If you’ve dabbled in hometown events but are freaked out trying to compare to the big dogs at your first BIG event, let me share what I learned as a vendor in my first big camping show!
Even if you have nothing to do with camping, I hope you can take some general lessons from this piece. When I was frantically researching months ago leading up to the event, I kept finding Google jargon with little actionable advice… so I want to change that!
Here are some things I’ll cover to prep ya for the big vendor show!
There’s an in between level in vendor events – something that’s definitely not your local Christmas swap, but also not where MAJOR BRANDS (think camping world) will drown out the newcomers with fewer resources.
I recently attended the 60th Escapade that Escapees RV Club hosted… and I have to say, it was incredibly impactful to my business!
There were a ton of things I noticed that I could have done better at in hindsight, so I’ll definitely make sure to mention those (so you don’t have to go to a show and learn it the hard/expensive way XD)
Anyways, here are the major points I’m going to hit to help you have a successful show:
- Picking your first event – KNowing if the people who would be interested in your proudct will even be there is helpful in knowing how much to invest in your set up
- What to look for when researching the event ahead of time – Previous event footage, demographics etc
- The basics you’ll need – No matter the design, there are some expenses you have to plan for
- Sponsorship opportunities to look for to gain brand awareness – Door prizes, raffles, booth placement upgrades, sponsoring events
- Booth planning – What realistically will fit, keeping it cohesive, attracting attention
- Brochure design – What details are worth agonizing over (and what are a waste of time)
- Game/Freebie ideas to attract interest– Another important one to KNOW the age range, interests and digital capability of your potential customers so your ideas appeal to them!
- Changing your mindset – Connections and showing face as a brand will ALWAYS be worth more to me than money, and I hope I can explain to you why (so that you aren’t hard on yourself should you still end up in the red… it’s usually worth it!)
Picking your first vendor event
Probably one of the most important steps to set yourself up for success; this just requires a little research! To determine if an event is worth your time, it’s important to consider the cost of going to the event vs. the connections/money to be made.
It’s also worth noting if the type of people (target audience) who would buy your product are even likely to be there!
- Find out roughly how many people are expected – This can be found by looking at past events on their website or youtube. Also, in this day and age, COVID is another consideration – will there be people from your target audience unlikely to come due to the current COVID situation?
- Try to learn more about the attendees – Once you determine a rough guestimate of the people in attendance, figure out how many could potentially be customers. Knowing the ages and types of people who typically attend an event will help determine which products to bring, what your ads should look like etc
- Check out the cost to attend – Almost every show will have a fee, and most seem to offer upgrades for an extra fee. Knowing the cost to just get there is important so that you know how much money you have to spend on booth design and marketing materials!
- Consider the connections and learning possible – Even if you know you don’t have the means to absolutely kill it, just attending a bigger, more professional event can be awesome for seeing how it’s done and making connections!
Wins + Lessons Learned
I sell camping journals for kids and adults, so I knew this event (60th Escapade) would be perfect because it’s a club for RVers of all ages! I wish I would have looked at the average age of people attending to make a more mature looking ad that better-targeted the 65+ age audience.
I thought I’d stand out by focusing on the kid portion of my business. While I definitely did, if I had made my brochures and backdrop feature camping adults instead of camping kids/kid style, more people may have read it instead of moving on because they thought we didn’t sell anything for adults.
The basic booth costs you’ll need to plan for
After experiencing my own big event and in talking with others who have been doing this WAY longer, here are some expenses that seem pretty common across the board when attending a mid level show.
I HIGHLY suggest ordering your booth setup from one company so that everything is cohesive (and you don’t forget to order a piece later!). Websites like these offer “all in one booths to go” and have tons of different options to get what you need. I was SUPER impressed with the backdrop and podium!
- Booth Fee (UPGRADE by choosing a corner or bigger booth)– For reference, a single booth was $275 at this event, and the smaller non niche one I attended was $45. That doesn’t always include electric, so make sure to double check!
- Tablecloth (UPGRADE by getting a branded one) – A neat, tidy booth is welcoming. No one wants to see your dougnut f rom this morning, and old coffee and a bunch of messy products under your table as they walk by.
