5 Tips to Determine if you Should be a Vendor at Tradeshows

Sometimes as a vendor, you do well at certain shows and some not so much. How do you assess whether a particular show is worth all the effort to participate in? I’m tackling this question in today’s post!

When hubby and I first started our stock photo business, we participated in every show possible. We did anything from small 1-day indoor yard sales to high-end 2-day/all day tradeshows. Why? Because in the beginning, you need exposure. Plus, we had moved to a part of the U.S. where we knew no one. We were starting over so being in as many shows as possible allowed us to get to know the people who live and travel here. We enjoyed the interaction. However, after the shows we were completely tapped out for weeks and sometimes a month or two.

Preparing for a show (check out my post here if you want some tips) takes time and effort and depending on the kind of show it is, we would be preparing months ahead, sometimes even a year out. But after about three years of this, we sat down and took a hard look at our numbers. We realized there was a pattern at certain shows. We were making just a little over our cost and I mean “a little”.

It wasn’t much of a profit and the work involved + the cost to produce products outweighed the monies we netted. So, we decided not to do those shows the next year. Fast forward to six years later and we are doing only one show a year. How did that happen? Easy… we weren’t bringing in a real profit. We narrowed it down to this show because it is a pretty big one and we always do well plus it’s a juried show that gives out several cash prizes in addition to allowing all the artists’ pieces to sell. That means we have the possibility of doubling our monies! We don’t work a booth so we can come and go as we please. The other marketing we do are exhibits where we can hang hubby’s photo art and sell it as well as our permanent space at the local arts center.

Going back to working shows, here’s my formula for figuring out whether it is worth the effort or not:

  1. How many items do you have to produce? What is the approximate cost to produce them? How much time do you need to make your items? Can you produce them in house or do you have to outsource in whole or in part? If you have to use a third-party, how much will it cost you to have them do this and what is their timeline? If the costs are not feasible enough for you to charge at least 2x over, then you may have to re-think if there are other factors that would influence your decision to be a vendor at that show.
  2. Do you really like being in a particular show? Sometimes earning a specific profit isn’t a factor. I talked with a vendor recently who told me she enjoyed a certain show she goes to every year because of the wonderful people she talks to. She doesn’t mind the prep work for it, because she always enjoys it so it doesn’t feel like work to her. That’s a big deal, every vendor’s goals are different so if you go to an annual show you really like, that’s fine. Do it. Just be sure to pay attention if things change. There was a show we liked to be in but a couple of years ago the venue changed their rules which made it unprofitable for us even though we enjoyed it. It wasn’t an easy decision to stop doing that show but for the business, it became more work and more stress.
  3. How far is the show? Some of the artists in my town travel anywhere from 30 minutes to 1-1/2 hours to be in a show. That’s something we looked into at one point and we did one show one hour away but it wasn’t easy because we couldn’t just drop in to see how things were doing. Here in town, we can easily drop by to answer any customer questions and be accessible. I think 30 minutes is the furthest I would travel to be in a show. 
  4. What is the entry cost to be in a show? The large annual show I mentioned earlier has a cost of $20 per piece up to 3 pieces. Some artists elected not to be in it because those costs are non-refundable and the work has to be voted on to get into the show. For ex., say you submit 3 paintings to the committee and you pay $60 entry fee and none of your pieces get in, you’re out the $60! You have to weigh that if you want to participate in a show whose costs are similar to this one.
  5. Marketing. Does the show attract many buyers? Marketing is key. It’s the most important thing after producing good products. If the show isn’t properly advertised, you’ll just be among other vendors with wonderful products on your tables and no customers! So, how much of the marketing will you have to do? Will the sponsor and/or venue advertise on social?, newsletter, newspaper ad, website, offline marketing (flyers around town), Facebook event?, etc. If the vendor is left to do most of the advertising, I would probably take a pass unless you have hundreds of customers who buy from you frequently. The worst part about doing a show, in my opinion, is sitting around for hours at my booth waiting for someone to come in. That always tired me out.

I realize these are just my tips… that you’ll have to decide for yourself but hopefully I’ve given you some things to think about. There’s nothing wrong with doing shows at, really there isn’t, all I want to get across is to be methodical about what shows will bring you overall the best results. After all, we artists put our hearts and souls into our work so we want to feel we gained a positive experience, that we were productive and gained a few new customers too! 

overall photo courtesy of pixabay.com (copy by Kim McDougal)