Tabling 101

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Have you ever wanted to sell your art and/or homemade goods at a convention or vendor fair? Ever wonder what goes into signing up for a craft fair or artist alley? Then this guide is for you!

Tabling is a great in-person way to market and sell your work! As with any small business, there is an initial investment and commitment you must make, but many artists and creators find tabling both publicly and monetarily rewarding over time. Tabling can also help build your brand and network with potential clients and other creators, so it's always worth a try! Keep reading to see the following key points to keep in mind when you're first starting out tabling.

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convention

Booking your location is the first hurdle when it comes to tabling. When you're first starting out, it's best to go more local and smaller. That way, you can get your bearings and practice for larger events. You'll also want to consider your target audience and product that you will be selling. If what you've made is more anime/comic/gaming-centric, then you might want to look into local conventions in your state on those topics. If you have more general crafted goods, then looking into local farmer's markets and craft fairs are your best bet.

In essence, figuring out where you want to table will usually boil down to two primary questions:

  1. What are the fees/expenses to sign up?
  2. How far away is it?

Most conventions and vendor fairs will have some paperwork to fill out and will offer you a spot with a fee at sign-up. Depending on the popularity and/or mass of the event (i.e. is this New York Comic Con or your local farmer's market?), the fee for your spot can vary anywhere between $10 to as high as $200. Some conventions and fairs may also give you the option to pick your spot. If this is the case, then tables that are either on the endcaps of aisles or are by main entryways usually tend to go for a bit more in price since these are optimal spots to make sales. If you want to sign up for one of these spots, you will most likely have to hop on sign-ups early. If you want to save a bit of money and don't mind being down an aisle, then go for a regular spot. It's also important to fully read the initial sign-up paperwork in order to get a full grasp on set-up times, parking, what your spot includes, and break-down times. It's also worth noting how long the event is running (is it only for one day from a set time or does it last over the entire weekend?) in order to prepare properly.

Distance is another key factor when considering where to table. Consider travel and potentially boarding costs if the convention/fair lasts for several days when weighing your options. A good formula to keep in mind is this:

Table fees + ((total distance in miles ÷ your vehicle's miles per gallon) x average gas prices) + lodging/hotel costs if applicable = the total cost of the event.

For example, let's say I booked a table for $50 at a convention that was roughly 65 miles away and only lasting one day so I wouldn't have to pay for a hotel. My car gets about 30 MPG (Google the average MPG for the make/model/year of your vehicle) and gas prices around me are currently at $3.96 USD. So, the average cost of my theoretical convention would be 50 + ((65 ÷ 30) x 3.96). This would roughly come out to $58.60. If I haven't spent anything further on materials to bring, then that would be the price I would set for myself to beat in order to net profit. Even if I only made $58, I would consider that breaking even for me and would walk away from the event knowing that I might get potential clients or get signed on for other events in the future.

Quick tip: always fully read the convention's Rules and Regulations section on their website or pamphlets! These sections will always list what is expected of each vendor, spot pricing, check-in/check-out times, display regulations, and venue policies.

tabling

Piggybacking off of the last topic, creating a general budget for yourself is incredibly important not just for tabling but also for starting your own small business. Figuring out the investment that you're putting into your work will ultimately affect how you will price your goods.

For example, I've recently been selling art prints, copies of my poetry collections, and stickers when I table. If I am creating the art prints at home, I am usually investing in a 25 page pack of giclee paper and Canon ink to make my prints on my Canon Pixma TR4720, which means I will be spending around $60 USD in order to make products to sell. I know that I can get around 35-36 color printed pages out of my printer before needing another ink cartridge, and I usually need a couple extra pages to make a test print or two. So, at best, I'll probably be making 20 8"x10" prints per package of paper. Going back to the previous example, if theoretically the cost of my trip was roughly $60 and the cost I spent on materials to create product was also around $60, then I'm looking to push past $120 to break even. At $10 per 8"x10" print, I would not only be breaking even, but I'd also be netting some profit for the time spent creating those pieces.

