Finding the Perfect Vendors
Car show season is starting up for most of the country and even if it’s still snowy and cold in your home town, it’s never too early to start thinking about the best ways to make your car event bigger and better than ever before. In this latest installment of So You Want to Have a Car Show, we discuss some of the most important vendor options to consider and the best ways to entice attendees and encourage them to stick around.
Let’s start with the most important vendor a car show can have–a food vendor. Car events are often day-long events and the ones that are morning or night based, like cars and coffee events or cruise nights, should be prepared with breakfast and dinner options. Don’t make the mistake of hosting a cars and coffee without any coffee, like a show we once attended. Let’s just say our family doesn’t do well without the morning Joe.
So, how can you find unique and exciting food options that will really make your event stand out? Here are a few ways to get started.
We’ve discussed food trucks pretty often on this site, but I think it’s warranted. Food trucks add a lot of unique value to your event. For one, they offer more interesting and often healthier options than your traditional cheesesteak and fried Oreos fare (and I’ll be the first to say I love both cheesesteaks and fried Oreos, but you can only eat them so many times in a season).
Beyond that, however, food trucks are a unique kind of automotive element in and of themselves. There are often food trucks shows and gatherings and a new food truck culture has been developing rapidly. That means you’ll have an easier time attracting new, often different attendees to your events. Food truck owners tend to be heavily hooked up into the social media sphere, and that means you might even see them doing some advertising for and from your show when promoting their own services.
Lastly, food trucks are just fun. Grab a coffee and donut truck for your cars and coffee, or sign up with taco trucks, dim sum trucks or grilled cheese trucks for your cruise night. A more unique and expansive list of food options will help attract younger audiences and families to your event.
Set Up Seating
This isn’t always an option, but if you look back at our venue suggestions, you’ll see that we’ve recommended finding a place where there’s at least shade or a comfortable spot to sit on the ground. If you want to take it a step further, which we do recommend, consider renting a handful of tables and chairs and arranging a small seating location, with enough trash and recycling baskets. I’ve been attending shows my entire life, and while there is some romance behind sitting on a broiling curbside and scarfing down a greasy cheeseburger, I’d really like the option of maybe not doing that.
The nice thing too, about a seating area, is it shows your guests and attendees that you’re creating an experience for them. Car events can get incredibly hot and are often overwhelming to families with young children. Having a place for them to slip away for a little bit might ensure they stay and enjoy the show for longer.
Water, Water, Everywhere
It costs like four dollars to pick up a 24-pack of water at Walmart, and Costco has even better bulk-buying options. While you’ll want to be sure that you’re not stepping on anyone’s toes that might be selling food at your location, it’s not a bad deal to sell those bottles for a buck. Your event makes a healthy profit, literally twenty bucks off the case, maybe slightly less if there’s ice involved, but more than that, you’re focused on keeping your attendees and visitors comfortable and happy.
Full disclosure, I don’t do great in the sun. I’m about 50% responsible for why the sunscreen industry is doing so well, and I carry several water bottles on me to shows and events. Second-degree burn me twice, and all that. The point is, I’d be happy to shell out two or three bucks to stay hydrated, and I think a lot of other people would too. It’s all part of cultivating an experience, and for a few extra dollars, it’s more than worth it.
Something Sweet to Eat
Personal preference, more ice cream trucks, please. I just really love ice cream.
After food, entertainment is the most important part of an automotive event, and I think it’s where a lot of shows, especially smaller ones, could really make a difference. We’ve spoken about social media in this series before, and this is one of those places where modern communication can shine. Let’s look at a few ways how.
Yes, I know from the person I literally live with that good sound equipment can be pricey. But it doesn’t have to be. You can rent decent sound stuff locally and test it out to make sure that you’re not blowing anyone’s eardrums or droning out raffle numbers no one can hear. Music at the far ends of the field is important, and good equipment can make a world of difference.
Look Who’s Talkin’
As far as your entertainment. Now, I know that’s it’s less expensive to hook up a Spotify playlist of oldies and let it run through the day, and I’m not knocking that, but I think we should expand our options. We’ve spoken in the past about getting involved with your local communities and this is one of the top places to do it.
Speak with the high school about their band coming out and playing a song or two on the field–this will bring a whole lot more attendees just by virtue of the members and their families. Is the school putting on a play in the near future? Offer for them to perform a number and sell tickets at the car show. Maybe the local dance studio has kids dancing to Sinatra? Well, since there’s nothing in the world cuter than kids dancing to Sinatra, offer them a spot on the stage. Local forums, posts, and Facebook pages will help you find young musicians, comedians, and performers that can fit your theme and your day. I’m not advocating for ‘exposure’ because, in all frankness, I think it’s top-of-the-line bullshit, but look further than oldies cover bands and consider a lineup of events and activities throughout the day. You’ll be seeing people staying longer and coming more often.
Something for the Kids
And if you’re looking to attract larger audiences, think family-sized entertainment. A face painter, magician or bouncy castle would not go amiss and they can be great ways for you to raise more money for your event or cause via donation.
You may even want to look further afield. Does your local farm bring baby goats for parties? Are there kids painting classes or crafts in the area? Once you can advertise your event as a family-friendly one, you’ll reach a whole new audience looking to stay a lot longer.
In between kids events and fun live entertainment, you may want to consider a few interactive options as well. That might mean setting up a short game show with automotive trivia. Or maybe you and a few friends build out some carnival games or even a photo booth. If money isn’t a problem, you can always rent a few or, in line with the event, consider bringing in a builder or restorer to talk about their programs. Customizers, motorcycle instructors or painters would all add an interesting touch.
Go-karting. Consider it.
What’s For Sale?
And, of course, you’ll always want to consider what’s being offered for sale, donation, and prizes at your events. Vendors can offer interesting and unique content that will capture your attendees’ attention.
I’m all about the tee-shirt and hat vendors. I think they can offer easy access goods for most consumers. That said, it’s important that you charge a normal amount for a vendor spot. These guys don’t make the big bucks, especially at smaller shows. If you overcharge, you won’t have anyone filling those empty vendor spots.
Art and Gifts
One thing I’m always amazed by is the amount of beautiful automotive work in the world. Illustrators, photographers and craftsmen and women have taken the art of the car and turned it into something totally unique and original. These prints and designs often make for great gifts and can add something special to your space, beyond the traditional vendors.
You want your event to feel full and exciting and that’s going to look different for every space and group putting on a show. That said, take a step back and intentionally consider where and how you’re going to arrange your vendors, entertainment and food. If you have a lot of space, maybe consider putting vendors in two places, giving people reason to visit them as they walk around. You may want to put them in a location people pass as they enter, so they’ll be inspired to stop and look around. You have to decide what’s best for your event, but don’t be afraid to plan it out in advance.
We could talk for a lot longer about the importance of unique and interesting vendors, but the point is, you have options! While I understand that it may feel like the classic car event is being diluted by the arrival of baby goats or renditions of Annie, a little bit of new excitement and entertainment is necessary to survive in this day and age. We’re not destroying the car show as we know it, we’re embracing the evolution and change that will keep the industry and hobby we all love alive and thriving for generations to come.
As car show season nears for most of the country, we’ll be bringing you more ideas for attracting and retaining your enthusiasts. For now, thank you for reading So You Want to Have a Car Show, and good luck on your upcoming automotive event!