Tips for artisan food vendors
If you’re looking to make the most of your time and effort at craft shows check out our online workshop:
Craft Show Success: Make sales and build your business, confidence + community through selling at craft shows.
I share the tips and tricks I’ve learned from vending at over 300 craft shows and producing over 40 of them. You’ll learn how to: find and apply to the right show, develop your “look” using basic branding, prepare for shows with products, checklists, staff, and a pitch, merchandise and display products for maximum effect, deal with pricing, permits, and taxes + MORE!
Craft Show Success teaches you how to:
- Find and choose the right craft shows for your brand
- Determine and achieve your craft show goals
- Get organized and be prepared before, during and after craft shows
- Submit a stand-out application with great photos
- Create cohesive branding for your business
- Maximize your booth space and create unique on-brand displays
- Price your goods for profit
- Navigate licenses and permits
- Maximize your time at the show
- Build and solidify relationships with your customers, creative community and show producers
Click below to preview our Craft Show Success online workshop.
*Grace & I’s unique and striking fruit presses*
Over the years, Patchwork Show has grown from a show with 2 vendors selling food to over 30 food artisans per show making and selling delicious creations. And it’s not just our event; the artisan/small-batch food product movement is GROWING. You see it in farmers markets, grocery stores and in legislature with the passage of AB1616 (AKA the Homemade Food Act). Business is truly blooming!
As the head of the jury for food vendors as well as a (former) master food preserver and previous owner of my own small food business as well as a retail store that carried some food products, I thought it would be good to give some advice for food artisans who are thinking about doing a show. below are my tips on what vendors should look for in a show, what do show organizers (like me) look for in a vendor, and how to be successful selling edibles.
RESEARCH THE SHOW BEFORE YOU APPLY
I cannot stress this enough: GO TO A SHOW before you apply. Unlike other craft businesses, edible vendors have perishable products. Your items expire and if you do not sell what you bring you could lose a lot more than your time. Look at the customers attending—do they fit the demographic of your product? Check out what food booths are busy and analyze WHY they are busy. Look at the other food booths at the show- are they too similar to your business and will you just be adding to a packed category, or are you going to stand out? TASTE from the popular food booths; are they really good or just good in a sea of awful. All of this research allows you to make smart choices and avoid disasters. Stacy Wong’s article on Tips for Vendors to Evaluate Craft fairs or Nicole’s post on how to submit a successful craft show application are also fantastic reads.
APPLICATION: DETAILS PLEASE!
When applying, you need to take time to think about your application and apply as if there is stiff competition ALWAYS- because you never know who is applying each time. Be detailed without writing a long story- curators want to see what you do and how it is different from other applicants without reading a novel. There is a lot of competition in baked goods, sweets and now preserves; if you do one of these items, you will be up against several other vendors in the same category. You must show how you are different. A sign saying “Cookies” will NOT cut it. If your booth is cute/special/unique—SHOW IT. If you have media or a large fan base—let the organizers know. All of these things matter.
OUR FRIENDS AT THE HEALTH DEPARTMENT
The Health department in a nutshell:
To sell at an event, you must pull a TFF or Temporary Food Facility permit or some kind of permit from the county health department saying that your product is okay to sell at this temporary location. This is different from your business license/peddlers permit (a city permit), etc…. The event organizer pulls a permit for the entire event essentially saying “Hey health department, we are going to have an event at this location for this time/s”. then the vendors who serve food/drinks get permits under this event saying “Hey we are selling at this event”. Every county has their particular way they want you to set up/operate at a temporary event—no one is exactly the same and the permit costs vary if you are a non-profit, or sample/prepare the food on site, etc… this whole thing can get confusing especially to new vendors.
An organizer will give you the permit form, but if you want to do some work beforehand, simply Google the county of the event + TFF and one of the first hits will lead you to forms, diagrams and an inspector contact.
Bottom-line: Organizers should be there for you but don’t overburden them with health department questions when you can find the health department on-line and have your questions answered right from the source. Organizers should send you the TFF form but they are not there to coach you into how to serve your products at an event—that is your job as a food business.
YOU ARE THE CUSTOMER TOO
Please Remember this. Hold organizers accountable for making sure they are getting permits for the event. When you pay good money for a show it should include making sure the organizer is getting permits for food and letting you know you need to get a permit too. The worst thing is to have a random inspection where the organizer didn’t pull an event permit and now everyone selling at the event is in violation. You end up paying the price because the organizer didn’t do what they were supposed to and put your at risk in the process.
You should also be aware of curation: how many people are in the same category are at the event? Is a similar product placed next to you? This is vital to your success since you want to stand out not be in a sea of the same items. Part of the organizer’s job to make sure you are set up to be successful.
REJECTION IS NOT REJECTION
I oversee 60+ applications per event and I only have about 35 spaces MAX to give to edible vendors. It is hard to decide whom to let in and it kills me to reject vendors because I know first-hand how hard being turned down for a show is. Whether you are a first-time vendor or long-time vendor…competition is growing and bottom-line is: customers want to always see something new and curators want that too!
change your game:
add a new element to your line and push it. Event organizers are looking for something new from established producers and new artisans. Don’t rest on being “solid IN” at every show because you have always been accepted at the event; curators want to see new. Let them know of your new product, booth set-up etc…
Try again + be nice:
If you apply two or more times and are rejected, reach out to the organizers for feedback if this is something they’re open to. It’s a great opportunity to learn and improve. Organizers have to make painful decisions on which vendors to accept. ASK why but DO THIS AFTER the event and please above all do not nag them to review your declined application before the event.
Do not pester an organizer:
I am being super-honest here but the more you pester about why you were declined over and over—especially before the event takes place—only screams “annoying” and they make a mental note of that. Do not make an impression of constant emails filled with “why.” A good way to approach organizers is to send an email and ask when would be a good time to review your declined application. Many organizers are happy to do this when the craziness of the event is over.