Tips for selling
at festivals, shows, and other
an event ~ Displaying
products ~ How to act
~ After a show ~
What do these events do for me?
here to find a festival near you.
here to see more business articles.
customers are very pleased with what I offer them. You make the prices to a
place where folks always want to come back for more. They return to me each year
I visit with Africa Import products. I am totally spoiled, now. When I go
to festivals or local cultural stores.. I just shrug my shoulders and say
"Ha.. I know where I can get this item."
from Atlanta, GA
always my orders are great, my customers are growing and I will be selling
products at our local flea market this Saturday!”
from South Boston, VA
Special public events such as trade shows, African festivals, and flea
markets. These are the primary way that many of the people who sell African goods make
their living. They give you a wonderful chance to make relationships with new
customers and prospective customers. It gives you exposure to a lot of
consumers; and it helps you to have face-to-face contact with other store and
business owners who can be interested in your products as well.
These events allow you to show your wares to a number of people without a big
time commitment on your part. You only have to show up during the time
that the event is taking place, so that only a small part of your time is taken
away from your own store and other things that you need to do.
You can also start a new business; or get an extra part time income; without
the overhead costs of having a store or other place of business. If you decide
to open up a regular store later, you will have a head start on acquiring new
customers and knowing what products will sell best for you.
How to choose an event
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Different events attract different types of buyers, so the first thing that
you need to do is find which events will be best for you. You will probably
find a number of different events that can work well for you. You will almost
certainly find however, that different products will work better in different
To know if an event is best for you; and to know which products you should be
displaying at different events; you need to know what types of people will be
attending. If most of the people attending are children or young people, your
offerings will need to be inexpensive items that people attending can afford.
If the audience is attending to hear a certain type of music, you can use the
type of music to determine a lot of things about the people attending. If your
audience is expected to be older, middle age, prosperous, or tourists, you
should be able to choose products to display that are appropriate for your
audience. If you don't think that the products you have available would sell
well with the general audience of the event you are considering, you can do one
of two things. You can skip the event, or you can add some new products to your existing selection.
If you decide to try some new products
at the event, be sure that they are
compatible with your existing products. If they are not, you might still make
money at the event, but you will not be able to add as many long term customers or test
new products that you think could work well for you.
A final major factor is the quality of the products that you offer.
Consumers are tremendously demanding today. We are each
bombarded every day with offers of new and different products. If a person
wants something that is cheap or commonplace, they can find this anywhere. You
need to have something that stands out (something at least a little bit
different) to capture peoples attention.
How to display your products
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Events with many vendor booths are very much like a department store. Your
booth is viewed like one department, so make sure your display is focused. Many
people try to display too many different products in one booth. This makes the
booth difficult to understand for people passing by. Remember that people
walking past your booth will need to decide quickly whether to stop or not. If
a person is not drawn into your booth, it is almost 100% certain that they will
not purchase anything that you have to offer. If a person has just a few
moments of confusion or extra mental work trying to understand your offering,
there may not be enough time for them to get interested in your products.
Rather than try to show many unrelated products, make sure that your booth
has a theme. The products don't need to be identical, but they need to be
complimentary. If you sell books and cds, keep them in the same family. If you
have a variety of wood
carvings, or of ethnic
jewelry, or clothing that appeals
to the same sort of market, you will attract more people to your booth, than you
will if your booth appears to be a hodge podge of unrelated items.
Display can be more important than the product. Many products (such as
cosmetics) cost more to package than they do to produce. This is because the
companies who market these products have discovered that the appearance of
their products is often the most important factor in why customers choose to buy
Try displaying clothing and jewelry items using mannequins and professional
displays. These have been proven to pay for themselves many times over by other
retailers. Combine clothing and jewelry in a way that enhances each, and that
makes customers more likely to purchase more than one item at a time. Show home
accessories in a way in which they would be used: a table display just as it
would be in a home for example.
You can have many products available, but have your
best selling items
prominently displayed. Your customers are making decisions visually. Your
display needs to draw their attention to the things that they are most
interested in. Keep your most popular items in the front of the booth where
there will be seen most quickly. Give more space to your most popular items, or
to the things which bring you the most profit overall. Extra items can be kept
more in the background where they will be found after someone's attention is
captured by something new or exciting to them.
