Small Businesses Find More Customers at Carnivals

Small businesses discover more than funnel cakes at summer festivals.

May 19, 2010 — -- The lazy days of summer aren't so lazy for some industrious small business owners. Instead of spending their weekends lounging by the pool, they are spending time at community events and festivals -- cashing in by setting up tents and exhibits and selling their wares.

Summer festivals epitomize good old-fashioned American fun. Despite the summer heat, people come from all around to enjoy music and entertainment, arts and crafts, funnel cakes, snow cones and of course, cold beer. And small business owners hope the attendees are up for a little shopping too.

More and more business owners are viewing summer weekend festivities as a way to earn extra cash and build their customer base. Happily, for many the extra effort is paying dividends. Depending on the size of the show, the majority of small business owners say they can earn between $1,000 and $2,000 at each weekend More at some of the large national shows or high end art shows.

However, your sales success directly relates to how well you identify the right products for the type of event and its attendees. So it's absolutely imperative you do your research and choose wisely.

A juried jewelry designer, Mary Barge Hoar, sells her hand-crafted sterling silver jewelry adorned with Swavorski crystals at 20 to 45 events a year. In order to select an appropriate venue she turns to the Internet for extensive research.

"I look at what artists have previously participated in the event, the location, area demographics, cost, what other events are held in conjunction with the show, i.e., is there a tractor pull or other type of event that may not fit in with my target market. I also check with other artists," she said.

For Jane Townsend, owner of Embroidery Town, a company that creates customized embroidery products for businesses and special occasions, location is a critical factor in show selection.

"I have tried to stay within a 25-mile or so radius of my shop," she said. "Most of my sales are special orders and I either have to deliver them or my customer has to come pick them up."

Products that typically work well at outdoor weekend events are those that are reasonably priced, unique and are easy to carry around. So it's important to be realistic about your product selection and price points.

Here are a few additional tips to consider:

Estimate profitability. Calculate all the costs associated with event participation, including your time. Make sure you find out what will be supplied by coordinators, such as tables, chairs, trash bins and tents. Once you've determined your costs, estimate the number of items you think you can realistically sell. Is it worth it?

Exhibit Support. You should never leave your booth unattended. Therefore, because at some point you'll need to take a break, make sure you have back-up support.

Impulse Buys. Make sure you have something to sell at a low price point to attract impulse buys. Another good strategy is to offer packaged pricing. For example, if the customer chooses to purchases items A and B, they get a better deal than buying either product alone.

Become a Carnival Barker. Well, you really shouldn't go that far, but don't sit in your booth like a bump on a log. Be engaging. Smile and speak to people passing by. You never know who might be interested in your product once you get them looking and talking.

Bring Materials. Be sure you have plenty of business cards and other sales materials on hand. People who don't buy at this event may decide later they're interested in your product, so make it easy for them to find you. And be sure you have a Web site with contact and product information.

Create a follow-up strategy. What a huge waste to spend your time and money at one of these events and walk away with only a few contacts -- if any. And don't expect browsers to hang on to your business card. So keep a sign-up sheet nearby and ask exhibit visitors to share their email addresses so you can keep them up-to-date on promotions, products and upcoming events. Use the emails you collect to create an email marketing strategy.

The work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.