When I first started doing craft shows, I stuck to indoor shows only. This was mostly because I was just doing shows in the fall and winter. And my area tends to get really cold in the fall and snowy in the winter…. And I do not like being outside in the cold (crazy right?). As the years have gone by, I’ve started to do more spring and summer shows, and this has given me the chance to experience some outdoor shows.
There are a few things that you need to take into account when you are doing an outdoor show that I hadn’t realized when I first started. So I’d like to pass on some of my hard earned knowledge to you to make your life a little bit easier.
Additional Questions You Should Ask
In addition to the questions you should be asking the organizer for an indoor show (see my previous post “You Found A Craft Show, Now what?” for more information), you should also inquire about these:
What Are The Ground Conditions Like?
One of the first things I ask an organizer when I am signing up for an outdoor show is what type of ground I am going to be setting up on. Is the event being held on grass, asphalt, or concrete? If the outdoor show is on hard ground, I like to bring a rug for my space. This helps the space look nice as well gives me a slightly softer place to stand during the day. Plus if its a hot day, a rug can keep the ground cool in your tent.
Where Can I Park For Set-Up And Take Down? What About During The Event?
Parking should be well thought out by the organizers, and is often how I judge an event. Customers do not want to park blocks away from an event… but during set up I have no desire to haul my items a huge distance. So make sure there will be a spot close by that you can unload and then move your car so that the customers have a place to park. Keep an eye and an ear out on the day to see if the organizers enforce their parking rules. This can tell you a lot about the person in charge.
Where will the customers be parking?
What time is set-up and take down?
Where will the restrooms be?
Will we have access to power at the event?
If you have a card reader (which I recommend having), be sure to charge it the night before. I also make sure to sync my inventory it it the day before. I also bring an external battery pack for my phone, because card readers can drain your phone. If you use lights or other equipment for your display you may need to bring a small generator.
Will there be food vendors on site or nearby?
Having food vendors or food trucks on site can be a good thing, because they give you somewhere to eat. They help draw a different crowd to your outdoor show. They can also have some down sides… I was once set up next to a cotton candy vendor, she was super talented and very nice. But we had to put up a wall of plastic between us because the cotton candy was floating over into my stuff and sticking to everything. At another show they wanted to set me up right next to a BBQ vendor that had a smoker set up. Which would have not been great for my yarn based items. Luckily I was there early and I was able to swap spots with someone who had items that were unaffected by the smoke.
How will you be advertising the event beforehand? On the day of the event?
Are there any rules around canopies?
Some events want a very specific look for their vendors, so the organizers will limit canopies to ones that are all white. I have also been to a couple shows where the organizer wants everyone to be able to be right next to each other without gaps, so they require straight leg canopies. These are things that you will NEED to know ahead of time so you can buy or borrow the correct canopy.
What size are the spaces? and are they preassigned?
I am always a bit wary of shows that do not map out the vendor spaces ahead of time. I have had a few shows where the organizer just lets people pick their spot based on a first come first served basis and does not even measure out the spots. This means some people will spread out beyond the stated size and will be unwilling to move once they have gotten all set up. Even if that means that latecomers will have a smaller than advertised space.
Plan For Bad Weather
So the weather forecast looks pretty good when you signed up for the outdoor show… but what happens if it changes while you are there? I have experienced some pretty terrible weather at outdoor events over the years, and I have learned some valuable (and painful) lessons. I’d like to share a few things that can help you for some of the main weather events.
My first tip would be to monitor the weather constantly leading up to and during the event. Some weather systems can move really fast and if you have weather sensitive items you will want to be able to start making your preparations as early as possible.
If you are expecting wind at the event check your canopy for damage beforehand. A small rip will quickly become a huge problem, and in some cases can destroy the canopy altogether. Because some of my items are small and light enough to blow away, I use walls at my events. I have half walls that I can shift up and down to cover specific areas. If the wind is getting really bad, drop your canopy to a lower height. This will help keep it from blowing away while you make any changes to your set up (or start packing up if that’s what you want to do).
You will also need some really good canopy weights if there is wind at the event. I use buckets of sand, but a know several vendors that use weights or even buckets of water. If you are on soft ground, ropes and spikes can also help.
If you are set up right next to another vendor, ask if they want to connect together to combine your weight. This can help keep tents from blowing away and taking out nearby vendors (which has happened to me before).
Rain is the hardest for me to deal with since I have fluffy and soft items. My only saving grace is that my area is mostly dry. I have a separate box of supplies for my outdoor shows, and most of the items in the box are for rain. I have several packages of clear plastic shower curtains, if it starts to rain I can use them to cover my tables and racks. Or I can hang them off the side of my canopy (make sure you have plenty of zip ties or cheap shower rings if you plan to use this option).
If it does start to rain, drop your canopy down as low as you can. This will help keep rain from blowing into your area.
