If you are a business owner with a product to sell, you've probably considered becoming a vendor as a marketing tool to make additional revenue. The personalized interaction you get with prospective clients and customers is essential for every business. Vending doesn't just look like a booth at a conference, and it's not just for people who sell jewelry or hair products.
Vending can come in the form of a conference buying your service or products for gift bags, pop-up activations, VIP lounges, or decor. On August 3, in partnership with Toyota Corolla, xoNecole is hosting our first-ever ElevateHER Crawl event in Atlanta, where black women business owners are encouraged to apply to become vendors in a mecca of black girl magic.
If you're curious about what it takes to become a vendor, we spoke to four women who know firsthand and shared their advice on making the most out of vending:
Why Vending May Work for You
Gwen Beloti, founder of women's apparel and accessories brand Gwen Beloti Collection
Courtesy of Gwen Beloti
Vending is a great way to supplement your online and purchase order sales or be a standalone side hustle. "It's also a chance to get feedback about your product. You get true, real, and live reactions. I think it's a great idea to invite people to share their thoughts on your items and to welcome the feedback," shared Gwen Beloti, founder of the women's wear brand of apparel and accessories Gwen Beloti Collection.
Beloti, who started her collection 2008, was hesitant to become a vendor and did not think it would be necessary for her business, but her thoughts about the process were proven wrong once she started vending in late 2018.
"There is so much value in the opportunity to tell your brand and product story to new people in a variety of settings. For a while, I found some comfort in hiding behind the laptop screen, but there is so much power in human connection," she shared.
Since she runs her clothing line as an e-commerce business without a brick and mortar, she has found vending to be a pleasant experience "to engage up close and personal" with customers at events, pop-ups, and markets.
Vend Where Your Audience Is
Understanding your audience and what events they are attracted to will help you decide what conferences, brunches, or panels align with your marketing strategy. Joi-Marie McKenzie, the author of The Engagement Game, suggests you "only vend where you have a personal connection with the audience, or believe you can build one. Otherwise, it may be wasted effort and time." Her most successful opportunities vending opportunities are those where there are black women are attending.
Shanae Jones, founder of the hip-hop inspired herbal tea company Ivy's Tea Co., ensures she is investing her marketing dollars in the right events by doing research, asking event organizers for attendee demographics and looking at past exhibitor companies. "Who was there last year? Are they a competitor or do we have some overlap in our customer segment(s)? Are they coming back?" are all questions she asks herself before exhibiting. She takes it a step further by reaching out to previous vendors regarding their experiences.
Leverage Speaking Engagements for Vending Opportunities
Joi-Marie McKenzie, author of 'The Engagement Game'
Courtesy of Joi-Marie McKenzie
As you begin to build your brand and gain momentum for your products or services as a speaker, utilize those opportunities to make sales by setting up a booth. For McKenzie, she leverages her speaking engagements into opportunities to sell her book. "There is no better way to sell your message, your product, and your book than connecting with people face to face. When you're interacting in person, not only do you share your message more fully and completely, you're able to connect better with your audience," she explained.
McKenzie asks event organizers if she can set up a table to sell her book before and after her speaking opportunity and finds this tactic to be helpful for book sales. "Most authors know that you don't have a lot of money on tour, but still I'd invest in book stands, Square card readers so you're able to accept electronic payments, a nice table cloth and a pop-up sign, which you can buy for as low as $99," she shared.
Product Placement is a Form of Vending
Lashae Bey, founder and creator of Lotti Belle Beauty
Courtesy of Lashae Bey
Lashae Bey, founder and creator of Lotti Belle Beauty, said that her vending experience has come in the form of product placement in gift bags and activations. The eco-friendly and organic beauty products was a vendor for Blavity's Summit 21 beauty store, Chateau 21. The pop-up experience gives attendees access to beauty products where they can select five complimentary items to take home with them.
