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025 - Getting the most out of vegan fairs and markets

How to get the most out of having a stall at a vegan fair or market. If you are trying to get your business ‘out there’ then sometimes the best way to do that is to literally ‘get out there’. For some companies, vegan fairs are one of their main routes of selling their products to the public, others do it to build an audience, but one of the main reasons to do your local fair is to get real one-on-one engagement with customers that you won’t get anywhere else. 

If you are early-on in your business and struggling to work out why people are not buying your product – then go take a stall at your local vegan fair! It won’t surprise you that many huge brands and business multi-millionaires started out on market stalls because this is where you can do all your first-hand research to work out exactly what REAL people want and think about your products.

David takes a look at how to make the most from taking a stall at one of these events and what strategies you can use to find new customers, even if they don’t actually buy from you on the day.

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Full episode transcript

Hello and welcome to episode twenty-five of The Vegan Business Tribe Podcast with myself David Pannell, co-founder of Vegan Business Tribe.  If you have a vegan business, or are thinking of starting one, then Vegan Business Tribe is here to support and inspire you not just to build a vegan business, but to build a SUCCESSFUL vegan business.

And if you want to go beyond the podcast and connect with our community of like-minded vegan entrepreneurs then head over to Vegan Business Tribe .com where you can attend our online meet-ups, get support with your vegan business, study our vegan marketing course and just be part of a wonderful community of vegan business people just like you.  And we’re always really grateful to our members because they are the people who mean we can keep recording this podcast every week and putting out all our content and just generally doing everything we can to support vegan businesses.

Now, I’m actually recording this at a time in the UK when we’ve just started to see smaller events opening up again, in fact this weekend Lisa and I were at the Manchester Vegan Market supporting a couple of our Vegan Business Tribe members who had taken stalls there.  And I agree that we can all now do a lot more without leaving our homes than we could twelve months ago, in fact over this last year we’ve all been FORCED to do more from home as events have been cancelled because of the pandemic, but if you are trying to get your business ‘out there’ then sometimes the best way to do that is to literally ‘get out there’.

Taking a stall at your local vegan fair or vegan market is often the first step into a larger world for many vegan businesses.  For some companies, vegan fairs are one of their main routes of selling their products to the public, others do it for brand recognition and to get more people to their website, but if you’ve never actually taken your company to a fair or a vegan market before then the prospect might be terrifying!  But if I’ve learnt anything in business, it’s that it’s like a video game.  You need to be constantly looking to progress to the next level if you’re ever going to get to the treasure.  You need to keep pushing your comfort zone and keep doing things you’ve never done before if you’re going to build a successful business.

