By Carmen Hawker (she/her)
Who doesn’t love a market? So much to see, sift through and score. Thankfully, after a few years on the backburner, markets are back as eager crowds once again spill into iconic venues around the country to rummage for that special something. But what about for those on the other side of the trestle table?
Fresh from her dazzling debut at Australia’s leading design market, Finders Keepers, in Naarm/Melbourne, we hear from dopamine queen herself, Carmen Hawker from CARMEN GET IT!, on just what it takes to make a good fist of your next market.
Despite losing far too much precious sleep trying to anticipate, contingency plan and imagine every little detail before the doors flung open — here Carmen shares her top 10 tips for dominating the market scene, with thanks to input from fellow makers and creatives (Bamba Bamba Collective, The Moon Et Tu., Wild July, Xanadu Designs, Chai Walli, and Denz & Co). Hop in loser, we’re going shopping…
1. Decide your ‘market goals’ and write that sh*t down
On some level, every creative in business for themselves knows that (life and) work is about far more than sales. It’s about connection, fulfilment, joy, alignment, community, contribution — all of the things that make the world go round. But when it comes to markets, especially ones you have to invest bigger dollars into (think: stallholder fees, stall setup, stock purchases), it can become easy to be distracted by the bottom line.
Taking the time beforehand to define ‘success’ on your own terms is critical to market preparation. Depending on what you sell and at what price point, you might like to expand your definition of success and set market goals based on things like:
- Connections made, and what that means to you
- Joy created in what feels like a bleak world
- New followers or fans (basically, exposure and ‘getting out there,’ even though we know that doesn’t pay the bills)
- Other small businesses and makers supported and inspired along the way
- Showing up and ticking something off the bucket list
- Contributing to arts and culture, being part of the local community
- Learning for future markets and experimentation
Of course, knowing your break even point is important and sales matter too, but all of these ‘other’ things deserve to be counted as success alongside sales. I highly recommend taking the time in the lead up to your market to articulate a more expansive list of ‘market goals’ and be sure to write them down (on some cute stationery if it helps! Spoiler: it always helps).
2. More is more when it comes to stock
It’s no secret that imma ‘more is more, less is a bore’ kinda gal, but easily the most common question I hear from first-time market makers is: ‘how much stock do I need to have on hand?’
My business is somewhat unique in that I don’t make things myself — I co-design and work with other women makers to bring them to life, but the question of ‘how much stock’ to prepare was still very much on my mind in the lead up to Finders Keepers.
Rule of thumb: have more product than less (about three times as much as you can display, I was told), but also know this — selling out of something isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I created some small signs for ‘last pair’ or ‘only 3 left’ to display next to low-stock items and it worked really well to create a sense of urgency and intrigue. Depending on what you sell, you can also open pre-orders or take someone’s email and let them know when something’s back in stock.
The truth is: there’s no predicting what will sell at the market. Sometimes you sell a bunch of one item, so you make more for next time, only for it not to move at all. It can be so dependent on who walks through that door. Great, love that for us. For your first market, just make as much as you can and know it’s an investment in any future markets.
3. Make your pricing clear and displays user-friendly
There’s nothing worse than browsing at a market, falling in love with an item and then having to ask ‘how much’ before finding out it’s about 72 times more than you hoped it would be. That, or trying to pick up an item for closer inspection and then creating a disaster-like domino effect that destroys someone’s entire display. Oh, the humanity.
When it comes to pricing, market goers are often happy to ask how much items are, but making it crystal clear helps to set expectations and attract price-aligned customers.
Bonus points for unique displays that enhance the customer experience. For example, I invested in custom-made neon earring displays from Milestones & Mayhem and if I had a dollar for every compliment I got on them, I might not have to be schlepping it out at the market…
Be sure to have a mirror handy if you are selling accessories, clothing or cosmetics. And I even created a photo album of customers wearing certain products, so that I could show potential customers what it might look like for them and it worked a treat!
4. Dress for success but also for comfort
We are our own best (or worst) advertisement, so it *almost* goes without saying that you want to put a little bit of thought into your market day outfits. And it’s not all about comfy shoes either (though they are vital).
My best advice is to take a couple of layers or options, especially if it’s an outdoor or winter market, and make sure you’re wearing something that’s easy to move, squat or bend and snap in, not to mention something that hides the sweat you’re breakin’ for all the sales you’re makin’.
Bonus tip: you might want to invest in an anti-fatigue or rubber mat and take a stool or chair to help you make it through the day in one piece.
