Every time I walk through a street fair, I can’t help but think to myself:
“This was someone’s dream.”
Every canopy is a someone’s vision and passion. Whether the vendor is a local bread maker or an oil canvas painter, each stand is a work of art and an entrepreneurial dream. A street fair is not just a fun day out for consumers, but also a great source of revenue and distribution channel for a business.
Street fairs showcase small business at their finest. The first business I ever started was called O’Decadent (Arianna O’Dell, O’Decadent – get it?), a baking company that sold baked goods at farmers markets across Whidbey Island, Washington. This experience not only gave me first hand experience on the logistics of running a business but also gave me a crash course in Marketing 101.
This past weekend, the University District hosted their annual street fair. University Way filled with thousands of attendees and hundreds of vendors. From honey to garden art, the market brought together some of Seattle’s finest food and craft vendors.Walking through the street fair on Saturday, I kept screaming to myself: “WHY ARE ALL OF THESE BUSINESSES SO BAD AT MARKETING?!”
It saddened me to think that with a few simple changes, many of the vendors could have increased their sales tenfold. Though a small business can be limited in terms of a marketing budget, there are many simple ways a business can easily improve their presence and efforts during a market.
Give Out Samples Like There Is No Tomorrow
If you sell a food product, you need samples. Chance are your company is a brand that no one has ever heard of. Building trust and brand loyalty is hard. Until you build your customer base, you need to convince people your product is worth trying. Samples are a great way to start a conversation and establish initial trust. Selling handmade lotion? Have a bottle out on the table as a tester. Selling salsa? Why not put out some chips and crack open a bottle*. (*Prior to doing this, be sure to check with local laws to ensure that sampling is being done in a sanitary and legal manner.)
Smile, Smile Again, Then Smile Even More
This one should be a given, but it was amazing how many vendors sat in their booth with a scowl on their face. First impressions are everything. If the vendor appears to be unenthralled about their own product, how can they expect you to be? Personal selling is an art that one must learn in order to survive the harsh streets of a fair or market. This trait does not come easy to some, but can be learned over time through patience and practice.
Lower Your Barrier to Entry
The most successful stands at a street fair are the ones that have an inviting setup. Some vendors unintentionally setup their booth to deter customers. Like this setup here:
For many, walking into an enclosed setting can be intimidating. This setup makes it difficult to see items from the street and discourages patrons for fear of being trapped in a sales pitch within the tent. First impressions are everything. Having an inviting space where customer feel conformable can make all the difference.
Let Customers Know Who You Are
Every week I go to the weekly farmer’s market. The sad part is, I usually walk away not knowing the name of many of the vendors. I find myself telling people “The bread from this one stand is AMAZING” unable to recall the name. Branding is so important for a small business, but so many fail to have a logo, branded packaging or at the very least a sign with the name of the company.
Capture Email and Demographic Information
Another mistake in street fair marketing is that most businesses fail to gain any insight about their customers. The vendor may remember their customer when (and if) they see them again, but most transactions are done without learning anything about the market. This is a mistake I made early on in my own endeavors. From simply asking questions about your customers to an email sign up sheet, there are many ways to gain insight on your market and capture customer data.
Listen To Your Customers
When I started note taking during the market, I learned more about my customers and what they wanted. Some were looking for lower sugar items, some wanted different flavors. Based on customer feedback, I was able to cater my offerings to a mix of items that would sell out weekly. There are so many stands this weekend that were selling things that no one would ever want. Ever. Not even for free.
Stand Out Even If It Means Putting On A Cat Suit
Between the massive number of booths and the thousands of people who showed up for the event, the constant commotion at the fair made it easy to simply walk by a booth without giving it a second thought. What do businesses need to do the combat this? Have something compelling at the booth. Selling dog clothes? Bring a model pooch that customers can take photos with. Selling Snow Cones? Purchase a huge inflatable snow man to draw attention to your booth. At a street fair, you are competing with noise, crowds, and hundreds of other vendors. Standing out is non-negotiable for success.
Bring Digital Media Into The Mix
Sadly, throughout the whole market I did not see any brands encouraging their customers to connect with them digitally. From Facebook to Pinterest, there are a variety of ways consumer products can connect with their customers post event. In a market place like a street fair, a simple flier could even be used to encourage customers to connect. Looking for a low cost way to tell your customers about your Facebook page? Purchase a stamp with logo and social media handle to put onto packaging and brown paper sacks. At the very least, have a business card available so customers know the name of your company and can find your website.
Make Friends With The Market Manager
Location, location, location. While many markets have a pre-determined layout, the market manager can sometimes make an exception. Being placed in a corner or too close to the end can ultimately make or break your day. Have an extra cookie or loaf of bread left over at the end of the day? Give it to the market manager.
Are you a business that needs some marketing help? Always happy to chat over coffee or pastries.