Keep your display orderly and visually
appealing. You want your customers to
enjoy looking at your things, without sub-consciously thinking of it as too much
work. One of your main goals is to increase the "dwell time" that people spend
with your products.
To help your booth stand out, add signs; and possibly photos. Sometimes
music and video tapes will help as well; but more often than not these seem to
become distracting or overkill. A sign with your company name is a pretty basic
and easy thing to add to your display. Signs that offer some sort of prize for
registering are effective, and give you names of people to contact after the
event as well. Signs that draw attention to your most popular products; and
which tell the reader about some benefit they gain with your product are also
Finally, be ready to constantly re-arrange your
display. Move more popular
items to the front of your booth, and items that people pay less attention to
less prominent spots. This is something that you will almost always see the
most experienced and effective show salespeople doing. During the early part of
an event, you will get to know what the people attending this event are most
interested in. Rearrange your display regularly. Don't try to sell things that
people don't want.
You will sell much more if you focus on your strongest products. If an item
is using valuable real estate in your booth; and is not drawing much attention;
move something else to this area. Send the products that draw less attention
to the back of your booth, or to somewhere else less prominent.
How to act during an event
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You can be too aggressive; or you can be too withdrawn. It isn't always easy
to know how quickly or aggressively to approach people who show an interest in
your goods. Each person is a little bit different, and different people will
react in different ways to your personal approach. Your skills at relating to
people will be used and developed to their fullest in these events. There are a
few rules however that will help you know how to best respond to people passing
by your booth.
A smile almost always helps. Your buyers are just as nervous (and maybe
quite a bit more so) than you are about interacting with you. Keeping an open
and relaxed air about yourself is an invaluable skill to you during these
events. A natural smile, and a look of friendliness can take you a lot further
than unique product knowledge by the time the day is over.
If you start a conversation with a prospect too quickly, they will often be
distracted by you, and will not see the things that your booth offers. People
often get just a little defensive, and don't fully recover until they have
walked completely past your booth.
If you don't say something soon enough, you will lose possible sales. The
flow of traffic tends to make people keep moving past your display unless
something at least slightly compelling stops them. Just a simple 'Hi'; said at
the right time; is normally enough to stop the momentum. If a person stops and
is interested in your products, but is not given attention, they will normally
not take the initiative to make a purchase on their own.
If they touch something, they are fair game. One experienced trade show
salesperson told me that he considers anyone who touches something in his booth
to be fair game. He would then position himself in such a way that the prospect
would have to walk around him to leave the booth, and say something to them
about the product that they seemed to be interested in. This was not nearly as
aggressive as it sounds; but it was enough to keep his customers from being
swept past with the normal flow of customer traffic. This persons booth was
directly across from ours; and I watched him work this way during a five day
trade show. He normally didn't talk to anyone unless they touched something or
made some other gesture (such as looking directly at him, or saying something to
him). I don't know how well he did at this trade show; but I know that he felt
he was very successful with this kind of approach.
One other thing that I have found to be successful is to say something to
people at just the moment when they are about to stop looking at your booth.
You will know when this is after you have watched people walking by your booth
for a little while. At the moment when I sense a person is finished sizing up
my products, I try to say something to them. Something like "hi" or "how are
your feet holding up" or most effective: "can I show you the things here that
the most people have been interested in".
One of the things that many people are looking for at these sorts of events
is great customer service. Be on your best behavior. Each customer can
ultimately be worth a lot of income if they like you enough to buy from you in
the future. I regularly ask samplings of our customers what is most important
to them in a vendor. I used to think that the products and prices offered would
almost always be the most important factor to a buyer. Initially I was
surprised by the large number of our customers who tell me that having pleasant
customer service is the most important thing to them. After trying to get
service from phone companies and other larger organizations though (as well as a
number of suppliers who are difficult to contact or who have a 'special' sort of
personality), I can really relate to this. Let your visitors know that you are
the type of person who values them; and that you are someone who they can enjoy
coming back to, or working with on a long term basis.
After you have done a few of these events, you will get much better at them.