This example is, of course, excluding first time costs. By this, I mean the cost of purchasing a table, tablecloth, and display materials. Some fairs and events won't provide you with a table, so you will need to bring one yourself. The prices on these items can vary, but that's why creating a budget for yourself will help give you an idea of what to look for. Keeping a running expense chart can also help you keep track of your overall investment you've made so far. Personally, I use a template on Google Sheets to calculate and keep track of my expenses. I also keep another two spreadsheets tracking the sum total of my book and art sales. That way, I can reference between my profits and expenditures to see where I'm at each month.

art tabling

Considering what to bring will be based on your table setup and the length of the event you're attending. My recommended essentials list is as follows:

  1. Your merchandise, obviously. However, ideally, you'll want to try to bring at least enough merchandise so that if you completely sold out of it, you’d earn double your expenses.
  2. Some way to track your inventory. Again, spreadsheets are your best friend! Whether you're keeping track digitally or physically, tracking your earnings and stock during your event will help with knowing what was popular and sold well later.
  3. Change. I usually bring $100 USD in $1's and $5's.
  4. Money box/fanny pack. You're going to need a way to not only make change, but also keep cash earned. I like keeping my earning close to me, so a fanny pack usually works great, especially for one day events. However, if you want to leave your table without carrying a money pouch around or are attending a longer event, a lockbox might be something worth looking into.
  5. A table (if needed). I highly recommend a foldable table with a handle for easy pack up and maneuvering.
  6. A pop-up canopy (if you're outside). If you're at an outdoor event, then sitting in the sun all day could not only be rough on you, but could also cause sun damage on any of the products you're selling. Customers also like a bit of shade while they're browsing. Pop up canopies are perfect for these events, but make sure you're allowed to bring one prior to the event.
  7. A tablecloth. As far as table coverings go, I've seen vendors with plain tablecloths to super fancy ones with their branding embroidered on the front. The design is up to you. However, I recommend making sure your tablecloth is around 90"x132" or at least long enough for it to fall to the floor and hide your belongings.
  8. A card reader. I'll be breaking this down in the last key point of this guide, but effectively, you'll want to offer some way of taking the card. Many vendors these days, including myself, use Square due to the general ease of the device/service and the ability to log transactions even if you lose Wi-Fi.
  9. A portable battery pack. These power banks are a lifesaver! Events tend to be long, and you don't want to be caught with 10% left on your devices (especially if you're using your phone for the card reader you brought!).
  10. Art portfolio (for example prints). Most artist vendors I see always have one or two art binders at the front of their table with examples of their work inside. This is a great way for customers to get a gist of what you do and what your artwork looks like!
  11. Adequate signage. Decorate your table with concise signage in regard to prices, products, and your socials. Even though some customers will still ask you about prices, having signage around your table will help funnel questions better.
  12. Sleeves for merchandise. Make sure you have some form of protective sleeve or bag to package your merchandise in before handing it off to the customer!
  13. Business cards or QR code. Business cards with your shop name, website, and/or socials are great ways to garner new clients. If you want to save some money in terms of printing costs, however, I have also seen vendors put up a sign with a QR code that links to their online shop and information.
  14. A banner or grid cubes. Although I have seen many artists use photo backdrops to display their work, I recommend using gridding cubes when starting out for a budget-friendly option that is easy to pack up and break down. Also, make sure to bring a method of hanging or displaying your work (binder clips, clamps, double-sided tape, etc.)!
  15. Snacks and water. Events are long. Make sure to bring snacks and stay hydrated!
  16. Emergency supply pack. I like to call this my "Everything Else Bag." In this, you'll want to bring Scotch tape, scissors, pens, markers/sharpies, Band-Aids, painkillers, a calculator, extension cords, extra binder clips, extra paper clips, etc.
  17. Garbage bags. Just trust me on this. There will be garbage cans provided by the venue scattered about, but it's easier to keep a garbage bag under your table than constantly getting up to find one.
  18. A copy of your tax certificate or seller's permit. Some states require a seller's permit, and many convention websites will address what they will need in terms of legal paperwork from you. If you're unsure of whether or not your state requires this OR you're traveling to another state that requires one, I highly suggest you look into the venue's needs well before the event. Also, if you're making enough business with your freelance shop or plan to continue tabling for profit, you will eventually have to work this into your taxes. If you've kept all of your receipts from your expenses and a spreadsheet with your monthly/yearly budget, you may be able to write certain business expenses off on your annual taxes. Again, tax forms may vary from state-to-state, so if you're unsure of where to start, I suggest researching this in advanced or consulting a professional.
  19. A friend/co-hustler. Most events will allow you to have two chairs, which means fill that extra chair with another butt! Having a friend to help with transactions, packing, keep you company, and manage the table while you run to the bathroom, etc., makes the day way easier and enjoyable.
  20. A big smile! Bring your sense of humor and a friendly grin! Not only does your attitude affect how your day will go, but nobody will want to bother with someone who looks like a sour-puss.
plushies

How you display your goods is key to making sales! This means making sure your set up is clean, professional, and eye-catching. Many vendors will decorate their tables with pastel or fun colors (that aren't too overwhelming), small decorative signage, a theme, and have organized in a way that the display of their products have a certain flow to them. Keeping products neatly in their respective categories with pricing for the items in that section helps to draw the customer's eye around your entire table!

