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Selling at Fairs and Shows
How can an inventor, with a relatively small inventory, sell $75,000+ in one weekend, with only one or two helpers? The answer is a sales channel often overlooked by inventors: selling at fairs and shows. Most inventors dream of getting their product into the big box retailers, but selling at fairs and shows can be both a great way to produce immediate income, which is enough for some inventors, and also a great way to gain enough momentum for your product to be picked up by the big retailers, which is why other inventors start selling at fairs and shows.
County fairs, state fairs, renaissance fairs, craft shows, home shows, home and garden shows, sports shows, and auto shows are just a few of the events you can attend to sell your product. What kinds of sales figures can you expect at shows like these? Experienced show goers would consider selling $7,000 worth of products to be a bad weekend. If you are currently selling your product, how long does it take you to sell $7,000 worth of product?
What would experienced show goers consider a good weekend? A good weekend can involve selling anywhere from $60,000 to $90,000! Obviously, it will take you awhile to be able to produce these kinds of sales–you must hone your sales tactics and booth–but these are the kinds of results people have selling at fairs and shows. By now, you are probably interested in how this is done, so let’s talk about what kinds of products sell well at fairs and shows and how to sell effectively.
Products that sell really well at fairs and shows have the following characteristics:
Demonstrates or Tries Out Well
This is perhaps the most important factor for sales at fairs and shows. If your product demonstrates well, you will get attention, people will believe in your product’s promises because they have seen it works and often, if the product meets a need in their life, they will buy. It often helps to have a before and after demonstration.
A great example of this is Dr. Juice’s fish scents. Dr. Juice would demonstrate how fish don’t like the smell of people, which gets on fishing lures and hooks as you handle them, and how his scent would eliminate this problem. He would bring a tank of fish to shows and put his hand in the tank, which caused all the fish to swim away. Then he would put his scent on his hand and put it back in the tank and what happened? The fish swam right up to his hand! This great demonstration drew a lot of attention and was extremely effective with anglers, who immediately understood the product and its promises.
If your demonstration also creates something that people can carry around, like a hairstyle, a decoration, or anything else that people can wear, that is even better. Then other attendees will see your product’s end result and ask where they can get one. You will have people lined up at your booth.
If your product doesn’t demonstrate well, you can still have success if people can try it out. This often works well with toys, puppets, musical instruments and food products. By allowing people to try out your product, you will gain lots of attention and, if people like it, they will often buy.
Simple, Direct Message
When selling at fairs and shows, you need to make sure your product has a very simple message. This is very important for all sales channels, but with shows and fairs you need to make it even simpler. For instance, when selling at retail stores, you can have your packaging list a few benefits, but when selling at fairs and shows, you want to tout your best single benefit using a short phrase. There is so much activity at fairs and shows that your customers will become distracted and move on if your message isn’t immediately understandable.
Products that sell really well at shows and fairs are usually priced between $10 and $30. This price encourages impulse buying, meaning that if someone likes your product, they will just go ahead and buy it without thinking too much about it. When the product is priced higher than that, people will think more about it and buy less often. Some inventors think that they can get leads at a show for a higher priced product and follow up on those leads later. This is usually a mistake. The impulse to buy after the show is significantly lower and most of those leads don’t turn into sales.
Also to make sure you are making enough money to cover all the show costs, the product should be priced five to six times its manufacturing cost. This means ideal products cost between $1.67 and $6 to manufacture.
How to Sell Successfully
Even if you have a perfect product, your sales success will depend on the following things:
Sales tactics are what usually separate unsuccessful show and fair salespeople from the successful. There are many different tactics that work and the best way to get a sense of these tactics is to go to a show, observe the successful salespeople and choose a style that fits with your personality. You will find that all styles have three main parts that experienced show goers call, “grind, tip, and flash.”
Grind is the tactic you use to get every passing person’s attention and try to get them to talk with you when there are only a few people at the show or in your area. Tip is getting the first person to come to your booth and start talking with you. And flash is how you move around outside or inside your booth to attract people to come and talk to you.
Once you have found your style, you will need to try variations within that style to see what is more successful. Practice makes perfect, so set your expectations reasonably for your first few shows.
You will have a hard time selling a lot of product unless at least half of the show’s attendees are potential customers. This means you need to choose shows or fairs where your potential customers will be. If your product has a broad appeal, like the kinds of products that sell well in supermarkets and department stores, nearly any show or fair will work for you, but you will want to make sure you are in the right area. For instance, if you have a home product and are selling at a state fair, make sure your booth is located in the home and garden pavilion.
If you want people to stop at your booth, you need to make sure you have a good location. Bad locations are either ones where people don’t feel comfortable stopping because they create a traffic jam or are next to big, attention grabbing booths which will take their attention away from yours. Good locations have enough space in front of the booth for 10 to 20 people to observe your demonstration and are located in the middle of the show where people are likely to walk by and stop.
Obviously, you want your booth to grab attention as people pass by, but a successful booth is more than just attention grabbing. You want your booth always to feel busy (no one wants to be cornered by three sales people just waiting for their first customer), but not so busy that there is no one available to talk to them. This means you’ll need enough helpers, who if have nothing else to do, give at least the impression of being somewhat busy, but still available to talk to.
Locate Potential Shows and Fairs
You want shows that appeal to your target customer, where at least half of the people are potential customers. You also want to start with local shows. Local shows will be much cheaper to attend because you won’t have any travel costs, and they also allow you to work closer with the show’s promoter.
First contact your local chamber of commerce or convention center to get a list of upcoming shows or fairs. Then get the name of the show’s promoter and call him or her and ask for a guide from last year’s show or fair. Also tell the promoter that you are interested in having a booth at the show and ask if he or she can give you tips on things like booth location, booth design, and how to sell to the show’s attendees. The promoter has it in his or her own interest to help you succeed, so use him or her as a resource.
Then call at least three or four of the people listed in that guide as exhibitors and ask them how many years they have been attending and how that show does for them. Exhibitors will keep on going back to good shows, so you want to make sure that it is a show exhibitors want to go back to.
Also ask past exhibitors what types of products and prices do best at the show and where else they exhibit. They may be able to point you to smaller community shows and fairs that can be great places to start your sales and hone your sales tactics.
Your local newspaper can also be a great source for local events. The local library usually keeps a few months of local papers’ back issues and you can go through those, call the events’ organizers and ask what other events are coming up.
Most exhibitors try to carry just enough inventory so they sell out right at the end of the show. Of course, you will need to attend quite a few shows to get a sense of how much inventory you will need. When just starting out, predict how much you might need based on what other exhibitors told you and then add 20 to 30 percent. Even if you sell out early, it will still be a successful show.
Start with one Show at a Time
When you are just starting out, only commit to one show at a time. You may need to make changes to your booth after your first show, or even change your product and if you commit to a number of shows right away, then you won’t have time to make all the necessary changes. Once you are sure your product, booth, and sales approach are right, and that you are making money after all the travel and show expenses, then go ahead and schedule as many shows as you want.