Top Items to Sell at Carnivals & Festivals

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Cotton candy, elephant ears, caramel apples and pie are perennial favorites at carnivals, festivals and fairs, but they are not the only items that can be profitable. Choosing the best items to sell at fairs is a mixture of matching the tone of the venue and meeting the expectations of the crowd.

Fair Food: Classics to Moderns

According to fair vendor Dave Jaros of California Donuts, the No. 1 reason people go to the fair is for the rides, but their second reason is for the food. While certain carnival and fair staples have an iconic status as favorites among fair-goers, such as corn dogs and funnel cakes, practically anything fried and on a stick has potential appeal to hungry revelers, notes Tourist Attractions and Parks Magazine. Fairs offer the opportunity to test-drive wacky ideas and novel twists on familiar themes, such as:

  • Kool-Aid pickles
  • Peanut butter and jelly hamburgers
  • Colossal onion rings
  • Chocolate-covered bacon
  • Red velvet funnel cakes

Local and Regional Favorites

The food items you sell at a carnival are partly dictated by regional tastes. In Louisiana, crawfish and etouffee may be popular, but as of 2012 the Minnesota's State Fair's top vendors were cookies, cheese curds, all-you-can-drink milk and roasted corn. Whether you sell food or nonperishable items like crafts and artwork, products should be in accord with the season, the economy and the theme of the festival.

Arts and Crafts

According to online fair resource Fairs and Festivals, as of 2015, some of the most popular booths featuring crafts at festivals and arts and crafts shows are:

  • Clay 
  • Fiber 
  • Textile 
  • Furniture 
  • Jewelry
  • Leather 
  • Paintings 
  • Printmaking
  • Wood crafts 

Items go in and out of fashion, so stay on top of bestselling trends. As of 2015, trending products include:

  • Owl-motif merchandise 
  • Recycled items
  • Typographic art featuring calligraphy 

Pricing and Profits

If you sell crafts at a fair, price your items so that you cover your fixed and unexpected costs. Add the cost of labor plus the cost of materials used, then multiply it by a factor of 1.5 to achieve your ideal final price. You might have to adjust the latter higher or lower according to market demand.

As Fairs and Festivals indicates, how much money you can make on items varies from venue to venue, so it's important to match what you sell to the tone and style of the event. For example, higher-priced items do well at wine and arts events, whereas service-oriented offerings, such as face painting and crafts, are successful at shows geared toward children. For school carnivals, school parent group resource PTO Today suggests selling tickets or tokens that can be redeemed for food and other items.

Tip

  • Whatever you sell, you must comply with your state and local revenue department sales tax requirements. Selling at special events does not exempt you from paying taxes, and you might have to register in advance to obtain the correct tax rate and the forms to submit along with your tax remittance. This process can be complicated if you are an out-of-state filer or if you sell at multiple locations.

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