Primer on Vending

Perhaps one of the hardest things to do for anyone who goes fourth and sells out into the market place.  There are many factors and many formula’s that one can apply.  Mind you they have to be added or subtracted pending on the availability of  the market for you to make a sale.  The first question you must ask yourself is; Are you selling just to sell, or selling Via web, vending at Art & Craft events, county fair, Christmas shows, or get into events like Shipshewana On The Road.  IF you just sell to friends, family, coworkers, etc., then the following perhaps isn’t for you.  I will point out that perhaps this may help you as well to make that leap into the bigger pond of merchandising.
I must point out that this is but a theory, though I personally practice it but nonetheless a theory.
So you want to sell.  Where? At a local, somewhat local or a way out of state event that thousands of people flock to every time?  I call these  Weekender’s.

Someone said to you; “Oh wow, you should sell these at the Christmas Pageant sale at the such and such school.” OR  “I’d bet you would do really well at the what’s this here place Art & Craft show.”  Or perhaps “Hey I heard what’s her name goes to them thar spacey cartoon conventions and she does really well for herself.”   We have all heard it in one form or another, yet can you make money at these event.

The Weekend Event

Step one, Research.
So you have decided to look into an event that perhaps maybe is worthy of you investing in a table or two. Some display units, bags, receipt pad, a smart device with a card reader. Even a medium size cold chest.  One point I must Say NOW, IS this event something you would be comfortable even attending as a Patron? Is it an indoor or outdoor event? Is this a Juried event?
For the sake of simplicity lets say that this event has a Web Site that you can obtain the “Vendor Forms.”  This is your first clue as to how this event is run.  (Personally if the Form is NOT a PDF, that to me is a red flag.)  Look at the Site, the format. Does it look like it was just thrown together, hard to find or navigate. Is it clean, that there was prideful thought in how it is displayed. Above all is there a Press Release information or Media kit.  That should be your first click, then read the press release.  That should tell you how many people attend, how many vendor are available. Look for statements like “We have had over x-number of vendors at our last event”  as well as “This is very popular event every year with Hundreds of people coming through the doors.”  Let’s stop right there, catch phrases, like OVER and Hundreds are simply marketing point that make something seem bigger than it really is. Watch out for them that is another red flag.
You have read the press release, now to see if this event is Free to the public or is there an entry fee.  Depending on the cost of the fee you can use that to your advantage.( I will go over this point later on.)
Continue to look over the site will there be some level of entertainment?  Perhaps a listing of prior vendors.  Are there descriptions of what they sell. Do you recognize any of them on the list as a wood worker?  Do they have it so you can see a web site associated with  that vendor that perhaps sell similarly to you?  If there is this list and the event put the vendor’s web site up go to it and make contact with them.  Let them know who you are what you sell. Then ask, what are the crowd’s like, are people buying?  Do you like those who run the event?  Mind you these questions are but examples. Not to mention if a particular vendor travels over 200 miles one way to sell their merchandise, that is a good indicator by itself.

Vendor Form
Now to read over the form.  Some are very simple with wanting your name, your vending business name, point of contact, how many will be assisting you in your booth space, how many passes you will need for your assistants. How much space you get, and can you if needed more space for a nominal fee.  Do you need chairs, tables, electricity, that can be rented also for a fee. Is there a jury fee?
THEN there are others that have couple of pages because it is a contract before you event get to the form to fill out your info. READ IT ALL.   If you don’t agree with or feel uncomfortable you can pass on it altogether. Or in the space provided for the information you don’t feel comfortable with.  Simply write in “Why?” or “Please Contact Me”  Basically any information that can lead to Identity theft is not a need for them to know.

The Fee’s
Vendor Fee’s are what will make this event profitable or a money pit of woe.  Personally I refer to the fee’s as “the Bank”  Because your banking on making a sizable profit well over this amount and other expenses.  (I will go more in depth about “The Bank” later.)
Base fee is the “rent” for  the booth space, There are other fee’s that I have covered earlier.
The one fee that gets you in the door as it were, is the Jury fee.  What is this?  Mostly it is a Stop sign to the Rift Raft Reseller. If they are knowledgeable to realize this event is not for them.  What can be the conditions of this fee?  Nonrefundable in the most part.  Plus you must either provide either 3 to 5 photo’s of your merchandise, booth and product layout on tables. Some ask if you have a web link for them to examine such.  Personally if they ask for a link that will save you from having to purchase Photo Paper and extra ink. Also some events require *Jury fee’s* before sending in your booth fee. I would like to add, some events are Juried but only require either a web link for photo’s of your work, or actual photo’s to be sent to them.

Some events will require that you have some level of liability insurance.  If you have home owner’s insurance go to your agent and ask them what is needed to satisfy the event requirements, which will be found in the Vending Form. You can also obtain if you don’t have a home owners to apply a rider upon, there are alternative insurance companies via the web. Simply search with the phrase Vendor’s Insurance. In doing so, search for any complaints and reviews of them. Don’t forget to figure this cost into your Bank.

