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
Brittney Oliver is a marketing communications professional from Greater Nashville. Over the past three years, Brittney has built her platform Lemons 2 Lemonade to help Millennials turn life's obstacles around. Her platform is known for its networking mixers, which has brought over 300 NYC young professionals, entrepreneurs, and creatives together to turn life's lemons into lemonade. Brittney is a contributing writer for Fast Company and ESSENCE, among other media outlets.
This post is in partnership with Amgen.
The seemingly simple task of taking a breath is something most of us don’t think twice about. But for people who live with severe asthma, breathing does not always come easily. Asthma, a chronic respiratory condition that inflames and narrows the airways in the lungs, affects millions of people worldwide – 5-10% of which live with severe asthma. Severe asthma is a chronic and lifelong condition that is unpredictable and can be difficult to manage. Though often invisible to the rest of the world, severe asthma is a not-so-silent companion for those who live with it, often interrupting schedules and impacting day-to-day life.
Among the many individuals who battle severe asthma, Black women face a unique set of challenges. It's not uncommon for us to go years without a proper diagnosis, and finding the right treatment often requires some trial and error. Thankfully, all hope is not lost for those who may be fighting to get their severe asthma under control. We spoke with Juanita Brown Ingram, Esq. and Jania Watson, two inspiring Black women who have been living with severe asthma and have found strength, resilience, and a sense of purpose in their journeys.
Juanita Brown Ingram, Esq.
Juanita Ingram has a resume that would make anyone’s jaw drop. On top of being recently crowned Mrs. Universe, she’s also an accomplished attorney, filmmaker, and philanthropist. From the outside, it seems there’s nothing this talented woman won’t try, and likely succeed at. In her everyday life, however, Juanita exercises a lot more caution. From a young age, Juanita has struggled with severe asthma. Her symptoms were always exacerbated by common illnesses like a cold or flu. “I've heard these stories of my breathing struggles, but I remember distinctly when I was younger not being able to breathe every time I got a virus,” says Ingram. “I remember missing a lot of school and crying a lot because asthma is painful. I [was taken] to see my doctor often if I got sick with anything so I was hypervigilant as a child, and I still am.”
Today, Juanita says her symptoms are best managed when she’s working closely with her care team, avoiding getting sick and staying ahead of any symptoms. Ingram said she’s been blessed with skilled doctors who are just as vigilant of her symptoms as she is. While competing in the Mrs. Universe competition, Juanita took extra care to stay clear of other competitors to ensure she didn’t catch a cold or virus that would trigger her severe asthma. “I would stand off to the side and sometimes that could be taken as ‘oh, she thinks she's better than everybody else.’ But if I get sick during a pageant, I'm done. I had to compete with that in mind because my sickness doesn't look like everybody else's sickness.”
Even when her symptoms are under control, living with severe asthma still presents challenges. Juanita relies on her strong support system to overcome the hurdles caused by a lack of understanding from the public, “I think that there's a lot of lack of awareness about how serious severe asthma is. I would [also] tell women to advocate and to trust their intuition and not to allow someone to dismiss what you're experiencing.”
Jania, a content creator from Atlanta, Georgia, has been living with severe asthma for many years. Thanks to early testing by asthma specialists, Jania was diagnosed with severe asthma as a child after experiencing frequent flare-ups and challenges in her day-to-day life. “I specifically remember, I was starting school, and we were moving into a new house. One of the triggers for me and my younger sister at the time were certain types of carpets. We had just moved into this new house and within weeks of us being there, my parents literally had to pay for all new carpet in the house.”
As Jania grew older, she was suffering from fewer flare-ups and thought her asthma was well under control. However, a trip back to her doctor during high school revealed that her severe asthma was affecting her more than she realized. “That was the first time in a long time I had to do a breathing test,” she describes. “The doctor had me take a deep breath in and blow into a machine to test my breathing. They told me to blow as hard as I could. And I was doing it. I was giving everything I got. [My dad and the doctor] were looking at me like ‘girl, stop playing.’ And at that point [it confirmed] I still have severe asthma because I've given it all I got. It doesn't really go away, but I just learned how to help manage it better.”
Jania recognizes that people who aren’t living with asthma, may not understand the disease and mistake it for something less serious. Or there could be others who think their symptoms are minor, and not worth bringing up. So, for Jania, communicating with others about her diagnosis is key. “Having severe asthma [flare-ups] in some cases looks very similar to being out of shape,” she said. “But this is a chronic illness that I was born with. This is just something that I live with that I've been dealing with. And I think it's important for people to know because that determines the next steps. [They might ask] ‘Do you need a bottle of water, or do you need an inhaler? Do you need to take a break, or do we need to take you to the hospital?’ So, I think letting the people around you know what's going on, just in case anything were to happen plays a lot into it as well.”