Many vendors and artists will also have some sort of banner that displays their shop name and/or logo as well. Having a banner helps grab the attention of potential customers and clearly states your shop name to the crowd. I suggest either having your banner hang over the front of your table or hanging somewhere above your head on either a backdrop or on your grid cubes. I know many vendors/artists also recommend having some sort of backdrop, but if you're just starting out or can't afford a photography backdrop, you can still get this effect with grid cubes as well. The reason vendors recommend enclosing your space in some form of way is so that it gives the feeling of being in a small store and really draws attention to your products. Creating a small space to show off your wares is far more eye-catching than having a couple stands on a table with the entire event open behind you.

For example, common grid setup I've used and have seen at artist alleys have looked something like this:

display reference

I've also seen other vendors get this effect or make their own backdrop with PVC piping. How you arrange/display your products, what signage for pricing you're using, and what else will be freestanding on your table is entirely up to you! I also recommend making a mock setup at home so that you can figure out how everything flows together before the day of the event. Check out this guide for more a more in depth look on how to set up grids!

vendor fair

Aside from your display, how you market your items will make a huge difference in sales. Having some freebies (business cards/bookmarks/candy/etc. or a holding raffle are great ways to get customers to come back to your table or keep your business in the back of their mind. Make sure to have ample freebies and signage of your socials/website around for easy grabbing and viewing!

As far as pricing goes, after calculating the time and materials put into your works, deciding what prices you'll set at the event can help you plot out what sales tactics you'll want to consider. Many vendors will run a percentage off sale on certain items or some form of bo-go sale to incentivize customers to purchase in bulk. Customers may feel more inclined to purchase if your sale price is a dollar or two cheaper than that you commission or sell online.

Some common pricing and sale techniques I've seen online and across various events are as follows:

  • 5x7" prints: ~$5
  • 8x10" prints: ~$10 or ~3/$25
  • 11x17" prints: ~$15 or ~2/$25
  • Acrylic charms (single sided): $5-$12 (I've seen Buy-One-Get-One-Half on certain charms)
  • Acrylic charms (double sided): $8-$20 (Same as above)
  • Acrylic standees: $5-$15 depending on size
  • Buttons: $1-3 (often with a Buy-Two-Get-One Free sale)
  • Enamel Pins: $8-$15
  • Stickers: $1-$4 depending on size (often paired with varying Bo-Go sales)
  • Holographic/fancy/large stickers: $4-$5ish.
  • Washi tape: $4-$5ish per roll
  • Jewelry: Can go anywhere between $3-$30 depending on what it is and the materials used. If you want to sale particular jewelry items, perhaps consider a % off sale.
  • Handmade Plushies: $5-$40 depending on size and craftsmanship
  • Books are usually sold 3x more than the cost it takes to print
  • Apparel and other larger items can vary in price depending on initial investment. I recommend doing further research when it comes to selling apparel.

In addition to working out your pricing and sales, you also should consider these marketing techniques:

  1. Price in whole numbers to make checkout easy and be sure to include sales tax!
  2. Provide variety over quantity. Stick to the golden rule of 10 copies of each item, but have a variety of items (possibly 10-30 different items). Having too many copies of too few items will often leave you with piles of copies that didn't sell. If you do sell out of a particular item, you can always make a note of what you'll need more for future events.
  3. Talk to your fellow vendors. Talking to your table neighbors is a great way of networking, can help pass the time, and give you more ideas for your own business in the future.
  4. Your mindset: Try to keep as concise but professional as possible. You're here as a seller and should keep casual chatter polite, friendly, and under three minutes per customer. Getting used to talking to customers and promoting yourself can take time and practice, but don't give up! Try complimenting a cosplayer ("Wow! I love [insert character here]! You look great!") or open with a question ("How are you liking the convention/fair/event so far?"). Be sure to always look up and greet your customers with a smile!
payment options

Lastly, offering multiple checkout methods for easy payment is essential for good business. Ideally, you want the transaction to be as smooth as possible on both ends. Having multiple checkout options will also incentivize your customers to spend since they won't have to jump through any hoops in order to pay you. When I table, I use the following payment methods:

  1. Square card reader for Visa, Mastercard, Discover, and American Express
  2. My Venmo QR code readily available or one a sign for online payments
  3. And cash!

If you don't have a Venmo, you can either sign up for free or list your Paypal email. Either way, it's best to have some form of mobile payment in case customers don't have anything else on hand. Again, try and make the check out process as seamless as possible. With some hard work, dedication, and a bit of sales knowledge and experience, you'll get the hang of tabling in no time!

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