The challenge of managing vendors at festivals

Whenever I work with an event team, and someone asks me what I do, their eyes glaze over when they recall their own experiences of having to deal with event traders. I have spent the last twelve years managing market and event traders, and for some reason it comes naturally to me. I have a real understanding of what is involved from a trader’s point of view, and I think this helps me both make decisions that they understand, and also deal with their dissatisfaction when they feel they are being short-changed.

Festival traders are accustomed to arriving at a semi-chaotic site, having to struggle to find the correct person to deal with, then having to verify that the selected trading spot is going to suit their arrangement, and then they have to find out what other traders are in the area and if the level of competition is sustainable or strangulating. And this is all on top of having paid a premium to be there. Unfortunately due to the proliferation of diplomacy-deficient Event Vendor Managers, festival traders are always semi-ready for a set-to in order to get what they want, because most of them will have found that that actually works, and they end up getting the spot they want, in the area that they want. However, this demonstrates appalling vendor management forward planning.

Vendors should arrive at a site that has a clear plan of who goes where, and due consideration should be given to distance between similar offerings, and not over-saturating the site. Vendors pay steep fees to participate, and unfortunately this can adversely affect the amount of traders allowed into an event because it is hard for the organisers to turn down an extra few grand, and it’s no skin off their nose if the trader doesn’t do well. The layout of traders should be viewed in terms of aesthetics, due regard for health and safety, and ensuring complementary stalls are located near one another. The event is a lot easier to manage if the stake holders are trading well, and this generates good word of mouth for future events, resulting in an increased amount of applications from which the best can be selected.
Traders are bound by strict regulations in terms of food safety, hygiene, and fire safety. Vendors must be registered with the HSE in order to be eligible for trade, and HAACP guidelines must be followed from start to finish. Environmental Health Officers are pleased when they see records being maintained, demonstrating confidence and competence. Hygiene practices must be policed by the vendor area managers. It’s all fine and well to have HAACP certs etc. but if someone sees a trader handling money and then handling food without having washed their hands or using gloves, serious damage can be caused to the whole event. Area managers need to watch out for good food handling practices, hair tied back, aprons, and a system for collecting money that doesn’t involve contaminating the food.

Getting vendors to participate in a new festival or event is a challenge. There are so many existing events to choose from that you may have to work with lesser known traders, keen to get a start, in order to get the event off the ground. As it establishes itself – presuming it was successful – it should be easier to recruit traders. The best way to find traders is to recruit an experienced vendor manager who should have a portfolio of traders from which to draw, or go market to market, and festival to festival, and woo the ones you want.

About the author:

Jackie Spillane started in the festival, market and event management world in 2003, following six years in the artisan food industry as a supplier. Jackie started the Peoples Park Market in 2003, followed by Marlay Park in 2004, both of which are still thriving. Jackie worked on the Festival of World Cultures for seven years, and curated the Festival of World Food for its two year run. Jackie works at Marlay Park each weekend at the markets, and works at various festivals and events throughout the year. Jackie specialises in coordinating traders for events.