I am not a highly seasoned arts/craft show vendor but I have quickly learned the ropes. I currently only do one 'show,' the newly built Riverside Arts Market (aka RAM) that is less then 2 miles from my home in Jacksonville, Florida. RAM opened in April of this year. I missed the first few weeks but I started at the end of April. I don't do RAM every week...just not possible...but I have done enough of them to learn a few things about handling sales at shows.
In order to sell at RAM, I had to get legal. Not too scary, actually. I went downtown to the Tax Collector's office to get a peddlers business license. It was not too pricey and the process was easy. I has also filed my DBA online..I don't think that part was required for RAM but I wanted to be covered to use my Athena Creates name. I also had to get set up to accept sales tax for the state of Florida. That was done online and it was free. (All of this was later changed when I became a corporation in August of this year but this gives you an idea of how I started.)
In reading the sales tax info, I learned that if you sell something, you are required to provide a receipt with the sales tax broken out separately. As a buyer, I can say that most vendors don't do this. And in the beginning, I didn't either but I had that nagging feeling that I was a (gasp) lawbreaker! I tried to hand write receipts but it was time consuming and cumbersome. You want to be fast so that the customer behind the one you are 'ringing up' doesn't put the item down and walk away.
The majority of the booths have access to electricity and they charge a reasonable $5 if you choose to use it. I had noticed a few vendors with cash registers and it peaked my interest. So I started looking at them and reading reviews. There are some inexpensive ones out there, some that run on battery power. The reviews on those were OK, not great. The complaints were that it took a long time for the receipts to print. I eventually discovered that I could get some really nice features by buying a slightly pricier model.
The One I Bought:
I chose the Sharp XE-A203. I opted to buy new but I did scout craigslist for a used one first. There were a few out there but I was concerned they wouldn't have the manual or all the keys and whatnot. This model had a display facing the customer. It also let me highly customize the data. I could program departments for the different products I sold. I could also set up different cashiers (for when my hubby or oldest dd came to help) and I could even put a logo or my own text on the receipt.
First things first, setting up the register was not as easy as you would think..even with a manual. The software would not work on my desktop PC which has Vista. Not sure if that was the problem or not. I did not end up calling customer service...I just tried loading it on my laptop and it worked fine there. I was able to set up departments and to get my logo in. Eventually, I removed the logo and just opted to add 6 lines of data that I thought would be helpful to my customers. When I was playing around entering fake sales, I found that sales tax was not being figured correctly when I offered a discount on an item. It was taxing the total before the discount. The manual was useless in trying to figure out how to fix it. I put a call in to Sharp's customer service and they were able to help me in a friendly manner.
I had a vision of a customer bringing an item to me, I'd press a button and it would ring up the item without me entering the dollar amount...so I set my departments up like that but I left a few miscellaneous open for dollar entry...which was a good thing.
I made tags for my products with the price and a tiny department number under it. Unfortunately, not all my items got tagged. I brought the stuff with me to finished tagging but the market opened before I had finished.
Here's how my first live experience went...
Customer brought up an item. I realized then that left my master programming list at home. The customer's item just happened to be one without a tag and none of the similar items had a tag. In my panic, I just couldn't remember what button to use. I started mashing buttons with the intent to figure out the right one with the intent that I would void that receipt. It worked but I was sweating bullets for the 40 seconds that it took me to figure it out. I've had a few transactions like that because I didn't have my cheat sheet handy. And yesterday I left my register keys in the van and my hubby had to come to my rescue. I'm sure that wouldn't happen to anyone else though! ;)
After that, things went much smoother. All in all, the first day was a success and I LOVED being able to hand my customers an accurate receipt. I also found it helpful to have the register figure the change for me. Yes, I know how to count change but it would slow me down a teeny bit especially at the end of the day when my energy would be waning (and lack of sleep from preparing product the night before didn't help!)
At the end of the day, figuring out my sales info was so much easier especially since I broke my departments down based on specific product. I could easily see that my adult long sleeved shirts were selling like hotcakes. I had a feeling that my girls' tie dyed dresses weren't selling well..but when I looked at my register report at the end of the day...they were selling! My faulty impression was based on the fact that many people came and admired but not as many bought. In the madness of the day, I seriously forgot about items that did sell. The summary took my faulty memory out of the equation. You could obviously do an inventory before and after the show to get the same data...or you could keep a detailed log as items sold but I never found the time to do it manually.
At the beginning of the day, I use the RA button to log how much money I am starting with and it adds that to my cash sales and tells me what my final tally should be. And during the day, I can QUICKLY figure out what my sales were thus far.
Here's a fake example of my summary report. It's called a X1 report.
It makes my life easy! I can see exactly what my sales were and how much money I should have in my register.
- It is WAY quicker then writing a receipt and manually figuring things out with a calculator.
- It's lightweight and easy to transport.
- It doesn't take up that much room, maybe a slightly larger footprint as a regular sized cash box.
- I can put my info on the receipt: my store name, my name, my etsy website & the dates I am scheduled to be at the market.
- I can easily apply a discount, either to a single item or to the whole total. Sometimes I put the slow movers on sale for 10-20% off. Or I can offer a vendor discount if someone asks.
- I can price my items exactly at the price I want without having to round up or down. And without trying to build the sales tax in there to get to a whole dollar amount.
- The back-end accounting is so much easier! I can easily see what I need to submit to the state for sales tax.
- The data of items sold is invaluable...without me manually tracking it, I mean.
- My customers get a detailed receipt of items they have purchased.
- It lends a feeling of professionalism.
- The cash is not visible. I always wonder about the booths that keep their cash boxes right out in the open where the 'shoppers' can get right next to it. Maybe they don't keep much cash in there but I also think that it would be an easy target is the seller was distracted.
- The cost of buying one.
- There is a learning curve & in my case since I have never run a register before, I was starting at ground zero.
- You have to be organized about it. Either have *everything* labeled or have a cheat sheet taped to the register or just use a few basic entry departments where you key in the dollar amount. And make sure you have the keys!
- Requires electricity that you may have to pay extra for.
- You have to learn a new routine when ringing a sale up.
I will say that my register is VERY lightweight. Much more lightweight then I expected. I turn my machine off after each sale because I once had a little girl reach over and mash buttons. It popped the drawer open! Luckily I was right there but it took me a bit of time to void what she had rung up. If I have to leave my booth, I do empty the register of the bills just to be safe. I still wear my vendor apron to keep things on hand like my pen, keys so I just tuck the money in there. I also choose to put the back of my tent up and I block access to the register with my table slanted so that I can walk to the front of my booth to help a customer without worrying so much that someone would walk away with the whole register. I think these are the same precautions that you would take with a cash box though.
For me, having a cash register has been the right decision, a good investment for *my* business. I've done enough shows without it, my products are selling & I need to streamline the processes where I can. I don't do a bunch a different shows where electricity may not be available. I might sign up for 1-2 smaller venues during the RAM hiatus (now until March) but I can go back to my cash apron for those if I can't get electricity. And my product offering will be much smaller so it will be easier to keep track of things manually.
I would not recommend one to a newbie who has never done a show before. Doing shows is not for everyone. Make sure you like it and that it's profitable before you invest a ton of money! And maybe a cash register is not for someone who does 2-3 shows a year. And it's probably not necessary for someone who sells one item at one set price. I offer probably 50 different items at different price points.