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Top 10 Tips for Selecting the Best Pride Events to Participate in as a Vendor

If you want even more tips on being a vendor, be sure to check out our Master Class showing you exactly how to be a successful vendor at events here:

If you're looking at being a vendor at Pride events this year, there is something you might notice...vendor fees are going up for no good reason. We've been a vendor at Pride events for many years now. There are some we go back to every year because they perform well for us, the fees are reasonable, and the event organizers appreciate a large brand like Powered By Rainbows with our 100K audience. For other events, we can't justify going back but that's mostly because the costs have gone up year after year.

A great example of a Pride event doing well is Schuylkill PrideFest. When they first started, they saw we had an audience of about 10,000 LGBTQ people online and we had plenty of contacts in the local media to help spread the word. So, we helped them get the word out and many of our fans came to see the event. One of them flew from the United Kingdom to Pennsylvania, USA to spend their vacation day with us at Pride (that's amazing).

Year after year, that Pride event has grown to accept more vendors, more audience members, and more entertainment. They even needed a larger venue a few years ago because they outgrew the old one. Sure, at first we paid nothing for our vendor fee because we were broadcasting the entire event but even now, their vendor fees have stayed reasonable at just $45.00 per space. Not to mention, the head of their event (Mikaela) has always treated us very well from being her friend. She's given us a great location every year near the stage because of our help years ago in broadcasting and publicity to get their Pride off the ground. We love her and that organization for that and we'll go back every year as long as we can because of those factors.

We go back not only because of the friendly treatment but because of the numbers. An event charging you $45 per day is acceptable for an event that's proven to bring in the crowds. But you as a vendor have to do the numbers to make sure it makes sense before signing up. So, first, add up all of your costs. We'll use our experience last year at Schuylkill PrideFest as an example below:

Vendor Fee: $45.00

Gas to get there and back: $20.00

Lunch for your crew: $15.00 (We get a bag of fully cooked chicken so we can have pure protein to help us power through the long day).

Dinner for your crew: $30.00 (We just get a pizza.)

Staff fees: $0.00 (My husband and I run our booth together. It is worth noting you should never have just one person run your booth because you will need to take bathroom breaks and you should never leave a booth unattended. Plus, if it gets busy - you need two salespeople.)

Next, add up all of these costs: $110.00

For a retail business, double that cost. For any food vendor, triple it. This is because most retail businesses operate on about 50% margins meaning 50% of every dollar you bring in goes to the cost of goods sold. For food vendors, that cost is about 33% for a healthy business. Another 33% goes to the truck and your license to sell food in that market.

So that brings our total in this example to $220.00 for our retail shop.

So, at the bare minimum (with a vendor fee of $45.00), that business has to bring in $220.00 in gross profit that day to just break even before any profit is made.

Now, divide that number by the number of hours the event runs. For Schuylkill PrideFest, it runs from 12 to 5 PM normally so you have 5 hours to make $220 or more. That's just $44.00 per hour which is reasonable for an event that can draw in the crowd. This is coupled with the fact that their event is in a higher income demographic so your chance of selling higher ticket items is good.

While I won't mention them by name, I've watched as other Pride events got greedy. They charge all vendors (non-profit and for-profit) a $15.00 fee to even look at your vendor application. That's insane. They charge upwards of $75 for the vendor space which means your actual vendor fee including application is $90...again, insane. Fun fact, that same event was charging audience members $10 per person to get into the event so that's $10 less each guest has in their pocket to spend at the booths inside. So, they were greedy and tried to make money on both ends. That means lots of vendors including us have sworn off going.

Other times, Pride events charge nothing to be a vendor but charge $5.00 per person for audience members to get in. That's reasonable because as a vendor, you already have a lot of risk involved in bringing your inventory to events. You might be sitting there with $10K in merchandise hoping it doesn't rain. So, a free vendor fee is great to see and we'll go back to those events every year we can.

