Summer festival re-cap

This has been quite a summer of firsts for Bonnie. At this time last year the only thing I had in my inventory was lip balm, and now I have enough stuff to fill a 10′ x 10′ tent (with some room to spare for my friends to hang out and escape the blistering sun or pouring rain). Although I still have one more summer festival scheduled (in Terre Haute, IN, woot!), the season has, for the most part, come to a close and I’ve had some time off from spilling wax all over myself to reflect on the big picture. I figured now would be a good time to write out what I’ve learned this summer while it’s still fresh – and before I dive into scheduling the fall and winter festival season.

West Fest 2011

My first tent show. Just before it started pouring.

Lesson 1. Be prepared.

If you have the option for electricity, get it.  Bring fans and lights.  It’s going to be hot and you will be miserable, then start to smell bad, and all the scented candles in the world won’t help you.  Fans are great ways to keep people in the tent, and after it gets dark and festival goers are getting drunk(er), you’ll need those lights to keep them from knocking your tables over.

Bring a cushion for your chair.  Your butt cheeks will thank you.

Bring blank labels and every color of marker you have.  Those little last minute signs can help direct attention toward products that aren’t selling so well.

Tape.  So much tape.  Wind blows everything away.  Zip ties are equally useful.

If you buy your own tent, make sure you get good side walls.  You really never know when it’s going to rain (or hail, or both).  If it’s a multi-day festival you’ll need those to close up your tent, unless you plan on tearing it down each night.  The side walls I got have these really adorable clear panels that look like windows – which are great during the day when you need to have walls up but want to let natural light in, but at night when you want to close up and don’t want looters peeking in at your stuff, they’re not ideal.  Luckily the festivals I did this summer had very good overnight security, but next year I’ll probably get another set.

Lesson 2. Don’t over pack.

I was very tempted to bring my entire stock to my first tent show, just in case I had a rush on one particular candle and needed to replenish the shelves.  Don’t do that. Chances are you don’t have a 16-passenger van to haul it all there, and having too much stuff to sort through can make people lose focus and decide not to buy anything.  Narrow their focus to just your best stuff and they’ll be forced to buy something because let’s face it, it’s all awesome.

I'm busy.

"Hang on ladies, I have to re-count all these lip balms."

Deciding on a fixed number of each product to bring can also help you keep track of what you sold after the festival is over, rather than trying to keep track during the show when people are lined up waiting to hand over their money.

I brought some of my artwork to West Fest (pictured left), and it barely even got glanced at – it was really just filler for that corner of the tent.  There was no good way to shift attention from the candles to the artwork, and most looked at just one section or the other.  Approximately 99.98% of my sales were Bonnie products, and the other 0.02% was one piece of artwork. I didn’t bring my artwork to any festivals after that one – those grid walls take up precious cargo room in my Saturn wagon.

Lesson 3. Talk to your customers.

Now I’ve worked in retail before, and I never cared for it. I don’t like using “sales techniques” to trick people into spending more money than they want to.  Do you like when sales people pressure you? No, no one does.  I didn’t want to be that guy (er, gal).  My initial sales technique was to wait until they got up to a product and stopped to look at it, smell it, or pick it up – then I would spew out something about whatever they were looking at.  That did ok for a while, I was comfortable with it.  But now I realize that if I engaged more customers as soon as they walked in the tent, before they had a chance to forget where they were originally going and run away, more would have stuck around longer and probably bought something.  Some of the people who spent the most money were people who I had regular conversation with; not just about my stuff.  Great example; a very tan woman in her early 50s (guessing), quickly ducked into my tent and folded her floppy sun hat over the side of her face.

“I’m hiding from my ex.  He’s the body builder over there with no shirt on.”

I had noticed that guy before.  He was also very tan, very full of steroids, and probably also in his early 50s.  He came to the front of my tent earlier and called me over to try and convince me that I should flirt with his chubby, balding friend.

“Ohhh, that guy?  Yeah, he’s been hanging around over here for a little while.”

She peeked out from behind her hat.  “Doesn’t he look gross?  Ugh, I can’t believe I dated that guy.”

Me either honey, me either.

She got out her cell phone and called her friend to let her know where she was hiding.  After she hung up she said, “Well, as long as I’m stuck in here I may as well look around.”  We chatted a bit more about how creepy the body builder guy was and her friend eventually found her way into the tent. She and her friend each bought 2 or 3 different items.

Now I can’t always rely on creepy men to help me make sales…that came out weird.  Basically I need to work on my small-talk skills.


Overall, I feel that I did well as a newbie to the festival scene. Much room for improvement, but I also got so much good feedback from meeting my customers directly that it encouraged me to keep developing new products and grow my brand into something that could one day be a household name.

“Hey Steve, can you stop by the store on your way home? I need you to pick me up some tampons and some Bonnie.”


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