Convention warrior- selling at fairs, conventions, & festivals

Dealer's hall- Anthrocon 2010

Slow sales for the past year may make trying out a local festival or convention an appealing option.  But the leap from booking a space to actually selling in it can be intimidating, even if you have a brick and mortar location already.  If you’re internet only, it may be even more daunting!

I’m off to FurFright next weekend to sell books to werewolves.  Having done quite a few of these special events, local fairs and festivals, trial and error has revealed quite a few general rules for when you’re selling at an event.

1. Be totally clear whether you need to BRING a table or they will GIVE you a table.  And what size said table is.  Not every venue provides tables. They also may not let you bring your own!  This is not a surprise you want.

2. If you will be using their tables, always plan as if your table will be a few inches smaller than stated.  It’s easier to expand into a place than have to redo it to fit in a  smaller space.  Usually events that have been in the same venue for awhile know EXACTLY what size their tables will be. You’re most likely to end up with a slightly smaller table if its the first year at a new venue.  Usually not the organizers fault, they measured the standard table, and there were a few replacements that were off slightly. The first year in a new venue, it may turn out that what was supposed to be a 30″X72″ table ends up being a 28″X70.  If you planned to fill every inch, you may end up with an unsafe overhang.    Of course sometimes it goes the other way and you get one that’s slightly bigger!

3. Sacrifice some table space as a “landing zone” for browsers’ other items. Usually its best to put it in front of the person taking the cash, since this is when people will put down their purse… or their coffee… or their baby with the icky diaper…  If you don’t leave a clear space in front of cashier to put down what’s in their hands, they’ll put it down ON your stock.  You don’t want the coffee ON your books.  Leave a landing space.

4. If you’ll be errecting shelves, signage, displays, whatever, make sure it CAN be taken down and moved by a single person if necessary.  I usually have an assistant, but plan for the worst case scenario that you or your assistant is unavailable to take it apart or move it and you’ll have to go it alone.  If it’s easier with two, that’s fine… so long as you CAN do it with one person if necessary.   Also, if it can be done without tools, so much the better. It’s no fun when you forget the allan wrench you need to take apart the display…

5. Make sure what you’re taking will fit in your vehicle or luggage BEFORE you plan on taking it.  You don’t want a surprise when you go to load and find out your rack is 1″ longer than will fit in your car. Pack early and make sure it all fits.  This gives you time to change layout beforehand, not in a  panic when you need to leave in 15 minutes.

6. If you can pack it in what you’ll display it in and move it that way, DO IT.  Keep in mind the rule about being able to move it with a single person though.  But if you can only move the whole thing once instead of the display, then the contents, you’ll be a happy person.  Then fewer times you have to move an item, the better. Bring a handtruck. They may not be provided by the venue.

BE AWARE: some convention centers have union labor and they will move your gear for you and set up your tables, plug in your stuff, etc. Find out beforehand if this is the case.  The venue will usually cover the cost as part of the booth fee, but it may mean you want to change your layout to something simpler so its foolproof to put together even if you’re not there. You may also need to allow more time for set up as the crew may all be occupied when you first arrive and you may have to wait.

7. INDIVIDUALLY PRICE EVERYTHING.  This is more work beforehand, but is worth it. Do not make people ask.  They hate that.  Make it glaringly easy to find, too, consider neon colors.  More important, make it easy to remove.   I normally use folded paper strips that I fold over the first page so the tab sticks out top about 1/4″  and people merely have to open book to see price.  Mine are usually 8″ long total and have the price and the author, title, and inventory number.  When they buy something, its then simply a matter of pulling the slip when its sold. Then even if you have to step away and leave an assistant to run the table, you KNOW you will have an exact record of what was sold.  No scratching your head later as to which of two similar items sold.  (and no chance of you or assistant forgetting to write down total!)

8. Have a master list behind the table of what you brought. Should a price get knocked off, you can look it up instead of having to guess. This is also helpful if you have to step away and leave an assistant in charge.  If you’re in the bathroom and someone tries to buy an unmarked book, you don’t want your assistant saying they have to wait ’til you come back.  Many people won’t buy then!  This ensures the item is A) sold;  B) sold at the correct price; and  C) correctly recorded as sold.

9. There’s no such thing as too much change, particularly singles.  You probably won’t be able to replenish them over the weekend at a multiday event.  Bring enough change to completely restart your cash drawer each day.  If you’re at a convention center or hotel, they should have a safe at desk or in your room to keep cash in.

10.  Consider signing up for ProPay which will let you process credit cards over the phone.  It’s a $50 annual fee, but will let you process credit and debit cards over a cellphone.  (don’t have a phone? consider a TracPhone. does not require monthly contract) If you have a machine and your own processor, you may be able to do it that way as well… but depending on venue, they may charge you an access fee to use their phone line and/or internet.  Do the math and see if is economical for you.  Being able to process cards or not may be the difference between breaking even and making money.  (If you happen to have a ChrisLands account, you can also get propay at a discount.  It can also be dropped into a  Chrislands site to process cards online)

11. IF it is an event with a Facebook page, forum, blog, whatever that you can post advertising to, DO SO.  Advertise preorders of your wares with pickup at your table.  Preselling a few items guarantees some sales right up front AND also gives you a good idea of what to bring and what to leave home.  You may presell some items that you would not have otherwise thought to bring!

12. If doing a smaller local event, keep in mind that you may not make the money you spent on the table and covering store while you were gone… but it may be worth doing anyway.  You can’t usually buy word of mouth advertising, but local fairs and festivals are as close as you’ll get to doing so. Those people that say “oh, I’ve been meaning to come in for months…” this may be the way to finally get them to come IN and become regular customers.

13. Many conventions will have a charity auction of some sort to benefit a local charity or one related to the subject of the gathering.  Consider donating an item, PARTICULARLY if there will be a live auction.  They’ll mention your name as the donater and if you include a note stating you’re in the dealer’s room, this will usually get included in the spiel for the item.  Some auctioneers are better than others.  But if you donate an item that’s relevant to people’s interests but you’ve had for a long time, you can generate some additional word of mouth advertising, some goodwill, and write off the sale as a charity donation.

14. If you will cross the state line, find out if you need a sales tax permit for that state OR if they offer a single or multiday pass.  Some states offer those festival permits for a much lower rate than a full tax permit.  There are also a few counties and cities that levy their own as well!  The booker SHOULD provide you with this info or make mention of it, but it may still be up to you to actually obtain the permit.  Some venues will avoid this issue by running all sales through a central register and then paying out at the end of each day.  If that’s the case, you won’t handle any cash yourself, you’ll just write receipts. If so, keep in mind you’ll be paid out of the register each night… but it may take awhile.  Make travel plans accordingly.

(*the picture up top is actually from an event I DON’T sell at, its too far away for me to haul my stock.  But its one of the rare events where you can get a good aerial view of the dealers room.  Many such events are pretty claustrophobic in the dealers area due to all the racks, banners, tents, and PEOPLE stuffed unto a small area, making it difficult to get a good shot of the actual set up)