My set up at Landline Doughnuts in Longmont, CO for April's Creative Crawl.
What is "vending"?
Vending refers to setting up for goods to be purchased by the local community or whoever happens by. This can look different everywhere you go and depending on your associations and opportunities. The image above is an example of a set up I had inside a locally owned doughnut shop; they had a space set up for me prepared with a table spot and a chair. This was a very nice set up as I didn't have to lug around nearly as much equipment and although it was a small set up, I got to meet a lot of people in Longmont which gave me a variety of opportunities for later on. It isn't always this convenient , though. Most times you will be expected to have everything for your space including but not limited to chairs, tables, table cloths, outdoor tents, tent weights, and personal WIFI access or strong data connections. It can be very physically demanding for set up and tare down, depending on your location.
Why should I consider this for my business?
The simplest answer is probably the most obvious: money and exposure. Any time you make a sale, it is not only money in your pocket, it is a representation that someone else, a stranger with no stock in your efforts or feelings, desires your products and creations to call theirs. That is a great feeling and, after doing upwards of 30 vending opportunities since the beginning of COVID, I still get that excitement. The exposure of being available to the public is more beneficial than you might think. From each set up I do, I will always gain followers on social media and at least one commission request. The networking possibilities are endless. You can meet people who want more art, but you can also meet people who own galleries, book other events, and even workers from the city with art opportunities. Networking is my favorite part of the game because sometimes the connections you make are way more valuable than the product you sell.
What do I wish someone told me when I first started?
This one is going to be a list because so much of what I have learned has been through trial and error. When I first started out I didn't know anyone who also vended and the acquaintances I met were just that, aquantences. I would get nervous about asking for help or advice because I didn't want to seem inexperienced and I also didn't want any other artists to think I was going to try to copy their methods. I hope some of these will help others who are starting out or even people who might already be vending.
Bring change! Although we live in a digital world, you would be surprised at how many people pay in cash. For local events I always have at least $100 in 10, 5, and 1 dollar bills. I have a lockable cashbox from Amazon that was fairly inexpensive which I do recommend.
No contact payments to consider: Venmo, PayPal, CashApp, Zelle, Apple/Google/Samsung Pay, Square.
I want to specifically mention here that I highly recommend Square. It is a great system that I use all the time. When you first sign up they send you a free card reader that connects to your phone or tablet and the app lets you track card sales as well as input receipts for cash or digital sales. This is a great way to keep records together in one place. *this is not an ad but, Square, are you listening? I would gladly be sponsored!*
Always bring plenty of water and snacks or a lunch! Most of the time it will be hard to step away from your booth for long enough to get food so make sure you pack something to hold you over.
If someone offers to help you, be it a friend or another vendor, ACCEPT IT!
Provide bags of different sizes. Being able to offer a bag has gotten me more sales in the past because the customer now doesn't have to hold all of their things. Paper bags can be very inexpensive in bulk from places like Hobby Lobby, Michaels, and even the dollar store. Don't forget to keep an eye out for sales!
Expect your first couple shows to be stressful and not what you want them to be. As you continue doing them, you will fall into your own groove of what you want to bring, how to set up, designs for your booth, and even what you will say. This part takes time, its okay to be nervous and not completely put together at first.
Know your audience and their budget. If you make very specific things, it might not sell well at certain events. If you sell a variety of things at a variety of prices, this makes your art more accessible to the common person. I have found that smaller, more inexpensive items sell better than target or more expensive paintings because the larger and pricier the item, the more of a commitment it is. Acknowledging my art is very sci-fi, fantasy, and anime related, I often do not do well at farmers markets or vending spaces with older crowds. This is something to keep in mind as you search spaces and events.
Take note of your vendor fee in relation to your prices! This is super important to make sure you are not losing money by doing these events. If space fees are $75 in a well trafficked area or at an event, this can be worth it because you will have opportunities for a lot of eyes on your space. For me, it can be helpful to estimate how much of something I will need to sell to break even. If a space fee is +$100 but in an area that does not get a lot of traffic or if the event is not well marketed, be cautious and mindful of this.
I hope some of this will help you along your journey! Good luck!