How to get the most out of vegan fairs and markets
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.
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(Image featuring Dark Matters at Great Yorkshire Vegan Market, run by Vegan Events UK)
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! However, in business 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 company.
You will not be surprised to learn that many successful businesses started out on a market stall. Marks & Spencer, Tesco Supermarket, Dunelm, Poundland, Superdry, Boohoo – they all started out with their owners learning how to sell from a stall. Famous entrepreneurs like Sir Alan 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 tried 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, made and 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.
It’s worth going and reading the full Innocent Drinks 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 led to an introduction). But they based their early businesses decisions on interacting with the public: 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? And 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 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 struggling to work out why people are not buying your product, then go take a stall at your local vegan fair to find out.
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? Talk to those people that stop. 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 those 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 hugely 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 maybe you need to work out what you are saying that makes people buy. 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 fair or market. If your company doesn’t get people stopping at your stall in real life 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 have 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. You can use your local vegan fair to try different pricing strategies. Try one price in the morning and another in the afternoon 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.
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 to find out.
And don’t assume that doing 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 to you. So often in service-led businesses we talk about using ‘lead magnets’. These are PDFs or guides that people can download from your website meaning 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 pull-up 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 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 (ie if you’re selling services to other businesses) then you probably won’t sell to them on the day (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.
If you do have an ‘impulse-buy’ kind of product (a product people will buy in passing), then you will probably make sales at a vegan fair and some companies make a lot of their income this way, 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. They haven’t already evaluated your product, gone through a buying decision and then decided to come to your shop to make a purchase. This is the first time they have met your brand. Fairs, markets, festivals and events are what we call ‘top of the funnel’ activities. 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 a stall like your website. You need to have a strategy that will take someone who is showing an interest as they browse your stall and get them into 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. This is where your digital marketing and your real-world marketing need to work hand in hand. Every company has a sales funnel, even if you don’t know it. You at this very moment will have a group of prospective customers who are aware of your company but haven’t reached that point where they buy from you yet. You might not be conscious about your sales 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 becoming aware of you, to evaluating your business or product to making a purchase.
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 real-world 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 sales funnel. One of the companies we met at our local vegan market were selling small wooden children’s toys that came packaged with a vegan chocolate character, and they were giving away some out of date stock on their stand as freebies. This was a great way to make people aware of their brand but was a wasted opportunity to start a relationship with people. All they would have had to do was ask for an email address in return for the freebie (or ask people to follow their social media page in return) to get a load of new future customers into the top of their funnel. And once they had got those email addresses they would have been able to send an occasional email, or continue to put out great stuff on their social media, to keep these people engaged with their company until a child’s birthday came up. Because most people will not have been ready to ‘buy’ at the event and by the time an opportunity did come up they will have likely forgotten about the company.
So you need to link your real-world events with your digital marketing. You need to have a strategy to collect people’s names and email addresses when they 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 donate a big prize like a night in a vegan B&B, and ask people to leave their name and email address to enter. 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 your stall and giving them a link to your website – put them in the very top of your sales funnel!
You need to link your real-world events with your digital marketing. You need to have a strategy to collect people’s names and email addresses when they show an interest in your business so that you can continue the conversation later.
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, 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. You need to be the proactive 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. It’s important to remember that a social media ‘follow’ is not a sale, a ‘like’ is not a purchase; but again it’s all about getting people into the top of your funnel. Don’t be afraid to heavily promote your social media on your stall. Get people to take a photo with you or your products and to tag-in your company’s Instagram or Facebook page. Get them to share it while they are at the stand so you can re-share it with your followers. 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 an interest in your business and what you sell. These people share your mission and they will, in the majority, be glad to engage in sharing it. 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 up like a banana!
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 again get them to tag themselves on your social media. These are the people who are starting to become 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 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 to giving you more visibility without instead just directing you to their price list for sponsorship opportunities!
And the final thing to remember is that you should aim to extend what you get from a fair or market 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 online 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. 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 your stand or record a video showing what you’re selling on the stall that you can send out to your email list the day after, showing them what they missed. Keep an eye on social media to see who else is posting from the market, go find their stall and take a photo with them and tag each other in so you can get in front of each other’s audiences 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 an 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.
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