Dream Under The White Tent

Breathing dreams like air 

Many of you know that I and some friends of mine own our small fashion boutique called Micha. These past two years we have been super busy and involved in the summer because we participate in festival as a vendor almost every weekend from May to August. Since I know a lot of you are curious and asked me a lot about how we get there and the logistics, I thought I would share with you the gist of it in the post.


Festivals for us is gem, because we are small and not a lot of people know our online store yet. In order to get our business out there, we promote our items and ourselves as a business through local festivals. In each of these festivals, not only do we promote through flyers and business cards, we also sell our products. So there is always a lot of things we have to do during the festival and even prepare on days outside of the festivals.



How did we get to where we are now
We have gone through ups and downs, and ultimately as small business, I think the more and the faster we go through it, the faster we will get up there. How we got there is a long story... When we first started the business around 2015, we were figuring out ways to promote our business to groups outside our family and friends circle; so one of the founders had an idea to go to local festival. A couple of us went to some local fests to do some research and learn from what other small businesses were doing. Some of us did research and look for viable festivals we can go and participate. The first festival we found was Chinatown festival. It was and still is one of the best festivals out there for us. This festival was easier to get in for us because it doesn't cost as much, it is close, and does not require jurying (so we know we won't be eliminated). You also have to be careful because some festivals require your items to be only handmade; so no merchandisers allowed. For this first debut, we prepare a lot!! We bought our own tent, table, chairs, table cloth, signs, we also stocked up a lot of inventory because we didn't know how many we are going to sell, packaging, boxes, business cards, displays, photos, etc. Joining these festivals mean that you are willing to wake up at 5am during the weekend and get your car wrecked, yeah, unfortunately. That didn't necessarily stopped us though.  In the beginning of the festivals, barely people came to our booth, I felt really really down - because I thought of how much effort we put onto this and I thought we failed. Noon came and fortunately traffic started to pick up. I was feeling more confident as more people were buying from us. My aunt and I started rapping and shouting trying to bring more people to our booth, we closed the day with all our inventory almost sold out.


Because we did very well, we continued the exploration. We dug through the site called fairsandfestivals to look for more festivals. We found a few festivals including Mayfest, Ladies Night, Gurnee Mills Festivals. In Mayfest we started making connections and friends with other vendors. We learned which other festivals we should or should not go and started applying to those festivals. We also found out that festivals in the suburb is not very heavy in traffic; so it was rough. Festivals located in malls is also rough because we were competing with established stores like Forever 21, etc. Starting from then we started learning more about festivals and started going to festivals almost every weekend in the summer.



What do I do to prepare and run my booth during festivals?
Even though festivals only last from Friday to Sunday, it doesn't mean that it only requires work during that time. It requires a lot of work and time! During the weekday, I mostly prepare the inventory, organizing the luggages, storages, tagging our products with our brands, steaming our clothing items, ensuring everything is complete and ready for the festival. During the weekday I also try to promote the festivals we are going to through social media so that our followers know that they can visit us in person and see our items in person that weekend. 

The day before the festival (Thursday night), with the help of my friends and family, I pack everything that we need for festival: tent, tables, chairs, lights, luggages, wagon, into my sedan. Yup! I have 6 luggages, two tables, two clothing racks, one tent, and two chairs - and those fit to a sedan. Isn't it amazing?



The day of the festival (Friday evening), I typically take a half day off and once I got home from work I change my clothes to Micha products and started driving to the festival place. Setup of booth typically takes 2-3 hours for us. In the festival area, we look for our committee to find out where our booth is located. Once we find out, we unload and carry our stuff to the location, setup the tent, setup our booth's carpeting, fitting room, table, cloth, displays, clothing rack, banner, side panels, and finally placing our inventories in a nice way. We have hundreds and hundreds of inventory; that's why it is always challenging trying to fit all of them on two tables nicely and neatly. Display is very important! Out of that many vendors in festival, make sure your setup catches people's eyes!! Lastly, I always always check that all our inventory are out so our customers can see our full store, and get our POS system out (iPad and Card Readers).



During the festival, we mostly greet our customers. Note that this is really important, because at the point, we are the face of our business. We go and help customers who look and stuff and needs help trying things on or wants to make a purchase. We also look around the stores to make sure things are still in the right place (not out of wack). I tend to be that person that let customers wander around the store without spying on them, because when I go shopping in stores I hate it when the sales clerk follows me around and pushing me to buy stuff; so I don't want to do the same to other people. If it's nice on them, I will honestly say it looks nice. If it doesn't look as nice in my eyes, I'll stay quiet. Happy and beautiful customers is happy and healthy business, don't you think? Festivals normally last until 10:00 pm. So, we would do the same from Friday to Saturday and Sunday 9:00 am - 10:00 pm and then wrap up; so every day I will get home around 11:00 pm or almost midnight. Ready to start the next day again around 9:00 am - full of power with hopefully smile on my face.



I'd say that wrapping up can be either the most tiring thing or the most rewarding thing. On festivals where we do well, I'm always very happy (even though tired) during clean up time, because I feel accomplished. When we don't do so well, I have to suck it up with all the tiredness from the three days, clean up and go home. Unload all the stuff back to storage and get ready for the next festival.

Now I hope some people who has been asking me where have I been understand truly where I have been...



What do I like the most and what I don't like as much during festivals?
People is a big part of it, I'd say.. It is always very rewarding when you go to festivals and hear from your customers that you have beautiful products, especially things that we actually made ourselves (e.g. our clothing collection). After almost three years of being in festivals, we have met a few customers that kinda has became our friends. We see them in multiple festivals, they keep coming back to our booth and still believe in the products we provide, and keep the friendly conversation going with us. There are people that would come to our booth and thank us for providing beautiful things, because they get compliments from other people. That.. is.. very.. always.. very.. rewarding.. to me. I always feel very happy and appreciative to them for letting us know that.



Obviously not all the experiences are nice.. there is always people that are scary or mean, but I learned to not take it personally and brings back positive words from other people. There would be scary guys eyeing on Micha girls, but now we learn to always bring our guy friends or parents around us.



How do we know it's the right market?
Trial and error, man.. trial and error. There are times where I feel some areas would be a great fit, but turned out it's not. There are times where I feel some places would not be all that great, but turned out it's a success. You never know.. give it a try one year and if it fails, don't do it again next time. Yes, it cost a lot of money if you fail (each fest can cost up to $800), but think that at least you get your name out there right? Do not be afraid.. if you are too scared, look for other vendors to partner with and perhaps split the tent into two.



Advises...
As time goes by.. you realize weather is a big part of it too.. Make sure your setup and tent is real deal. Strong! 
Don't be afraid to speak up to your brand, be proud of your work when promoting it out. 
If you don't do so well, remember that you may do better elsewhere.. don't give up..
lastly.. be honest, be yourself. Whenever people ask me where my stuff are made, if the accessories will tarnish, or if stuff look good on them, I always always try to tell the truth to my customer. You have no idea how many people told me they appreciate me for telling them the truth. They appreciate you and your business for being honest. So, yeah.. be yourself, be honest, and don't give up!

If you have any more questions for me about this, please feel free to drop your comment below or message me!


Mural Location:
E Congress Pkwy & S Holden Ct. (South Loop)
Chicago, IL


xx,

Catherine 

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