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Festival Network Online

Festival Network Online Newsletter - Commercial/Food Vendor Edition -  June 2009
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A note from the FNO newsletter editor...

Hello FNO Commercial & Food Vendors,

We have a few reminders for you as the summer festival season warms up:

This month, Dave J. Stefanik of shares his own personal experience as a commercial vendor.


The FNO Staff
Festival Network Online
My Life as a Commerical Vendor by Dave J. Stefanik

My wife and I have done well over 400 events in over 16 years and are now doing approximately 40 shows a year.  Each show is uniquely different. When you arrive at an event, you feel excited and often you can just feel ‘energy and electricity in the air.’ You hope that this is one of those days that you are going to have great weather and make a lot of money. We enjoy traveling near and far and sometimes these trips can be similar to mini-vacations and you make moneyl  Each year, we spend a month in Oregon doing County Fairs and during January we ‘snowbird’ it to Arizona and do events in Tyson Wells, which is packed full of vendors, exhibitors and RVers from all over the country who have gone there to escape the cold, snowy, winter weather.

When we started off with my wife was making a lot of jewelry and I was creating stained glass artwork. We began our days selling at small, inexpensive Arts & Craft’s Shows and local flea markets. As the years passed, we included ‘commercial’ items and eliminated the delicate stained glass and we now consider ourselves almost entirely commercial vendors.

Early last year, I noticed a distinct downswing in our economy and sales for a lot of us were spiraling downward. It was becoming harder to make a decent income from these events. I’ve enjoyed doing many of these shows and it’s fun to be out there being a part of many festivals but there can be times that are frustrating and agonizing. I had an idea for a website called Starving Vendors which would be dedicated to all the vendors/exhibitors out there that were having a rough time and to also provide information for everybody. Last summer I began including reviews of every show that I did and had a good response from many of my readers.  People were coming over to me at events and telling me that they had seen my website and they loved the reviews because I provided a lot of information about shows that I have done.

The website appeals to a great number of vendors/exhibitors and not only those in the areas where we do our shows. We all share similar experiences. I have certain areas of the website that speak to various issues that do come up. 

There are promoters out there who do not have the vaguest idea of how to put on a successful event that would benefit all involved. Some just figured all they needed to do was to submit their show info to a publication and they would be overwhelmed with vendors/exhibitors. Some have outrageous booth fees. Many would add on all these other fees such as electrical, police permit, processing fee, jury fees, city business license, insurance, while trying to extract as much as they could from vendors/exhibitors without raising the stated booth fee. In actuality, when they submit their listing to publications, they are only showing the booth fee without these add-ons. I understand the necessity for the insurance, but if you have to buy theirs, then they are making a hefty profit on the policy. In virtually every event, the organizers have to be indemnified and some of them just include this in their booth fee without further say. However, there are a number of them who are opportunistic and want to charge you a hefty amount for liability insurance. 

Do you need to purchase a policy? Do the math. Figure out how many events you will need insurance and add up how much you expect to pay and if that total is more than the cost of a yearly policy, then I recommend getting it. Click here to see a list of vendor insurance suppliers. You might be able to be covered on your homeowners policy and you should first check with your agent. You should expect to pay between $350-500 a year and not a penny more. 

Electricity at shows can be a necessity, but many times you are paying $50-$100 for just a couple hours of juice. Probably have no choice in the matter. There are some shows that you are allowed to use quiet generators and I believe they can be bought for around $300-$400. 

Police permits are ridiculous, degrading and humiliating. I view a show as ‘crossing the line’ when they require one and I recommend that you stay away from these shows.  We are all pretty much honest average-Joe’s/Mary’s but they do a search on you as if you are a criminal. Preserve your integrity because you are not a criminal. They actually ask you for your Social Security and Driver’s License numbers. We don’t need more people to have our SSN’s on file someplace just waiting to be stolen, either. Matter of fact, how sure are you that these promoter’s  or employees are honest themselves? Show me their ‘police permits.’

“Processing fees” can be ridiculous and some of the “Jury fees” can be questionable. To pay somebody just to look at your application is unnecessary but they get away with it because we need to do their shows. The money that you pay for this is non-refundable. In the better quality Arts & Crafts shows, jurying is necessary to maintain the quality of the event and these fees are in turn, paid to an independent reviewer. However, in events such as ordinary Street Fairs, etc., the jurying is not as intense as it is in the better arts shows and quite often it’s added income for the promoter if they are not even reviewing the photos, etc.

Quite often, I am unsure about the legitimacy of the ‘processing fees.’ A number of promoters charge $10-25 for this and I can’t see why you would be paying this in order to process your application. In most cases, this is just an unnecessary add-on to the fees. However, there may be instances where an organization (i.e. Chamber of Commerces, Rotary Clubs, etc.) is putting on an event and they hired a promoter to obtain the vendors and the promoter might be collecting little or nothing from the booth fees. Then, the promoter collects the ‘processing fees’ for his services. However, this is not the case for most of the events.

There are some shows that charge as much as $35-$50 for a transient ‘city business license’ that you are only going to use for a couple days. A fee of $10 is reasonable, but anything much more than that is uncalled for. During recent years, more cities are forcing vendors/exhibitors to obtain these licenses in order to get more revenue. Unfortunately, you have no recourse except to pay the fee if you wish to participate.

I provide links to other websites providing information and I have a directory of resources for vendors/exhibitors; where to get fixtures for your booths, gas prices, advice on canopies, links for weather reports, motels, etc.    

Secure your canopies. If winds are expected, please use some sort of weights to attach to the legs of your canopy. Sometimes milk containers filled with water might work; cinder blocks also. Try not to detract from the appearance of your booth and attempt keep your weights out of view, if possible. We use around 12-14 2x5 foot metal grids which are secured to the canopy with bungies and they weigh us down sufficiently. 

What are you greatest fears about doing a show? What can possibly happen? I have seen so many crazy things go on. There are many variables that can come into play during any show. Can you ever imagine getting stuck in the mud after a torrential downpour?  How about things that happen just getting to a show?  A flat tire out in the middle of nowhere? Getting into an accident 220 miles from home on the way to a motel? Having boards flying at your vehicle while driving, cars abandoned in the middle of highway.  Heading for a huge 8’x8’ wooden box in the middle of your lane. You can read stories about some of these things that have happened to us in Road Hazards. Please prepare for the unexpected. It’s a good idea to be member of an auto club such as AAA where you can just call up and have your vehicle tended to. Cell phones can come in handy as you could get stuck in an obscure location with no businesses/homes around for miles.

Be sure to check out and I have just started a forum where people can post and comment upon a variety of topics.

Best of luck,

Dave J. Stefanik (Starving Vendors)

Dave J. Stefanik maintains, an online guide to events, resources, experiences and information for and about vendors.
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