I’ve been vending my art at events and pop up markets for a few years now, and it’s largely been a learn-as-I-go trial by fire situation. To give others a little leg up, I’ve decided to share some of the things I’ve learned the hard way throughout my journey.
First off - what are you selling? Seems like a basic question, but I didn’t really know when I started short of “art” and found that I was trying to be everything all at once. I’d have silly hand-made bookmarks next to framed fine art, and the whole thing gave off garage sale vibes. I’ve been much more successful by having a unified feel to both the themes of work I sell as well as the types of products.
Nowadays I largely sell my self-published coloring books (and illustrated mental health book) which I print through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, as well as some small original art, and a large variety of stickers from Sticker Mule. This is a company I adore and have been using since 2017. They recently launched a new product - temporary tattoos - which are super cute and were a hit at my most recent market. They often have killer sales where you can stock up on their various products - so join the mailing list to be aware of deals!
Now that you know what you’re selling, how do you plan to display things? Sometimes I see people with massive elaborate displays which look amazing, but for me personally, would be totally unmanageable. I went through an expansion phase, but as the years have gone on, I’ve tried to simplify so that I can transport and set up everything without destroying my joints. With the types of things I sell, I can get away with a 4 foot folding table (which additionally folds in half and has a handy handle for easy moving), a book display, and a sticker display which is actually meant for nail polish bottles. You can find a lot of stuff on Craigslist/Next Door/Facebook Marketplace to save money.
Make sure a chair or stool is part of your display! I personally have a padded folding chair which is comfy enough to get me through a 6 hr event.
What about transporting? I’ve acquired some plastic storage tubs with lids so that I can safely store and move my stock. A collapsible wagon is also super handy to get your stuff from your car to the location in less trips while saving energy.
Plan ahead for disaster! Is the event outdoors? Make sure your canopy will shield you from rain and sun. An underestimated force is wind. Not only can it blow your products away, if it’s strong enough it will snatch your tent! Tent weights are a must!
Note: there are plenty of events that are indoors or who provide tents if you’re just getting started and aren’t ready to commit to that yet. Also if you’re just getting started, look for events with free or low cost booth fees. Dropping $100 for the chance to make money can be a huge gamble. Be sure to research events to try to gauge if they usually have good attendance and see what sort of marketing efforts they make.
Are there children at the event? Keep fragile things or anything you don’t want handled further back out of reach. Parents seem to be terrible at supervising their kids and sticky ice cream hands on your stuff is a real risk. If you sell anything a bit inappropriate like me, you can always creatively cover certain products. I vended at a holiday event and realized when I got there that I was stationed RIGHT NEXT to Santa Claus. Thankfully I had some post-it notes and a sharpie to make little “grown-up word” flaps to put on the titles of my books.
Money time! How will you take payment? Have change for cash (lots of people pay with $20’s), as well as Venmo and a card reader. It makes it easy for people to Venmo you if you print and display your Venmo payment QR code. For accepting credit cards I suggest Square. It’s easy, reliable, and you don’t even need a reader as most phones have the ability to tap chip cards these days (or you can manually punch in numbers). I highly do NOT recommend GoDaddy’s card reader. It is unreliable and drained my phone battery so fast, plus it kept unpairing from my phone every 20 minutes. I hate it. Worst waste of money ever! Having a fully charged phone and maybe even an extra battery pack is very helpful.
If you want to be above board, you’re technically supposed to register for a sales tax license in every city you sell in. You’re also supposed to charge sales tax. This can be a pain in the butt so I personally just expect to “eat” the tax myself. I still pay it when I file taxes, but I don’t charge my customers because paying with a nice round number like $10 or $20 makes life easier, especially with cash. You can always up your price a little to compensate. Most people would rather just pay $12 for something than $11.14 or whatever and have to carry around a bunch of coins.
Speaking of - how will you price your wares? I’ve found having a variety of price points to be helpful. Someone may love my work and not be able to afford a $25 book, but they can afford a $3 sticker. Also - having deals makes people more likely to spend. (Buy 2 get 1 free mentality). Some people choose not to put prices out on display because it looks tacky, but I’ve found a lot of shoppers are intimidated to ask and have found that clear price signs make me more sales.
If you have room at your display - consider having a mailing list sign up sheet, a QR code to follow you on social media, business cards, etc.
That’s all the wisdom I have to impart at this time. Good luck and happy vending!
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