You will not be surprised to learn that many successful businesses started out as a market stall. Marks & Spenser, Tesco Supermarket, Dunelm, Poundland, Superdry, Boohoo – all started out with their owners learning how to sell from a stall.  Famous entrepreneurs like Sir Allan Sugar, Wayne Hemingway of Red or Dead, Steve Smith founder of Poundland, have all credited their time on market stalls as being the place where they learnt what customers actually want.  And this is important.  How many of us have gone away and built a website, spent hours behind a computer trying to guess what will get a customer to buy, or trying to build an email newsletter to drive traffic without ever having any hands-on contact with customers.  Well, let me tell you a quick story about Innocent Drinks. In 1998, Richard Reed and two university friends Adam Balon and Jon Wright developed their first fruit smoothie recipes. They all had other jobs at the time and were understandably nervous about giving those jobs up to create a new business selling smoothies.  So, they went out and bought £500 worth of fruit, bottled up their smoothies and took a stall at a local music festival in London.  Above the stall, they put up a big sign that read: ‘Do you think we should give up our jobs to make these smoothies?’ and had two recycle bins for people’s bottles.  One bin had ‘no’ on the front, the other had ‘yes’.  By the end of the day, the ‘yes’ bin was overflowing and the next day they all resigned from their jobs to set up Innocent.  In 2013, Richard sold the business for $500 million.
Now, it’s worth going and reading the Innocent story – especially if you’re selling a physical product.  It wasn’t just plain sailing from there, they didn’t just quit their jobs and become millionaires, in fact, they rewrote their business plan eleven times and still no bank or investor would give them any money. They eventually found initial funding by sending an email out to all their friends and family titled ‘Does anyone know anyone rich?’ that lead to an introduction.  But they based their early businesses decision on actually interacting with the public.  On actually putting their product into the hands of the people they wanted to sell to and seeing what the reaction was.  And that is the magic of having a stall at an event or fair, there is NO hiding from the customer – in fact if you spend the whole event TRYING to hide from the customer then you are definitely doing it wrong!
A lot of people who take a stall at a local fair or festival weigh up the success of that event against if they made a profit on the day. Did the event pay for itself?  Although the costs of having a stall at a fair are usually not huge, they do add up.  You might have only paid £50 or £100 to the event organisers, but you also have to factor in the cost of transport to the show, getting some graphics printed, having some leaflets or business cards made  – maybe even paying one of your staff to be at the event for the day and sometimes even paying for overnight accommodation.  Many businesses will add up all these costs and then weigh it against how much product they think they will be able to sell on the day – or how many appointments they can get booked in if they are a service business.  However, there are so many benefits that go far beyond just the sales you make on the day.  And the first is the one-on-one engagement with customers that you won’t get anywhere else.  If you are early-on in your business, and you are struggling to work out why people are not buying your product – then go take a stall at your local vegan fair. This is where you can do all your first-hand research to work out exactly what real people think about your products, not just your friends and family who told you they loved it because they love you.  Go set out your stall and see if there’s a certain product that everyone gravitates to and picks up first.  Or is there a certain sign you have that makes people stop and read?  You can talk to those that stop.  You can start to work out what kind of people, and maybe what kind of vegans, connect with your products or services.  You might find yourself having to explain a certain feature of your product or service over and over again to people, which means it’s not obvious enough in your marketing.  You will get people asking you questions – and I can guarantee that these same questions will be what’s on people’s minds when they view your products on your website, but online you are not there to answer them so you need to make sure your descriptions and photos do instead.

Or you might find that the BIG thing that you thought was unique about your product – the thing you get really excited by – just doesn’t get anyone else excited!  Feedback from live events can be hard to take but you should welcome it all.  Find out what people’s objections are.  Is it price?  Do they need to go away and think about it first? Do they need more information before they commit?  Perhaps you find out that people will buy after spending 20 minutes talking to you, so you need to work on what messages people will connect with or even work in a Zoom conversation with potential customers as part of your sales process.  Or is your company just NOT exciting and unique enough for people to engage in a conversation with you in the first place?  Is everyone just walking by without looking – if so, then there’s your problem!  You need to work on what makes you remarkable and what will make people stop in their tracks when they see your company, and all of this is translatable to your business beyond the event. If your company doesn’t get people stopping at your stand then you’re going to have the same problem getting people to buy from your website or follow your social media page.  If you book a stall at an event and don’t sell to a single person – but instead had 50 people tell you why they DON’T want to buy your product – then that will be the best money you have ever spent.

Perhaps one concern you have is that your product is too expensive, or too cheap.  Well, use your local vegan fair to try different pricing strategies. If it’s a two-day event then try one price on the first day and another on the second and meticulously record your sales. Find out where your price point is, does putting up the price by 10 or 20% make any difference to how many you sell?  Often, the answer is no.  What might change is the number of questions you get asked before people buy, and you will learn just as much from what questions people need answering before they will part with their money.

