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On Being an Event Merchant: Planning

Updated: Jul 22, 2022

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How much planning do you do for attending a convention? How about camping? Or LARPing? Christmas shopping? Traveling anywhere out of town?

How about combining all of those?

As you may know, I have a wide variety of products and audiences. I go to reenactment events of various time periods, from Viking to the Old West. I do a few goth-themed shows. I do fiber festivals. I do some church bazaars. I try to tailor my newest offerings based on the lineup of shows and expected audiences. It helps to plan ahead for what to make to help fill holes between events.

These events are chosen carefully based on my own criteria. Time of year, type of expected audience, number of expected attendees, location, size of booth space, and costs to do the event. If an event is offering only a 6’ table space, it doesn’t make sense for me to even attempt to display most of my items. Shawls and bags of wool simply will not fit. If the space is a 25’ x 25’ outdoor space for $300, I would need to consider the travel costs, marketing and promotion that the event organizer should be doing, expected traffic, and type of audience for that geography. That's in addition to how much I have that would actually fill that space, how to display it, and booth layout.

A brief note about geography. The sad, simple truth is that some locations do not attract people who are interested in (or able to) spending money on handmade goods over mass-produced imports. It's a specific mindset that supersedes average income for the area. In today's world, while the concept of "slow fashion" and actual sustainability is on the rise, it is still out of reach for lower-income areas. I love talking about the benefits of natural materials, but it can be difficult for someone to drop $40 on a hat or $75 on a shawl, even though it will last a lifetime. It's much easier to justify $5 for cheaper, temporary entertainment. Some events in remote areas, however, may still attract people who travel there from much further away and expect to find and purchase one-of-a-kind things at that event that they cannot find anywhere else.

Back to planning. These are the basic things we think about ahead of time. Sometimes, this could be months in advance (as there are some shows that we have to book a full year ahead of time), and sometimes a few days.

  1. Costume. What to wear? Even if the event is not a reenactment-style event, what is expected of our appearance? I have Viking, medieval, and Victorian/Edwardian wear for multiple temperatures. I have some clothing I wear to goth events. If it's a holiday event, can I wear a sweater, or will it be too warm indoors for that? Do I need to purchase or make something to appear more appropriate for the event?

  2. Food. Will there be food we can eat on site (taking allergies and preferences into account)? How much water should we bring? Do we need the ice chest over an extended period? Do we need to plan to cook on site? Do we need to bring period-appropriate dinnerware?

  3. Sleeping. Is it a multi-day event? Is it far enough away that it makes more sense to stay in the tent instead of driving home? Do we plan for cold nights or hot?

  4. Animals. Are we bringing sheep? Are we bringing our dog Stig? What food, water, cleaning equipment, treats, etc. do we need?

  5. Booth. What style of booth do we need? What accessories are required for that booth? Will we be able to stake down, or can we only use weights? How many tents are we bringing? When can we set up and home much time does that give us?

  6. Displays. Was everything in working order at the end of the last event? Does anything need to be repaired or cleaned or refilled? What products need to be renewed?

These are the basics for every show. After 15 years or so, many of these are unconscious, but even after a couple of months off, it can be hard to get back "into the groove" and start asking these questions again.

And in the end, you inevitably forget something. Propane for the camp stove, a portable hole for a pole, a tablecloth. You learn to make do. It is never the end of the world if you forgot a display or a small piece. You can inevitably find something to replace it, or work without it, and continue to have fun at your event.

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