How To Prepare Your Business for a Festival

How-To Guides — By on May 8, 2014 at 8:00 am

The advent of spring means it’s festival season and there is no shortage of options!

Perfecting your festival to-go kit takes time, but some seasoned veterans lend their advice on what you need, what you should ask and how to create a display that will attract customers.

What to Ask.

The first step is to understand where the festival is. Is it indoor or outdoor and what will the organizers be providing? Columbus Flea Organizer Aaron Beck provides a list of some of the questions a vendor should ask organizers:

  • 1) How much space is provided?
  • 2) Will there be access to electrical outlets?
  • 3) Do I need to bring tables and chairs?
  • 4) Is there a nearby ATM?
  • 5) Is the event rain or shine?
  • 6) How many vendors will there be?
  • 7) If I sell out early, can I pack up and leave early, or do I have to wait until the official end of the event?
  • 8) Will there be anyone there to help me load in, set up and load out, or should I arrive with my own muscle?

Coming from a vendor’s perspective, Mitch Underwood of Candle With a Cause says, “The most important thing to ask is where your spot is and how to get your truck as close as possible.” Vendors should also expect to carry their goods some distance and might want to bring a dolly.

The distance you have to carry your supplies is determined by the load and unload zones – one of the other top things to ask an event organizer according to Andrew Campbell of Paw Paw Creek Honey & Berry Farm. Underwood says expect to park your car illegally – and move it quickly.

As any good sales person should know, Michael Creath of Cultivar reminds vendors to ask organizers what kind of people will attend the event. Are they younger, older, hip or looking to buy?

What to Bring. 

Setting up at a festival requires a significant amount of stuff. Between your product and what you need for the day, don’t expect to travel light – not to mention if you need to prepare for Ohio’s change-at-the-drop-of-a-dime weather.

Our experienced vendors reveal what’s in their festival kit, from the obvious to often forgotten but necessary:

  • • Plenty of product. 
  • • Items that highlight and display your product. (Keep reading to learn how to make your booth stand out!)
  • • A tent if necessary, and don’t forget something heavy to hold it down with!
  • • Table(s) depending on space and if the organizer is providing.
  • • Tablecloths or coverings.
  • • Chairs. 
  • • Signage and any other marketing materials.
  • • A whole lot of business cards.
  • • A SQUARE credit card reader. And as Underwood recommends, and extra for your neighbor that might forgot.
  • • Change. Bring your bank including plenty of change, small bills, etc. Beck says this is one of the top things vendors often forget they are responsible for.
  • • Bags and packaging. Do customers have something to carry their new purchase in?
  • • Your go-to festival bag. This bag should contain a little bit of everything like duct tape, sharpies, a pocket knife, pens, paper, a calculator, flashlight, paper towels, basic tool kit with both kinds of screw drivers, scissors, twist-ties and a bit of twine or rope.
  • • Coffee, water, snacks, etc. 
  • • Weather appropriate gear. It’s quite possible this could mean sunglasses and a raincoat all in the same day.
  • • Generator / power supply. You’ll know if you need a power supply or if electricity is provided if you asked the right questions, but being prepared is key. “Even if they promise you electricity, plan for the worst,” Underwood says. “Outdoor markets have tons of trouble with electrical so if you can get past that you win!”
  • • Friends to stop by and help. Campbell sums it up, “If you are solo it is also very smart to have one or more friends stop by to help run errands or assist as needed for set-up, running the cash register and so on…. You might need to go to the bathroom and you can’t leave your booth and bank and product alone!”

Make Your Booth Stand Out. 

It’s not enough to just display your product on your table. Your space should make browsers curious and want to stop for a closer look.

“Your booth, like your brand, should tell a compelling story,” Campbell says. Look for decorations or displays that further reflect your brand.

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“Have plenty of cool stuff that fits the motif of your business to add some character to your table,” Underwood says. “Remember, this is how you make your impression on everyone.” Plenty of stuff includes plenty of product. “A half-empty space is uninviting,” Beck says. “People at Fleas especially love to see mass quantities of quality merch in the booths. They love the hunt! If your space is or looks empty, people will just keep on walking.”

