Meg tries selling in person

Our first sales event featuring the new collection.

Hero image for Issue #22: Selling in Person

Our third collection launched this week!

We designed a bunch of Freddie and Co./Baron Fig notebooks! I’m a longtime fan of Baron Fig, and it was so fun to work with them. All proceeds from this collection benefit Literacy Action, an Atlanta nonprofit that teaches literacy, life, and work skills to undereducated adults.

I’m excited to tell you more about both Baron Fig and Literacy Action, but today’s issue is actually about my experiences selling our products — including the notebooks — in person at the Decatur Book Festival over Labor Day weekend.

I’ve done my fair share of shopping at markets and festivals like this, but I’ve never been on the other side of the booth. The first thing I did to start planning was sit down with my Freddie and Co. notebook (heh heh) and make a list. The displays and signage were the first obvious needs in my mind, but the more I wrote down, the more tasks piled up. Getting cash to make change, including tax in our pricing so I didn’t have to count coins, the logistics of cramming all the stuff into my Prius, getting iPads so people could subscribe to our newsletter in person, oh my! It dawned on me that selling at a festival booth requires much more planning and preparing than I first thought.

Plus, the thought of spending two 12-hour days talking to strangers stressed me out a little! I’m a social person, but my human interaction settings default to awkward and I didn’t know if I had it in me.

I tried to lighten the load by tapping into some personal resources for help. I scoured Pinterest for craft fair setups. I enlisted my woodworking future father-in-law, Mike, to create some excellent displays on our table that helped our products shine. My sewing maestro friend, Kari, made the adorable and functional pennant for the pins to hang onto. Melissa convinced a few Mailchimp coworkers to work with me in the booth so I wouldn’t be quite so socially overwhelmed. She worked it out so there was at least one person with me the whole time.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Ask for help!

I’m usually really bad at accepting help, but my friend Shauna told me about this thing called “The Ben Franklin Effect” which basically says that when people do you favors, they LIKE YOU MORE. Crazy, I know, but I think after this Freddie and Co. business, a bunch of people must like me a whole lot.

Looking back, there were definitely things I did right and things I did wrong. Let’s start with the former:

I pulled out the tablecloth and all the displays and did a few test sales with my card swiper. David was the one who suggested this, and it gave me some confidence going into the weekend.

I arrived 2 hours before opening thinking I’d have time to cool off and relax after setting up, but I didn’t put the final touches on the booth until exactly 10:00 a.m. when the people started milling around. It took so much longer than I anticipated. I was already sweaty and exhausted before I made my first sale, but I was ready!

We ordered some basic pencils with our store name on them and I put a sign out front that said, “FREE PENCILS!” in bold letters. People flocked to it. And once we got talking to these folks, they had some time to look at our items and consider a purchase. I truly think we can credit the majority of our sales to the free pencils.

And now for the best part: Things I did wrong.

I set up an iPad with Mailchimp Subscribe so people could sign up for Freddie and Co.’s list, but so many people really wanted a business card or some literature about the store and our project. (I had nothing like that!) I didn’t even have any pamphlets about Literacy Action, our nonprofit partner for the notebook collection. I ended up writing information down for people on the back of our leftover 4th of July stickers we were giving away.

When Melissa and I were deciding how much inventory I’d need, we greatly overestimated our pull. One of my booth neighbors told me he’d been selling books at this festival for years and he only brings 10 of each now after bringing cases and cases his first year. I think there’s a happy medium. I brought 200 of each notebook. We sold 49. Total. All in all, we made $983.72. The booth itself cost $500. We technically made a profit, but if you add in the time and resources for planning and execution, I’d say it’s probably a financial net zero.

That being said, engaging customers in person and getting our name in front of actual, living humans was great! People were eager to talk and learn about the store and our products. One woman bought almost $50 worth of merchandise after chatting with me about the store mission for a while, and said that even though she didn’t really need any of our items, she just loved everything I was saying about the nonprofits we support. <3333333

So, even though it wasn’t a huge money maker, I would definitely recommend online sellers attend events like these. Taking advantage of opportunities to engage your target audience directly and humanize your brand seems worth it to me.