Catherine has vended at multiple renaissance faires and knows the ins and outs of the industry.
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.
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.
Catherine Kane (author) on June 26, 2015:
a lot of the smaller faires will accept popups, especially at first and if you make them look pretty and medieval. If you're starting out at faires, a smaller faire can be a good way to go and, if you do well, that can help you finance a big one
I also have some friends that have made their own. Lovely but hard work and don't always set up or transport as easily
you can also start searching on Craigslist and in renn groups for folks selling a used one
The 2 biggest companies for pavilions are Panther Primitives, and Tent masters. We have a Panther and have been happy with our choice. Talk to vendors at faires and get info from them to decide which on you want
Good luck :)
Tiger Taylor on June 05, 2014:
Thank you for this article! It really has been helpful in getting to know the ins and outs of selling at Ren fairs. I sell leather goods and have attend Ren fairs, but never truly attempted to sell at any yet. I know I need to gather up a good costume, and booth décor...one thing I have started is a check list of sorts to try to piecemeal the items I need to acquire, to really get started in my attempt down this road to being a merchant of the renaissance. :)
One issue that is going to be a big ticket item for me is the tent. I did some research and found that, depending on the fair, some are very strict in the type of tent you may use. If it were a typical craft fair, you could use an easy up tent and call it a day. I know it is not that simple with ren fairs and I looked into trying to purchase an actual round canvas tent...those are at least a 1,000 plus. Granted, I can start saving and really plunk down the cash...or are there other options to acquiring a decent period looking tent without such a high cost? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!
Again, thank you so much for posting these great articles and I hope to hear from you soon!
Catherine Kane (author) on September 05, 2012:
Wow- thats a lot of questions and I can only scrape the surface in this box.
Investment, stock and take depend on what you're selling, traffic at the faires you work and how good you are at selling. Costs to work each faire vary too, and many faires require liability insurance. Many folks do do it full time and others have day jobs(Mon- Fri). For paperwork and taxes, check the websites for each state and call if necessary. Living standards vary w/ income, as you might imagine. And weather can make or break your business
I'd think the best things you could do to learn more about this is 1) look for merchant groups on places like FB, join and ask questions, 2) take a little time and talk to actual merchants when you visit a faire (some may not want to talk but many are friendly and helpful) and 3) see if you can pick up some part time work as a volunteer or working for a vendor at a faire(Most faires need volunteers and many times vendors will be looking to hire additional staff). The answers to your questions vary widely but these 3 things can give you more of the insight you're looking for directly before diving in.
Liz on September 05, 2012:
Catherine, thanks for this. I have wanted to be a Faire merchant since I was young, but I haven't been able to find much in the way of articles talking about being a merchant and the bottom line. What kind of investment does it take to start a small business as a Faire merchant? How much merchandise should a merchant bring to sell at a Faire? What can a merchant expect to make in a year, assuming they do this full-time year round? If this can't be a full-time job, what kinds of "day jobs" are compatible with it (what kind of jobs can you do that will let you have summers or weekends off to go selling?) If one has to travel to shows in different states, are there resources to help get the paperwork and taxes for several different states taken care of? What kind of living standards are Faire merchants typically able to afford? Are there any organizations that can help a person start this kind of business? My parents have been against being a merchant as a career for many years-- they think I will end up living in a tent for the rest of my life, or if I'm lucky, a junker car that I have to park in a Wal*Mart parking lot at night because I can't afford a trailer park. I know there MUST be some people who succeed at this occupation, though, because I go to Faires and see the same merchants vending year after year. So anything you could tell me about life as a merchant, would be really helpful. Thanks!
Catherine Kane (author) on May 21, 2012:
valos- perhaps you need to start one of your own ;)......
Valos Kes'Ternan on May 21, 2012:
I need to find a faire that is being run by a liche wizard I think... I have a feeling that Renniewoods would do,very well there...
Catherine Kane (author) on May 19, 2012:
well thank you cjrr. I'm glad to be of service
Catherine Kane (author) on May 19, 2012:
Kate- Thanks for the compliments. I do not have a hub on my merchant history yet. I must give that ome consideration. Hmmmmmmmmmm..........
email@example.com on May 19, 2012:
Most excellent well-written m'lady Catherine, as we've learned to expect from you! Were I to enter the Faire as a merchant, I'd engrave your maxims on my mind and heart to enhance my character (and hopefully my profits!)
kate12402 from Storrs, CT on May 19, 2012:
This was really well written, engaging, and fun to read! Do you have a hub about how you got started as a merchant?? I'd be really interested in hearing that story :)