I’ve really enjoyed writing this series, I just have to say! Sometimes it helps me a lot to talk through my own process. Sometimes when I’m feeling overwhelmed with all of the stuff on my plate, it’s fun to look through the pictures of the past and see how far this little business has come. It’s been quite an amazing journey.
In this post, we’re going to cover keeping an inventory, running a checkout and promoting your booth.
So…inventory. Yeah, I tried that one when I first started this business. I made a simple spreadsheet and recorded everything I tagged and was selling. I made note of what I paid for the item and what I listed it for, so I could know my profit.
Well, that lasted just a few weeks before the spreadsheet was a hot mess and I was confused at what had sold and what hadn’t. I do keep an inventory of the things I can buy multiples of and sell in my online shop, like t-shirts, wreaths, books, etc., but I do not keep an inventory of my antique, one-of-a-kind type pieces. Things moved too fast and it was just too much of a time suck. I’m sure small things have gone missing over the years, but I’ve only had one large piece go unaccounted for.
I have asked other dealers about inventories and some keep them and some don’t. I would suggest doing what you’re comfortable with. I’m fine with looking at the big picture investments vs. profits and not the nitty gritty details of each piece. I work that out mostly in my head as I buy and price and I see that it all works out on my P&L statements.
How to set up a good check out at an outdoor fair has been a point of learning for me, that’s for sure! For the first two shows, my mom and I had aprons on with cash and sales books and that worked fine. We just floated around the space and helped anyone ready to buy something. Then Lucketts 2011 happened. My blog had really been growing and so had the legend of the Lucketts Spring Market and my mom and I in our little aprons were overwhelmed at the shopping frenzy that happened in my booth when the gates opened. We ended up selling the same settee to two different people at the exact same time. That was horrible and we had to make a judgement call as to who seemed to be first. We knew right away that we had to do things differently the following year.
For Lucketts 2012, we had an official crew and a checkout table. Mom (far left) and mini-Mustard Seed (far right) ran the checkout table. Jeff helped carry furniture and bags (and made sure I was eating, drink water and wearing sunscreen.) Dad was the master wrapper of breakables and held bags until they were claimed. I was free to float around and answer questions, negotiate prices, fluff the space, etc. It worked, but we were still pretty overwhelmed at the rush of shoppers that continued through the early afternoon on Saturday.
For Lucketts 2013, we enlisted even more help. Sean helped Jeff with moving furniture and carrying items to cars and Emily floated around the space checking out buyers who were ready with cash for a quick sale.
My mom and Faith were huddled under a tarp (it was raining) and ran credit cards, accepted checks and handled larger sales.
We still could’ve used more help! The line in our tent was probably over 30 people long at one point. It was nuts. So, this year I’m already lining up helpers, we have expanded to a third tent, so we have more space for a checkout, and I’m hoping we’ll get to make a check out counter before the event, that will be more substantial and practical than a folding table.
Here’s what I’ve learned when it comes to a checkout:
- Roaming with aprons is fine as long as your sales are steady through the day and there is a system (like pulling tags) to make sure something isn’t sold twice)
- Bring tons of change. I brought about $500 in change the past couple of years and $250 of that was in $1.00 bills. The ones go so fast and then it can become a real problem. You really can’t have too many.
- Accept credit cards. I use the PayPal Here system, but there is the Square and a few other options. You will make more sales if you can accept credit cards. A lot of people will bring cash, but sometimes it goes quickly or they don’t plan on buying a big piece until they see one they can’t pass up.
- Accept checks. I know this is a little risky, but in my 5+ years of business, I’ve never had one single check returned. I always look at licenses and get phone numbers as a precaution.
- If you’re expecting a “rush” period, make sure to have extra helpers during that time to keep the line from getting too long. A long line is a good problem to have, but it can result in lost sales.
- Bring lots of bags, bubble wrap, tissue, etc., so you can package breakables for safe transport home. Some people do bring their own totes and bags, but it’s a nice service to offer. This also gives you a chance to include marketing materials.
Marketing materials brings me nicely into the last topic – promoting your booth. I sort of tripped over this on accident. I started my blog as a way to promote my business, so as I was getting ready for a fair, I would show the pieces I was working on and tagging for the event. The first year I made a real effort to share everything I had time to take pictures of, my sales were triple what they were the year before. Triple! People traveled from all over Virginia, North Carolina, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and some even further just to buy a specific piece they saw.
I realized I was onto something! If people could see what I was bringing and they could plan, measure, dream, save, get permission, etc. prior to coming to the fair, they were more likely to buy. In many cases, I brought pieces to the fair with sold tags already on them!
So, when the gates open, people come rushing to my booth. They know what they want, because they saw it on the blog and they aren’t going to walk away to think about it. They are going to grab it and hug it and not let it go until it’s in a bag with their name on it.
Also, writing about things on my blog makes those things personal to my readers and customer. They know I love ironstone sugar jars, so getting to buy one from me and have me sign the bottom (yes, she asked me to), is something special.
Getting ready for the fair gives me blog content and it promotes the fair. The sales at the fair increase because I wrote about it on my blog. As I said, it was sort of accidental at first, but now I see that it makes good business sense.
So, if you’re going to be a vendor at a fair, don’t just hope the people putting on the fair promote, but work on promoting your space as well. If you don’t have a blog,use Facebook to get the word out. It really is worth the time.
More to come in this series…