Bey also sponsored Karen Civil's 7th Annual Live Civil Brunch by sponsoring product for the gift bags. Her opportunities to vend vary as some companies reach out to her while other she pitches with a partnership marketing deck and product pitch deck to share with companies. "If I feel it's a good fit for me and I can expand my visibility to a new market, I'll consider it. When I first started my company Lotti Belle Beauty [in] November 2017, I knew my goal was to do 1-2 sponsorship collaborations per year. That meant either donating my products to go inside gift bags or vending for special events," she explained.
Make Sure to Cover Vendor Costs
Before you become a vendor, you have to understand the costs that some opportunities will bring. Budgeting for vendor booth costs and other fees will allow you to make goals to hit profit or recover the investments you prepared to participate in the event. Jones estimates what she will make before investing in a vendor opportunity. She cuts the expected attendee amount by half, then considers how many items she's likely to sell considering the demographics, which lets her know how much product to bring. "Factor in travel expenses, lodging, food, and miscellaneous expenses and you're not likely to make a ton of money unless the event is very close to home for you," she advised.
McKenzie learned through experience that some conferences and events require insurance to sell. "It's typically not expensive (no more than $150), but it should be added into your budget."
Bey learned that you need a plan A, B, and C when it comes to vending your products. "Shipping constraints when shipping large bulk orders and factoring in the cost for damaged or lost items. Also, having a great assistant or someone to help you during the day is a bonus, too."
Make Your Presence Known at the Conference
Joi-Marie McKenzie at one of her booths while vending at an event
Courtesy of Joi-Marie McKenzie
If you want people to visit your booth and buy from you, then you have to let it be known that you are at an event. Start by using social media to let your followers know you will be attending and vending at an event. Promote this information on your website as well as your mailing list. While on site, you may have to do more than just man your booth. According to McKenzie, to be a successful vendor, you should never be sitting down.
"You may have to go out and get customers. If you're walking around the event or conference, pass out fliers or bookmarks to reach your audience even further. Vending is not for the faint at heart; it's for the seller," she explained.
At events, people will pass by your table even if it looks interesting, but what draws them in is an engaging seller. "Speak to every single person who walks by, even if they don't speak back. Very few people are going to stop by your table overly eager to buy whatever you're selling, but if you are nice and welcoming and engage them, you can turn that person from a looker into a buyer," shared Jones.
Beloti believes knowing what type of space you will be utilizing at the event is essential for managing your displays. "With this information, I can then spend time making sure that my display and inventory is conducive to the structure of the event," she shared.
Her favorite set-ups are the ones where she is given the space and freedom to curate her mini boutique. "Curating your display is super important, probably the part I enjoy the most. It should be representative of your brand aesthetic. Working within the parameters of the space given, I want to showcase my brand in the best way possible," Beloti said.
Be Direct in Your Sale
Early in McKenzie's experience, she lost out on book sales because she forgot to be direct in asking for a purchase. She started incorporating her ask in her pitch to seal the deal: "So do you want to take a book home?"
She had to get comfortable saying that and asking visitors if they'd like to take two books home. "You'd be surprised at how many people said, 'You know what? Sure! Let me get one for my sister, or cousin, or line sister.'"
Prepare to Sell After the Event
Shanae Jones, founder of Ivy's Tea Co.
Courtesy of Shanae Jones
A high touch business is one that maintains a relationship with its customers whereby the customer can reach a member of the staff anytime. "For Ivy's Tea Co. that means, my staff or myself respond to every email, every comment, every DM, and engages with our supporters all the time," Jones revealed.
Taking that experience into an in-person market helps strengthen her brand with consumers. "I think more businesses should treat vending like a marketing tool and not an in-store pop-up. Always have your sign up sheets or iPad ready to get email addresses. This is what you want for future contact and sales," she continued.
So are you ready to be a vendor? Apply to become one at xoNecole's first annual ElevateHER Crawl in Atlanta by clicking here.
Featured image by Getty Images