And don’t assume that doing your local fairs and events are just for people selling products.  Your company might offer some kind of service, and you can still find customers at vegan fairs if you know how to get them to identify themselves.  So often in service-led businesses, we talk about using ‘lead magnets’.  These are PDFs or guides that people can download from your website so that you can collect the email addresses of people who are interested in your services, and the same tactic works just as well in the real world.  Have a banner stand printed that talks about a service you offer, and go say hello to anyone who stops to read it.  Print out the lead magnet that you use on your website and give them out on your stand and again, engage with anyone who picks one up.  Because this is the great thing about having a stand at an event or fair:  ANYONE who stops and takes some time to look you over is either a potential customer or KNOWS a potential customer.  If you’re a B2B company, so if you’re selling services to other businesses, then you probably won’t sell to them that day – and you shouldn’t try to.  They are probably on a day out with their family and not in the mood for a business chat – but you can get their details and set up a call for later in the week.
OK – so hopefully by this point, I’ve convinced you that local vegan fairs and markets are worthwhile for your company – especially if you are early-on in your business and you are trying to get the kind of customer feedback that you need to make decisions with. But it’s that last point I just made which is really important to being successful at these kind of events.  If you do have an ‘impulse-buy’ kind of product, so a product when people will just buy in passing, then you will probably make sales at a vegan fair – but for most of us, the sales come after the event.

What do I mean by that? Well, you need to understand that the reason you are speaking to someone on your stall that day is because THAT’s the day of the event, not because they have already evaluated your product, gone through a buying decision and then decided to come to your shop to make a purchase.  Fairs, markets, festivals and events are what we call ‘top of the funnel’ activity.  IF you make enough sales on the day to cover your costs, then great – but this is where potential customers will first get exposed to your company and your mission, not necessarily where they will buy.  And in many ways, this is why you need to treat your stall at an event like your website.  You need to have a strategy that will take someone showing an interest as they browse your stall to finding themselves in your marketing funnel so you can keep nurturing them until they are ready to buy. And just like your website (where you shouldn’t JUST have a ‘buy now’ button) you need a way for people to declare they are interested in what you do without having to make a purchase.  And this is where your digital marketing and the real-world need to work hand in hand.  Every company has a sales funnel.  You, at this very moment, probably have a group of prospective customers who are aware of you but are not familiar enough with your brand to buy from you.  Or you haven’t convinced these people yet, or they haven’t reached the point where they need your product and will start seriously considering buying from you. You might not be conscious about YOUR funnel, you might just leave it to luck that people will come to the decision to buy from you all on their own after they have met you – and some will, but most won’t without further prompting and reminding.  Successful companies spend a lot of time on working out the route people take to becoming customers so that they can design a strategy to pull people through that funnel, from awareness to consideration to purchase.  At Vegan Business Tribe we have our funnel on a flip-chart in the office that we use as the masterplan to growing the Tribe.  We know what needs to happen to get someone from the top of the funnel to the bottom – and as a quick aside, if you want to know more about funnels then we’ve got a whole section about how to create them for a vegan business in the marketing course on the website.

But even if you have the best sales funnel in the world, it only works if you keep topping it up.  And that’s what live events like fairs and markets are great for – to find the people who show an interest in what you are doing and dropping them into the top of your funnel. One of the companies I met this weekend at our local vegan market were selling little children’s toys that come packaged with vegan chocolate characters – and they were giving away out of date stock on their stand as freebies.  And as I walked past and picked one of them up – I thought what a great way to make me aware of their brand but what a wasted opportunity to start a relationship with me.  All they would have had to do was ask me for my email address in return for the freebie, or have asked me to follow their social media page in return, and I’d have found myself in the top of their funnel. And once I was in that funnel they would have been able to send me an occasional email, or continue to put out great stuff on their social media to keep me engaged with their company.  And when one of my young nephew’s or friends children’s birthday’s had come up they would probably have had a new customer in me. Because I was not ready to ‘buy’ at the event.  I had no reason to: my children are too old for the product but I liked the idea and thought it was a pretty cool company, and would have let them have my email address if they had given a decent enough reason for me to hand it over – such as getting a freebie product, even if it was a couple of weeks out of date.  Vegan chocolate is vegan chocolate right?

So you need to link your real-world events with your digital marketing. You need to have a strategy to collect as many people’s names and email addresses that show an interest in your business (even if that’s just stopping and browsing) so that you can continue the conversation later.  Run a competition to win some of your products, or team up with another vegan business to offer a big prize like a night in a vegan B&B, and ask people to leave their name and email address to enter.  And pro-tip from someone who has done a lot of events: If you can, use a tablet or a laptop for people to enter their details so you don’t have problems reading their handwriting later, but at least just have a pad and pen and ask people to write down their own details.   Even if someone doesn’t win the competition, make sure that they receive an email from you soon after the fair, thanking them for stopping by, giving them a link to your site and putting them in the very top of your sales funnel.

