TRAVEL & INCOME
Vending at Fairs and Festivals While Traveling Full-Time
Sometimes you just have to go where life seems to be leading you. That’s what has happened in my wife’s business. Some businesses start out intentionally. Some start out as hobbies. This one simply started out as a kind gesture.
Years ago, my wife had a couple recipes for chip/veggie dips that she took to parties and whatnot. They were always big hits. People were asking for the recipes constantly. As it turned out, once they had the recipe, people didn’t want to go through the trouble of making these concoctions on their own. It’s a lot of hassle. So, she came up with the idea of doing the hard part herself. She would put all the herbs and spices into a Ziploc bag and give it as gifts to those who had expressed interest. That way all they had to do is go home and add the pre-measured spice pack to sour cream and mayo. That made it easy enough that people were always wanting more!
Our product display at a recent festival. Our display seems to always be changing as we make improvements to appearance and portability.

With the popularity of these packets and the feedback we were getting from friends and family, we knew we had a potential business on our hands. We also knew we weren’t going to be able to continue mixing this stuff up in the kitchen if we were going to sell it to the public. We had to find a contract company that would mix these up and package them for us in a sanitary environment.

So that’s what we did. We found someone who could package for us and Chadwick’s Naturals was born. We designed labels (the first labels were hideous), and we opened up shop. Starting out at small farmer’s markets with only a few flavors, we have grown to do large fairs and festivals and developed almost 70 recipes (only 30 are available at any given time due to space constraints). 

“Outsourcing the production of our product not only provided a safer product for the consumer, but also afforded us the freedom of travel while expanding our selection.”

We have also expanded the business model in two ways:

1.     We started doing fundraisers for community organizations. We have been able to help schools, church groups, and sports teams achieve their fundraising goals. We have found that since the product is so unique in the fundraising industry, it sells very well for students.

2.     We also began to provide our products wholesale to others who want to start their own business. The wholesale client can choose to sell our brand or create their own brand and private label our products. We have found that selling in bulk is a nice way to add to the bottom line.

Festival goers gather around our tent to enjoy some samples of our tasty dips!

It has turned out to be very complementary to my Amazon business. When sales are slow during the summer months on Amazon, it’s prime time for fairs and festivals! Not only does it produce enough money to get us by in the lean months, it ensures we have plenty of capital to stock up and prepare for fourth quarter Amazon sales. Chadwick’s Naturals easily produces enough revenue to support us by itself, even without the Amazon side of things. It would just require some budgeting to save the surplus funds from the warm months to get by during winter.

Our inventory is very small individual packets, so they are easily transportable. We knew that we would be running businesses on the road, so the only RVs we were ever interested in buying was toy haulers. This makes it easy to store inventory and the necessary equipment to do live shows. In reality, someone with a bunkhouse could store this much inventory (minus tables and tent), by devoting one of the bunks to storage. The toy hauler option simply makes the task much more manageable. Inventory is stored at the front of the garage, tables on the side of the golf cart, and the event tent slides neatly underneath the cart. Of course, when we are on the road, the golf cart only serves as a cargo storage device!

Our inventory fits nicely in bins at the front of the garage of our toy hauler with plenty of room left to pull in the golf cart. After the cart is pulled in, the rest of the equipment is arranged around it.

Here is a list of items you will need to have on hand in order to do festivals successfully:

1.     Inventory- If you are thinking of doing festivals yourself, storage and transport of your inventory must be kept in mind. Whatever product you choose to vend needs to be small, lightweight, and easily stored. This will also depend on what type of RV you own, and may dictate which style you buy in the future.

2.     Event Tent- We have had a variety of tents. From a $750 commercial quality tent, all the way down to the $100 EZ-Up (which we got for free). The best tent in quality, value, and utility is the Z-Shade that can be found at Sam’s Club. It has the strong skeletal structure needed in the frame, includes walls so you can close up at night and easily open up the next day, and even includes an awning to help keep the sun off you and your customers. At $170, it’s a steal.

3.     Display equipment- For us, that means dip chillers to display our samples while keeping them cool in the hot weather and tables to put them on. You may need racks, shelving, or other display mechanisms for your craft. Just make sure that whatever you choose collapses down to an easily-storable size.

4.     Miscellaneous equipment- You’ll want to bring a cooler so that you can stay hydrated and not go broke doing it. Other things may include chairs, signage, and battery packs for your phone if you will be accepting credit cards.

You know it has been a good festival when the foot traffic has worn down the grass around your booth!

