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Five Lessons Every Small Business Can Learn from The Renaissance Festival

By Duncan C. Client Engagement Manager at Corp.
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You might not think a modern small business owner can learn anything from the Renaissance Festival, except that jousting never really lost its appeal to the 8-year old kid in us all.

But if you look closer, you'll see that all those stores are independent small businesses -- and with most RenFests getting an average of 15,000 visitors per day, there's a lot of pressure to be better than the next guy selling ear-rings made out of feathers, or cell-phone covers made out of leather and deer antlers.

Location, Location, Location
Nobody shops at the first store inside the entrance to the Renaissance Festival. They just don't, not on the way in, anyway. There are usually dozens of Shoppes in the festival grounds, along with numerous places where you can buy burnt meat on a stick. Like any other shopper, RenFest patrons are discerning, and will check out the competition before opening their coin pouch. Getting your product priced right at a location where savvy shoppers have checked out the competition, and are finally ready to buy, is the best way to maximize your sales opportunities. Setting up near food also has its advantages, because when people sit to eat, they look at what's going on, and if they're looking at your store for a quarter hour, you have a better chance of selling stuff.

Put On a Show
If the first rule of Fight Club is not talking about Fight Club, the first rule of RenFest is "nothing attracts a crowd like a crowd." Fake accents, grown men wearing Errol Flynn's hand-me-down tights, and wenches on stilts wearing jester hats while juggling swords that have been lit on fire will all make people stop and look. And if they stop and look it means you have their attention. What you do with their attention when you have it, well that's another thing.

Give Stuff Away
People like free stuff. Just check out your local craigslist listings for free stuff. Count how many broken TV sets, futons, patio chairs, truckloads of firewood, and VHS tapes people are giving away. People like free stuff. So you have to give a little bit. That's not to say you have to lose your Shoppe -- you can be smart about it. Give raffle tickets for free stuff with every purchase - any purchase. Give people a reason to come back to your Shoppe, because the more times they come back, the more likely they are to buy something. And if they're coming back to your Shoppe they're not spending their pieces of eight at your competitors.

Uniforms Are Fun!
Whoever thought that a pirate hat could be part of your corporate identity? Or bodices, for that matter? Where else can you direct customer inquiries to the lady in the leather corset and thigh boots? Okay, don't answer that. Most big corporations also have a dress code, whether it's a branded polo shirt or a baseball cap -- these let shoppers know that the individual wearing the uniform is knowledgeable, and there to provide assistance. 

The Money is in the Margins
RenFest Shoppe-owners know that they're not only space-limited, but also time limited. Most RenFests are weekend-only affairs, so selling through inventory is critical -- to maximize profits in a short space of time, as well as not breaking the bank when you give stuff away, it's important that you get the product with the biggest margins in front of your customers. Buy low, sell high is the key to successfully running any business venture, but for RenFest proprieters, moving unsold product to the next town means more stuff to pack up, and that takes time and time carries a cost. Sometimes it's just more effective to sell your wares at wholesale prices, if doing so reduces a different cost. And that's why you should go the the RenFest at the end of the last day if you're looking for a great deal on a scimitar.

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