Like Juanita, Jania’s journey has been marked by ups and downs, but she remains an unwavering advocate for asthma awareness and support within the Black community. She hopes that her story can be an inspiration to other women with asthma who may not yet have their symptoms under control. “There's still life to be lived outside of having severe asthma. It is always going to be there, but it's not meant to stop you from living your life. That’s why learning how to manage it and also having that support system around you, is so important.”
By sharing their journeys, Juanita and Jania hope to encourage others to embrace their conditions, obtain a proper management plan from a doctor or asthma specialist like a pulmonologist or allergist, and contribute to the improvement of asthma awareness and support, not only within the Black community, but for all individuals living with severe asthma.
Read more stories from others like Juanita and Jania on Amgen.com, or visit Uncontrolled Asthma In Black Women | BREAK THE CYCLE to find support and resources.
Since we’re at the stage in 2023 where we can pretty much count down the hours until a brand-spanking new year is before us, I thought it was necessary to encourage those of you who are in relationships to do a bit of relational inventory. It’s not something that I haven’t mentioned in my content before. Hey, charge it to being a marriage life coach and writer but I think clear communication is super essential — and that means there are times when you need to flat-out ask certain questions, listen to the answers you receive, and then decide where to go from there.
And so, today, I’ve got six questions that you should ask your man over the next couple of days. Now, I’ll be honest: some of these might be hard to ask simply because the answers might be difficult to hear if they’re the kind that you didn’t expect. Still, I believe that it’s important to close out the year by opening up the floor to hear where your man’s head and heart are as you express your head and heart in return. Because, from both personal experience and observation of others, time is too precious to be out here assuming that what you want is what he wants as well.
If you want to know, you need to ask — and I think you can pretty much get the clarity that you need by asking — asking not berating or pressuring — the following six questions before the ball drops at midnight on January 1, 2024.
1. "Are we on the same page?"Giphy
The reason I’ve written articles like “6 Signs You’re In A One-Sided Relationship” in times past is because I know what it’s like to be seeing someone and, while I think we’re doing one thing, they are thinking we’re on something completely different. I’ve thought that good sex was establishing a solid connection while the guy saw me as his favorite kind of recreational use. I’ve thought I was officially dating while guys thought they were in situationships with me (and no, those two things ARE NOT the same). I’ve thought that seeing someone for months was ultimately leading towards marriage while the guy was having a good time just…seeing me for months (LOL).
And while it’s easy to demonize those individuals while playing the victim role, the reality is when one assumes, it still can make an ass out of them — and yes, many times, because I wanted something to be a certain way, I assumed that they did too.
And that’s why it’s so important to make sure that you and whoever you’re…whatever-ing with (LOL) is on the same page as you are. I don’t care how long you’ve known him. I don’t care how much the two of you have in common. Don’t fall into the “surely, he must be on what I’m on; how could he not be?” trap because men and women are different. That’s not a flaw on the man’s part; that’s just the way it is.
I could go on and on about this particular question alone yet I think you get my overall point. Before going into 2024, see, not only if you’re on the same page but even in the same kind of book. I would hate for you to see your dynamic as a romance novel while he treats it more like a magazine that he casually thumbs through at the doctor’s office — you know, something to do…for the moment. You’d be amazed how much that happens. Sad yet true.
2. "Do we want the same things?"Giphy
Okay, so say that you both are in agreement that you’re exclusively dating. Thing is, you’ve got marriage in your sights while he doesn’t want to get married. “Now Shellie, why would a man get into a one-on-one situation if marriage wasn’t the ultimate goal?” Yeah, this right here is one of the main reasons why I pitched this article in the first place. A man will date you, even exclusively and seriously, and be fine with that because he may like serious relationships while having no intentions of ever getting married at all (check out “Single-Minded: So, What If You Like Dating But DON’T Desire Marriage?”). I mean, who said that everyone thinks that companionship equates to sharing a home, sharing a name, and sharing a life until death parts them from their partner?
Or what about kids? What if someone has verbalized that they can see making you his wife someday (check out “We Asked 10 Men What Makes A Woman 'Wife Material'”)? Thing is, you are in your 30s and want kids ASAP yet he is on the fence about whether he wants children at all. Listen, I have worked with couples, both as a marriage life coach and a doula, long enough to know that this isn’t something that just “works itself out with time.” Why? Because time is not on a biological clock’s side. The way life — and science — have it, men have damn near forever to figure out what they want to do as far as parenting goes. Us? Yeah, not so much.
Bottom line here, whatever it is that is truly important to you, whatever is pretty much a non-negotiable as far as you are concerned, that is something else that needs to be brought up. Because no matter how much the two of you may love each other, that has little to do with if you want the same things — and in order for a relationship to run smoothly, the latter has to be a part of your relationship’s reality.
