I love selling my artwork online, but nothing beats the euphoria of selling in-person. It has been a wild ride thus far while the art scene returns to the local area. Selling at an event and arranging a booth is an art on its own! If you are planning on participating in your first vending event, I hope that my thoughts help you out!
Find the Right Venue
First vending event in 2019 at a Zine Festival
I am a strong believer in curating your participation at events. When I first started selling my artwork, I would go to every event I would come across. I’ve set up a booth in backyards, heavy metal concerts, beer festivals, and charitable events.
When deciding which event to participate in - do some research! Are there going to be other artists? Is it strictly handmade artisans or will there be people selling mass produced items? Indoors or outdoors? How far is the venue? Do you need to rent a vehicle? This will help you determine two (2) things: how much inventory to bring and if you should adjust your prices.
Estimate your Expenses
Free vending opportunities are very rare. Start by finding out what the vendor and insurance fees are. Here in California, most organizers require vendors to pay a participation fee, have accidental damage insurance covering $1 million, and have a California Seller's Permit.
Vendor fees can fluctuate depending on the type of event and venue. I have been at events with fees ranging from $50-$450. Certain event promoters work with specific insurance providers, while others expect you to purchase your own.
Depending on how much your vendor fee is, it may come with certain perks. At the most basic level, you will have a 6’ table space or a full tent set-up with access to electricity, drinking water, restrooms, and 24-hour on-site security - like my last event.
Regardless of the vending fee, estimate your transportation and food costs. Most events are longer than 6 hours, so it is best to bring a lunch or buy some food early on. You don't want to greet a customer with chipmunk cheeks. Trust me, it's embarrassing!
Bring a Buddy!
Most vending events will allow you to have at least one helper. My fiancé always comes with me to vending events and we work together on set-up and breakdown, coordinate restroom breaks so that the booth is never left alone, hunt for food, and even take turns with sales and customer service!
The Basic Set-Up
Bring a sturdy quality canopy. Cheap canopies are not worth it. I have gone through four (4) already!
Pack your work and merchandise inside plastic crates. Forget cardboard boxes or Ikea bags. A good sturdy plastic crate will make your day so much easier.
Don’t forget your tables & chairs. The amount needed will depend on your inventory and booth size.
Make sure you have a tablecloth - you don't want to place your work on a table stained from your last BBQ!
If you can afford it, get yourself some commercial grade grid wall panels and hooks. People can see your artwork from afar and it makes you look more professional.
Having a print rack is another great way to invite people to check out your inventory.
Have some sort of signage that says who you are, what you do, and how people can connect with you. I have two a-frame chalkboards. They are cute and cheap which can cost around $20.
Accept multiple payment methods! Last weekend, I had a customer who came to purchase from me because I accepted American Express! “It’s 2022. I don't know why people still don't accept cards.” She said as I swiped her card. She is right, less and less people carry cash these days. Remember to learn, adapt, conquer!
I accept all types of cards via Square, have my Paypal and Venmo QR Codes printed and displayed on stands. I also have my digital wallets set up to accept Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Crypto Currencies like Etherum and Bitcoin.
Sale sources during last 30 days as of 05/15/22
Depending on the time of the year, location, and venue, dress appropriately. The weather at my last vending event was in the high 90℉. Shorts, light clothing and hats were a must!
Outdoor vending events are a behemoth. You are always exposed to the elements and it can be very taxing on you. When vending outdoors, always expect the unexpected. For indoor events, you often need to pack less but do have to amp-up your display game!
How Much is That?
Once you have your booth all set up, comes the actual hard part: selling. In my experience, when customers see a vendor, it indicates you are open for bartering. At every single event I have attended I’ve had at least one individual trying to haggle with me. Stand your ground!
We know printmaking is an affordable artform but when pricing items you need to factor in:
Cost of materials
Edition - is it a limited-run or open?
Size and complexity of the piece
Will you be selling items framed or unframed?
Will you be packaging the piece for the customer after the sale?
Vending at Dias de los Muertos Festival 2021
How you arrive at the final price is a very personal decision. In my experience, this requires a bit of market research. When I sell in more rural communities, I take pieces that fit the demographics. Last year, I had a group of customers express their wish that I carry hunting-themed art, because of the popularity of the sport in their town. So, I created a series of Wolf prints which sold very well to customers from that region of California. My small-town collectors tend to have more generous wallets than city folks, make sure you do your research!
I always make sure to have both framed and unframed pieces to encourage sales. As a result, my framed pieces sell better. It's convenient for customers as they just get home and hang the piece. I also carry postcards, tote bags, moleskin notebooks, and recently custom-made shirts.
Having variety is key. I try to have something for every budget. My items retail between $5-$150. Anything over $150 is harder to sell at a art’s fair/event. Most people carry money to get into the event, buy food and drink, and if they have something left then they go purchase something for themselves.
Let me know how your next vending event goes. I would love to hear!