2023 has been quite an experience learning
the ropes in becoming an artist vendor.
I had started to experiment in NYC quite a few years back,
taking my art into Union Square or onto a busy street corner.
It required pulling a cart full of product on
a Saturday morning down streets, onto buses and subways. Many times I would damage my goods during the commute, have a bungee cord snap or have a wheel fall off the bottom of my cart. It wasn't the best of times, I was literally broke and needed to figure out a way to add pennies to my pocket. The experience was rough and the profit was nil.
I finally gave up on this venture after freezing on a street corner one Saturday afternoon. Although there were many pedestrians strolling along the sidewalk, I needed a restroom and a place to warm up. My toes and fingertips were numb and I was getting asthma from the terrible smell of dog urine that permeated the air around the park. I made enough money for a warm cup of coffee and bagel. It was time to pack it up and seek a new direction.
Several years went by as I continued participating in one or two events yearly.
The image to the left is from an outdoor arts event held yearly. This would be my seventh year participating in the Skywak Arts Festival, a free event for artists.
After relocating in 2023, I took a leap of faith and signed onto a handful of local farmer's markets, a street fair and several holiday markets. It has been quite a learning experience this past year and I'd like to share a few tips with you.
Below are a list of things I've learned this past summer/fall season in getting out there and getting my feet wet, literally! If you are interested in pursuing this direction as an artist, please take a moment to review some of my experiences. It hasn't been a very profitable year, mind you, the cost for materials and production alone are nearly impossible to recover and at this point unless I have a few fantastic events in the future, I may never regain my past expenses. But as an artist, I will always be producing more art and simply have no choice but to keep on plugging!
Please visit my art shop at: www.stilegalleryshop.com/It
#1 The Essentials. It is essential to have a tax ID in order to make sales at a show, even if the event organizer doesn't request one. I also carry ACT insurance and put out business cards for my table display. Some shows will let you pay the day of, some in advance. I looked for events that were within a 30 mile radius from home and between $20 - $50 a show. I felt it was important not to go for the big expensive events until I had a better idea on what I was getting into! Some events will also require an item donation which I calculate as part of my fee.
#2 Transportation. I acquired a second hand car for this new adventure. On my very first street fair the car battery died. Luckily, two family members had made the trek to come see me and jumped the car. Then it happened two more times, once in the pouring rain. I finally had to replace the battery after being told there was a new one already installed.
On my final show for the season and 30 miles from home, I got a flat tire. Having to park the car down a side street from the event, I pulled into a spot with a large puddle and a hidden pot hole. It was 4 pm when I finally got back into my car only discover that my tire was flat as a pancake. It was a Sunday evening and no one available to help me. Fortunately, there was a convenience store on the corner with an air pump. As the sky was turning dark, I then drove along a back county road, stopping at a gas station every 5 miles to add air in the tire. In the distance through the rain and fog, I could see a fire truck decked in holiday lights racing ahead of me. I made it home but learned to add an emergency kit inside my car.
#3 Tent. I found that my canopy tent was way too difficult to prop up alone. It took many attempts while bruising my arms fighting to get the dam thing up. On my first event others were there to help me out. It became easier with time and guidance, but saw that other vendors had better tents with a pole that pushed up the center of the canopy. My tent also did not handle the rain well. It dripped throughout and pooled buckets of water that poured down the sides. Someone advised me to use swimming noodles under the lip of the canopy but that didn't seem to work for me. Next year I will invest in one that is better waterproofed, easier to assemble and may add a side wall or two.
#4 Packing merchandise. I was a bit sloppy at first packing my items. It takes time to invest in things you aren't quite sure that you want to do, but little by little I began to purchase bins for my work. One thing for sure, after lugging my items, tables and more in and out of the car then dragging into an event space, I realized it was essential to have either a fold up wagon, which many vendors had, or to have a reliable dolly.
#5 Display. I have two 8' folding tables but may purchase a third. It just depends on what you are selling and how much room you need for your product. Like so many vendors, I use crates of different sizes that stack well. Over time I've purchased new table easels, built a display rack and found other items to display on. It is all by preference on the look and on what you are selling, but it's helpful to observe how others set up their display in order to generate new ideas for growth.
Lights can also be important, especially if you are situated in a dark location at a show. You may need an outlet or some other way to generate power or use LED lights. Some shows have available outlets while others are limited and need to request ahead of time or are charged an extra fee. I carry extra extension cords and also bring along my fully charged laptop to keep my phone charged for Square.
One thing that may seem petty but can mean if your setup will look sloppy or not is having decent table cloths. I started to collect fabric for different events and holiday markets to create a base color to my table display. I try to iron out wrinkles before a show, cover loose edges, clamp fabric around the table legs to prevent tripping and drape fabric in the front and sides of my tables in order to cover up things stored underneath. Some vendors use the stretch table covers that can be purchased online.
#6 Learning what sells. This is a tough one as each show there were one or two items that did better then the last show. If I planned to have more of one thing over another it never failed that the items I had less of were the best sellers!
#7 Talking to other vendors. It is important to talk with the other vendors around you. Most will share information on other show opportunities. And it's best to pack a snack. You may not be able to leave your booth, hopefully because it is too busy, to go look for a bite to eat let alone use a restroom. Always best to make friends with a neighboring booth if you are alone to watch your things, especially in case of an emergency.
#8 Credit Cards. I use Square with a tap system or swipe adapter if needed.
I also learned to log into my account at home before leaving to an event.
At one show the square system was not functioning so I was able to use my website in order to process the sale. I try to leave a purchase button on my site for this purpose.
#9 Customer Service. Whether you like it or not, you are working as a sales person. It is important to engage with as many potential buyers as possible. Not everyone will want to talk to you, that's fine, but make yourself available. I have only experienced two shows where I needed a second person to help me run my booth. It's great if you have someone with you but it may not always be possible. When this happens on a busy event, I never sit down or spend time scrolling through my cell phone.
#10 Weather. I always hesitate to set up outdoors if it looks like there's a possibility of rain. It never failed in becoming a major issue for me this past summer. I'd signed onto six farmer's markets in my area for the summer, but low and behold, it rained almost every single time. I had to cancel two of the dates. On one such set up date, while the sky turned dark grey with patches here and there, a wind swept through the trees like a mini tornado and deposited my things across a field. This was a good lesson on how I should prevent light weight items from leaving my table by creating a better display. Luckily, someone grabbed one of the legs to my tent. It is also crucial to have weights on each tent leg for wind. I filled my tent bags with small rocks to weigh it down, some used concrete blocks or sand bags.
At a festival this past fall, rain was in the forecast. It began to rain steadily after spending over an hour and a half to set up. My tent could not contain the water leakage, draining off of the side walls and onto my merchandise. Even the sheets of plastic I'd put over the table began to leak. Fortunately for me, the event organizer had let me move my things indoors and just as I had finished re-setting up, the wind kicked in, tents went flying and the other vendors had to scramble to pack up and leave. I finally threw a sheet over my table for the following day and left the event, soaked from head to toe.
Please feel free to visit my shop located at https://www.stilegalleryshop.com/
I feel as if my artwork gives the viewer an insight into my life's journey. This is most evident in a plein air painting, where I can reflect back to a time and location. My sketchbooks tell a different story of thoughts and ideas scribbled within my drawing and painting studies.