I recently received an email from someone asking me for help with a big event she’s been asked to do. The event expects 3000 attendees, and she wanted to know how much product she should make. It’s a great question and one which lends itself to a blog post, since we’ve probably all be asked at some point to participate in this kind of thing.

Let me preface this by saying that I am a little bit anti-events. By “events” I’m not referring to things like wedding expos where it’s a clear opportunity to personally meet your direct target market and get exposure to those ideal clients. I’m talking more about events like “Girls Day Out” afternoons, carnivals at schools, charity events, etc. Basically anywhere where you have been invited to come along and sell stuff. I’m a little anti-event because I’ve found (after doing dozens of them) that they often don’t pay off as much as you might like them to.

That being said, I think every offer you get to participate in something beyond the four walls of your business is generally worth considering, but don’t jump into them just because you are flattered to be asked. I still consider every offer even if I don’t take up many of them.

Here’s some tips on how to decide if you should even attend in the first place:

  •  Before you do anything else: decide WHY you would attend. It’s either a) because it will raise your profile among your target market, b) help you raise some much needed cash, or c) both.  Deciding why you would bother to go in the first place will then affect how much you’ll be willing invest in the event.
  • Who is attending the event? Are they in your target market?
  • Has the event been run before? What was it like? Did they get the attendance numbers they thought they would, or can you see growth in numbers if it’s been run for a while?
  • If a company selling a product similar to yours participated the year before but isn’t doing so this year – call them and be honest. Why aren’t they doing it again? (Making this very phone call saved me a heck of a lot of money.) Of course, maybe they didn’t do well because their product was crappy..but if their reason for not returning was “not enough people attended to make it worth it” or “the organisers did not advertise it, the event was a hot mess” you’ve got to take that into consideration. Inside knowledge is priceless and don’t get that info from the company running the event, they just want you to sign up for a stall.
  • Think about what the fall out might be if (for example: the weather sucks) and you don’t sell anything. How much will this affect you, financially or otherwise? Can you afford for it to fail?
  • If you’ve done this event before and it didn’t meet your goal of profit or profile, ask yourself was it the *event* or was it your *product* which was the problem. Be honest! If you went again but changed things at your end, might there be a different outcome?
  • When is the event? Is it at a time of year when you have more time to devote to it, or is it at a time of year when you already will be working 100 hours a week? If it’s at a busy time but you think it might be lucrative, can you sacrifice staff or hire more staff to do the event?
  • Write out a budget of what it will cost you to attend and be brutally honest and detailed about it if you can. Labour, product costs, gas to get there, stall holder fees, insurance fees (often you need different insurance for public events), hiring of trestle tables, etc. If the number at the bottom of the budget makes you suck in your breath – I personally wouldn’t do it.

Here’s some tips on how to work out the ‘nitty gritty’ of products to take and things to think about once you have committed to being involved:

