Having been selling plants at shows and events for a decade, many beginning vendors ask for advice on which shows and events they should attend. Never you mind that asking my advice about shows and events is like asking for vegan recipes from Jeffrey Dahmer. Unlike so much of the advice requested by beginning writers and musicians, the question isn’t “how can I skip to the front of the line?” The question is, essentially, “How do I minimize my losses and my pain?” And that’s a really good question. It’s just a shame that nobody has a good answer for it.
Part of the problem with answering that question is that every show is different. EVERY show. Even if you’ve been vending at the same show every year for a decade, all you need is a change of location or even a good impending storm to throw off everything. Competing shows deliberately scheduling opposite your show, a glitch in advertising, an accident on the highway that slows or stops incoming traffic for a few hours, a hotel name change…any of these can throw off attendance of an event, and I’ve come across all of these and a few more. Don’t even get me started on events with management changes between the last and the next show, where the only thing in common between the two shows is the title. (For that reason, one bit of advice I can give is to be really leery of events using the name of a once-beloved event that’s been dead for a while. The name was purchased for name recognition, but the odds of the new show having even the remote possibility of the audience of the old one are extremely remote.)
The other part? It’s all about the intended audience. Some shows thrive on vendor variety, where attendees look forward to something new in each and every booth or tent. Others…well, not so much. My wife once slogged through a long weekend at an Oktoberfest show where the only potential customers she saw over three days were drunken fratbros looking for a traditional Oktoberfest “chicken hat“: they weren’t willing to pay more than $3 for one, and they had no interest in purchasing anything else but beer. On the other, her first big show was at a convention for mystery writers, where she and a friend were the only vendors carrying anything other than books. Until just a couple of years ago, this was her biggest grossing weekend ever, because family members and friends of the main attendees saw jewelry and exclaimed “Finally! Something other than books!” (Sadly, this show didn’t lead to future success at subsequent shows: one of the convention organizers was one of the book dealers, and since he felt that any sales going to anybody else were sales that weren’t going to him, he made sure that non-book dealers weren’t allowed back.) It’s Schrödinger’s Show: until you put the money down for a booth fee, take the time from your day job, arrive at the venue, and get set up, you have no idea how it’s going to go. That can even apply on individual days during a three- or four-day show: everyone who has been traveling to events for more than a few months will have stories about Friday and Saturday audiences being dead, only for Sunday’s crowd to converge and strip out everything before closing.
And this advice for vendors applies to attendees, too. I can tell you about fellow vendors whose inventory may be enticing, but the only way you’ll find out which events would be worth your time is by hitting a lot of them and finding what works the best for you. Yes, that might cost money, but would you rather stay home and spend the rest of your life wondering on what you missed out?
To be continued…