And don’t forget that if someone does buy from you at a vegan fair, you still need to open up a channel of communication with them so that you can KEEP selling to them.  If you sell through a website, then you automatically collect all your customers’ details.  But if you sell from your stall, then how many of those customers do you have the details of?  How many future sales are you losing?  It might be that someone who would have been a great long-term customer completely forgot who they bought those amazing vegan chocolates from.  Or they might ask themselves what the name of that vegan plumbing business was that was run by that really nice couple they met at that fair a few months ago – how many times have YOU saved a leaflet and then when you actually needed it found that you’d thrown it out?  You need to be the pro-active one in keeping in touch with people who might buy from you in the future, you can’t rely on them remembering you.

And if you can’t come up with a way to collect email addresses, then at the very least collect new social media followers.  Now, it’s important to remember that a social media follow is not a sale, a ‘like’ is not a purchase so you need to have a strategy to convert your social media following into customers, but again it’s all about getting people into the top of your funnel.  Don’t be afraid to heavily promoting your social media on your stall. Get people to take a photo with you or your products and to tag your company’s Instagram or Facebook page. Get them to share it while they are at the stand so you can help them find your page, tell them you want to re-share it with your followers and you’ll only forget to do it later if you don’t do it now. Not only have you snagged them into your social media ecosystem if you do this, but you’ve just made sure that they are sharing your company with all their friends too – you are officially a vegan marketing ninja!  And don’t feel like you’re being pushy doing all this. Someone wouldn’t have come to a vegan fair if they were not interested in veganism and vegan companies. They would not have stopped at your stall unless they had at least a passing interest in your business and what you sell. These people share your mission and they will, in the overwhelming majority, be glad to engage.  Make it easy for them.  Have something on your stall that people will stop and want to take photos of – even if that’s just a gimmick like dressing like a huge vegan Easter egg.

If you become a regular on the vegan fair circuit you will become known both by other stallholders and by visitors. People travel long distances to go to a good local vegan fair, and you will start to spot the same faces and build up a relationship with them. If they seem to recognise your stand then talk to them like they are old friends and take their photo and get them to tag themselves on your social media. These are the people who are starting to becoming your tribe, so embrace them, spend time talking with them, update them with what’s happening in your business and make sure they are firmly in your funnel.

Many vegan events are also run by companies who run various different local fairs across the country. Once you have taken a stall at a couple of their events then have a catch-up with them too.  Become an active part of THEIR tribe. Ask how you can help them or if there are any opportunities to get more involved and increase your visibility with you being such a loyal customer. Can you do a talk or a presentation at the next event? Can you do a joint Facebook live to promote the fair?  And remember, the more remarkable your business is, the better the story you have to tell, the bigger your mission, the more they will say yes without instead just forwarding you their sponsorship price list!

And the final thing to remember is that you should extend what you get from the event far beyond just the day.  It might be that at a busy event you get a couple of hundred people stop on your stall – and that’s a great result.  But it might be that by leveraging the event you actually get your company and your message in front of hundreds more people who DIDN’T attend too.  Find out if the event has a hashtag that you can post with in the run-up to the event.  Do a Facebook Live or Instagram story showing what you’re going to have on your stand a few days before.  Email your mailing list with the special offer that you will be running on the day, but also let them claim the same offer online if they can’t make it to the event.  On the day, ‘go live’ from the event or record a video showing what you’re selling on the stall that you can send out to your email list the day after the event to show them what they missed and to keep you in their mind.  Keep an eye on social media to see who else is posting from the fair, go find their stall and take a photo with them so you can get in front of their audience too!

