichannel commerce strategy and can provide a new touchpoint for consumers, bringing your online brand to life.
Outdoor marketplaces aren’t just for small businesses. Big brands, such as Red Bull and Steamwhistle, use festivals as experiential marketing opportunities. As large-scale shows like NXNE start to return after a COVID hiatus, the in-person experience can be a powerful way to connect with customers.
If you’re ready to venture outdoors, here are some tips for finding success at festivals and other events.
Do Your Research
The first step is to find events. Lists of shows can be found online, through city chambers of commerce, market publications, and newspapers. Another way to find opportunities is word-of-mouth. Talk to other local vendors to get their input on shows in your area. This is a great way to identify those that are worth your time and those to avoid.
Before signing up, it is good practice to attend festivals to get an idea of the types of businesses that participate. Pay attention to the booths that are getting the most customer traffic. This can help you plan your long-term event strategy. You can also ask the vendors about their experiences.
Get Ready to Exhibit
Once you find an event that’s a good fit for your business, complete the application to secure a spot. Some events are juried, which means you need to submit photos and be approved. Juried events look for high-quality vendors, and many balance out vendor types, reducing your direct competition.
Be sure to review the vendor rules. Some events require that you carry liability insurance or have permits or licenses. There may also be rules about the types of signage or lighting you can use at your booth.
Next, plan the logistics. Determine how you will get your products to and from the event and how you will set up your booth. Some events allow you to rent tents and tables, which is convenient because your space will be partially set up when you arrive. You may also want to recruit or schedule employees to help you work your booth. Depending on the traffic of the event, having extra hands can help with customer service and give you coverage when you need to take a break.
Order enough inventory for the event. Visiting other events can give you an idea of how much stock other vendors bring. Keep your product line geared toward the event, audience, and season. For example, if you’re exhibiting at your city’s Earth Day festival, you’ll want to focus on sustainable, eco-friendly products. If you’re a vendor at a music festival, you may want to focus on apparel that fits the style of the fans. And if you have stale inventory from your physical or online store that fits the market, bring it to the event to encourage sales.
Create a list of essential items you’ll need for the event, in addition to inventory. For example, make sure to pack the following:
- Mobile POS equipment to accept payments for your goods. Make sure you understand sales tax collection, especially if you are exhibiting in another city or province than your own.
- Weather gear, such as umbrellas and waterproof containers to store your goods if it rains, a portable fan if it’s hot, and zip ties and weights if it’s windy.
- Drinks and healthy snacks that keep you hydrated and provide energy. Festival hours can be long, and you don’t want to be hungry or thirsty.
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Design Your Booth
Give lots of thought to designing an eye-catching booth that matches your branding and highlights your business name. Research ideas on Pinterest or attend other festivals in your area. It can help to do a dry run — set up your table displays at home to ensure they’re what you envision.
Consider the customer experience and create an inviting display for your products. Leverage vertical space with standing wall panels, shelving, and risers that put products at the shoppers’ eye level. Add props and décor to make your booth feel like an experience. If your items are wearable, set up your display and provide a mirror to encourage customers to try them on.
Clearly price your items. And don’t forget to have a place where customers can pay. Be sure to keep your payment equipment in a secure place inside your booth, such as under a table or at a dedicated and manned checkout station.
Create a Marketing Plan
Encourage your current clientele to visit your booth by promoting the event on social media. Use the festival hashtag, which can inform shoppers who may not know your brand but who are preparing to attend the event. You can generate hype by sharing videos of you preparing for the festival or posts with products that will be available. Then be sure to post pictures before, during, and after the event.
During the event, invite shoppers to sign up for your email list. You could even offer a small discount on their next purchase. Some event attendees may want to shop with you after the event, so share business cards or catalogues so they’ll remember your name. And consider getting a small promotional product that you can give away for free, like a paper fan with your company name and website on it.
People flock to outdoor festivals to have fun, and a lot of your sales will come from impulse purchases. Set the stage by giving customers space to browse your products without feeling pressured. Once someone starts touching the items on display or making eye contact, strike up a friendly conversation instead of jumping into a hard sell pitch. For example, ask if they’re looking for anything in particular, or simply comment on the day or mention something about the event itself.
Conversations give you a chance to gather input from your customers that can be helpful later. Prepare a short elevator pitch in case someone asks why you started your business. Wear a branded shirt or a baseball cap so people know you’re the person to approach with questions. And since you likely won’t have space for your entire product line, consider having an iPad on hand to show customers other options and help them place an order on the spot.
After the Event
Hold a post-mortem to determine what worked and what didn’t so you can plan your next event. You may decide that your display needs some tweaking, that you didn’t order enough inventory, or that you need more help than you anticipated.
If the event was successful, cultivate a relationship with the event organizers so they invite you back. If possible, reserve your space for their next event before leaving. You might also want to build relationships with other vendors who might alert you to other festivals you would like.
Finally, follow up with your new customers. Welcome those who signed up for your email list by sending a special offer to encourage another sale. And let them know where you’ll be next and how they can find you before then.
Getting outside of your normal way of doing business can open your brand to new customers. Festivals and other events can be a literal breath of fresh air, giving you a new outlook on business with ideas for how to move into the next season.