3. "Have your needs changed?"Giphy
I have shared in articles before that, one of my favorite quotes as far as relationships are concerned is, “People change and forget to tell each other.” This is a big part of the reason why people end up getting divorced, all the while saying that they feel like strangers to one another. It’s because, NO ONE goes day by day, month by month, year by year, and doesn’t change as a person on some levels. And when you’re evolving with another individual who is doing the same, that’s double the shifting. It takes a lot of patience and grace to go through those transitions smoothly.
Anyway, it’s always a wise move to ask your partner if the same needs they had last year — or hell, even six months ago — are the ones that they have now. And I mean in every department too. What they may have liked sexually may have shifted (as is with you). The ways that they used to like you to express your love for them might be a bit different now (as is with you). The kind of relationship that they were looking for — getting older, their goals, and all kinds of other stuff may have altered that as well (as is with you).
You can’t meet someone’s needs if you don’t know what they are and it’s unrealistic to assume that those needs are always going to be the same — no matter how much you may want them to be (that’s a play on words by design). The best relationships are proactive about making sure that mutual needs are met. Discuss each other’s needs with your man sooner than later. Much sooner if you can.
4. "Is this what you thought it would be?"Giphy
Even though I mostly work with married and engaged couples, I do come across my fair share of people who are just dating too. One couple, in particular, I remember the woman being absolutely heartbroken when her boyfriend of three years told her that he wanted to end the relationship because it wasn’t what he thought it was going to be like. He felt that she wanted to monopolize too much of his time. Not only that but she didn’t get along well with his family and they had two different faith beliefs. Although he went into the relationship thinking that so long as they strongly cared for each other, everything would work itself out — it wasn’t going smoothly and he wanted a relationship that required a lot less…finessing.
Listen, a motto that I have is “better to break up than divorce,” so it’s a good thing that he spoke up before paperwork, kids, and a lot of other stuff got involved. However, that story alone is impactful enough for this question to be mentioned because…you’d be amazed how many people won’t speak up about stuff like this unless they are point-blank asked. ASK.
5. "Are we making each other better? Or...worse?"Giphy
There are so many words that just get “thrown around” without really appreciating the weight of them. One would be “toxic.” Something that is toxic is something that is basically harmful at a poisonous level. And so, when we use the term “toxic relationship,” one way to qualify if one is or not is if it’s making two people better or worse. Honestly, this can apply to familial dynamics, friendships, co-workers, fellow church members…yeah, it pretty much runs the gamut. Yet since we’re talking about romantic connections here, you definitely should discuss with your partner if the two of you are making each other better or worse as the direct result of intimately interacting with one another.
I actually have a male friend right now who is at this crossroads because he doesn’t feel like he or his fiancé are making each other better. It’s not so much that they are making each other “worse” so much as they are keeping each other stagnant — and that’s not good either. Why? Because if there is anyone who you should be able to say that, as a direct result of them being in your life, you are thriving and flourishing, it needs to be your partner. And if that isn’t the case, no matter how much you care for each other, something isn’t healthy about staying together because life is too short to be “treading water” when you should be moving forward.
- If you’re not emotionally maturing, you’re not getting better.
- If you’re not getting stronger in your sense of self-worth, you’re not getting better.
- If you’re not reaching goals that you have for yourself, even if it’s simply because you’re distracted with trying to maintain the relationship all of the time, you’re not getting better.
- If you feel like you’re sacrificing, to the point of losing, parts of yourself, you’re not getting better.
- If you’re not getting better, you’re not getting better.
Better means “more.” Worse means “less.” If there is more "less" than more "more" when it comes to your relationship with your man…don’t overlook that. The time to talk is now. RIGHT NOW.
6. "How do you want to end next year?"Giphy
Okay, so back to what I just said about the whole treading water thing, I definitely think that you and your partner should reflect over the past 12 months and chat about the strides that were made. Yes, as individuals yet more importantly (as it relates to this article), as a couple. If you can pinpoint clear new milestones that were reached — mazel tov! On the other hand, if nothing has really changed at all…you know what I’m about to say, right?
And no, I’m not saying that folks should expect what I just recently read about Fantasia (did you know that she only knew her husband for three weeks before getting married? Wow.). All I’m saying is that healthy relationships consist of two people who move with intention and when intentions are executed, progress is made.
So, as we close this one out — talk about how things were this time last year and if there are clear signs of growth. Then talk about 3-5 goals that both of you can feel good about setting for the new year so that you can keep improving as a couple. Because it would be sad to spend years with someone and, in the words of Nina from the classic movie Love Jones, all you can look at each other and say is, “All we have are all these years.” Geeze.
An author by the name of Justin Wetch once said, "Love starts as a feeling, but to continue is a choice." And in order to choose to continue, in a mutually beneficial fashion, you both need to know that you want the same things and feel the same way. So, before entering into 2024, please make sure that the both of you do — for both of your sakes. That way, you can move with confidence and clarity…without any type of assumption.
And that’s always the best place, relationally, to be.
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Featured image by Riska/Getty Images