But some other Pride events are insanely expensive. For example, last year we ran into a brand new Pride event just starting out. They charged an already high fee of $55.00 per 10x10 foot space ($25 more than any first-year Pride event should charge if you're looking at small business owners taking a chance on your unproven event). We offered to help them with publicity with our social media standing at 97,000 followers at the time. They refused to even list us as a vendor anywhere and refused any help from us to get LGBTQ people to come. So, we had to cancel.

The demographic in their area had a low chance of return on investment and they didn't want any help in advertising which was sad. Their event ended up having maybe a dozen audience members show up and while my husband and I considered ourselves lucky to not have lost money that day in going, it was sad to see a new Pride struggle without accepting any help that was offered to them by multiple vendors.

For other events, they charge over $100 per space which is a LOT of money for a small business or charity. Lots of small business owners we've seen will pay $125 for a space then they'll bring in $150 that day. They'll think "I made $25 of profit" without realizing the cost of gas, food, or costs of goods sold (materials). So, they really lost about $100 that day just by being a vendor (Their costs were about $250 but they only brought in $150). Here's a tip: If you'll lose money going to an event as a vendor, why not go to the event as a guest instead? You'll lose less money that day just being an audience member and you'll get to see how it goes for other vendors so you can decide on whether or not to be a vendor next year.

For every dollar the event organization charges as a vendor fee, the vendor has to bring in twice or three times that to just break even. Sure, it might sound reasonable to the event organization to charge this much but many small businesses won't feel welcome at those prices.

Here's a tip for events: There are two major things vendors always should look for when choosing which events to go to that year. First, vendors always look for pictures of last year's event. If you've never held an event before, the most a small business can risk on you is maybe $30 to $40 because we have staff, merchandise, insurance, etc. all there and no one knows how many people will show up yet.

If you've had events in the past, we need to see pictures of them to prove it's worth it for our small business to sign up. We need to see a large crowd to know we have a good chance of bringing in $50 to $75 per hour at least.

In those pictures, if we see your audience is mostly under a certain age or over a certain age, a vendor might think their target demographic won't be at the event again this year. If our target demographic won't be there, why should we go and risk our money?

If a vendor notices all you have is major corporations and no small businesses or artists, maybe this won't be the event for them. Sure, $150 fee is nothing to Amazon or WalMart but those sorts of companies aren't looking at making a profit at the event. In fact, many times last year we ran into Dollar General or Amazon giving away similar items that we (as a small business) were selling for a dollar or two. So, we had wasted space on our tables taken up by items that were never going to sell that day because some major corporations had deep pockets. And it definitely hurt our bottom line not selling any of those items that day so we had to rethink going back this year because the event maybe caters to large corporations.

For a small business, this is our livelihood so that $150 fee means we have to bring in over $500 that day before we earn our first profitable dollar. And if your event only lasts 5 hours, that's $100 per hour just to break even.

Now, I know some events like Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New York, or San Francisco can charge $600 per space which is out of many vendor's price ranges. Fees like that mean a small business would have to make $2,000 before breaking even and that's not possible with just two people working a booth either. Even if the audience is there, and even if all your staff is doing is selling constantly with no downtime, you won't make $2,000. So, those Pride events are looking more towards large charities or companies who consider $600 a petty cash fund.

Perhaps those large Pride events should consider a lottery system of accepting a handful of small businesses for a reasonable vendor fee just so they aren't filled with only large organizations. This way they can have a "Small Business Alleyway" or something to prove they still care about small vendors or up-and-coming artists/authors.

Some Pride events charge high fees without realizing how much it hurts the small businesses or organizations wanting to be vendors and get their brand out there. Some of the event organizers don't do the math to realize every vendor needs to double or triple their cost to earn a single dollar that day (and if they don't earn a dollar, it won't be worth coming back).

Some places don't appreciate a potential vendor with a sizable audience that can help them get off the ground or grow. And some Pride events are just plain hard to deal with and vendors won't put up with it very long.

