It’s Summer, which for handmade sellers often means outdoor events.
Outdoor events are a wonderful opportunity to get your product in front of a whole new crowd – visitors, tourists and just people who don’t tend to frequent Christmas craft fairs and it’s also a great time to enjoy the (usually) milder weather. Selling outdoors is very different to indoor events though, so I’ve created this post to help make the whole process easier!
What? I need gear for outdoor events?!
Yes! You do. You don’t need to go overboard if you are just starting out – time and experience will help you learn what you need to optimize your sales, but, there are some things that will start you off ready for success!
Not all canopies are created equally!
The most important piece of gear you will ever borrow or buy for an outdoor show is your canopy, or tent. Outdoor events are usually planned around spaces that are 10 x 10 ft, or 10 x 20 ft. Most sellers at these outdoor events will use a 10 x 10 ft space and tent.
Your canopy needs to have sidewalls, straight legs and be of COMMERCIAL quality. Do not underestimate the importance of the last one. Commerical canopies are designed to hold up to weather and, for Colorado at least, where the weather can be really changeable and stormy in the summer, this is vital. I’ve personally seen people using cheap tents, which break, don’t fit into spaces because of slanted legs and, at worst, take off and crash into other vendors’ tents, damaging property and people as they go.
Some events will also specifically require white canopies – because they prefer their events to look uniform.
White canopies will keep your inside space cooler and will also prevent your products from having colour distortion. I’ve heard many stories over the years of people who buy a fun pink canopy, only to discover afterwards that all their products now have a pink cast to them and people can’t see what they’re buying.
Sidewalls are also a must. My canopy had curtain-style walls – they zipped in the middle and had attachments to a wire on the underneath of the canopy to enable them to slide open and closed. I loved the look – it gave me something to hide my weights and made it a snap to close a sidewall or two in the event of a quick rain burst. Ah, weights… brings me to…
The BIGGEST and most dangerous mistake I see people making at outdoor events is to not weight their canopy. It’s essential. Many shows will specify in their contracts or applications what their weight requirements are and they are usually per leg. Many outdoor shows in Colorado have 40-50 lbs as their requirement for weights, per leg. It’s also something to consider when you’re packing your car or truck – you will need space and weight for 160-200 lbs of extra weight.
You will need to weight your tent from BOTH the frame and the legs. Legs are the weakest part and a tent can easily take off minus its legs leaving those lovely weights on the ground.
I used devices called ‘gravity bags’ which I ratchet strapped to the frame at the corners, and then I used concrete-filled PVC pipes held in handy little Velcro-strapped pouches that wrapped around the legs. There are cool how tos all over the internet on how to make your own PVC tube weights and this video.
A Hand Truck/Cart
Trust me on this one – you never know where you will have to park, or which less than considerate individual will park to block your access when it’s time to unload your wonderful booth material, or to pack up after a successful day selling. If you have room for a wheeled cart of some form, add it to your load. I store my setup materials in 2 large tote containers, which both, handily, fit on my cart. I can then add a table and some of my weights on top. I can usually transport my entire booth setup, not including the canopy in 2 trips vs probably around 8 if I am hand hauling everything. Your back will thank you. It also makes it possible to do a show set up solo, which, if you don’t have a spouse or friend to help you, is a big benefit. I have a cart similar to this one, and it’s also been useful for around the house.
Dark Fitted Tablecloths
Outdoor events are super dirty. Everything will be dusty or dirty, or you will have things spilled on your tablecloths, whether or not you’re watching every unattended 3 year old like a hawk. My best advice is to have dark fitted tablecloths – they hide dirt and give a professional appearance to your set up. If you want to add a pop of colour, do it with a runner or overlay for the top part of the set up. If you get a rainstorm and the lovely grass park you’re in turns into a muddy field, it’s going to be much easier to clean up afterwards. I have these – they came from Amazon, were super reasonable cost-wise and fit perfectly for the standard table sizes I have.
This sounds like a no brainer, right? Have tables that fold, not ones that don’t – but, I see people at outdoor events all the time trying to load up and carry a 5 ft non-folding table to a booth. Get the folding ones – they’re easier to pack and transport. Costco and Walmart often have them in stock.
Weight Your Table
Wind is a terrible thing for outdoor events. You need to weight your canopy so you don’t end up doing a craft fair in Oz, but, equally, tables are large flat surfaces and they can also be blown over. Make sure your displays are heavy – don’t use lightweight shelves and secure your stock. I used little baker’s twine lengths to tie my jewelry cards to their hanging wire displays, with the grid oriented to support the backs so they didn’t spin too much. A very successful jewelry seller friend I know incorporates rocks and glass blocks into her display set up – they accent and present her rustic jewelry perfectly and they also add weight to her display.
It’s not fun to discuss insurance, but, if you’re going to sell at outdoor events, you’ll need it. Many shows will require proof of it from you too. Insurance can cover your own stock if something awful happens with the weather, or it can cover other people’s items if you’ve disregarded the advice above and chosen not to weight your tent – and said tent decides to go and explore the other canopies in your vicinity, leaving a path of destruction behind it.
You can often obtain show insurance from your local insurance provider, or there is a specialist provider called ACT and they offer both short term and annual policies, covering a multitude of potential issues. Always discuss your needs with a professional.
These simple steps will help you so much when making that step from indoor to outdoor events. Do you have any other tips for selling at outdoor events? I’d love to hear your best advice on how to make outdoor shows the best ever!
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