According to the Merchandiser Group’s annual FleaMarketZone.com survey, 52% of polled vendors are selling at fairs and festivals in addition to flea markets. 82% indicated that fair and festival booth rentals are just as profitable as their regular flea market booths. Becoming a commercial exhibitor at fairs and festivals is a natural addition for flea market entrepreneurs. If you are currently selling at fairs and festivals, use the following tips to really make a splash. If you are not yet involved, there’s no time like the present to start expanding your business.
Fairs, festivals, and fleas all have fun, lively, family-friendly environments. If you have a seller’s personality and are able to attract customers and close sales at flea markets, you will just as easily succeed in fair and festival environments. According to Marla Calico, president and CEO of The International Association of Fairs and Expositions (IAFE), there are a few key elements to success as a commercial fair and festival exhibitor:
“It’s important to understand that you’re going to be in a mix of all types of exhibitors,” says Calico. “You might be next to someone from the local church, next to an insurance agent, maybe a political booth – so the mixture of exhibitors is very different from a flea market.” Having unique products that stand out from the crowd goes without saying, however they should also reflect the community the fair is representing.
Booth design and layout is critical for attracting customers. As a flea market vendor, you already know product placement and merchandising can have a huge impact on sales. However, depending on the fair or festival where you are participating, booth design may be a little more extreme. For larger fairs, especially those that have exhibitor waitlists, fairs often consider booth design and appearance in the application process. “Lighting, graphics, signs, flags, all those types of things are what fairs are looking for,” says Calico. “A vendor should ask themselves: ‘how does my booth look in this type of mix? How will I stand out? How will I be inviting?’ Fairgoers are going to be beseeched on every hand by a bunch of different concepts. Booth design and layout will play a huge role.”
Much of the preparation depends on whether you are looking to exhibit at community fairs and festivals, or larger state events. If you are looking to participate in a state fair, you should start the inquiry process “almost a year in advance,” according to Calico. “Standard industry practice for large fairs is to go around and re-assign spaces for next year and get deposits as the fair is wrapping up. So, if operating at an eighty or ninety percent retention rate, the fair is going to know as soon as it closes what they will have for next year. Some have ongoing applications, some start ten months ahead, and smaller fairs might not do this at all. I would think the inquiry process should start sooner rather than later. Many fairs will want photos, references, even credit references; it’s never too soon to start the planning process.” If your goal is to exhibit at a state or top ten fair, start the application now. If you do not make it in this year, utilize community and county fairs to beef up your products, display, experience, and references to start your application for next year. The fair and festival market is very healthy, so it is common for larger events to have waiting lists for vendors.
In addition to planning ahead, “One critical thing from moving from flea to fairs is understanding the length of time and commitment,” continues Calico. “If you’re signing on for a large top ten fair, it may run for four weeks and most don’t offer partial booth spaces. You make a commitment for the entire timeframe and to operate your booth all the hours the event is open.” Many large and mid-size fairs run for anywhere from ten to twenty-eight days. Smaller community fairs and markets might operate for just one weekend.
However, more structured operating hours also leads to a larger event turnout. “Some very large fairs see more than one million visitors in a run, smaller county fairs typically see 10,000 – 20,000 visitors over their duration,” says Calico. Staying the longer hours can be well worth the commitment because you will benefit from high traffic volumes.
Overall, “it’s important to understand that fairs are a large potential market for flea vendors,” concludes Calico. “There are a number of vendors who participate in regular fleas who should be considering fairs.” Use the following fair and festival guide to take advantage of these high-traffic selling opportunities, and find the right fit for your business.
For an interactive map of IAFE’s fairs, visit www.findthatfair.com.