Renaissance Faires: The Skills of a Successful Merchant
What’s it like to be a merchant at a renaissance faire? Is it the same as vending at a craft fair, flea market or other such event? Or is there something special about time-traveling in order to sell things in another era?
I’ve been a vendor at medieval events for many years now, and I’ve seen a lot of vendors arrive at the renaissance faire ready to sell things to happy fairegoers. Some do well; others do not. The ones that do well are the ones that understand that it takes a special set of skills to vend at a renaissance faire—skills that are different from those needed to succeed in other settings.
Do you have those skills? If not, are you ready to learn them? Let’s take a walk together through the basics of what it takes to succeed as a merchant at a renaissance faire.
It's Not Like Other Venues
First and foremost, you need to remember that a renaissance faire is a type of event known as immersive entertainment. This means that the customers come not to be passively entertained, but to become part of the story themselves to whatever degree they feel comfortable with.
Customers (also sometimes called “travelers” or “visitors”) aren't the only ones to immerse themselves in the story either. The cast of players are expected to be in character and to stay in character with the story of the faire. Vendors also need to become a part of that story in order to create a different and complete world that patrons can experience and explore.
As a vendor, you can’t just set out your wares and sit at the back of your booth waiting for people to give you money. You can’t just settle for the standard service you provide in other settings either. To succeed as a renaissance tradesperson, you need to determine how you and your goods fit into the story being told at this particular faire and develop a character for interacting with customers, so shopping in your booth becomes as much of an experience for visitors as attending a show or interacting with the members of the renaissance faire's cast.
Renaissance Persona Checklist
- Who am I (and what will I do to show people who I am)?
- What do I sell?
- Why do I sell it and why should people want it?
- Who are the heroes at this faire? Who are the villains?
- What are the big goings-on at the faire today?
Join the Show
Having a character (also known as a personna) as a merchant is important. Having a character or role isn’t enough, though. You’ll have to be your character—to find ways to not only play your character but work it both into what you’re selling and the bigger story going on around you.
You'll need to stay in character throughout the faire. Are you witty? Helpful? Entertaining? Mysterious? How do you make that a part of interacting with your customers?
It’s important to remember that, as a vendor at a renaissance faire, you are also one of the actors. Remember that you’re an actor in a supporting role, and don’t tread on the lines of the major players of the cast, but also remember to do your part to ensure that every section of the faire is full of adventure and entertainment for the patrons who visit it.
Do You Have the Look?
You've got a character, and you've figured out who you are and how you fit into the story of this particular renaissance faire.
Part of that character/persona is your look and how you present yourself to the world. You have to have a medieval outfit, but just any medieval clothes won't do; you need medieval/renaissance clothes that tell us something about who you are when you're vending at a faire.
- Are you flamboyant with an extravagant outfit?
- Does your mask tell folks that you are a vendor of mystery?
- Do your ragged clothes betray your humble status, or are they a disguise?
- Are you dressed in sumptuous clothes of satins and lace, telling the world that you are prosperous and wealthy?
- Are you dressed as a pirate, traveling merchant, monk, or swashbuckler? What do your clothes imply about you?
Your look doesn't just stop at your own person, either. The look of your booth and how you have set it up and decorated it add to the complete picture of who you are and what your business is about. It's like a frame for your own personal portrait.
Step back and look at your shop to see what it says about your business and you. Are you sending customers the message that you want to?
Know the Story
In our modern world, most of us are aware of the major issues going on in the town, country and world around us. Being part of a renaissance faire is like living in a small medieval village. Just as we know about our own current events, so do the people in your medieval village. Know who’s important and interesting, who doesn’t like whom, and what’s happening in your own corner of the world.
As a vendor, your story is that you are selling your wares (whatever they may be) in a medieval town or at a medieval faire. As a resident business person, whether permanent or temporary, you’d know things about the story taking place at the faire.
- Who’s in charge? Who’s the king/queen/duke/liche/wizard?
- Who are the bad guys? If you actually lived at that faire, who would you want to be wary of?
- What festival or celebration is happening that day? How does it apply to your business?
- Where are important things in this town (the stage/the court/the bathrooms)?
If your faire offers a story synopsis, study it beforehand and figure out how your character fits into the story they’re doing. If it doesn’t, politely ask for one, and be prepared to explain how an informed populace makes for a richer world.
Finally, be sure to get a program, so you’re familiar with all of the people, shows and other events going on around you. Your character would be able to give information, and you should be, too.
Don't Just Sit There—Do Something
Now you have your character, your look, your knowledge of the world of this faire and your beautiful goods or services for sale. Now what?
Don’t just sit there—do something.
- Make eye contact.
- Greet people.
- Cry your wares.
- Talk to patrons.
- Be helpful.
- Sing or dance.
- Cheer the heroes and boo the villains (or vice versa, if you’re that kind of merchant).
Do what you can to make your area a colorful and interesting part of the larger story. Give the patrons a beautiful experience, and watch your own business prosper in response.
What Do You Do to Draw Attention to Your Booth?
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.