Payment of fee’s
When making the payment of either the Jury or booth fee Send them via Money Order or Cashiers Check. Save the receipt tab that you remove. And fill the MO out completely.  IF for any reason you must cancel the event for whatever reason you can return to where you bought them ( I use my local United States Post Office to buy them)
with the tab and your ID, you can get the amount of the money order back. Bear in mind if you wish to use your personal checking account, That is up to you.
The Bank Explained

Regardless all fees and costs associated with any event I refer as “the Bank” Broken down is simply; the cost of the booth fee, jury fee if applicable, travel expense which could include the cost of hotel room if so acquired. Food including from what you put in your cooler, breakfast and/or dinner if you dined at a local restaurant.
At this point you have made your payment for your jury and booth fee, you have received your letter of acceptance Now to get ready for the show.

Depending on the nature of the event whether it is indoor or out, there are certain items that you will need for both kinds.
This is what I bring, you don*t have to. In no particular order,  secureable cash box. quality bags for merchandise, not used grocery bags think & BE professional.  Receipt pad, point of sale device(s), cooler for beverages, fruits, sandwich fixing*s, simple snacks, tubs to haul your items, bubble wrap, tissue paper,  specialty boxes and or pouches, note book, small scissors, marker(s),  price tags, signage,  table banner, CHAIRS, tables, table cloths. display racks, And a First Aid Kit. Outdoor events, you will perhaps need to invest in a simple pop up type tent/canopy and Fire Extinguisher. Back to the First Aid Kit. Do yourself a favor, if you take any prescription medications as well as any medical issues have them written down in a sealed envelope with your name on the outside, and similar for anyone that works with you. IF your going to be alone, let those that manage the event know you have that information in your First Aid Kit.  Keep any extra special pills like Nitroglycerin, Inhaler for Asthma, Epipen for whatever allergies you have, in that kit also.

As the saying goes, Dress for Success!  What you wear is the first thing people see.  IS it necessary to be in a polo shirt and business casual slacks?  Thankfully no. Although it can*t hurt but avoid as if it were the black death itself colors that reflect the appearance of the workers in big box department stores.  So avoid Royal Blue, Black and Red. For pants avoid Khaki. Can you wear Denim jeans and shirt? Yes. What about Tee – Shirts? Provided they have your logo on it. You really don’t want to wear “I’m with Stoopid” on it.   Above all have a good pair of shoes. You may be standing for up to 8 hours.
Some events will require you to not wear *street* clothing. They will require if the event is promoting a period type atmosphere. (i.e. Civil war reenactment, Renaissance faire, Steam Punk Convention)  So be prepared if you see this in the vending information you will have to comply.
What kind to purchase?  A canopy style, commonly referred as a *Easy Up* or a full blown canvas or duck cloth Marquee tent.  The *Easy Up* can cost from as little as $125 to over $1,000 if you get one in special colors to match you logo colors.  Marquee style can start out at $750 without poles or ropes. To well over  $2,000 plus for size and thrills you wish to have i.e.. Vented roof panel, door way canopy, half walls. Just to provide with some idea’s as to what luxuries available.. One side note I must point out that; some events will allow the Easy up kind provided that you either “dress it up or Hide the appearance” to, in essence, camouflage that it is an easy up or that it is in any other color besides white or blue.

Tables, Chairs & Displays  oh my.
I must point out depending on the size of the booth space or tent will determine what kind and how many tables you may wish to invest in.  A fold up 5 foot by 28* to 30* should be the normal that is available out on in the market place and is relatively inexpensive.
Now for chairs, The fold up camping chair or short director’s chair, is a good investment Initially, however in time you will want taller chairs so you can be eye to eye with those that come to your booth, have one for everyone that is working in your booth. Color really isn’t an issue. Although you might not want to have “hunter’s” camouflage. Stay generally monochromatic.  You can cover them with a plain blanket or sheet to match table cloths.

The first layer of display is a table cloth.  These are commercially designed that are made for most tables and in many colors.  Now as a personal note, I know I said NOT to wear Royal blue. However a table cloth in royal blue is a good choice, look at some of the Big Box Department stores. Ever notice why they all seem alike far a decor? all seem to have the same Royal blue paint schemes.  However if you’re vending at a Christmas holiday event , red and green is a must!  Stay away from white, bright yellow and black as they attract dirt.

How you display your crafted items is personal. You can make your own or  purchase from a many sources online.  Even eBay has displays.  Balance is a key in your display as well.  Try to keep the higher end items in the middle and to the back side of the table space to draw them in.

