Almost every event needs vendors – if you’re organizing an event, you probably are looking for a mix of food and merchandise vendors. But, where do you begin?

When planning for vendors at your first event, you likely have a lot of questions…

  • How do you get vendors to come to your event?
  • How many vendors do you need?
  • What kinds of vendors should you look for?
  • What are the requirements for vendors?
  • What should you include in your vendor contract?

We have learned lots about getting vendors over our years of event planning and want to share some of our experiences with you.

How do you get vendors to come to your event?

This can be really tricky when you are a first-time event. As we mentioned in one of our first blog posts, most first-time events are unfortunately not very well run or profitable. Vendors often try to avoid attending first-time events because they don’t know what to expect, or how busy they will be. Basically as soon as you have your event dates set, you just need to start asking and try convincing the prospective vendors that coming to your event will be worth their time.

You will probably need at least 1 food vendor. Try starting by asking a local service club who has a food trailer – they usually only attend local events and are staffed by volunteers, so will more likely be available and not need as high of a return to break even. Our local Lion’s club has a great chip wagon that has been a favourite at our rodeo from year 1. Another idea is to ask around and see if there are any local food trucks who are just starting up and looking for events to get into.

Merchandise vendors are also great, as they give visitors more to do and look at during down time at the event. These seem to be a little easier to convince to attend, as their costs for setting up a booth for the weekend are generally lower than a food vendor (ie. they don’t have to have an expensive truck or buy perishable food ahead of time without knowing what sales will be like).

Try asking on a local Facebook group for vendors who are interested in coming to an event and you will usually get some interest (especially from MLM salespeople or crafters).

How to get vendors for your event

Above: the vendor area at the 2019 Norfolk Ram Rodeo. We surround the area with vendors, making the inside a ‘meeting area’ for event visitors.

How many vendors do you need?

This will totally depend on your event. How long will people stay there? How much space do you have? How many people do you expect to attend?

If you want people to stay for more than a few hours you need to offer food. If you are a small event you can probably get away with 1 or 2 food vendors and seeing how it goes from there. I recommend minimum 1 “basic main food” vendor where most people can find something to eat. If it’s going to be hot, another good idea to start with is an ice cream or lemonade stand.

With merchandise vendors, it will again depend on your event. Some people go to events just to shop with the vendors! If there is any “down time” between your main attractions, vendors are a good (and easy for you!) way to give people something to do.

Figuring out the right number of vendors is tough…. It is really a balancing act. You want the vendors to be busy enough that it is worth their time to attend your event (you want them to make a profit so they come back!). But at the same time, you want to have a selection of different food and merchandise for your visitors to choose from, and to avoid long line ups at popular times (ie. half time, just before and after the main performance).

The first year we ran the rodeo we only had 3 food vendors – the Lion’s club chip wagon, an ice cream truck, and a kettle corn/ lemonade vendor. The line ups at the chip wagon were crazy long! The vendors all had a super profitable weekend, but our guest feedback showed that they wanted more options and shorter lines. Again – it is always important to start small, ask your guests (and also vendors!) for feedback and act on it!

What kinds of vendors should you look for?

I already kind of covered this.

If you want people to stick around you need food! Choose crowd pleasers to start …. You may love vegan salads but unless that is your target market it probably isn’t a good choice for the average event crowd. Try to find a food vendor that offers enough variety that almost everyone will find something they like there.

I recommend starting by looking for merchandise vendors that match your event theme. For example, running a rodeo one of our most popular merchandise vendors is a tack shop who sells cowboy boots, western hats etc. This obviously depends on the type of event you’re running. At the campground with concerts the biggest sellers were t-shirts and glow-stick accessories. What does your target market like to buy?

People like unique things to browse for sale as well. Do you know of any local crafters or artisans who would like to attend? MLM (scentsy, Tupperware, etc.) vendors tend to be pretty easy to get, as there are a lot of people who sell this stuff as a side job.

How to get vendors for your event

What are the requirements for vendors?

Requirements for vendors vary from event to event, and depending on your area. Make sure to check with your local county regarding vendor requirements when applying for your event permit. Requirements will often be different depending if the event takes place on private or public property.

Generally, a merchandise vendor will need about 10’x10’ space minimum. We only provide the space, and they need to bring their own table, chairs, tent, etc. Most merchandise vendors don’t require power, but if you have the option of providing power, it is a good thing to offer them (for an additional cost).

Food vendors will often need a larger space (to park their truck) and power. Some trucks have their own generator – this is an important thing to ask them about when booking food vendors. If they have their own generator, is it quiet? If they need you to supply power, what kind of plug-in do they require?

We require all of our vendors to carry their own liability insurance to attend.

Food vendors are also required to have a valid inspection done by our local health unit, and submit their information online to the health unit about the food they are serving etc. Again – make sure you ask about the requirements in your area!

If you have any vendors selling alcohol make sure they are properly certified and insured, and that you have filled out the proper paperwork to allow this. If not, you are putting yourself at risk if there are any issues that arise involving alcohol!

What should you include in your vendor contract?

A few key things to include are:

  • what you are giving them (ie. size of space, power etc.)
  • what they need to do to attend (ie. paperwork to fill out, insurance, health unit requirements)
  • dates and times that they can set up and take down
  • price they will pay, and when it is due

Our vendor application/ contract is on our event website -feel free to check it out and use it as a template for your own.

Other tips:

  • Ask your vendors to help advertise your event! It will benefit them too, so give them posters, flyers, lawn signs, etc. and ask them to share your event on social media!
  • Map out your vendor area ahead of time, so that when vendors arrive you know where they are going. It makes things much easier on set-up day, believe us!

Do you still have questions that we didn’t address? Please feel free to comment with your question, and we will gladly try to share our insight! Happy planning!