As an event lead interested in having vendors at my event, what can I do to to make sure merchants have a good experience?
—Ljufvina, via the website
That's an excellent question! Many event leads who haven't come to it from being a merchant are unfamiliar with the specific requirements merchants have, and they aren't always the things you might think about.
Frankly, when we talked about it as a group, we came up with a lot of answers about vehicles. I'm sure you were more thinking about what can be done during the event itself, and we'll definitely get to that, but we kept thinking, "Oh, and the parking! Have we talked about the parking yet?" A lot of what can make or break an event for a merchant isn't so much the event itself but the logistics of getting there, getting set up, and getting torn down again. These are all places where a little forethought goes a long way.
Because seriously, the parking thing. The best thing you can do for a parking situation is make sure that the parking is clearly marked, that there's enough handicapped parking, and that, if you decide to change a setup from year to year, you think about how it's going to affect the people who actually have to use it. There's an event we go to where parking and merchant camping are the same place, and while some people might like that, we don't—we'd really prefer not to wake people up with our headlights if we have to drive on or off site at midnight.
You also have to make sure that the practical issues for set-up and tear-down are addressed. Time is important; Shane working alone takes three hours for either, and I'm pretty sure he's gone to at least one event where they expected him to be done in one. What's more, you need to make sure that it's possible to get vehicles in and out during those times without hopeless traffic jams. Remember, your merchants are going to be parking while they load and unload their vehicles. If there's a reason they can't do that, consider acquiring a volunteer force to heft things.
Moving away from cars, make sure all requirements are made clear to everyone before the event starts. Don't have something crazy that no one finds out about until they're on site, especially if your site is in the middle of nowhere. And make sure everyone responsible has the right information, too! We went to an event years ago where someone official came around and told the merchants that they needed to have food service-level fire extinguishers or else they'd be closed down. This was Saturday morning. Shane ended up driving to the nearest Costco, a couple of hours away, to buy fire extinguishers for everyone. And then it turned out that the person was confused, and we didn't need them after all. Except the food service people, of course!
Another place a little planning goes a long way is in the layout of your merchants' row. I was at an event before I worked in the Redwolf booth where eight or ten merchants were on a stretch of the row that it was possible to miss. They did half their expected business on Saturday and ended up hiring me on Sunday to herald for them and let people know they were there. Goodness knows that worked out for me, and it worked when I did the heralding, but it absolutely should not have come to that. Even a few conspicuous signs would have helped.
Speaking of profit, be aware that merchants have to make one. Don't price your merchants' fee so high that it takes it all. A large, successful event can charge a higher fee than a small first-time one. Obviously, we'd like your event to do well for you, but we need it to do well for us, too, to make it worth our time.
Consider getting a couple of volunteers to be runners. A lot of merchants work alone. No one wants to leave the booth completely unattended if nature calls, but sometimes, you don't have much choice. Help out with that—find a couple of people you'd trust with your business and have them booth-sit, run errands, and other minor tasks. That's another thing I used to do myself, and it was always met with gratitude.
And remember, a little dialogue goes a long way. Walk the row a couple of times a day. Talk to your merchants. Ask them how they're doing, how the faire is going for them, if there's anything that isn't working. If there's anything in particular that is! For the most part, merchants are friendly people. If they weren't, they'd go into a different line of work. As long as you don't try to interrogate them while they're completely slammed, they'll be more than happy to keep you posted on how things are going. The fact that you're asking will make you friends, especially if it's clear that you're listening.