In cases of heavy rainfall watch out for flooding, both in your immediate area and in the nearby areas (this could affect how you are able to leave the event). While you are setting up make a plan for the worst. Decide how you will pack up and get to your car the fastest. You can always repack your items in a better way after you have safely left the area.
Heat is something that many people do not think about when booking a show. My area gets really hot in the late summer, and when I do outdoor shows I always make sure I have a canopy. This provides you a nice shaded space to be in during the event. I have some half walls for my tent that I use across the back to keep me in shade. The best part about the half walls is that I can easily move them as the sun moves across the sky. The full sized walls can do this as well, but I like the half walls because they allow a cooling breeze through the tent.
If you are going to be on a hard surface like concrete or asphalt I recommend bringing a rug for your space. These sorts of hard surfaces can hold and reflect the heat, which can keep your area overly warm. If you have access to power, a small fan is also nice to have, although I have seen some really neat battery powered fans as well. I know that a mister might be tempting, but there is a high probability of ruining yours or someone else’s products with the moisture. So it might be best to forgo that cooling method.
Hydration is very important when dealing with heat, so I always bring a small cooler with water. I toss several bottles of water in the freezer the night before. Using the frozen bottles means I don’t have to worry about getting ice for the cooler. Try and avoid soda or iced coffee during your outdoor show, these are not as hydrating as you may think they are.
Another thing that is helpful for hot outdoor events is sunscreen. I have found that I am usually the only person at the event that has sunscreen, so I make sure to have a large bottle to share with my neighbors. Believe it or not, sharing my sunscreen or bottled water has led to sales from other vendors….. And a few of those vendors ended up inviting me to events they held later on.
I have no cold tolerance whatsoever, so I do not book outdoor shows after late summer or early fall. However, several of my vendor friends do, and I’ve rounded up their best tips.
Dress in layers and bring a fleece blanket. You’ll be very warm when you are moving around during set up and take down, but will rapidly become cold while you are standing behind your table.
If you are a crocheter like I am, you probably make hats and gloves. Make a set for yourself and wear them at the event. It’s a great way to advertise your product to the customers, and to the other vendors. At one of my indoor shows the organizer did not have heat in the gym we were in…. In the middle of December. It was absolutely freezing in that gym, and many of the vendors were not prepared for the cold. I offered the vendors discounts on my hats, gloves, and smaller blankets. They were able to stay warm, I made some sales, and when customers asked them about their items they sent them to my table.
An outdoor show in the cold is the perfect time to use full sized canopy walls. They can trap the heat that you and your customers generate. Small portable heaters are another way to stay warm in the cold weather. Some event organizers will provide heaters in the walkways and corners of the event. Make sure to ask the organizer if they will be doing this, and where they will be located.
Another tip that I was told for outdoor events in the cold is to bring a thermos of a hot beverage. This will help keep you hydrated, warm on the inside, and can warm your hands. Also schedule someone to come take your spot for a little bit halfway through the event. This allows you to find a warm spot for a little while. This can be in your car with the heat cranked up, or a local food place to snag a quick bite.
What Is Your Emergency Plan?
For any event it is important to have an emergency plan in place. Its equally important to communicate that emergency plan to any help you may have brought with you to the event. Your emergency plan should include:
- how you cover your items
- how you pack up your items
- where to evacuate
- at what point do you leave the event due to weather
- what your acceptable risk/loss level is
- where your meeting point is (in the event of an emergency).
I have been very lucky when it comes to my outdoor events. I have only left an outdoor show early once due to the weather, and it was because my canopy failed in the wind.
Ultimately you are the only one who knows how you can handle the elements. So if the weather is doing something you don’t like, you can decide to leave. A good organizer will not hold it against you if you have to leave. Try not to let bad weather determine if you should sign up for the show again. Really its how the organizer and customers handle the weather that matter.
One of my most memorable outdoor shows was one where a wind storm came out of nowhere and destroyed many of the tents set up (including mine). The organizer was great. She came through the event and offered help and supplies to the vendors, she was very apologetic. Her attitude guaranteed that I signed up for her next events, and I have not regretted it.
If you would like to hear about outdoor events from another vendor, check out this video by Rafi and Klee.
Outdoor shows don’t have to be scary, they can be tons of fun. So long as you are adequately prepared.
Have you done an outdoor show before? Do you have any tips to share? Let me know in the comments section below.
The next post in this series is all about Promoting The Show. Read on to learn more.
- Everything You Need To Know About Craft Shows
- Craft Show, Craft Fair, Vendor Event… What’s The Difference
- When Is Craft Show Season?
- How Do I Find A Craft Show?
- You Found A Craft Show, Now What?
- Indoor Shows VS Outdoor Shows
- Promoting The Show
- Prepping For Your Craft Show
- Things To Bring To A Craft Show
- Inventory, Pricing, and Custom Orders At Craft Shows
- Craft Show Set-Up and Displays
- How To Act At A Craft Show
- Going It Alone, Why Bringing A Friend To Your Craft Show Is Better
- After The Craft Show