Thursday, August 03, 2017

To vend, or not to vend...

There are a couple of books sitting here to review, so that's coming up in the next week, but in the meantime there's something we've been mulling over for the last year or so.  We've been hesitant to bring it up but just in case you visit a festival and don't see us there...

Vending at herb festivals has really changed over the years, and except for one or two that we love, it's probably over for us.  We've tried a lot of things, from the massive state farm show, to the Phila wholesale trade show, to all sizes of herb festivals and craft fairs, to the (defunct) local farmers market. We'd love to hear what others think about this in your area, especially if you've been at it for a decade or more.
Our first festival was about 25 years ago.
It was an evening and a day, with the evening being by invitation only.  $30 was our fee, and there were about a dozen vendors.  We were well fed at the reception, and there was May wine, too.  The next day, the director of the venue came around to be sure that we didn't need anything.  Did we have enough change?  For those of you who vend, we can only say that, yes, this really did happen.  We made about 25X our booth fee.  Of course now that fees are closer to $200 for a weekend show, that is not, nor will it ever be, the same for us.


Our next venture was the local renaissance festival.  There, we worked very hard for very little - but we had a lot of fun.  The fun kept us coming back, but around the third year we realized that the (then) owner found a way every year to snatch whatever we'd made, so we left.
 
 We continued vending at herb festivals and enjoying them.  We've always loved meeting the people we write for, or who love the soap.  As time went by, instead of one or two a year within easy driving distance, there were several each weekend during the spring.  There are only so many herbal enthusiasts, and they only have so many dollars (and hours).  Shows started changing their names from "herb fair" to "herb and garden fair" because not many tiny herb businesses can afford the kind of rent they're charging so it became necessary to broaden the field.  Just a fact.
 
 Our sales diminished, and then we hit an earning plateau.  Nothing we did or created made a difference.  Each year the shows became more and more expensive to sign up for, yet our sales remained the same.  Instead of 25X our booth fee, there are some shows where we started making only 2X.  We used to think that the exposure made it worthwhile, but 2 days away, leaving the work space in a shambles, and then taking a week to catch up and recover?  Considering all of the true costs, including paying for the products and materials, getting help, credit card fees (and on and on and on), it might just be a negative balance.  If it rains, the loss can be immense.

There are only a couple places that are fun, relaxed, and worth that.

 It often feels like the smaller the crowd, the better the sales.  Also, 12 vendors versus 150 is much better for the vendors.


And you can never tell.  We've traveled to herb conferences that were shockingly good, and then there was one that barely paid for the gas, let alone any hotels or food along the way.

So... part of it is that the partners in crime have either split for the coast or retired from shows, and a large part of it is that it just isn't fun anymore.  Is anyone making any money?  Certainly not like at one time, before everything was available at the touch of a computer key and people waited all year for that one, big herb festival.  It would be great to stop hauling around tables and boxes and displays.  We've had a blast, but maybe it's time to let them go.

Again, we'd love to read your thoughts and comments on this subject.

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