Imagine this: You’ve just finished setting up your very first booth; all your products are laid out on your table. You take a deep breath, smile and wave, and your first customer approaches your booth. The customer lingers, she seems to like something in your pile, she asks how much it is and your price is good. She takes out her wallet, purchases the item. She leaves with a smile, she walks away and you hold your breath ‘til she’s out of sight. Wait for it.. Wait for it.. And then.. BOOM! YOU’RE OFFICIALLY BOARDED ON THE MERCHANT LIFE. CELEBRATION! Now let’s talk about what happened before all that.
Before all that happened you decided maybe you need some extra cash, or maybe you just want to try it out since you have a lot of time in your hands; that’s the idea. So, you try to come up with products, this is most likely something you’re good at or something you’re interested in. All good for now, everything is starting to feel real and you get excited about all the possibilities your business can try itself out on! And again, this is great, this means you have the drive, and that’s what you need when the real work comes in.
I’m talking about all the preparations, registration forms, and all the money you have to be prepared to burn. There are a lot of things that happen before the bazaar, then there’s the thrilling chaos (and silence) while you’re there in your booth, and then finally the tiring but satisfying pack up montage that happens at the end of the day.
I’ve been selling in bazaars for a couple of years now, mostly on the weekends. I’m not saying I’m an expert at this, not even close; it’s a learning process. I would say, compared to the other merchants, I’m a baby at this; a start-up if you will, but if you’re just starting out, this is what you need to know before boarding the boat.
1. Introduce Yourselves Before the Event
Where do I begin? Well first, there’s an idea, then next there’s planning it all out. You ask questions like,
“What’s the trend now?”
“Where do we get our products produced?”
“How do we market ourselves?”
“Where do we register for our first bazaar?”
“Who handles the booth, who handles the money, and who’s going to bring lunch?”
And you have to plan all this out, because a good preparation will save you from all the mistakes you can make once you’re on uncharted waters. Again, this is your first time; this is your first impression to the public. So figure out how to get people’s attention. Use social media to your advantage to announce that you exist, and keep it active. Make sure people are aware and excited that at last they can meet you at this date and at this place even before anyone has ever seen or have heard of your brand.
Make sure when you do introduce yourselves online you are responsive. Also, they know what you’re all about and what they can expect from you.
2. Wake Up Early, Get There Early
Your customers don’t see this, but this is something you go through each bazaar. Realize that you’re going to have to wake up early. So prepare yourselves with a list, a safe for your money, all the boxes you need, people to carry those boxes (or maybe a cart), stock up on your products, and don’t forget to pack food before you drive off to the venue. You wouldn’t want to immediately spend your hard earned money for food.
Now, the mall will still be closed by the time the organizers will let merchants in (tip: DO NOT FORGET YOUR ID), and you would start carrying all your stuff to the booth, that’s a lot of heavy-duty work. Set up your booth, and if you don’t do it quick, the mall will open and potential customers will pass by your unfinished booth and buy from someone else.
3. Design Your Booth
Already have a layout in mind for your booth before the day itself, plan it out and have a reference photo or carry a sketch around with you. Know the size that’ll be available for you to work on, inquire if there are power-outlets prepared by the organizers and use it to your advantage.
Make sure your layout is organized and eye-catching enough. Use props or signs if you have to, and make sure a customer can clearly see all your products and how much they cost even when they’re just walking by.
A tip I would suggest is to try it out yourself, walk by the booth as if you are a customer and glance at it only for a second; if you don’t like what you see, then rearrange it.
4. You Need Money to Get Money
When you’re just starting out you need to save up for all the expenses: be it for the registration fees, the production of all your items, or dividing all the money with your team at the end of the day. And you have to have a good strategy on how to make sure that you will profit on your first to be able to improve on the next. This also involves the extra expenses like gas, parking fees, and money for food (both if you decide to pack meals or buy on the day itself).
Your business is your investment. Being an entrepreneur is a gamble between getting it right and getting it wrong. Like I said, it’s a learning process, but the thing is you always learn something new each time you try again, so don’t be afraid to spend a little more when your brand’s ready.
