Shortly after Farmhouse Frocks became a reality, I found myself swept into the whirlwind of an experience I had only dreamed of living—representing my brand new business at the Country Living Fair. There were many amazing things that happened during that show, but the first amazing thing was the way it came about. Usually, a vendor has to apply to be accepted; we were actually invited! I was delighted to the moon and back when I got the news—so delighted that I remember doing a somersault on my couch!
Creating inventory seemed monumental! I remember thinking how massive our stock was with 12 totes of clothing. We borrowed a hauling van, which I thought would give us plenty of room, but in addition to the clothing and accessories, we hauled along display items like clothing racks, rusty bikes, and giant pillars. To this day, I don't know how we packed it all in there. It was a pure miracle. The girls barely had a place to sit and spent the entire ride holding things on their laps.
Now we stuff a 12’ trailer to the gills! And every show (we've done about 15 so far!) teaches us a little more about how to prepare as a vendor for the next Country Living Fair. I thought I’d take a bit of time to share a few of the tips we’ve learned along the way.
First, if you’d like to apply as a vendor for the CLF, or any other show for that matter, get your brand on ahead of time. I found that a few of the things the CLF folks look for in a vendor are to have a strong following on social media, to share clean product photos, and, of course, to provide a high-quality, artisan product that appeals to Country Living audience. You can find out more here.
Once you’re in, it’s time to kick it into higher gear! When I’m getting ready for a show, I free my schedule up for a week in advance. Our Amish seamstresses work hard preparing inventory at least eight weeks in advance. I try to evaluate how much product to bring based on past experience. A good rule of thumb for starting out came from my friend Wendy Wehmeyer of Rough and Tumble Vintage Clothing. She suggests preparing seven racks of clothing and seven accessories, whether it’s scarves, jewelry, purses, boot cuffs, or some other in-demand item. The racks you use should be uncomplicated, sturdy, and easily transportable. We crafted our own to suit our needs.
Before the trip, I schedule a meeting with my business coach so he can talk to the team and give them their own little pep rally. He emphasizes how important it is that everyone have a good attitude everywhere we go, even if it’s not at the fair. After all, we’re representing our company, and that’s an important task.
My goal is to have my trailer packed a week in advance and my own personal clothes prepared by Monday. I tell my seamstresses the deadline is the Friday a week before the show so there's no stress, and we price all of our product and enter the inventory into the computer before we go. We're very intentional about how we pack the trailer; keeping in mind the necessary unpacking process, we essentially pack backwards so the last thing in is the first thing we need to set up.
We make a list of everything that goes into the trailer so we can refer to it and adjust it for future shows. This is extremely valuable! The first show, we had no idea what all we needed. We had to borrow drop cloths to cover our product at night because we hadn’t thought of that in advance. So here’s a handy list of some of the things we’ve found to be extremely helpful, if not completely necessary.
Sturdy, simple, transportable display racks;
An indoor/outdoor carpet remnant to place on the ground inside the booth so product doesn’t get dirty when it falls;
A necessary bag filled with zip ties, screwdrivers, a tool kit, nails, tarp straps, a hot glue gun, chalk, wet naps, gallon baggies, and those all-important drop cloths;
A step ladder;
Square or other device for accepting credit cards;
Branded shopping bags;
Signage for pricing;
Get your tax status in order with the state you’re in; I have my accountant take care of the state tax ID and pay the sales tax for that state;
Plenty of change;
A rolling ice chest for lunches. Since there's now a crew of us, we freeze our home-cooked Amish meals and book a stay in an Airbnb or HomeAway because it's so much easier and more comfortable than staying in a hotel. If I do have to stay at a hotel, I always stay at an Embassy Suites. I use the HotelTonight app and Embassy Suites will match HotelTonight’s offers. They’re always clean and friendly, and I’ve never stayed at a bad one!
In setting up the show, curb appeal is huge. I'm very intentional about where I place my clothing. The third thing people touch should be a hot seller. Our trailer is outfitted with a wrap featuring our logo so it can double as a dressing room.
Once we’re done setting up shop and open for business, we slip into customer service mode. We’re careful about what the sales girls wear, because we’ve found that what they’re wearing is what sells the best.
As a team leader, it's very important to stay positive. I enjoy networking with others while at the show--that's how I've been able to land features in magazines—so I always take at least one check-out person and two sales people so I’m freed up to network with others. We emphasize to the crew the importance of being friendly and professional, with no food or water bottles visible to customers and certainly no bickering in front of customers. We relieve each other often and take breaks so we’re always refreshed and ready to give every single person an excellent shopping experience. It's important to treat every customer like they're your first and best customer, no matter the time of the day or the size of the purchase.
I’ve also learned that it’s important to adjust quickly to the unexpected. One time, we forgot a line of our frocks at home! You just have to make the best of it and wing it. Be flexible!
When it’s time to pack up, I meet with the team for another pep talk, letting them know how great they did for the show and letting them know we all have to work together to wrap it up. By that time, we are all eager to get home, and that’s when our true character comes out. I’ve found if we talk it through and acknowledge that there will be frustrations, things go more smoothly.
I always give myself a night to stay after we’ve packed up so we don't have to leave the night of, and then I give myself a day off when I get home to rest, bask in the glow of the weekend, and reflect on what went well and what we can do to improve for next time.
Most of all, we strive to have fun, make memories, and make friends. This is why you're doing it!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this bit of insight into what it takes to be a vendor at a Country Living Fair! I hope we see you
Oct 21-23 at the Country Living Fair at Stone Mountain in Atlanta, Georgia.
Beautiful images by Lyssa Ann Portraits.