Calgary's Lilac Festival- Tips to a Successful Pop-Up Shop from an Interior Designer
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Saturday early morning, and it was gloomy and almost raining outside. John and I needed to wake up and prepare for the Calgary Lilac Festival as early as 5 am. Rocabu Designs is one of the hundred vendors who joined the famous street festival in the city. It is our first time selling our home décor products in person, in a pop-up style market, and one of the biggest summer festivals in town.
When we officially started the business a year ago, we envisioned it to be all online and never thought we would join such an event in a million years. But, here we are collecting ourselves on an early weekend morning, packing up and not caring for the rain to make it to the Lilac Festival on time for vendor's setup.
Why did we join this fantastic street festival as a vendor?
As spectators, we've been to the city's Lilac Festival twice before, and we've enjoyed the summer vibe, street vendors, and sense of community spirits from all people enjoying the event. And since we've added retail home decors to our business, we thought it would be an excellent opportunity to promote our products and firm to the community.
Image via Lilac Festival Calgary IG
Calgary's Lilac Festival was started in 1989 by the Cliff Bungalow-Mission Community Association and the 4th Street Business Revitalization Zone, and the Festival has grown from 80,000 to 150,000 attendance each spring. It is the season that Lilac flowers bloom in the area, which signals the time for the Lilac Festival.
The Preparation before the Festival
It took us some time to decide if we wanted to join the Festival. After a month or two of discussion and back and forth with the idea, we finally decided to register on their website, 4th Street Lilac Festival as a small business retail type vendor, which costs $450 for the 10' x 10' space with table along 4th Street. At first, we thought it was pretty expensive for something you don't know if it will be successful or not. However, it's just the right registration amount for such a spectacular event.
Image via Lilac Festival
Since it was our very first time joining an event like this, we didn't know what we needed to prepare and buy beforehand, so we did tons of research and went to smaller street vendor events before the Lilac Festival. Firstly, we bought a fire-rated 10' x 10' canopy tent at Amazon, an additional folding table for some of our home décor displays, wooden crates (you can buy similar wooden crates from London Drugs), acrylic stands for our beautiful ceramic dinner plates, and Shopify tap and chip card reader.
Secondly, we thought it would be appropriate and professional to prepare packaging and marketing printouts that align with our brand. We aim to achieve 100% recyclable for all our packaging and marketing materials. We bought recyclable brown bags and wrapping papers. We could use our existing cards from our first set of marketing printouts from NoIssue, and we printed brochures showing our interior design projects for people interested in our services. We also did a banner with our name and tag line and had it printed, together with a black t-shirt that we're supposed to wear during the event. Unfortunately, the t-shirts aren't that good quality, and the prints don't look that nice, so we decided to ditch the t-shirt.
Lastly, I thought the most challenging part of the preparation stage was selecting our products to bring to the event. It's hard because we only have 10' x 10' space with two folding tables, and we don't want to make our area crowded that people won't be able to move inside. So, we decided to bring at least four to five variants for each home decor, which is still a lot.
The Day of the Festival
Going back to the rainy day of June 5th, it was supposed to be a sunny kind of spring; unfortunately, the weather is not on our side today. We had our coffee, packed up, and ready to go. We arrived in downtown Calgary 15-20 minutes late, most of the vendors were already there setting up their booths, and a few were almost ready for the event. Thanks to our friend Rhea, who was kind enough to volunteer and help set up our booth and stayed with us the entire day of the event.
We arranged our space so people could go inside to see our products closely. We didn't expect the crowd and line up, which we thought was a success. We could display our dinnerware collections, glass, ceramic vases, mugs, decorative pieces, dried botanicals, throws, and pillows.
The overall booth design was a success, and we thought we were able to come up with a layout and setup that reflects our firm's brand and identity. It was clean, with a modern and farmhouse look which we thought was perfect for the event.
The Actual Hours of the Festival
At around 9:45 am, people started to show up, and we're still unpacking and arranging a few of our home décor displays. It was a great team effort because we finished the entire setup plus a quick coffee break at precisely 10 am. And that exact moment, the rain stopped, and suddenly it was a great sunny morning. People started to show up with a smile, kids ran around with their furry friends, and music started telling everyone that the Festival was finally open.