New Products / Better Materials = More Profit
5. Sell a Personality and an Experience
Let’s now talk about what you’re selling. I’m not just talking about your products here, but I’m also talking about you. Yes, sell yourself. Make sure that you understand that while you are manning the booth you are representing the entire brand. The way you speak and treat your customers will be a hit or a miss for them to buy from you. They will create the noise of your product, meaning they will definitely talk about you, and I guarantee you that this sort of publicity prefers happy chirping bird noise rather than angry spitting alpacas.
You don’t want them saying stuff like:
“Oh, the people there are really rude.”
“They didn’t even pay attention to me.”
“They were using their phones.”
“Their mouths were full while talking to me.”
“No one was manning the booth..”
Your service includes small talk, but make sure you know the difference between a lingering customer and a grab-and-go customer. Warning you, there will be nice customers, there will be demanding customers, there will be difficult customers, and there will be customers you’re going to end up being friends with.
So be nice, handle them with care. Make sure that your team will be welcoming in your booth, and that your customers would want to stick around and comeback because they had a good time there. Besides your products, they will remember their experience with you as the brand.
6. Know When To Say No
This will happen more often when you start joining more and more bazaars. What am I talking about? Getting invited to bazaars.
This is great, and this is exciting; now bazaars are asking you to be there and sell your stuff! People are starting to recognize you and you’re now in demand! THIS IS THE BEST DAY EVER! Now, calm down, and let’s think about this.
Don’t over commit. Ask yourselves if it’s worth another weekend, or if you have time to prepare for this, or if the price is good and it’s going to be another investment for everyone. Think about it as well if this particular event fits with your branding, will you shine in this event or will you be left in the shadows of the other concessionaires there.
You don’t always have to say yes to all of these invitations; you have to learn when to say no. Learn how to ask the organizers what you need to know before signing papers. So communicate, negotiate, and then finalize your decision because the exposure and the improvement of your brand will depend on it.
7. Don’t Compete, Collaborate
Now you would think having your own booth amongst ten more or so would be equivalent to going off to war and being the only one coming out alive, right? You have to be against the other merchants, you have to sell more than the other merchants, you have to walk out of there with an entire chest full of money and they will leave with only scraps! Today was victorious and you chuckle away to the night knowing you have dominated them! No. Don’t be like that.
I encourage you to befriend the other merchants. Understand that you all want the same things, you all want to be there and you are a community of entrepreneurs trying to grow your business one customer at a time. You’ve all work so hard and there’s always something unique that you can contribute to the bazaar. So, cross over to them, ask how they’re doing, and maybe offer some help, check out their products, or even just have a little small talk here and there.
And who knows? Often times this ends up with a new set of friends, extra exposure, and even a plan to collaborate! Most of the time this happens when an artist, let’s say, sees someone selling something they believe they can put their artwork in; and this is a good thing for the both of you, not only will you both have new products, but now you have a collective audience!
Extra tip: Prepare business cards. There’s going to be an exchange amongst merchants before the day ends and you don’t want to miss out on that.
8. It’s About Work and Play
Like I said, it’s not a battlefield out there. I would compare it more to a playground or a classroom where you get to do “Show and Sell.”
I know it’s serious when money’s involved, but don’t forget that a merchant’s life is a fun one. Weekends are spent out there making money and actually seeing and hearing people complimenting and admiring your hours and hours of work. It all becomes worth it at the end of the day, so make it fun. Maybe have a little picnic during your lunch break or play a game with your team (or in my case my awesome partners, Write Designs) who can sell more than the other. There’s not going to be a crowd of people in your booth all the time, there’s going to be a lot of moments where you’re just waiting around.
This also works behind the scenes when you’re preparing for the booth. Literally enjoy the ride when you’re heading to the venue so early in the morning, and also heading home late at night after a long day of selling.
You’re going to get tired at the end of the day, maybe even before the day has started. Just remember that this is a shot for you to get your name out there, and if you’re in a team this is another entry of your long list of experience with your friends/partners. So why not add a bit of fun to your work? Once you do, you’ll be sure to love living the Merchant Life.
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