Last weekend I set up a booth at my first handmade holiday market. I was so excited and proud of myself for taking the next step in pursuing this business dream. I really had no expectations other than to hopefully sell a few items. I did in fact sell a few things, but I learned so much more than I could have thought!
In life I am known to be a bit of a negative nancy. My mindset tends to be that if something doesn’t work the first time then I am a total failure and it’s pointless to try again. Eventually I come around to realize that line of thinking is completely ridiculous, but often it comes after a few tears and a small pity party (with LOTS of wine) for myself. So the goal last weekend was to NOT have a meltdown after the market, even if I sold nothing. There were no tears, but I definitely felt frustrated as the day didn’t go nearly as well as I had hoped.
In my on going effort to be less negative and more pro-active, I chose to view this holiday show as market research for building my hand crafted, home goods business. I gained so much insight, met some amazing vendors, and overall I left feeling inspired rather than ready to throw in the towel.
So what is it like to sell at a handmade market?
Below is a look at 5 important lessons I took away from the experience:
- Plan ahead. WAY AHEAD. Around September I got the courage to really pursue selling my hand made home accents and decided I would sign up for a holiday market. To be clear, I was SUPER proud of myself for even coming to this decision in the first place. I’ve always been so nervous to put my product out in front of the world. Armed with my new found confidence and motivation, I started researching all the holiday markets where I was interested in setting up. New found motivation quickly went out the window, as I learned that applications for the majority of the shows was August 1st. Who knew the market was that competitive?! More importantly, who knew photos of previous setups and a full application was necessary?! Clearly I had not researched. At all. Not only did I have to take a spot at the one market that still had open spots, but I had just under a month to make enough product to fill the tables! Lesson learned– in January 2018 I will start making product and applying for the spring shows. This will allow me to make up plenty of inventory, but also give me the chance to really review all the shows and which ones make the most sense for my product.
- Know Your Market. Another area I really hadn’t researched well. Since the majority of markets were already full, I decided any market was better than no market. For someone as new as me, that may be true. I got my feet wet and I met some amazing vendors who were more than willing to share their advice as I begin this handmade journey. In regards to sales, setting up at any random market is not a good idea. My product is one of a kind, hand crafted home goods with an eclectic look. The customer base at this market were suburban moms with 2 or more kids shopping for price point Christmas gifts. I may have gotten my name out and sold to a few key customers, but overall my target customer did not fit the customer attending this market.
- Bring the Basics. This one may seem like common sense, but I got so focused on the bigger picture, like enough product to fill the tables, that these small details completely slipped my mind.
- Wireless Phone Charger. More than likely the booth setup will not have an electrical outlet unless requested. Bring a back up charger for your phone, as it’s battery will drain quickly when you start taking credit card payments.
- Snacks & Water. These markets last all day and while many have food vendors on site, the hope is you have so many customers there is no time to leave the booth! And if the traffic is slow, like this market, snacks are a good way to pass the time.
- Shopping Bags. This was a major miss for me. It was one of those, “duh, what were you thinking” moments. Be sure to have gift bags, or shopping bags for your customers when they make a purchase. Not only do you look more professional, but customers are extremely grateful they don’t have to walk around the entire market carrying their purchases out in the open. Remember to place a business card in the bag with the purchase so the customer has a reminder and can check out your other items or recommend you to their friends!
- Are You a Hobby or a Business? This one is tough, because I’m currently riding straight down the middle. By committing to a holiday market setup, I completely saw myself as a business. The fact that I had no established signage or logo, and no means for accepting credit cards, I came off more hobby than business. For the record, I learned that my cute hand written chalkboard sign doesn’t cut it for branding my business. And there is no reason not to accept credit cards. The Square reader system not only works with a free app on your phone, but they will also send you the card swiper that attaches to your phone for free! In my case, there was a miscommunication with the company which delayed delivery. Luckily most people attending holiday markets like this one are carrying cash and so I didn’t have to turn any customers away due to a lack of technology.
- Make the Most of Your Space. This goes right along with establishing yourself as a business rather than a hobby. Most markets will have 30+ vendors, all of which are assigned roughly a 10′ x 10′ space with one or two tables to display product. How are you going to stand out? What will make people see your space rather than walk right past? I made the rookie mistake of assuming brightly colored tablecloths and unique items would be enough. It wasn’t. I know for a fact there were a few customers who walked past without a look, or didn’t walk the second half of the show because there was nothing standing out to draw in their attention.
Clearly I could have used a larger tablecloth to hide my storage boxes underneath. While cute, my chalk board sign is so small, customers walking the aisle of the market probably did not see it, or cannot read my message!
My hand made wreaths, like the vintage french horn below were laid out on the tables, rather than hung. Several vendors at the market were displaying their artwork on free standing displays which really drew the customer in. I am already researching new display ideas that will better highlight my product, and increase my booth interest this spring.
Overall I have to say the experience was a good one. I made some money. I met some amazing artists and vendors. Most importantly, I learned that this hand crafted market space is something I truly enjoy and want to explore further. Frustration was short lived and now I am inspired to create more product and a better booth for the spring season!
To those of you on the fence about selling your product, I hope these lessons are helpful to you. To the seasoned veterans who set up all year long, what advice do you have? I would love to hear your advice and experiences in the comments below!