4 Reasons You Should Exhibit at Fairs and Festivals

If you’re an artist, crafter or maker and you haven’t yet exhibited at a fair or festival, you may want to make a plan to do just that.

Pulling together the materials for a booth can seem daunting, as can talking to attendees for hours at a time.

Yet fairs and festivals—especially those that are maker-themed—can positively affect your business in a variety of ways. Let’s take a closer look.

1. Build your brand.

One of the biggest advantages to exhibiting at a fair or festival is brand-building. Not only can you brand your booth—you should also distribute business cards and collateral like a brochure or postcard to introduce yourself and what you make.

Of course, that means you need to have these branded materials on hand, so give yourself plenty of time before the event to prepare. It’s tempting to go all out on your booth: Lights! Displays! Faux (or real) plants! All the swag! But pace yourself.

Start with the basics: a table or two, a table covering, risers or shelves to display your wares. If your budget allows, you might consider making a small banner to hang above your table, or a pop-up banner to place beside your booth. Be sure to check with event organizers to see if they have any guidelines on booth size and what you can and can’t use.

Other important items to have: business cards, an informational handout and a way to make sales like a tablet or phone equipped with a Square or other plug-in card reader. If you have an email newsletter or are planning to start one, you might also want to put out a sign up sheet so that booth visitors can opt in to get more info from you.

2. Find your audience.

There’s nothing like a fair or festival to give you the perfect opportunity for real-time customer research and development, which is especially helpful if your business is newly launched.

Take note of who visits your booth and how they react to your product. You’ll likely find yourself striking up conversation with attendees, too, which can give you valuable insight into prospective customers, including what they’re buying and how they prefer to communicate with businesses.

Keep this in mind: you may not necessarily find your target audience at the first fair or festival at which you exhibit. And that doesn’t mean your business is doomed.

Instead, look at these events like any other business research: it takes time to understand where your people are and how to best reach them. If your resources allow, take a look at upcoming fairs and festivals not just in your city, but throughout your state or region. Then, see if you can exhibit at a few of them throughout a one-year period. Use each event as a learning opportunity; then, when you have a few fairs or festivals under your belt, look at where you had the most success and, going forward, put more of your resources in that particular basket.

3. Test your product.

Just as a fair or festival can give you valuable, real-time insight on prospective customers, it can also be a helpful product development resource.

One of the key questions to ask is, “What’s the response to what I make?” Are products flying off the shelves? Are people browsing but not buying? And if they’re not buying, are they taking cards or collateral or asking if products are available online?

Again, a lack of sales doesn’t necessarily spell doom for your product. It may be a case of identifying your target audience. That’s why fairs and festivals are so valuable: you can see and interact with people in real time so that you can spot opportunities for improvement, whether in the product itself or your marketing. And if you don’t have a brick and mortar store, exhibiting at events is even more helpful so that you can still benefit from face-to-face interactions.  

4. Network.

Most of your attention will likely be focused on your prospective customers, but fairs and festivals can also be prime networking opportunities. Here’s one suggestion: get to the event a little earlier than you usually would, then stroll around and see who else is exhibiting. Have some business cards handy so you can exchange info.

This is also a great way to check out other booths and get ideas for future displays, especially if regularly exhibiting at events is part of your business plan.

Some fairs and festivals might also host mixers or other networking events, so take a look at the schedule and see what’s available. Sure, your feet will be aching at the end of the day and you’ll probably want to head straight home. Yet there’s nothing like commiserating with your fellow exhibitors and swapping stories from the day!

 Don’t forget to follow up! If you hit it off with another exhibitor, don’t hesitate to invite them out for coffee or lunch once the event concludes. And at the very least, be sure you connect on social media with people you meet. Few things beat building an in-person connection, but in this digital day and age, online interactions can prove both effective and inspirational.

One last thing …

If you find yourself preparing for an upcoming fair or festival and get stuck, especially on key business attributes like branding and marketing, help is a few clicks away. Register for Kauffman FastTrac, a free online course that guides you as you prepare to launch your business. And even if your business is already up and running, take a look at the FastTrac topics and see if you need a brief refresher. It’s never too late to learn!

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