Planning out your show schedule can be a tough task. This is something that is a never-ending struggle. Do you book yourself for every weekend? Do you schedule a week off? Will that show be any good? What’s the application deadline? How many people are expected to attend?

We use Google Calendar to keep everything organized. Once we apply for a show, it is entered into the calendar in blue. After we have been accepted and the fee has been paid, we will change the color to green. This all gets entered into a shared calendar so that it shows up on both of our accounts, no matter who makes the edits. We’ve found this is the easiest way for both of us to keep up to date on what dates are available, pending, or booked.

Different shows have different requirements. Some arts and craft shows only allow booths that are manned by the crafter who physically made the goods being sold. Other shows require you to go through an approval process. This is called a “Juried Show”. If a show has a jury process, you will have to provide pictures of your booth, your product, and possibly pictures of you making your product. These pictures will be evaluated by a committee before you are allowed as a vendor into the show. There are even shows out here who will only approve you if you have a white tent.

These requirements are there to ensure the quality of the festival remains high and doesn’t end up being a flea market. In general, the stricter the rules are, the higher quality the show is. The shows who only allow the nicest looking booths attract a higher-end clientele who will attend the festival with plenty of money and eager to spend it.

There are many sites out there you can use when looking for festivals and events. There are many that are free. You’ll find that these free websites don’t have all the information you need included on them. When we are looking for shows, we use a site called festivalnet.com. It is the most respected show scheduling site in the industry. They do charge a subscription of $50 per year, but even if you use it to find one quality show, it’ll pay itself back in multiples.

The sites who provide the show information rely heavily on the event organizers to provide them with information. The event organizers know that only the higher quality vendors are likely to be willing to pay the subscription fee, so festivalnet.com ends up with the best and most accurate information.

The shows on the site are searchable by state, date, and expected attendance of show, which makes it easy to plan your shows according to your travel route. Although there are some exceptions, we have found that the best shows are over 20,000 in attendance and charge admission to get in. In our experience, depending on location, free shows will attract riff-raff who are just looking for something to do on the weekend and have no money to spend. Of course, if it’s a juried show in a nice area, it could be free and still attract the right type of customer. All of these variables are important to keep in mind when searching the site for new shows.

FestivalNet search criteria is quite extensive. You should be able to find any event to suit your needs.

As many of my regular readers will know, I shy away from giving any type of legal advice. I am not a lawyer and I don’t play one on TV. Therefore, any suggestions I make are for entertainment purposes only. There, now that we have that out of the way…

If you will be traveling through different states selling items, you will be faced with different laws regarding sales tax and liability. Although few and far between, some events won’t allow you as a vendor unless you have the proper paperwork in place for sales tax and liability insurance. I have found that if this is the case, the event organizer will be happy to help you get the sales tax license in order. If not, you can always use Google. Search for “Illinois sales tax certificate” or sometimes it’s referred to as a “resale license”. If you search for a combination of those keywords, you will eventually find what you are looking for.

As far as insurance goes, you should really have liability insurance no matter if the venue requires it or not. In today’s litigious society, someone could step into your booth, trip on a display, and sue you, the event organizer, and anyone else they can bend the truth enough to find liable. Insurance protects you and your business against these occurrences, including customer injury caused by your product.

While I am fully aware that most vendors start out their business without the protection of liability insurance, it is foolish not to purchase it as soon as you can afford it. The thing is, it’s really not all that expensive compared to the coverage it provides. It’s a business expense that shouldn’t be overlooked.

I have actually contacted my agent and with the expectation that this article will generate quite a bit of interest, have organized a discount for the group. Simply call Kacee Smith at (706) 383-8025 and mention that Jason Wyatt sent you to inquire about vendor liability insurance and you will get the special rate.

There’s also always the question of business structure. Everyone is going to start out as a sole proprietor, but organizing as a corporation will help protect yourself against liability. If you do business as a corporation, the liability will stop at the legal entity and you won’t be held personally liable. There are also many tax implications according to how your business is set up.

I am in no position to recommend you organize as a C corp, and S corp, or an LLC. I would recommend that you consult a professional (CPA or a lawyer) to help you decide which is right for you. You can also go to Legal Zoom and read up on what each one entails and decide for yourself. Once there, you can use Legal Zoom to set up everything you need to have in place. Again, this is not an expensive process, but neglecting to do it could get VERY expensive!

There are many more things I could say about being festival vendors, but this article is quite long enough. Maybe I should write a book, who knows. If you have any questions or would like clarification on any subject covered here, comment below and we can continue the conversation there!

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