Camping · Festivals and Events

An Open Letter to Event Organizers

Orchard-slide2-980x360Dear Event Organizers –

This is to those of you who organize craft fairs, artisan festivals, makers rallies, and events where people who search for quality handmade items can come to see in person our life’s work and meet us, the creators. We see you – many of you, rolling up your sleeves and working alongside us to make these events a success. We know the hard work it takes to organize and promote these events to make them a worthwhile endeavor for all of us. We know that just like us, some of you are burning the midnight oil for weeks before a show just to bring your own personal best. I know I don’t speak just for myself when I say you are appreciated. But some of you have forgotten about us, the heart and soul of your shows, the reason the people come. For a time, you bring us together as a tiny, temporary community of artisans – and we are talking about you.
After several years of participating in some of the best ranked, most well-known and widely attended shows, I have gathered insight both from my own personal experience and from that of other vendors I have met along the way. I wanted to share with you some things in the hopes that this can broaden your understanding of our perspective and perhaps help make these shows better for all of us

◦ Please remember, we are your customers too. We pay a lot of money in fees, travel expenses, as well as for parking and lodging just to be there. We often also have the expense of providing our own tents and displays so we can adhere to your requirements – at the risk we may not recover it in sales. The attendees of these events are coming because we are there. A lot of event organizers have forgotten that we are their customers too – and as we all know, customer service is key.

We are your customers too.

◦ A little bit of vendor service goes a long way. Sometimes we have traveled a distance to attend an event and never meet the organizers. Sometimes we have slept poorly in an unfamiliar bed and couldn’t find where to get a decent cup of coffee when we arrive the first morning of an event. Take a moment to come around, not just to check that we are following rules but shake our hands, thank us for being there, make us feel welcome. Have someone available who will watch our booths so we can take a potty break or grab some lunch especially if we are working alone. Have coffee and donuts in the morning in a special tent just for the vendors. Have a “runner” that goes around a couple times during a long day to see if they can make change or grab the vendors a drink, provide bottles of water, etc. Boosting our morale makes for a better show for everyone – and it helps us stay positive even if sales or traffic or both are slow.
◦ If you set rules, enforce them. There is nothing worse than working so hard to be at a show that is supposed to be exclusively handmade – and watch other vendors put out items made in China and try to pass them off as their own, but it’s even worse when you do nothing about it. If there is supposed to be ground cover and every document we get from our application to our welcome letter states that vendors will not be allowed to open their booths without it, and we see other vendors opening up their booths without it and selling for the duration of the event – we lose respect for you. If people aren’t supposed to have their pets with them during set up, and their dog is there peeing on my Christmas tree, I am upset with you for not enforcing the rule you made. (BTW – I love dogs! I am the rescue human of three beautiful mutts.) At many of the events I’ve attended, at least one and sometimes multiple vendors shut down early even though it is usually clearly stated that we are expected to remain open and not pack up until the event closes. Their impatience makes the customers feel like the show is ending so they leave – which hurts all of us. I have never once seen an organizer stop this from happening.

If you set rules, enforce them.

◦ Provide somewhere for us to park that makes sense and allows reasonable access to the space you have assigned to us. If this is not possible, try to arrange to have volunteers on hand (at some great events I’ve seen local boy scout troops do this as a community service project), have hand trucks and carts ready, and do something other than behave as if it’s our own problem. Let me remind you again, we paid you so we could be at your event. Also please make it very clear where we can and cannot park – both for those of us who are traveling compactly in one vehicle and those of us who may be towing a trailer or arriving in an RV.
◦ Make sure we can be easily identified as a vendor both by those working for the event planners as well as other vendors. This prevents us from being scrutinized when we walk to our car, access vendor designated areas, and generally prevents confusion about who is a vendor and who are patrons. We also like to offer vendor discounts and can’t tell you how many times we find out after someone has paid us that they were a fellow vendor. This could be a vendor tag on a lanyard or a jelly bracelet – but please make sure it is removable especially if the event is several days long.

The responsibility for the environment of the show is yours.

◦ Please be sure there is a clear designation of authority so we know who to ask about what. Sometimes as a vendor we are sent in circles when we need basic assistance. It’s frustrating to us and wastes our time when we often don’t have it to spare.
◦ Try to make an effort to better assist new vendors. The community pulls together and helps one another, but a lot of bad information is communicated from vendor to vendor which inadvertently creates confusion. Make sure you are the one there to provide assistance and clear information and be available so we don’t have to help someone else while we are trying to set up our own shops. Also be sure these newbies know who you are if you’re running the show.
◦ When at all possible, only allow a limited number of vendors within a given product type. Events that are overrun with one type of product will not be widely attended. Be sure that vendors with similar products are spread out throughout the event so that each of us gets a fair shot at attracting customers.
◦ Have designated smoking areas for customers even at outdoor events and you be the heavy if people do light up. The responsibility for the environment of the show is yours.
◦ Consider requirements about vendors with children or babies in a booth with them all day. Festival days are long for adults – and even more so for small children. While parents are working their own business, their children can be a disruption to their fellow vendors. (I know – first it was the dogs and now it’s the little people. I like them both – I promise I do.) If you do allow vendors to bring children, expect the parents to keep their children from disrupting neighboring vendors.

Be honest.

◦ Be honest. If your event is focused exclusively on “handmade” items, do not allow direct sales vendors to participate. Items made by these companies are not handmade arts and crafts and should not be included in such shows. If your show is a mixed bag of direct sales and arts and crafts, be honest with the vendors about what percentage you will allow of direct sales.
◦ Use common sense in dealing with rules and requirements. At one recent event there was a rule in place that all vehicles had to be removed from the event area by a specific time. This is not an uncommon rule – as most of the events we do have this standard requirement. However, we were reminded not once, not twice, but three times that our vehicle had to be gone, after having this communicated to us in triplicate via paperwork. There is no need to breathe down the necks of adult business owners who are operating in a professional manner as if they are high school students.

Use common sense.

◦ If you say something, let your word be your bond. If you tell us we will be able to drive through the event grounds 30 minutes at the conclusion of an event – making us wait 45 minutes is unacceptable. Hold yourselves to the same high standard that you have for vendors.
◦ If your event is a multi-faceted festival, be sure to promote all aspects of the event from the entertainment to the food to the arts and crafts vendors. Make sure when the opportunity arises, promote our businesses as we will be busy promoting your event.

Let your word be your bond.

◦ Remember that your job isn’t over once the event is underway – in a lot of ways it has really just begun. Be out there, be present, make all of your customers feel welcome – including your vendors.

I know that all organizers likely have horror stories to tell of bad behavior by vendors. We have participated in events that have rules that make us wonder what preempted the setting of such a requirement – for instance a recent event rule was that “no vendor shall operate a booth out of their vehicle”. It is my belief that if organizers set the standard – they will elevate the quality of the vendors that participate in their events. We all want a fun, successful event with a good vibe that makes our customers come back next time with all of their friends to see the cool new things we have made. We are all the better for it.

If you’ve read this far, I’m grateful. I think it means that you really want to invest in your event and the people that help make it happen.

Just A Girl Trying to Make a Handmade Living

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