Captain McCool

Vending at Pirate Events: Where to Start?

23 posts in this topic

Hey folks! As some of you may already know, the bonny lass and I have been working on a small Etsy business called the Castaway Trading Company ( http://www.etsy.com/shop/CastawayTradingCo ). This has been a fun endeavor for us so far, and we've found it's a way of making a little extra cash that we both really enjoy. However, the Etsy business alone is not the be-all, end-all of what we want to do. Eventually, we would very much like to begin a storefront costume business - and not necessarily a strictly pirate-themed one either - but that's still a long way down the road for us, and we thought this might be a good way to get our feet wet, so to speak.

At any rate, we are now looking to really hit the business hard and expand it beyond the limits of Etsy. What we would really like to do is to start vending at some of the weekend pirate festivals around the country if possible. The thing is, we're not really sure how or where to begin in that regard. At the moment, the business isn't really returning a boatload of profit, so we can't afford to extend ourselves THAT much, but as they say, nothing ventured nothing gained. With this in mind, I was wondering if anyone on here had any advice for new merchants just starting out. For instance: which festivals do you think are the best ones for vendors? Which ones get the best foot traffic? Which offer the best deal with regard to vendor fees, etc?

And furthermore, if anyone has any more sort of general advice on things (like general business practices at these sorts of events, items that sell well, niches that need to be filled in the market, filing apps with the festivals, packing, setup, etc.) I would love to hear them! I know there are a lot of knowledgeable people on this board who have real roots in the pirate community, and I'd love to know what you guys think, because if we're going to start doing this, it'd be nice not to just blunder into it blindly. I figure we would do well learn from the mistakes of others before making the same ones ourselves, heh.

Thanks!

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I am no expert, but me and the wench have done some Bike Rallies with our patented travel bags and are getting our feet wet this year in selling a small amount of children's pirate accessories.

Events merchant space costs vary widely ( I find in general $50 per weekend and up ), you just have to check each events site.Usually they run by a 10 x 10 space and it is best to sign up for space as early as possible, many are quickly taken up. A booth is needed of course and many buy an EZUp 10 x 10 for around $200, but later do not realize that at many Renfaire or Pirate events those are not allowed and that their booth must be more period correct. That's where money comes in as those can run a thousand or more unless you or a friend can make or your own and even then they can be pricy. If an ezup IS allowed, often they require that it at least be painted somewhat of period and that all metal poles etc are covered by something, usually cloth or burlap is cheapest. Most require all workers to be garbed in some attempt to be period also. ( I alternated the top tent sewn sections by spray painting with Krylon "Boots Brown" and dull black, it looked like it was made from old sails that way and wrapped the legs with burlap from a discount fabric store, then accessorized with netting I found on ebay, 9 good sized nets ( 10 pounds ) for about 20 bucks )

Some events have space for vendor camping, some do not. Best to check beforehand as well, motels are not cheap for overnight weekends.

Always remember you are at the mercy of mother nature. A rainy weekend is most often a no sell weekend. And on that note, times are hard, people are tight with the the cash and you should definitely have a good "barker" to entice people in. Work that booth, do not just sit in the back and say "Hi." ;)

The bigger Faires that run 6 weekends can be more appealing. Your goods stay in one place, you are set in that place for 6 weeks, etc. Downside is though that those often require a permanent structure that you either build or lease an available one per season.

The TAX MAN ( or woman ) will certainly show up and have you sign forms, so have your licenses, etc ready.

Do not expect to make much money (if at all ) the first few years. Until of course you pay off your initial investments.

You will need display furniture, particularly a couple folding tables at minimum. and 10 x 10 fills up faster than you realize.

Some ideas to save money while exploring the venues before making a full commitment:

Get acquainted with someone who has an existing booth. Many, if you have items that they do not carry will place them in their booths on a consignment contract. Also sometimes they will let you "share" a booths space for the extra help and the extra company.

Get acquainted with the promoters. Sometimes if you have a good set of garb and a shtick, you can walk the lanes as a performer and you will get admission and booth space free. But then of course you will need an extra hand to work your booth.

Bottom line example is that we did the Gulf Coast Renaissance Faire a couple weekends ago. One weekend run.

Merchant fee for the weekend was 50 dollars. Electric was available, but an extra $60 for the weekend plus the merchant fee.

Free Camping but you wanted electric it was 20 per night.

General Admission for Adults, $10, kids $5.

I am fortunate enough to be on cast with a local crew, so I got my merchant space free for performances and free admission. Local Faire to me, so no motels.

I hired a girl from my last job at 4 bucks an hr plus lunch, around 20 hrs, so 80 plus lunch, 90.

It was a total washout Saturday with rain and storms, very few patrons. no income. Sunday was bright, clear and packed. We took in around 40 dollars total ( keeping in mind we have low dollar pocket money items just for kids, at our booth a kid can go all pirate for around 20 dollars, hat, beads,eyepatch, foam sword,costume jewelry etc ).

So, saving the costs by being on cast:

$50 Merchant fees

$ 70 for 3 adults two days admission ( 4 Sunday, her fiancee showed up to help and we tossed garb on him. )

$200 tent with probably $30 in paint.

$30 in gas and food (we prepacked sandwiches and shared them with the rest of the crew the first day )

And we brought in $40. But keeping in mind again we are a nickel/dime vendor, others did well and had much more pricy items.

Just my piece of eight and being new, others have very likely far different takes on this venture as prices and expenses will vary widely different according to location. B)

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Thank you! This was extremely informative! Some of it I had already gotten a general idea of, or had imagined would be the case, but it's good to have confirmation. Still interested in any and all input other vendors (or people who are friends with vendors) have to offer!