- A banner for the backdrop (UPGRADE by getting a full size one) – At minium, you need to have something with your company on it to hang in the back of your booth. Ideally, this would include some additional info or a striking image about your product. Most seem to have kept it simple, but other more technical vendors had banners with tons of dimensions, system info etc. I think this helps with letting people have a chance to learn some basic info without having to ask so many questions!
- Business Cards/Brochures (UPGRADE by printing an event specific one) – Don’t make the mistake of finally making that super important connection and only have a three year old business card to give them! Unlike craft fair/holiday bazaar events, it’s very important to look professional and have the info to go with it. Even if you only pass out a couple of cards, if they look like they were made in paint, that could be a big turn off for a professional looking to connect!
- Freebies your people would want (UPGRADE and get branded ones!) – Applicable freebies are SO IMPORTANT! For example, the older crowd seemed to really enjoy the pill containers, heat relief stuff (it was VERY hot most of the event!) and lanyards. The prize wheel was a popular one too!
Wins + Lessons Learned
The corner location was definitely worth the upgrade as it allowed us to stand out more! I had originally planned for my booth to be twice the size (misunderstanding regarding what was involved in my sponsorship package for the event), so we had to cut some activities. This ended up not being a big deal as there were not near as many kids as I had thought would be there (so I didn’t need the extra kid activity space)
Next time, I plan to bring something for both of my audiences – these branded, foldable fans would have been perfect freebies for this summertime event!
Brochure Design – what worked, and what I learned from looking at the pro camping vendor’s brochures!
Before we begin, I’ll show what my goals were as they may be different than yours, depending on your business. My business is primarily online, and my journals are the only physical products I sell.
Product awareness was a major goal for me – just because someone doesn’t buy your product that day doesn’t mean that they won’t do it once they get home, or at least recommend it later down the line!
One more thing – I had high hopes for the “daily stamp” section in my brochure, thinking it would encourage people to come to our booth daily. However, I imagine it got lost in the 30+ brochures in the bag – a coupon of some type would have been a lot better.
Brochure ideas I wanted to use in my design:
I used Canva to create and print my brochures – their prices are reasonable, they’ve always been on time, and their templates are a GREAT starting place if you’ve never designed anything before!
- Stand out with bold, branded colors – Most events have the option to add your brochure/flyer etc in the welcome bag. The bold color pattern on my brochure matched my booth and many people mentioned how it was super easy to find!
- Keep in theme with my product – I wanted to make sure to include elements that I also use in my journals suchas the tape, picture frames and “kiddiness” (though in hindsigh, as I said, I should have went with a more mature deisgn… things you learn!)
- Give them a reason to visit the booth (even if it’s not for my product) – I made sure to advertise there would be prizes and free stuff at my booth! Even if they THINK they are not interested, alot of times if you just get them to your booth you can help them better understand how your product might help them in ways they didn’t initially think about.
- Add a QR code to capture emails/direct traffic/provide more info – QR codes are incredibly helpful, and I noticed many other vendors using them. While I didn’t use it on mine this time, I seriously regret it because I had originally planned to, ran out of time… and then had TONS of people ask where to find more info at later.
What I noticed others doing in different camping industries for their welcome bag flyers/brochures
Unfortunately, I accidentally tossed out a ton of informative brochures that I wanted to save for references in this article. It was SO helpful to see how everyone else did their brochures – the ones in the picture below are all I could find.
- Include informative, helpful tips – Recreation Insurance Specialists had a mini “Seasonal RV Checklist” booklet that was super helpful. The brochure was 90% tips and had a small , natural feeling section in the back with a snipper about what they do and a QR code for more info
- Coupons for priceier products (and specify it’s show pricing only if appliable) – People LOVE getting a deal – many companies (myself included) are able to realisticlly offer much lower pricing than online as there are no middle men. Advertise this so that attendees remember to check our your stuff NOW and not a week after they get home
- Offer redeemable “free diagnosis” for service based businesses – There were many vendors who actually offered services at the event such as awning repair, various equipment installation and a mobile RV tech! I saw TONS of people showing their brochure to these vendors at the start of the convo… meaning it worked!