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It was so quiet in our booth for the first one and a half hours from when the Festival started, and we thought that people would not buy from us because they don't go to the Festival to purchase home decorations. People will pass by and comment on how gorgeous and colorful our pillows and mugs are, but they don't go to our booth to check our products.
Until a kind lady went inside our booth and bought herself one of our decorative wooden beads, she was our lucky first customer, and after that, people just started coming into our booth and purchasing stuff. There were times when we had a line-up of customers waiting their turn to go inside our booth to check our products and line up customers paying for items they wanted to buy. It was an exhilarating experience; we never thought people would line up to check and purchase our products.
Our bestsellers were dried botanical, both the eucalyptus and lavender. And next to that are vases and decorative pillows. Other customers love our mugs and pitchers and went on to buy various items from our home décor and dinnerware collections. It was a booming first-time pop-up market for Rocabu Designs, and we're so happy that most people adore our curated collections of home decors.
Lessons Learned from the Festival
As an interior designer, I never thought street festivals could be a great way to promote your products and design services. I had doubts about joining this event; everything went clear after the successful Lilac Festival. As a first-timer pop-up market vendor, these are the most important lessons I learned before and after joining the Festival. I hope you'll get something out of my list of tips, and don't forget to enjoy this fantastic event.
- It took us the courage to join the Lilac Festival, and we learned that in-depth research and going to other street festivals to observe other vendors is very important to see for yourself if you can do what they are doing. Being prepared is the key to a thriving pop-up market.
- We've been selling our interior design services to prospective clients since we started our business, and trying to sell our products and services to random people is a great way to enhance our marketing skills.
- During the event, we could see our customers personally and the type of clients who are very much attracted to our products and services. The Festival taught us and made us realize who our target markets are.
- People will ask you questions about your products, and these people are the ones who are probably going to buy from you. You must know all information about the products and services, including pricing and other fees, in our case, home decors & interior design services. We are confident with what we sell and have years and years of experience in services that we were able to impart valuable information to interested people coming into our booth during the event.
- Your booth's overall look and feel are significant, especially when you want to attract people interested in design. Before the event, we did a mock-up booth setup to see if our design concept would impact our prospect market and ensure that we have our branding in our booth. The good thing about doing a mock-up is you'll be able to make adjustments to your displays, products, and decors before the actual event, it's time-consuming, but we thought it's all worth it.
- We didn't think that some people still paid in cash (the last time I spent in cash was 8-10 years ago), so we didn't have any money with us during the event. So, make sure to bring cash, especially coins, for change just in case.
- You will need tons of calling cards. Another thing we didn't expect was people still asking for calling cards; I brought some like a box of calling cards and still ran out. Thankfully, we have many printed brochures (with more information) to hand over to people asking for our contact details.
- Always say thank you and smile to everyone who went into your booth (whether they bought something or not) to appreciate your products and even just the design of the space. Some people who did that purchased from us online a few days after the event.
- A street or pop-up market like the Lilac Festival is an excellent opportunity for small businesses like us to showcase our products and services. At first, we thought we were not up for this kind of challenge or our products and services don't jive with the event because we're not artisans and locally produced. However, we had a great time, and we're very thankful that many people appreciated our products and aesthetics during the event.
We thought that the Calgary Lilac Festival was a very successful event for us, it opened doors to new opportunities, and we were able to meet customers and prospective clients. Somehow, the Festival validated that there are lots of people (especially in Calgary) who appreciate our products, services, and our very own aesthetic when it comes to interior home designs.
Will we join the Festival again?
We plan to do it as a yearly event for our thriving business. I hope the Festival will become a successful annual event again now that the pandemic is almost over. It's a fantastic event that helps many vendors and gives happiness and excitement to many Calgarians.
This year's Lilac Festival started with a gloomy and rainy morning, yet people from all over the city went to experience the first-ever big event after the pandemic. It was sunny at some point during the event, Lilac flowers were blooming, and almost 100,000 people enjoyed the event, shopping, music, and fun activities. It was an event of the year that brought back the entire community together after the pandemic. Rocabu Designs is proud and happy to be part of it.
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Blog cover photo by Kate Darmody on Unsplash