The sale
So you have a customer and they want to buy.  What are you to do next, just take their money?  For almost 20 years we have become about as cash less society, That is why having some kind of “Smart” device with a card reader is needed.  Though it is not as absolutely necessary you can find, pardon the expression, old school credit card machines and receipts. However, new cards are no longer designed to emboss on to receipt cards.  There in lies the issue that some customers will feel unsafe if they see you writing down their card number.  ID security is one priority that everyone should be wary of.  One thing however asking one for proof of ID to confirm that they are the owner of the credit / debit card.  Please note a sign that states you “Reserve the Right to Refuse Service” will cover the instance that the names do not match. Smart phone or other devices are something you will have to invest in eventually. Of the many Cellular phone companies all have some kind of device that will enable the use of most if not all card readers.
Where to get a card reader.  There are many companies that produce readers. Most  are tied into a particular application. Before actual investing or going online for a free one. Go to your bank or credit union and see what they have to offer.  I rather not convey any favoritism to any one company nor shall I give example. However all will require a fee per transaction. Look at the services provided vs. those fee’s, and honestly, you get what you pay for.
As one proceeds with though the sale, it should be duty of ones assistant to draft an written invoice.  Even with the smart phone and card reader that can provide a receipt to either ones phone or e-mail. It is that extra mile… Okay actually it isn’t so much for them as it is for your records.  Your duty is to proceed to package and place into the bag the items that have been purchased after getting payment.  Hence the need for tissue paper bubble wrap, gift boxes, gift pouches and shopping bags.
Pricing your work.
To expound upon this subject, I would only be able to convey on what I sell, wood turnings, and how I go about that. Instead I will give you some general point that should cover most.  I pose to you this question; How much is your time worth? According to the US Dept. of Labor, the median pay as of May 2010 is $13.47 an hour for wood workers.  I see this as a “typical factory” pay, not the pay per hour of the independent-self employed wood worker.  Marc Spagnuolo, creator of the Wood Whisperer Guild has a good article on this very same subject. Yet, his focus is for bidding on a particular builds verses seeing a project idea in a wood working magazine and thinking you can build many of them and put them on your sales table.
Main point is, How much did you spend on making that item. Did you figure in any embellishments, hardware, how about the cost of the finish, don’t forget the electrical cost, not to mention the time it took.  For the sake of a “For Instance;”  First, you will need to figure the cost of The Bank. You have an inventory is 60 item’s total, each cost $25 to make. Total inventory $1,500 Bank total is $180.  Adjusted cost to make is $28. So should you double that, triple? Do yourself a favor and look around before the “Doors open” look and see what other are selling. If there are others selling similar, adjust accordingly, If vendor A is selling roughly similar item at $50 I personally would sell at $65. Because psychologically what you telling the buyer that yours is better than that the other guy.  If you’re the only wood working vendor for the entire event by all means price to what the market will bare. If that price is $90 then go with it. Be advised however, after you have sold one at $90, don’t drop your price.  Remember the point on the venue having an entry fee for patrons to enter. If it is $9 or less, take it off with minimum purchase. If it is $10 then go with 10% off, again at a minimum purchase. Minimum purchase price, that will be up to you.
Speaking of minimums, have some 2 for $5 items available, a sale is a sale so treat them as well as you would if they purchased a high end item.

Sales Tax
This is something that I will first make a disclaimer too.  I am NOT a Lawyer nor tax expert. I can only convey the point that you the seller must research your State Statues, as well as the city and state you are going to an out of state event. You must adhere to their local and state ordinances and laws regarding vending.  Going back to the vending form, that should advise you that you may need a secondary permit to sell plus if your coming from out of state you will have to find what are the cost of the permit to have a temporary authorization to sell as well collect that area’s sales tax.  You and you alone are responsible. Do you have to charge sales tax?  Let me say this, Go to your State Government web site search for Sales Tax.  If the information seems to be clear as mud, look for a phone number and talk to those that can help you.

Taxes in General.
This might be a need to contemplate if you have made a sizable gross profit in one year of time.  Perhaps having a consultation with a Certified Pubic Accountant would be advisable.

Final thoughts on the Weekend events.
I cannot stress it enough that you will be under Tons of stress.  I have been doing this for a good many years now and I can only point the way in my final preparation.  I make a list of what needs to be done before heading out to the event.  First, on the list is vehicle maintenance.  In the Army we had to do a PMCS – Preventative Maintenance, Checks and Services. Checking oil, coolant, Brake,  window washer fluid levels are a must and don’t forget head, tail, license plate and indicator lights.  If it has been a couple of months since your last oil change, and your going over 150 miles to the event location. Think hard about changing your oil. The service people will take care of the rest.  If your using a trailer, and your leaving your town. Change your oil,  Take the trailer with you and have them check it out as well. If the tires look dry rotted on either trailer and/or vehicle. Guess what, That will be the first issue of trouble so replace them. Don’t forget about the Spare! Bottom line, as the old saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Being stuck on the side of the road will cost you way more than getting a bill for service.
It is not my intention to scare, or dissuade anyone from becoming apart of a relatively small group of people who attend weekend events to sell that what one has created.  I hope instead you will feel that with some preparation and common sense. You will be able to make
a buck or two.  Good Luck and Sell, Sell, Sell!!!