Ideas that generated interest in our booth
Before coming, I had WAY too many ideas, and once I got there, I found out I had WAY too little space! Even if I had gotten both booths as I planned, there would have been no way to chat with customers, facilitate my scavenger hunt game, process payments, and so on. Remember to think realistically about how you’re going to manage everything you have advertised!
Again, had I known more about the demographics ahead of time, I would have made this look more mature. It was still effective for the crowd I wanted… camping families!
P.S. If people blow you off or are very “direct” with their opinion on your products, don’t worry about it. For every person who was bothered that we spoke to them as they walked by our booth, there were like 30 others who were happy to chat!
- Something interesting/novel to stand out – We brought a fun blow up ball toss bear game to generate curiosity and be fun entertainment from the kids. We had alot of fun comments, the kids LOVED it, and even a decent amount of adults played too!
- Designed an ad for the event brochure that highlighted the freebie – As part of the sponsorship, I got to have ad space in the big event brochure. I stuck with bold colors and made sure to let people know there were prizes and other things to do at my booth
- Printable activities + crayons laid out for kids to do (and an inviting space) – I couldn’t help but make some cute coloring pages and simple craft ideas for any kiddos that wanted to sit and color. This was a great opportunity to talk to the parents/grandparents. I also was able to hand these out to families who had kids at home (they all had my website name so they knew where to go for more info about the pages/my products!)
- Just TALKING to people in a non salesy way – As long as they don’t seem in a hurry, just talking to people is awesome! Opening with something event specific such as, for me, “So are you full timing/ on a trip?” brought down peoples guard and allowed them to listen to us way better than just opening with a straight sales pitch. The amount of sales and connections we made from people who didn’t even stop for us was crazy.
Being upbeat and talkative was especially helpful for the demographics at this event (a lot of 65+ who appreciate a conversation) since word of mouth is powerful! You never know who you’re talking to!
CONNECTIONS are everything – as they saying goes, it’s not what you know but who you know! =)
As a newcomer, I just wanted to pick everyone’s brains who were willing to share! Obviously, I don’t open with that, but making an effort to talk to as many other vendors as you can is super beneficial.
If you can handle it, I recommend signing up for every “optional” event where you get the opportunity to make an impression on people. For us, that was sponsoring the Photo Contest, going to the pre event vendor dinner, putting together and presenting a seminar, and showing face at the evening events every night we had the energy to.
While I can’t disclose all the wonderful opportunities we secured, I did want to share with you what I could to encourage you to put yourself out there.
- Met an important RV Industry Connection at dinner – turns out our new dinner friends were high up in the RV industry and we may have a dream level camping related sponsorship in the future
- Got a contact for a brick and mortar stores from a fellow vendor – I had heard of their product so wanted to learn from them and hear their story. We ended up getting along pretty well and they graciously shared their process getting into stores (one of my goals for my products!)
- Secured a couple of partnerships with great affiliate programs – Meeting face to face is SO different than being just another email in an inbox. Since the main part of my income is from this website, it was super important to find and establish mutually beneficial relationships in the industry.
- Got to be in a freaking cool, camping movie commerical – This opportunity was offered through the event itself, and it was one of the coolest experiences I’ve had!
I cannot tell you how awesome it was to connect with people who love the same stuff I do! I met so many wonderful RVers with some amazing stories. Not only did they brighten my day, but I also learned a lot by watching them flip through my journals and listening to their feedback for future designs.
Most importantly, I hope that anyone who was there and may now be reading this knows that this was my favorite event I’ve ever attended, and I am so thankful for all the stories and smiles we shared <3.
Any questions about what to expect as a vendor? Ask in the comments and let’s share the knowledge so we’re all successful!
At the time of writing, I have been absolutely slammed and wouldn’t be surprised if I read this later and realized it all sounded jumbled! I hope that I didn’t miss anything obvious – feel free to ask anything you can think of!
It’s so nerve-wracking investing all the money (especially as a small business!) into something new and unproven, but I hope I’ve cleared up some of the unknown for ya!
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