Show Business | Tagging & Setting Up

Marian Parsonsbuying & selling antiques, Running a Business27 Comments

Today I’m continuing the series on “show business”, aka being a vendor at an antique show/fair/market.  If you missed part one, you can check it out HERE.  In part two, we’re going to talk about tagging (branding) and planning the space.

If you haven’t noticed, I’m a little in love with my tag.  There’s something very exciting about seeing my logo and name on a tag, hanging from a piece I curated or made.  After a few years of tying my tags onto thousands of pieces, that feeling hasn’t gone away.


My current tags were designed by Reni of Bliss & Tell Branding Company.  But, when I first started, my marketing budget was zero.  You might think I’m exaggerating, but buying a piece of furniture for $50 was a HUGE investment that was very scary to me.  I was fortunate enough to have my logo, which I am still using today, designed by a former youth group student.  She graduated high school and was studying graphic design in college.  She needed projects for her classes and I needed free branding, so the timing and partnership was perfect for both of us.

I couldn’t afford to print a large batch of thousands of tags, so she designed tags that could be printed at home on card stock and punched out.

098 copy

I DIYed my own tags for a couple of years, but it finally became impractical for me to do everything by hand.  When I asked Reni about making tags, she told me that wasn’t necessary.  She thought my tags were great.  Yeah I did, too, except I had to punch out each tag by hand!  The other problem with these tags is that ink jet printed designs will bleed when they get wet or even soggy in humidity.  But, you know, I was on a tight budget and this worked for me until I could afford to have them professionally printed.

For a long time I fought having “Miss Mustard Seed” on my tags and opted for the more professional and official name of my business, Mustard Seed Interiors, but Reni finally took matters into her own hands and made these and they just showed up at my door.  And I love them.  I’ve been tying them with hemp twine for a while, but recently switched to chunky blue & white butcher twine.  Every detail matters when it comes to branding.


 I also have custom sticker tags with a faded version of my logo with “MSI” over it.  MSI was my vendor ID at Lucketts, Chartreuse & Co and Wild Rose.  I’m not a vendor at an antique store any longer, but it’s helpful to have everything clearly marked with your branding in case it gets picked up and moved to a neighboring booth.

As an aside, if you’re a vendor please, please, PLEASE tag everything.  I know sometimes a tag can fall off or a piece can get missed, but don’t wait until you get there to unpack and start putting prices on things.  I had a neighbor one year who didn’t have any tags and people were asking me all day how much this or that was.  It’s also annoying as a shopper when you have to ask for the price.  If you want people to buy your stuff, PRICE IT!  Whew.  I needed to get that off my chest, I guess.


Anyway, my tags coordinate with my business card, so there is a cohesive brand theme all over the booth.


I then use large craft paper tags for things like the t-shirts…


…and as sold tags.


They coordinate because I’m using chunky butcher twine, only this time in red & white, so it’s clear the item is sold.  I write the name and cell number of the person who bought the item on the back just in case it’s unclaimed at the end of the day.

So, if you can’t get custom tags made right away, there are lots of options beyond the little white paper tags.


One reader asked if I plan out my space before the show by staging it at home.  No, I don’t.  Just because I don’t, though, doesn’t mean it isn’t a great idea!  If I had the space to set it up, leave it up and fill in the gaps up until we pack the truck for the show, I might do it.  I don’t have that space, though.  By the time we’re packing the truck, my basement has piles everywhere and my living and dining rooms are usually overflowing as well.


I do plan out the space in my head, so I generally know where large pieces will go.  I also have a rough design plan in my head, so I know how I’m going to group things together, so they look their best.  I feel like I’ve gotten better at this each year and it does make a difference in sales when pieces are staged well.


I try to find one large statement piece like the cabinet pictured above that I bought last year or the gorgeous French secretary that was my centerpiece the year before and a china cabinet the year before that.  This large piece anchors my booth and provides a focal point, which was comprised of two 10×10 tents with lots of overflow space around.  (This year I’ll have three 10×10 spaces!)  I also like to have at least one large table or dining set to use as another centerpiece.  I can hang a chandelier over it, use dishes on the table, fill a dough bowl with lavender in the center, use grain sacks as a runner, etc.  It gives me more staging options.  I then group dressers, chairs, benches, accessories, etc. by color and style to create visually interesting vignettes.


(I switched to white tents last year, because the blue ones were driving me nuts in these pictures!)

As far as the amount of stuff I bring – that’s increased each year.  The first year I was a vendor at a fair, I just brought one minivan and two pick-up trucks full.  The following year it was two minivan loads plus the two truck loads.  Finally, I broke down and rented a 10′ moving truck.  The past two years I have packed out a 17′ truck AND my minivan AND a pickup truck!  (Oh, and I’ve never had to rent a truck to get things home, thank goodness.)

There really isn’t a right or wrong way to plan your space and there isn’t a set amount of stuff you have to bring.  It just depends on your personality, your business, your goals, etc. I’m comfortable working it out in my head, knowing that if I bought everything and made everything, it’s all going to work well together.  I also know I have a lot of room to spread out, so I don’t have to be concerned with fitting everything under the tent.  Now, if it rains, like it did last year, that throws me off a little.  We ended up having to stack dressers under the tent and I wasn’t able to really set up my space the way I wanted.  It was a bummer, but that’s just the world of being a vendor at an outdoor fair.

More to come!

(Remember if you have a question about this business to leave it in the comments.)

