Tips on how to get the most out of a fair or event – A direct-seller’s perspective

Guest post by Lucy Beckford, Independent Consultant NYR Organic

I love fairs and events!  I love the buzz of talking with adults (!), I love the camaraderie amongst stall holders and I love setting up my table and being proud of the products I sell.  I’ve participated in events for over 3 years and, over that time, have seen a marked change in shopper behaviour.  Money is tight on the High Street and it is at events as well.  There’s not so much browsing the stalls as mooching down the aisles and much less “seeing -liking – buying” and more “I’d better not look in case I like it”.

Even though our customer’s behaviours have changed in the current economic climate, there is much to be gained from participating in events if we think beyond simply sales on the day.  Here are my guiding principles on how to get the most out of a fair or event in 2013 ….

  1. Fairs and events are lead generating activities that will build your direct-selling business in the short and medium term.  My focus is to talk with as many people as possible and offer them the opportunity to join, book a party or to buy, emphasising what’s in it for them.  I aim to sell enough products so that the commission covers my costs (table fee, petrol, prizes, etc. ). This gives me time to talk and interact with the people around me – including the other stallholders.  It’s common practice to run a free prize draw/lucky square competition as a means of collecting customer contact details.  Remember to provide somewhere on the prize draw slip for the customer to opt-out of future contact.  My priority over the days following the event is to follow-up the leads I’ve generated before they forget who I am, confirm any pencilled in party bookings and to arrange meetings with potential recruits.
  2. You’ll have more success at an event where your product is of interest to the visitors.  I learnt this lesson early on in my direct-selling life when I tried to sell greetings cards at a cat show, then (human) jewellery at a dog show.  The people at these events were simply not interested at that time in the products I was offering, nor were they in the mindset to book parties or consider joining the business.  Think about who is going to be at the event and whether enough people are likely to be interested in talking to you about your company and its products.  If the answer is “No” then I would look for an alternative opportunity.
  3. Only participate in the events that you are happy to be at.  Customers are attracted to positive vibes and are more likely to interact with an enthusiastic, smiling person who seems approachable and engaging during first impressions.  If you’d rather be somewhere else, grumpy because it’s raining and your gazebo is leaking over your stock, got your head in a book – or worse, too busy texting to notice the people passing by – you’re not going to have a fruitful event.  Preferably, stand up beside or in front of your table with something in your hands to give out.  Before booking an event, ask the organiser questions so you know what to expect.  Consider factors like inside vs outside, county show vs toddler group, winter vs summer, expected footfall, pitch location, established event, for charity?, expensive table fee, own gazebo/tables?, experienced organiser?, what other stalls booked (confirm no others from your own organisation), what advertising and expected audience as mentioned before.
  4. Be prepared.  People book parties with direct-sellers who look like they know what they’re doing.  Others will join a direct-selling organisation if it seems easy and something they could do without too much effort.  Therefore, we need to appear in quiet control at all times and this requires meticulous preparation beforehand.  You need to decide whether you want to sell from stock at the table (requires initial investment) or take orders (P&P costs, delivery hassle).  Perhaps a compromise is to stock your known best-sellers plus some inexpensive items and take orders for anything else.  Have you got information packs collated for potential recruits or hosts?  Your catalogues and leaflets clearly marked with your contact details?  Have you samples, information or other promotional gifts to hand out to passer-bys and all with your contact details?  Your prize draw/competition all ready to go? Have you emailed/facebooked your existing customers in the area to let them know you’ll be at the event?  Maybe offer them a small discount on any purchases made at the event.  Is the fair you’ve booked likely to be too busy for one person to manage?  If so, could you share with a colleague, being clear upfront about stock and sales?  If you have team, ask for volunteers and use it as a training session.  You claim all sales to cover the event costs but they get any leads and future business that they generate.
  5. Give more than you get.  This sounds counter-intuitive in the short-term but pays in the long-term.  Direct-selling is all about people relationships and we are naturally drawn to people who give – be it freebies, their time, their knowledge or simply their positive energy.  Within relationship building, someone needs to like and trust you before they will open up and commit to you.  Take the time to engage someone in general conversation to build trust and rapport, before asking them questions about what they are looking for.  Listen to their answers, find common ground and then offer them products from your range – and their budget – that will meet their needs.  If possible, offer them product testers or show them demo samples to enable the customer to imagine how the product will work for them.  I aim to give everyone I talk to something to take away with my contact details on it, such as a product sample, business card, mini-catalogue, information leaflet.  Quality time spent at the start of a customer relationship usually results in a repeat customer and potentially a host or recruit.  But remember, it’s all about what the customer wants, not about what you want.
  6. Finally, a few words about the table display.  It is your shop window and so must grab the attention of a passer-by   An attractive tablecloth to the floor hides away the boxes under the table, a variety of heights adds visual interest, mirrored tiles give focus to specific areas, baskets keep small items together, lights and bright accent colours attract attention and a couple of well chosen props can speak volumes in the blink of an eye about your brand.  Don’t forget information posters, your free prize draw and business cards.  I’ve also found a bargain basket or lucky dip an easy way to boost income – esp. if you are able to source relevant products for next to nothing.  However, it’s a fine balance as you don’t want your display to look cluttered!  So an additional small folding table can be useful to have at the back for cash box  order forms and spare leaflets/catalogues.

I hope my thoughts on events are helpful – Lucy Beckford

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