Vendors - Another Part of the Motorcycle Scene

Anyone that has attended an organized motorcycle event of any size or form, from local rallies to Sturgis, is familiar with the many vendors that participate, selling a wide variety of biker wares. At many events, swap meets in particular, it is the vendors that make the gathering worthy of a rider's time.
With the proliferation of discount Internet sites that sell motorcycle gear of every description, and of course every dealer out there trying to make a profit by selling accessories, clothing, and leather goods, it is a bit miraculous that the traveling vendor can still make a go of it.
Over the last five years, as part of my book promotional activities, I've attended many rallies and swap meets as a vendor. Seeing the business from the inside gives me a new appreciation for the rough road that these motorcycle minstrels must travel. Profits are thin and hours are long.
Vendors that follow motorcycle events across the country are a special nomadic breed. The items they offer for sale include some things that most dealers sell, but what brings the customer into their tent is what dealers don't sell. In this large category, one will find everything from X-rated T-shirts and patches to handmade jewelry and leather crafts.
Many vendors create a niche for themselves by specializing in certain items. Many are indeed creative and artistic craftsmen, making their own unique products or designs.
I have made a few observations about the business side of motorcycle rallies, (these are generalities, of course) such as:
Sales are directly proportional to afternoon and evening alcohol sales in many of the multi-day events. Alcohol sales are dependent on the quality of the entertainment, which in turn determines the size of the crowd.
Groups of bikers buy. The individual biker browses vendor tents but often walks out empty handed.
Young women bikers, when in the company of their boyfriend or husband, or a girlfriend, will buy risqué T-shirts or undergarments, but alone they are less likely to purchase such items.
Serious and older bikers buy leather (chaps, gloves, jackets, etc.) the younger crotch-rocket crowd buys less overall, and what they do buy is often purchased for its cool factor as opposed to its utilitarian value.
Young male riders do not buy books, even if they are about motorcycles.
Women do buy books - often for an important man in their life (boyfriend, husband, father, brother, etc.). I hope those men are appreciative.
Women like biker jewelry - especially uniquely designed ear rings.
Men like to buy risqué articles of clothing for their woman, absolutely convinced that their woman will find whatever they bought to be cool, sexy, or funny.

Somehow, you can often find identical items selling for less through a vendor than at most dealers. (The entire wholesale, jobber, retail, vendor system is still a puzzle to me from a financial and product cost perspective).
The men and women at vendor tents have been around. They've been to more biking events than most riders will attend in a lifetime. They can tell you the good, bad, and ugly about most every event from Myrtle Beach to Laguna Seca.
Vendors are most often not part of a large company. They are usually husband and wife teams who travel a large part of the country in a van pulling a trailer behind them. They camp at the site and live a life that many of us would find difficult at best. And in the end, they have to make a profit to pay for their goods and travel, as well as all the other bills that we all have to pay.
Vendors have many stories to tell. Spend time with them, but don't interfere with their work; they are just barely making a profit as it is after a lot of ten hour days standing in the sun.

So I hope you'll now look at vendors just a little differently. Give them respect and some business because though we often take them for granted they represent a large part of what motorcycle events are all about. It's on the financial back of vendors, through the high fees they must pay to set up shop at an event, that many rallies can afford to exist in the first place.
Ride Safe and Shop.