Behind the Scenes: When the Show Road Leads out of Town
Participating in live events is part and parcel of a maker's business. There also comes a time when you have to decide whether to do only local shows or to travel out of town for other opportunities. In my business journey here in Montana, live events were a must because I moved here without knowing a soul in the area. People needed to get to know me, and meeting those people in person was non-negotiable, but the real challenge was to pick which events to participate in and decide whether to just stay in the local area or travel out of town too. In my Buckaroo Bling experience, that decision came early, within the first year of doing business.
I was hoping to start selling my jewelry wholesale, and the only way to dip my toes into that creek was to travel out of town, as no wholesale events were held in the Flathead Valley. So, my first time venturing out of the area was a trip to 2019 Made In Montana Tradeshow in Helena, a 3-4 hour drive away from home in the middle of a pretty snowy time that year. Now, mind you, I'm not a very good long distance driver to begin with, so there was no way I'd travel all that way on my own, car loaded to the gills with show booth furniture and supplies. I enlisted help of Mr. Buckaroo Bling, but that posed additional issues: higher travel expenses.
When I participate in out-of-town events, I often encounter locals who have the mistaken impression that out-of-town vendors live a gypsy-like nomadic lifestyle, living out of their trailers year round with unlimited resources to travel as far and wide as they want. For most of us "small business fish" nothing can be farther from the truth. Traveling to a multi-day show, even just to Helena, is not cheap. Gasoline prices aside, you need a place to stay during the show, and sleeping in the car - at least for me - is not an option. You need to keep fed and hydrated too, and all of this has a price tag. Expenses get even higher if you have helpers traveling with you. And if you are so unlucky to have food allergies like I do, you have to be careful where and what you are eating and drinking, so you can't just go with the cheapest possible option. All of this adds up. So, how do I do out of town shows on a budget? I'm not claiming that I've got it all down to a science, but it's possible.
First, I look for cheaper accommodations. Being at a show means being on your feet for at least 8 hours every day, sometimes even longer. That's why it's important to get a good night's sleep each night. Most hotels, even when the show organizer offers a price break for exhibitors, would cost over $90 per night minimum. So, how do I get a good rest without breaking the bank? I've found that renting accommodations on AirBnB works pretty well. At least it did for me. If you go for a private room in someone's home, depending on what city you are staying in, you can get nightly rates starting as low as $50 per night. I know you've probably heard a horror story or two about AirBnB, but here in Montana, most hosts are honest and really friendly. I always do my research and book my stay way in advance, so chances are pretty good I'll have a great experience.
Next, those unavoidable meal expenses... If you're an average Joe and can eat most anything, like Mr. Buckaroo Bling, sticking with lower priced food he's familiar with (like Subway sandwiches, McDonald's, or Chick-Fil-A) while on the road is one of the greatest things he can do for our show budget. We just make sure it's the type of food he's familiar with and used to eating even at home because stomach upsets while on the road aren't a pretty thing. Unfortunately, I have food allergies and can't just pop into the first fast food place when traveling. Instead of spending hours researching restaurants in the new town and hoping they really can accommodate my special diet without inadvertently putting me in harm's way, I have found that packing an additional bag with ready-to-eat items I can have both at the show and at our rented accommodations without the need to cook or heat anything up is a must. Doing this usually takes care of all my breakfasts and lunches while away from home, and then, if Mr. Buckaroo Bling and I feel like it and if the sales at the show are going well, we can allow ourselves to eat a dinner or two at a better restaurant that can truly guarantee that the food we're served doesn't contain anything I'm allergic to. Yes, it's an extra bag to pack and an extra bag to take up room in the car, but it's well worth it.
Last thing I think of when I want to stay within our budget while traveling for out of town events is this: I try to restrain myself from shopping at the event I'm exhibiting at. Yes, I always see many, many things I would love to have that I can't get at home, but instead of spending my hard earned cash, I take that fellow vendor's business card, ask them if they'd be willing to ship to my area if I ordered online or over the phone, and if so, I write down the item I wanted on the back of that card. Once I get home and do all the accounting pertaining to my trip, I know exactly if I can afford what I wanted to buy and if I really need it or want it. It's easy to get caught up in the moment and buy something that you like but is not exactly what you needed, and Mr. Buckaroo Bling can tell you all about that. Suffice it to say, keep all your edibles away from him. I'm not saying that you shouldn't treat yourself to a little something if your sales went especially well at the show, but we surely try not to get caught up in the moment and overspend.
So, there you have it. When we do out of town shows, we don't live out of a trailer with unlimited resources for travel. We just decide on our priorities and get ready to employ some less common strategies to make it work. Do you have any additional tips? Drop them in the comments below. Can't make it to any live events Buckaroo Bling is participating in this year? Click the orange button here to shop our online store.