Beck also notes the importance of displaying your goods in a shopper-friendly layout. Think of your space like a shop. “People love a lot of options, but if they can’t get to the stuff, they’ll get impatient and move to the next booth,” Beck says.

Engage with the crowd. 

Engaging with the event crowd serves two very important purposes. Not only will it draw more customers in that will hopefully convert to sales, but it also serves to bring awareness to your business.

“My booth sells fun little items but I’m also there to promote my business,” Creath says. Underwood and Candle with a Cause see the PR that can come from such events. “We have built our business on the PR that we do at the festivals. We don’t even consider the festivals and markets to be for making money. They are events that allow us to promote to our target market, positioning us for sustainable growth.”

The first two rules of engaging your crowd are to remain standing if possible and speak to customers that pass by, don’t just sit there and wait for them to come to you.

“You are a business owner, period,” Underwood says. “Act like it. Be personable, likable and confident. Speak to 90 percent of the people who walk by.” And the reason it’s so important to engage as many people as possible? “They may be just some Joe, or they may be the best wholesale client you could imagine!”

While it may seem obvious, festivals are a chance to make sure you really know your business.

“Working a festival means you are going to meet lots of people who will all have different questions about your product(s) and brand,” Campbell says. “Make sure you know your stuff, and your story!”

Promote the event. 

Promoting an event is both an organizer’s and vendor’s responsibility.

In addition to the logistics, planning, and execution of the event, organizers promte their events via newspapers, social media and the like to bring awareness to the community. But that’s only half the equation.

“We do our best to promote the Fleas and spread the word,” Beck says. “But we can’t stress enough how important it is to the success of the event for the vendors to help spread the word themselves. Hanging flyers on public bulletin boards in coffee shops, bars and libraries and posting the event date on all social media channels means more people will visit and buy goods from their booths.”

Festivals are busy days full of sometimes unexpected surprises, but preparedness goes a long way. As a final piece of advice, Creath says to think like Santa. “Very similar to Santa Clause, you need to make a list and check it twice. Even if you have been doing it for a while.”

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Photos by Shelby Lum for ColumbusUnderground.com.

Susan Post Susan Post (263 Articles)

Susan is the lead staff writer for TheMetropreneur.com and also completes assignments as a freelance writer & editor. She loves writing about her city - and learning a thing or two from her clients along the way. Susan holds a degree in Communication with a minor in Professional Writing from The Ohio State University. You can find her exploring Grandivew, drinking way too much coffee, running, spending time with friends and aiming to become a Columbus foodie.


  • http://www.themetropreneur.com/columbus/members/whattherock/ Michael Renner

    Some really good tips and info here. Allow me to add a few that I think are important. Pack your goods in stackable plastic bins. Cardboard gets damaged easily and becomes useless for packing up at the end of the day. If the forecast calls for bad weather, have tarps on hand to cover your stuff in case of heavy rain. ZIP TIES! I can’t stress how valuable these are, so much better than duct tape. A 100′ extension cord and power strip will be your best friend for acquiring electricity from far away. Adequate lighting for those late nights. People won’t buy what they can’t see. And while I’m on the subject of power, don’t forget to charge your phone the night before and bring a phone charger with you to the festival. Square does you no good with a dead phone. Other things to do in preparation the day(s) before the festival- Make sure you have the proper State transient vendor’s license. Insurance is a good idea in case of damage to person or property. Draw a diagram of your booth. Measure tables and displays to make sure they fit. I even go as far as creating Plan-o-Grams for my merch. This allows me to hand a photo to someone helping me so they can then quickly execute my plan with little trouble. Load your car the evening before the festival and gas it up. It sucks rushing to fuel up when you are already running late for load-in. And last but definitely not least, get a good night’s sleep! Thanks for letting me add my 100 cents. ;)