If you attend shows as a buyer occasionally, you will get a better sense of the
state of mind of your buyers. The time that you spend 'shopping' in this way is
time that you can ultimately be very well paid for by applying this knowledge to
your own booths.
What to do after the show Back
Amazingly, most vendors don't seem to do much at all with their prospects
after a show is over. Even if you only break even on an event (you make enough
money from the sales at the show to pay the cost of the booth rental and other
expenses), the event can still produce good profits after the event is
Many of the vendors at African festivals come here from Africa. After the
festival is over, they go back, or they are difficult or impossible for
customers to find again. Customers who come to these events however, may not
want; or be able to afford; something that they have seen during the festival
itself. Normally a birthday, wedding, or other special event will come up after
the event however, and the customer will want to buy something that they
remember seeing at the festival. If you can keep in touch with these people
somehow, many of these people can turn into better customers after the event
than they were during the event itself.
Be sure to get names, addresses, and phone numbers from as many people as you
can during the show. Finding out more about the type of products they are most
interested in helps you find ways to make more sales. It also helps the person
to remember you as someone who is truly interested in helping with their needs.
After the show, you can contact them again by mail, or phone, or both.
I have always said (because it really is true) that I don't make any money
when someone purchases from us the first time. The cost of advertising, and
otherwise finding a new customer is normally greater than the profit that comes
from the first sale. Our profit comes when someone becomes a repeat
Some people specialize in doing home parties with these
prospects. If you
are able to tell people something about the history and significance of the
things that you carry, you will increase your sales exponentially. Products
that are merely interesting at first contact, can become irresistible when
someone knows this sort of information. You can often give a lot more of this
information to people after the show than you can during it.
If you have a retail store, your goal can be to get more people into your
store later. Be sure to have hand outs printed that you can leave with visitors
to your booth.
Other things to get from your event
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You can accomplish many different things at events where you show your
products for sale. Your main goal may be to make as many sales and as much
money as possible during the time you are displaying. There are other things
that can be as valuable (or even more valuable) to you than this in the long run
You can network with other vendors. If you act pleasant and a little bit
humble, you can learn a tremendous amount from the other vendors displaying
their goods. Most people seem to enjoy giving advice on things that they think
they know something about. If your approach is one that says you are trying to
learn something more; and you think the other person has exceptional knowledge
and skill in something, they will usually be flattered enough (and human enough)
to give you all sorts of valuable (and maybe not so valuable) information.
You can learn which other events could work best for
you. People at these
events normally share their experiences with each other. There is normally a
fairly strong sense of camaraderie among vendors. More experienced vendors can
let you know more about what works for them; and about which events have been
the best for them. This lets you spend your time at the most valuable events in
You can also find wholesale customers among other
vendors. Perhaps they
would want to sell some of your things at other events that you do not attend.
In return, you may find other profit opportunities for yourself in the products
that these people are carrying.
You can see other products that are (or at least seem to be) selling well
for other vendors. This gives you the ability to steer your product line in the
most profitable direction. You can get marvelous ideas for new products.
The first few times that you do anything are normally not the times that you
do them the best. The first few days on a new job are not your most
productive. In the same way, the first few events that you display in will be
most profitable for you in what you learn: not in what you earn. Try to
regularly improve your skills and the merchandise that you offer, and you can
make dramatically more money in future events.
The reason that many people stop doing these types of events is the amount of
physical work involved. You will be on your feet for long stretches of time;
you will often be carrying heavy boxes for long distances; and you will be
surprised at the length of time it takes you to assemble your booth. Even if
you already know pretty much what you want your booth to look like; and you have
everything well organized when you arrive; you will spend what seems like far
too much time setting up your displays. If you are not discouraged by this sort
of thing, you will have access to customers that many other people just don't
have the energy to get to.
You will find many other ways to profit both financially and personally from
these events. Hopefully you will have a lot of fun as well. If you ever want
to talk more about ways to make an event successful for you; or what products
have sold best for other people doing similar markets; just call me (Wayne
Kiltz) toll free almost any time at (800)500-6120.
This article is free. You can
publish or circulate this article on other websites as long as you give credit
to Africa Imports; and include a link back to www.africaimports.com at the end
of the article.