I decided to write this blog for those new entrepreneurs curious about selling their handmade pieces at outdoor festivals. I certainly can relate to those new entrepreneurs, I was once in their shoes. When I first began selling at festivals I was clueless how they worked until I did research and actually did a show. Since launching my business, MONOLISA in November 2017 I have had the pleasure and experience of doing nearly 100 shows - outdoors and indoors throughout California. The outside shows are drastically different than the indoor shows. They take a tremendous amount of energy, equipment, logistics, battling the weather and are hard work. Each show I participate in delivers new lessons and valuable insight about growing my business. In this article "Lessons I Learned Selling at Outdoor Festivals" I will breakdown my personal experiences and insights with the goal of helping other artists.
"This article is based on my personal experiences and may vary from someone else's. Thank you for reading about my journey."
Summer 2021 Booth Setup at Fine Art in The Park - Los Altos, California
Booth Setup & Curation
There are a lot of moving parts setting up a booth and curating it for an outdoor festival. For me learning from mistakes, organization and being open to experimenting has resulted in more positive results. Over the years I have made changes to my booth and still continue to fine tune.
- Experimenting with booth layouts and learning from those experiences - how far in should the tables be, how many tables should be used, which products can customers touch or not touch are areas I focus on. There are many ways for curating a booth - be unique, test different scenarios and add your own personal touch.
- Popup tents require heavy weights - I use four weights totaling 124 pounds filled with sand. More weight may be required, depending on the location of a show and weather conditions. If weights are too light be prepared to chase your tent and hopefully you are wearing sneakers.
- Popup tent essentials: collapsable tables, clean friendly table coverings, light-weight product displays, foldable chair to sit, hip/back support pillow and rubber pad to stand on. You wouldn't believe the pain a body develops standing 8 plus hours on pavement.
- Quality stackable bins and a collapsable dolly are my two favorite pieces of equipment. Whether I am setting up for a show or doing take down, the equipment never disappoints. I can easily stack 6 bins on my dolly and quickly get to my destination. My goal is to be efficient.
- I now buy quality equipment - my cheap stuff lives in the garbage can.
Secure those mirrors - it gets windy.
- Make sure your products are secure and can withstand heavy winds. If high winds start it may require putting some products away or stabilizing them more.
- Have a plan for rain. Will rain damage your products - is an important question and may play a key role in your deciding factor of doing a show in the rain. Rain will happen more than once and be prepared to still pay for the show. Rain or shine you pay the booth fee.
- Be careful leaving products in a booth overnight - thieves don't sleep. My comfort level of leaving my leather bags and jewelry pieces in a booth overnight is zero comfort level. Therefore, I take all my products home - a few extra hours of my time packing and unpacking can't compare to remaking everything all over again. With some products one simply can’t do that such as large paintings or large scultpures.
- A portable fan with a rechargeable battery is a must for those hot summer days. You will love the breeze and so will customers. I use a Dewalt fan and the brand doesn't disappoint.
- Arriving earlier or on time for booth setup minimizes festival traffic, stress and parking challenges.
Love my scooter and Thousand Heritage helmet.
- If you have physical disabilities with your back, feet, or hips and walking is a challenge consider an electric scooter with a helmet (it does require good balance). I recently did a show where the parking was too far to walk for my feet and hips so used an electric scooter. The scooter easily got me to and from my car in no time - I had fun riding it too!
- To save time after a show, I store a dolly hidden in the back of my tent. It allows me to quickly stack product bins and walk to my car. It also keeps my products safe and with me at all times. If you have a helper who gets your car then you are lucky and might skip this step.
- Keep your cash with you at all times. Wearing a fanny pack or crossbody bag is great for keeping money safe.
Outdoor Festival - Business Lessons
The list below covers some of my most valuable lessons during my business journey working at shows. My lessons and list continues to grow.
- In business I get what I put into it. If I never participated in shows my sales would be down 90%. That data tells me how valuable in person sales is for my market.
- You have to pay to play. Festivals require applications with an entry fee, a jury process, full payments prior to the show and sales commissions. It's just business.
- I have learned to be comfortable being outside of my comfort zone.
- A high profitable show your booth neighbor experiences may not be so prosperous for you. It all comes down to - if the show reaches your target market, people are going in your booth and the connections you make with new customers.
- Continue learning, watching and practicing - the payoff will come and the learning never stops.
- Support other small businesses and makers. I purchase gifts for friends, that someone special and myself from artists at shows. Not only does it make me feel great supporting my community but the products are high quality unique pieces.
- Try and have fun - don't beat yourself up too much!
- Each day is interesting, challenging and rewarding all wrapped up like a present.