But this year, more than ever, Pride events are charging higher fees without much more costs involved. We've seen numerous Pride events this week announcing $125 to $200 fees which is very sad. They're catering to much larger companies who can afford to lose money or consider a Pride event just another way to advertise their "career opportunities". Perhaps if those companies want to support a Pride event, they can pay a reasonable vendor fee like a small business can afford plus large companies like Dollar General, Amazon, or WalMart can pay a sponsor fee too.

For a small business or artist, anything over $50 is too much of a risk for one day. Even at $50 for an event that is an hour away from your shop, a vendor would have to make over $50 per hour to break even that day. If the event can't bring in the audience, doesn't show examples of them bringing in the audience last year, or doesn't want help from vendors to bring in the audience again, it's a bad sign for a vendor meaning it's too great of a risk for a small business owner to take. Anytime a vendor would have to bring in over $50 per hour to break even, it's a very big risk in being a vendor that day for any small business.

Even if an event can bring in an audience, it doesn't mean your vendors will come back. For example, last year we did a new Pride event called SlateBelt Pride. They charged a high fee of $75, placed us in a bad spot, and then went to the microphone telling guests to go support every vendor around us...except us...which ensured we'd never come back. They might argue they forgot us or they skipped us on the list but even if we didn't have fans traveling hundreds of miles to come see us, there's no excuse for it.

So, if you're a vendor out there trying to figure out which Pride events to attend this year, use these tips.

  1. Do the math and see how much money you would need to bring in per hour to break even. If it's over $50 per hour, really think about your risk before signing up or perhaps offer them something you could bring to the table like help publicizing the event in exchange for a discount to make it below $50 per hour.

  2. Do some research on the demographics (Median household income, median age, etc.) on the area the event will take place. If it's a low-income area, maybe your charity can help people there more than other places but if you're looking at making a profit or sell high-ticket items, perhaps save your money to go to higher-income area events.

  3. Look up pictures of the event not just on the event organizer's website or social media but look up pictures and videos from local media (news stations and newspapers).

  4. Take notice of what type of audience they got last year and ask yourself if it matches your target audience for your organization.

  5. Take notice of other vendors. Do they have small businesses coming back year after year or do small businesses only go one year but never come back because they potentially lost money? Do they only have large companies that will give away items that you're trying to sell? Do they only have large companies meaning your small business won't get a good vendor space because those other companies are preferred?

  6. Does the event charge audience members a fee to get into the event? If they don't charge you as a vendor but a small fee to guests, maybe it's reasonable. But if they charge you a high fee plus an entrance fee to every audience member - never, ever go to that event because they are greedy. Consider every dollar an audience member has to spend at the door to get in, one less dollar in your pocket.

  7. Is the event indoors? If it's inside then maybe an extra $10 to $20 vendor fee is worth it because you won't have to worry about rain or hot weather. But if you're like us and sell fans at your booth, indoors can be a bad thing too because our fans sell well when it's hot out.

  8. Have they switched venues in the past? For example, a Pride event we attended last year changed the town where their event would take place in, literally a week before the event. They switched towns after all the vendors signed up and advertising was already put out for their event all over social media and local news. So, their audience attendance suffered greatly, all because they didn't get the proper permits from the town they originally planned on hosting the event in before having vendors sign up. That shows irresponsibility and it makes you want to stay away as a vendor. Evidence of a venue change would be found on a simple Google search.

  9. Look at their vendor list to see if they had a lot of other vendors last year that would compete with your shop. For example, if you sell burgers and fries but they already have three places that sell those, maybe your most popular item won't sell that well because there are only so many guests who can eat that day, and you're splitting it 4 ways.

  10. How far away is the event? Can you get there and back on the same day or would you need a hotel for the night, raising your costs astronomically?

These are all things to consider when figuring out which events to attend this year. But for even more tips and our full 4.5 hour Master Class showing you how to design, brand your booth, and showing you which products perform well, be sure to check out our Event Vendor Master Class on where you can get a USB copy with PDF resources or on Udemy where you can watch the course online.


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