Show Business | Tagging & Setting Up

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27 Comments on “Show Business | Tagging & Setting Up”

  1. Just a hint for those making their own tags, business cards etc. I use a cheapo Epson printer, but their Durabrite ink is very good at not running when it is wet. I’m a farmers market vendor in a rainy part of the continent, and I haven’t had any problems since I switched to the Epson printers.

  2. I did. Y first vintage market booth last fall and it rained all day but it was an amazing sale for me! And my Square reader on my iPhone saved the day.

    My question is how do you hang your chandelier in the tent?

    1. Hey Susan, Marian’s dad here (and furniture mover, electrician, truck driver, etc. BTW). We used short bungy straps run through one of the chandelier chain links and then looped over the metal framing of the tent. Having been through this a few times now, I’m going to bring a bunch of 2ft long pieces of 12-2 electrical wire skinned bare so I can use the black or the white piece like a twist tie. That will handle the weight, not bounce up and down, and is easy to put up and take down.

  3. How do you handle an inventory list? I’ve been using an excel sheet that I created, but I was just wondering if you’ve found a better way.

  4. Marian,

    I have been following your blog for a while now, but I don’t think I’ve ever commented! I just wanted to say thank you! Your blog and book gave me the courage to try to follow my passion and help my DH support our family.
    And, thank you for your transparency! We are a military family and I am at that point where buying a piece for $50 is a HUGE deal, but we have had such a wonderful response to our work and my husband is amazingly supportive. So, all in all I just wanted to say thank you for always being so real and tangible and being so encouraging, informative, and inspiring! You are truly a blessing!

    – Bethany

  5. I started selling in flea markets a year ago. I too wanted neat little price tags. I found the perfect solution was to design and order “business cards” from Vistaprint. Every so often they will have a deal on 250 cards for shipping only ($5ish)…then I just punch a little hole in them and tie them onto the item. You can also get return labels to coordinate for items that need sticky tags rather than tie ons! Rather than printing my name, address, etc. I print the following in the fields…
    My business name:
    Item description:
    Vendor Number: (if you need it)
    Super simple and super cheap…and very durable since they are printed stock cards.

  6. I really have come to appreciate the hard work and time that a vendor spends when getting ready, organized and set up for a fair or market. When I see a beautiful booth at a fair or market that looks like something on the front of a magazine cover I know its not by accident.

  7. I am loving this series Marian. I’ve been at my mall for a little over 2 years now, but wondering if a once or twice a year fair may be a better fit for me. This series has helped me think through what that might like look and the pros and cons of each. Can’t wait to read the rest! Also, I TOTALLY agree about items not being priced, it drives me nuts. I often just give up and walk past a booth where nothing is priced because I’m so aggravated by it. My passion for good customer service makes me not want to give that booth my business. Anyway, there was my rant 🙂 Have a good one!

  8. I can relate so much to the part about tags! I did the same thing. You’ve inspired me though to search out pink and white baker’s twine. 🙂 Normally I use pink ribbon or red and white baker’s twine, but seeing that extra detail of blue with yours is perfection. Maybe I could find some cream and white baker’s twine too…. hmmmm…. Love your tips here!

  9. Marian, I am curious as to how you came up with “Miss Mustard Seed”. Is there a story behind it?

    BTW, the pitcher in the hutch on your posting today does look really nice on top of my hutch. I bought two pitchers from you and love them.

  10. Marian, thanks for the inspiration and tips. Now when are you going to create and host a show like Junk Bonanza etc? And I have another idea for you, sell some of your beautiful photos on your online store!

  11. Great post and thanks for the insight! As long as you’ve been doing this you must have it down to a science regarding packing! I can’t imagine…all the accessories and trying to remember it all and not having to make tons of trips.

    Thanks Marian!

    leelee @ paperbagstyling

  12. This series of posts are very interesting and informative. When I saw the blue tents, I thought, “easy to spot and find again”, then I saw where you switched to white. Bunting, with your logo, hung from your tents would make them stand out in the crowd and easier to find.
    A less expensive alternative to butcher twine, still 100% cotton, are yarn balls and they come in all colors. They can be purchased at Walmart, yarn stores (but more expensive), Joann Fabric and Michaels; maybe Hobby Lobby but I’m not sure.
    I’ve used home printed post cards, with a black and white photo of Daddy and his two black lambs, circa 1934, as my hang tags. Each tag tells a story and people love them but they are expensive.

  13. Will you please take photos of your tents this year & post them? I think white ones will make such a nice difference overall. {I am a shopper (not a vendor) & will not keep asking vendors for prices. If items aren’t marked, I usually walk on. And I have a few hundred $ in cash & want to buy. Vendors need to please price all their items. Thanks

  14. Do you use a certain computer program that helps you keep track of the merchandise you buy and what you pay for it? Figure out if a show was profitable or not. How do you report on your taxes?

  15. It’s always nice to bring a few bricks/ landscaping blocks with you to put under furniture in case of rain or if it had rained & the ground is nasty. This keeps you from needing to stack furniture on top of each other. If your furniture has legs & it rains you can also put the legs in freezer bags & secure around them with string. This helps the customers see the feet but keeps it protected from water.

  16. Great tips… But my favorite is the one about pricing your merchandise. I shop Roundtop/Warrènton Texas every year, twice a year. Over the years I’ve developed friendships with many vendors… Some, I never buy from… Why? Because they never price anything and I always have to ask. Unless they have something that I just absolutely have to own, I just say “hi” and move along…

  17. Just wondering about how much of a float you bring in your cash box? I’m going to be doing my first vintage market in September and am curious 🙂

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