- No two shows are a like in terms of crowd reach, weather and sales. What you profit from at one show may be entirely different the following year at the same show. I met an artist who told me they had tried a festival for 17 years and it was never great. On the 18th year they said it ended up being the most profitable show ever. Interesting data.
- It is never too late to start a business - I started mine in my fifties.
- Fear of failure continues to be part of the expedition, but I keep at it and say during the hard times – “Just keep trying, don’t give-up”. So, that is what I do… keep going.
- Some days are easier than others. What they all have in common is keeping my eye on the clock and working at being efficient.
The Art of Sales
Before I started my business I was fortunate to have had a ten plus years of sales experience. That valuable sales experience was the foundation for understanding the art of sales for my business and selling at shows. I clearly understood sales don't happen overnight - it takes time, lots of work and determination. The list below are some of my favorite sales teaching moments I learned along the way.
- A big part of a solo business is being a great salesperson. The more experience the better I become at sales.
- Sales requires customer interaction and patience. Sometimes it takes two, three, four or more times for someone to visit your booth before purchasing something. That can add up to days, months or years. I have experienced all four.
- More show experience equals a better understanding about my market, which products are selling well and customer psychology data.
- Hot weather, wind, rain and coldness can effect sales. If you are fortunate to have nice weather you are off to a great start.
- Sales fluctuate. There are highs, lows and just ok moments. The emotional roller coaster can be challenging and comes with the territory of sales. We all love the highs! Just keep at it.
- Sales can happen last minute. At the end of a shows people like to get a last minute peak, chat with the vendors and sometimes make a purchase. My biggest sale was 30 minutes after a show and totally unexpected.
- Interact with customers and listen to their comments - good and bad. Their feedback is insightful and the data is valuable. Ask questions such as what is your favorite style in the collection or least favorite. I have fined tuned or added to my collection based on customer data and the observation of people. It has resulted in different product types and more sales.
- Perfecting a short sales pitch (under 30 seconds) about my collection - where pieces are made, who makes them and why they are different is a nice starting point for brand introduction to customers. The introduction is a fine balance of introducing myself and not talking too much - avoid annoying the customer.
"Love my Ram 1500 Pro-master."
Vehicles for Festivals
When I first started selling at outdoor festivals I had to take two cars to transport everything - crazy but true. I quickly realized that this was not suitable for my business. I decided to purchase a used Dodge Mini Van. It was so comfortable and easy to drive - I loved it. The seats came out of it and I could easily stack what I needed for the shows. It was a tight fit, but it fit the products and equipment. Six months later I was doing a show in Sacramento and on the last day of take down it was pouring rain. I said to my husband while we were quickly trying to shove everything in the car - "it has to be be done a certain way or else it won't fit". We stood there in the pouring rain trying to get everything tightly in the car so we could get on our way back home 90 miles away. After shoving stuff in and out it, it finally fit. We realized at that moment this car would be short lived.
I love my Ram 1500 Pro-master - it fits all my equipment and products perfectly. It has a low roof, however I can still stand up in it - great during the organizing and loading process. Although the front seats are uncomfortable I use a hip pad to add comfort which works nicely. My husband built out the interior so everything has a slot - the tables, bins and other essentials. A bonus, the van has hooks and holes on the interior walls to secure equipment such as a dolly. There are no back windows which I have adapted to, but the front visibility gets a perfect score.
Podcasts and Articles - Selling at Festivals
- The Independent Artist Podcast - Hosted by Douglas Sigwarth and Will Armstrong is a hidden gem I recently discovered. The hosts cover topics affecting the lives of professional art show artists. This entertaining podcast is ideal when I am on the road - which is a lot. I really enjoyed listening to the podcasts with watercolor painter William Kwamena-Poh and glassblower Amber Marshall. The podcast content is relatable and valuable to artists selling at outdoor festivals. The podcast is a self-funded project - for ways to contribute to the podcast project - click here
- For the Love of Jewelers: A Jewelry Journal Podcast - This is a quality produced podcast hosted by master jeweler and founder of Creative Side Jewelry Academy, Courtney Gray. The interviews are wide range from various master jewelers, authors to Saul Bell Award winners . One of my favorites - S1-05: "Jo Haemer, “The World Doesn’t Owe Me a Thing”. The entertaining podcast is great for passing time, getting inspired, hearing from other professional jewelry makers and ideal while driving in the car. Subscribe to the podcast by going to iTunes, Spotify or searching podcasts on riogrande.com or direct online.
- Many of those funny moments at festivals are great stories I share later with family and friends - "The Funny Side of Selling at Festivals!"
This blog post is written by California handbag and jewelry designer, Lisa Ramos. Take a peak at Lisa's latest project supporting California Artists - GiftsFromArtists.com.