  • Has any other food company sold stuff at the event? If so, it’s worth giving them a call to ask what their experiences were with sales. If you are honest, eg “I’m thinking about holding a stall at this event,” most people are very willing to help, as long as your product is not in direct competition to theirs. This once worked very well for me, as I called a coffee company for inside info and ended up ‘partnered’ with them to have stalls next to each other. Coffee and cake are easily co-sold. Win-win!
  • If you decide to go ahead even though a similar product company pulled out, ask how many they sold and reduce it a bit. Cupcakes are cupcakes. If they sold 500, don’t bring 1000 because you think yours are better than theirs. Bring 500 or less and then sell out. It’s always better to sell out and create perceived scarcity in the market. If you go a second time, people who come a second time will know to buy your stuff early or risk missing out.
  • If in the above points you said you’re going to the event for “b”: to raise some cash – then work out the minimum number of products you will need to sell in order to actually MAKE some cash. Costs you $3000 to attend, your cupcakes cost $5 each – you’ve got to sell 600 of them just to break even. Is that even realistically achievable?
  • If in the above points you said you’re going to the event for “a” – to raise your profile or “c” – profile and profit – then work out the minimum you need to sell to break even, and brainstorm ways to keep your profile top of mind for the people who attend. Gather business cards for a prize draw, ask people to sign up for your newsletter, donate something to the auction, give away free fridge magnets, etc.
  • Experience has shown that about 1 out of 3 people will buy non-essential things at events- of course some will buy none and some will buy 3 or more products, but the 1/3 is a good rule of thumb. Generally speaking, I would not make more than 1 per 3 – so if 3000 are expected, 1000 items is probably more than enough. For me, I tend to do 1/3 then reduce that by an additional 20% because I prefer to sell out and minimize wastage. That being said, if the event has never been run before, take the organisers “estimated attendees” number with a massive grain of salt.
  • Come up with a plan for what you’re going to do with leftover stock. Donate it? Sell it? Trash it? Things which have a long shelf life and are wrapped (granola bars, cookies, etc) can be on-sold later but freshly baked cupcakes cannot.
  • Find a way to track the ongoing effectiveness of the event. You should be asking every single client how they heard about you anyway, so keep track of how many say they heard or saw you at the specific event in the months afterwards. Events can be just about cash flow, sure – but you should be seeing if they actually raised your profile as well.
  • Is it worth selling something you are capable of, but don’t normally produce? Events can be a good way to get an immediate reaction to a new flavour or new product line.

Events can be a great way to get your product in front of lots of people who may not have encountered it before, but they’re often a big investment of time and money so it’s worth thinking about carefully before committing. Events can also be a part of your bigger marketing strategy – perhaps you do events only in the winter, when it’s quieter and cash flow is needed and you’re trying to ‘recruit’ summertime clients. Just don’t immediately jump at the opportunity without first doing some legwork about it.

A tip of the day for you – most bigger events will sell stalls off at a fraction of the price the closer to the event that it gets because they need to sell as much space as possible. If you have an event you’d like to be a part of, but can’t afford the fees…about 7-10 days before the event, call the sales office and see what they’ve got and don’t be afraid to bargain them a bit. Might not be your ideal location or ideal stall size, but it might also be a great way to get your foot in the door at a much cheaper price.

Have you done any events lately? Were they more or less successful than you expected? What would you do differently (if anything)..?

5 comments on “Eventful

  1. I've been asked a few times and in the beginning I did it because I was flattered to be asked. I've since learned that the promised 'great exposure' almost never eventuates, and certainly never eventuates to the value of the time and money I spent on the cake. After all, whatever PR and exposure they get is going to be in THEIR interest, not yours – eg "we're so awesome we got this awesome cake" and if you're lucky they might bother to mention you. I've yet to hear of a contra deal that actually paid off enough to make it worth it.

  2. great food for thought as always. Do you have thoughts on companies that ask to do Contra deals? i have done a few in the past in exchange for magazine ads etc, some say i will get great exposure on their media sites etc, but i don't think you get anything out of it. Would be interested in your thoughts. Just recently a big brand alcohol company asked me to do a cake in exchange for "exposure" thank you

  3. Fantastic post as always. I recently applied to do a stall at a school summer fair on the proviso that mine would be the only cupcake stall. I then found out that two other cake stalls were participating, despite initial assurances that mind would be the only one! I pulled out and I'm pleased I did. So even assurances from event organisers can be a waste of time – always be careful.

  4. I've actually never done an 'event' – no expos or anything, because when I've sat down to work it out – I decided they weren't worth it to me, for the money or the exposure.
    The one time I would have perhaps thought about it, the organisers had sent an email enquiry to a very old (2 years old) email address that I hardly check, by the time I had received it and replied, they'd found someone else – a friend of mine actually! 😉
    I wouldn't rule it out in the future – but exactly as you point out in this fabulous post – it has to be worth it. It has to be a good business decision.

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