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definatly check out tybee island pirate festival in october!!! i heard pensacola has one in june. talk to pirates cove restaurant about the wood boat festival..

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Good thoughts. Another thing to keep in mind is that we are based in Colorado, so West Coast festivals are much closer and therefore more cost effective for us than East Coast festivals if we have to drive.

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I've noticed that a few Pirate events post an application for vendors. Might that be a first line of attack for you gents?

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We've already looked at quite a few vendor applications, and all of them vary quite considerably. What I'm really trying to ascertain is which festivals out there seem to be the "best" festivals for merchants - especially merchants just starting out. To put it another way, we don't want to dump a bunch of time, money, and effort into a festival that we've never been to and then come away without anything to show for it. Mind you, there's always the possibility of being rained out or something of the sort, but that's just a risk one takes at festivals like these.

For instance, we had considered looking into the Portland Pirate Festival in September. However, the merchant fees for Portland are something to the tune of $500. Now maybe for a company like Captain Jack's Pirate Hats or some such $500 seems reasonable for a big fair where you know LOTS of people are going to be coming through, looking at your merchandise, and buying a considerable quantity of high-dollar items. But for a business like ours, it seems... well, frankly it seems insane to dish out that kind of money on an event we've never been to, not even knowing if our business will be remotely successful there.

So what I'm really wondering is if any of the folks in the Pub who have been merchants at various festivals could weigh in on which ones are their favorites, and why. Which ones seem to offer the best "bang-for-buck" ratio, and alternately, are there any you would recommend steering clear of?

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The vendors that seem to do best are the ones that have LOTS of low-end stuff for kids. Plastic swords, pistols, pirate hats and such. I know that stuff is tacky, but it sells very well. Some events may not allow plastic stuff, so consider wooden swords instead. Seems like people always buy stuff for "Little Johnny" to keep him quiet. Inexpensive costume items in kid sizes are popular also.

You have to keep in mind that most of us "pirate folk" already have most of the stuff we need, so you need to cater to the tourists. There is always a market for T-shirts also. Quality items of garb sell, but slowly due to cost. Unusual jewelry can do well, if different from what the other vendors have. This is just my experience based on many years participating in pirate events. Your mileage may vary !!

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One idea you might consider is going in with another merchant on space at a larger event. Perhaps contacting a few merchants who sell pirate items (but different from castaway) might be an idea?

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These are good thoughts, definitely. Unfortunately, being from Colorado, as previously mentioned, we don't personally know a lot of vendors (or any really) at festivals around the country. This is our first foray into these waters. And in regard to the merchandise, while that's probably true, we've pretty much already got an idea of what types of things we'll be selling (not all of which are currently in our Etsy shop, I might add). What I'm really wondering more than anything at the moment is what other vendors around think are good festivals to get a start in, or to look into as far as being worth the time and money, etc.

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Just bumping the thread. Anyone else want to sound off on this?

Edited by Captain McCool

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Not to hate on the landlubbers or the westerners, but i think the potential is great for the east coast and gulf coast. We have festivals every year already and they keep popping up around the coast.

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Love to try some, but at the moment, taking a trip to sell on the East Coast is simply too costly for us, especially with gas prices at an all-time high. And this still doesn't help me with WHICH festivals are good ones for vendors, and which ones are not.

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Captain McCool did you contact any vendors directly (McKay might be helpful) and ask them which events could provide you with the most sales?

Another thought might be to contact the crew of "No Quarter Given" magazine. Jamaica Rose may not reply right away but she could point you in the right place (and her magazine might be a good vehicle for your Castaway company).

Just some ideas from my rum soaked head...

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I hadn't thought of contacting NQG, but that's definitely a good idea! Thanks!

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I did one show and decided that since I don't run Ivan Henry for a source of income and have a day job, I would rather be playing at the event instead of working on the weekend that I was supposed to be off. That said, I did have a decent show and MIGHT do it again if I could do it for an event that would allow me to set up for a few hours instead of the entire time. It was fun to meet people. It took a good bit of wok building everything i wanted for the booth and it cost me a little in purchasing a pop up tent and other supplies.

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At which event were you vending?

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Thanks! yeah, I can see where you're coming from in that regard. I've helped put on a pirate convention called BrethrenCon (www.brethrencon.com) here in CO, for the last several years, and I have definitely learned that I much prefer attending these sorts of events to actually organizing them. Still, the prospect of vending at festivals like that sounds really appealing to me. Eventually I'd like to see if I could make an actual living doing costume sales in one form or another, so I figure it's a good way to get my feet wet.

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As a long time vendor at pirate and nautical events, first and foremost be sure you have something that no one else has or even has a similar facsimile. You'd be surprised how many people selling jewelry and costumes look a lot like everybody else's out there. I make sure my jewelry doesn't look like anyone else's either at an event or even on line. Be sure and check very carefully.

Costumes sell only if very reasonably low price. Most people who visit are not going to shell out even a couple hundred bucks to look the part.

Another thing about costumes - capes and bodices need a lining and true metal boning for quality!

Booth prices vary depending on what event you are doing, here in Calif. you can expect to pay $150.00 to 3 to 400.00 for weekends for local events. Forget the big Renaissance Pleasure Faire in San Bernadino, CA. you will be paying into the thousands and will never make your money back!

And the most important thing, don't try to make a living out of selling, you'll be highly disappointed, keep your day job.

Yes I do belong to Pirates of Treasure Cove and even though I may be vice-president, I'm hardly playing with them as I am in my booth. I do 'boothing' because right now it's difficult for me to participate fully with them due to medical problems. I think if I could I wouldn't be selling as much as I'd rather be playing.

Rumba Rue

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