Set what are called KPIs, or Key Performance Indicators, that can be measured for any event you do.  So for example, don’t just count how many sales you made on the day as a key performance indicator of how well the event went, include how many new people you got into your sales funnel as an indication of how successful it was.  How many people did you get to stop and have a conversation?  How many new email addresses did you get onto your mailing list? How many photos did you and your company get tagged in on social?  And if it wasn’t enough, then what are you going to do at your NEXT fair to improve that?  At some point, you will want to graduate to bigger events and trade shows such as VegFestUK which is where you will meet thousands of new contacts and even potentially a few retail buyers, so find out what works first at your local market, treat it as if it’s a bigger event and spend time on developing a strategy for it.  Then when you do start to scale up, like the millionaire business people who started out on a market stand, you will have already discovered what works and what people connect with.

OK, as always, let’s have a quick recap of what we’ve learned about how to make the most out of vegan fairs and markets:

  1. Don’t just treat your local market or vegan fair as a place to make sales.  It’s a place where you can get hands-on with your customers and find out how they connect with what you sell. What products do they gravitate to first, what questions do they need answering before they will buy?  If you booked a stall at an event and didn’t sell to a single person – but instead had 50 people tell you why they DON’T want to buy your product – then that will be the best money you have ever spent.
  2. Local vegan fairs and markets are not JUST for people with physical products to sell, they can be great for businesses selling services too.  Print out your website lead magnets to identify people who are interested and jump in for a conversation with anyone who picks them up.
  3. Fairs, markets, festivals and events are all ‘top of the funnel’ activity.  They are where you first become visible. The reason you are speaking to someone on your stall that day is because THAT’s the day of the event, not because they have come to your shop to make a purchase.  Many people who are just browsing today will be your future customers tomorrow if you can get them into your sales funnel.
  4. And this is why you need to link real-world events to your digital marketing.  Come up with ways to get people to leave their names and email addresses on your stall so you can add them to your mailing list.
  5. Go in heavy on social media, maybe even take a friend or team member to do it for you.  Get people to take a photo with you or your product and tag in your business so that you can get in their timeline and reach all their contacts too like a vegan marketing ninja. Leverage the event so that all the people who are not there get to see you too.
  6. Actually plan out a strategy.  Work out what you are going to do in the run-up to the event to promote it, what you are going to do AT the event (such as Facebook Lives and Instagram stories) and then what you are going to send out AFTER the event to both your current contacts and all the new ones you will make.  Treat it like a far bigger event, so that when you DO come to do the larger tradeshows and you are out there looking for retailers to pick you up – you have already learned what works and how to run a successful stand at the smaller local events.

And on that last point – again, I’m going to refer you back to the vegan marketing course on the Vegan Business Tribe website. I’ve put together some PDFs that you can use to plan out an event strategy and really leverage you being there. Because, as we said right at the start – the idea is to get yourself out there, it’s about creating visibility, so it’s worth spending that bit of extra time to make a plan of how you can get the most out of your time and effort.
So, hopefully by the time you’re listening to this, live events will have become a big part of our lives again, and if you haven’t thought about doing a fair or a vegan market before, then hopefully I’ve inspired you to think about it.  Every town or city has a vegan fair at least once a year – if you are in the UK go look up organisations like ‘Vegan Events’ or ‘Vegan Fairs’ who both run local events across the country.  Go check out The Vegan Society’s event page or just search for ‘vegan fair’ or ‘vegan market’ on Eventbrite or Facebook to find ones local to you.  If you can’t find one, then do as a couple of our VBT members have done and put one on yourself and invite your local vegan community to join in!
And if you’re going to be at a fair, or maybe you are even setting a new one up yourself, then please let me know and maybe Lisa and I can get involved or will bump into you there!
And that is it – thank you, as always, I really appreciate you giving me your time to listen.  And if you can help me out with one more favour, then a subscribe, or a 5 star review if your platform lets you review podcasts will really help us increase our visibility.  Or even sharing this episode with any other vegan businesses you know – all these actions might seem like quite little things, but we get a lot of our Vegan Business Tribe members through recommendations and referrals, and it really helps us reach and help even more vegan businesses who are on the same mission to bring about a vegan world as you are.  And finally, make sure you do check out the website, go study through the vegan marketing course, get to know other vegan business owners at our online meet-ups and to just become part of the most wonderful business community you could ever hope to be part of!
That’s it – thank you again, and I will see you on the next one.

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