Well, it’s official! I survived the Rolex Kentucky 3-Day Event – as a vendor. After attending as a spectator in 2016, I decided to take a leap of faith and register Ride Heels Down as a vendor for 2017. It was a lot of work but I had SO. MUCH. FUN!!
I put in my application in late 2016, and I eagerly awaited the email that would tell me whether or not I had made the cut. On January 24, 2017, it came – and I was accepted! I was super excited, but I quickly came to the realization that I only had about three months to plan my first-ever “trade show” booth for Ride Heels Down. *Cue panic mode*
I’m a big believer in the mantra that “prior planning prevents poor performance” so I started with a list. I tried to think of all the things I would need to do or buy to prepare, as well as all the things I would need (inventory, display tables, signage, etc.) and started tackling them one by one. What at first seemed like an insurmountable task started quickly morphing into a realistic, obtainable goal.
My friends eagerly volunteered with suggestions and ideas and helped in any way they could. I purchased a huge amount of inventory so that I would be well-stocked for the event. I had to hustle to make it all happen, but I checked off all the items on my “To Do” list and by the time RK3DE rolled around, I was READY.
The weekend before, my awesome husband, Erik, helped me load up our cargo van (fun fact: its name is “Van Diesel”) with everything we would need for Rolex. I’m grateful that he was there to do the heavy lifting and that he volunteered to take the wheel for the 6+ hour drive from our home in Atlanta, GA to Lexington, KY. We were scheduled to leave the Tuesday before the event, and I felt like a little kid waiting for Christmas morning.
When Tuesday finally rolled around, we packed our bags and hit the road with 1,200 t-shirts, lots of beautiful art from Gallop and Go Photography, and an endless supply of hopes and dreams. We made it to our hotel in Lexington without any issues, and went to bed early knowing load-in day was just one sleep away.
It was really cool arriving at the Kentucky Horse Park as a vendor on Wednesday morning. We got to see a little of the behind-the-scenes action as the event prepared to open to the public. We unloaded everything from the van and started opening boxes. I had an idea in my mind of how I wanted the booth to look and had put together a diagram of where I wanted everything to go, but without having ever put it together before, I wasn’t sure what the finished product would be. I didn’t know exactly how I was going to hang my shirts and banners and whatnot, so I was armed with a bag full of miscellaneous “I might need that” items including twine, dowels, zip ties, and even chain link fence clamps.
Much to my surprise, the booth came out far better than I expected. By the time we were finished setting up, it looked AWESOME. It looked like a legitimate, real-deal, big-company vendor booth! I was so proud, and couldn’t wait to open for business the next day.
Thursday marked the official start of #RK3DE, and I made my first sale almost immediately. (Thanks to Susie from Kentucky!) I spent the next four days completely overwhelmed by the tremendous outpouring of love from my friends – old and new – and couldn’t believe how supportive everyone was, including complete strangers, of my little one-woman operation. It was freakin’ incredible!
Since it was just me and Erik working the booth, I couldn’t really leave. Fortunately, my friends came to me. My trainer, Halliea from Go With It Farm, and the rest of the GWIF crew, did more than their fair share of marketing and encouraging people to come take a look at my apparel, Doug Payne took my stuffed animal version of JJ with him on the cross country course walk on Thursday, my wonderful friend Alexandra Neumann brought me some beautiful flowers to dress up the booth (as well as delicious donuts each morning, because sugar IS a necessity!), rider Katie Ruppel and her groom Mackenzie Spaes generously donated their time to host a signing session, and Lauren Wright’s “Gallop and Go” art added a lovely touch while also giving shoppers something else to purchase.
I had decided to make a little surprise to say “thank you” to everyone who has supported my business during its first 1.5 years, and created a massive “family of friends” collage poster of everyone who had posted a picture with their Ride Heels Down gear. Whenever someone included in the poster came to the booth, I handed them a marker and had them sign their square – everyone loved being a part of it and I even had a few riders request that I take their picture right in the booth so that they could be included in the next one!
I also ran a special promo at the event where people would get a free gift if they wore their Ride Heels Down shirts at Rolex, and I had a TON of people tell me “I’m seeing your shirts everywhere!” – it was hugely gratifying to know people were proudly helping spread the word. I even had a few people come running into my booth, pointing at a shirt, saying “There it is! I saw someone wearing this and I NEED ONE!” I only have one word to describe how validating that feeling was: wow.
My “Heels Down, Bottoms Up” tee was a huge hit, and my “Everything Hurts & I’m Dying” tee was also really popular. And, as always, the “Have A Great Ride” shirts and new “Eventer” tee both did great. I loved hearing people comment as they walked by the booth, saying things like “Oh, I love that saying!” or “That shirt is so funny!”
Eventually, the fun came to an end and it was time to pack up and head home. Although I had more leftover inventory than I had hoped for and didn’t quite meet the sales goal I had in mind, I still had an absolute blast and can’t wait to go back again next year. I know this was a huge opportunity for me to get the word out about my little company and introduce the Ride Heels Down brand to more people, so that in itself was a huge success.
All in all, taking on RK3DE as a first-time vendor was a huge task, but thanks to all the amazing people in my life, it went off without a hitch. I’ve got a few new ideas in mind for the next time around, and I can’t wait to see everyone in 2018 – let the countdown begin! :)
Want to see pics from RHD at RK3DE? Check ’em out here!
I don’t have customers – I have friends. A family of friends. ♥
Ainsley Jacobs is an adult amateur based out of Atlanta, Georgia. She started riding huntseat equitation when she was eight, and has tried practically every discipline since then. In 2014, Ainsley discovered eventing and it changed her life! She purchased her first horse, JJ Spot, in February 2016 and chronicles their successes (and struggles) of learning to overcome literal and figurative obstacles in her blog at www.RideHeelsDown.com.