5. Enlist a ‘happy helper’ so you can have a break and a KitKat
Markets can be exhausting, and it’s not uncommon to suddenly find yourself at the end of the day having not sat down or eaten a thing. While you can probably file that under ‘good thing’ because it means you’ve had a constant stream of people, it’s not sustainable and we have to weigh up the ‘opportunity costs’ that come from completely wiping ourselves out after a market. (My first year Economics professor is probably like sahhh proud I just used ‘opportunity costs’ in a sentence, even though I dropped out of his course the following week).
For smaller markets, make friends with your neighbours and work out a system where you cover for each other to go to the loo or grab some lunch. Some markets even have the option for stallholders to pre-pay for food to be delivered to their stalls; if not for Goldilocks Lunchboxes I may not have eaten at all at Finders Keepers…
For bigger markets, enlisting some ‘happy helpers’ and taking a break (preferably off peak) is a must. At Finders Keepers, I had a roster of five fabulous women who helped me out over the course of the two and a half days, and I wouldn’t have survived without it. To make sure that they had everything they needed to ‘sell’ without me, I also created a Happy Helper Guide with conversation starters and ‘taking payments 101’, so I could eat some lunch with the peace of mind that the show could go on.
Image supplied: Carmen and one of her happy helpers, Jess
6. Advertise a market special price or unique offer
You gotta give people a compelling reason to buy with you right then and there. Whether it’s a ‘market special price’ on a certain item, a bundle value pack that’s not available anywhere else or even a lucky dip, market goers love novelty.
Another great thing about markets is that you don’t have to worry as much about the costs of packaging and shipping (which can be killer for small biz). So, even though you have to factor in the value of your time, you might want to pass those savings on to happy customers so they can’t just ‘do it online later’.
7. Engage with people and have something to ‘take away’
After a few years living behind our screens, we’re a little out of practice connecting with literal humans in the flesh — and that goes for both stallholders and market goers alike.
As a market goer, people can, like, see you (horrifying). As opposed to online, which is practically obligation-free, at a market you are all too aware that you are being watched by an eager stallholder, which can be hella intimidating and sometimes even off putting. Just remember, stallholders know they’re not for everyone and more often than not they’re just happy to be there (and measuring success by things other than sales 😉).
For stallholders, it’s our job to put people at ease quickly. Be it a warm ‘hi, how are you?’ or a ‘is this your first time to this market?’ — don’t be afraid to engage with people and spark up a conversation.
Of course, extroverts rejoice, but if you’re an introvert, this might be a little out of your comfort zone. The good (terrible) news is: that’s what markets are all about! Showing up and putting yourself out there. Just know that market goers love to hear the story behind your business or products, and that’s what makes market experiences unique as compared to shopping online from a chain store.
In my experience, it’s still far more effective to be engaged and interested in your customers, rather than playing it cool and keeping yourself busy, and this is where the ‘giveaway’ comes in…
Be it a business card, a sticker, a postcard, or a QR code to scan, make sure you have something small that people can ‘do’ or take away with them — something obligation-free (and actually free) that says: ‘thanks for stopping by’. Sure, all those business cards you’ve given away might live in a pocket for the next seven years, but they also *might* just lead to a follow up sale or connection down the track.
8. Have a clear plan for ‘bump in’ and ‘bump out’
Otherwise known as the set up and pack down, knowing exactly what you need to do, and in what order, for your stall will make things go a whole lot smoother.
Where do you park? How long do you have to set up? Do you need to unpack your sign first before you get your products out? Do you need a hand or can you do it yourself?
While it might not always be possible, I recommend doing a ‘dress rehearsal’ at home and getting your stall set up precisely how you want it (and taking pictures of it), so you know exactly what you’re doing come market day.
The other thing is to familiarise yourself with the ‘rules and regs’ of the market you’re going to (they’re all different), so you don’t waste time on things (like in my case, a f*#$ off neon sign) if you don’t have the space or facilities to pull it off.
The calm before the storm.
9. Assemble your trunk full of junk
You’re gonna want to put together a box of supplies with all of those itty bitty things you *might* (but probably won’t) need on the day (or days) of your market.
Some of the things to include:
- Scissors and/or pliers
- Sticky tape or duct tape
- Blu Tack and/or super glue
- Rubber or elastic bands, cable ties
- Pens or markers
- Post-it notes or price stickers
- Alcohol wipes and hand sanitiser
- Microfibre cloth
- Painkillers or ‘pick me ups’ — paracetamol, ibuprofen, lozenges, mints
- Snacks on snacks on snacks
- Water bottle or reusable coffee cup
- Extra packaging materials or wrapping
- A rubbish bag or ziplock bag
- High-vis jacket
The last thing you need when you’re setting up your stall is to realise you’ve left something at home or that you don’t have what you need for a few running repairs. Depending on what you sell, other things that might come in handy are: earring backs, clips, a stapler, air mist, string or rope, batteries — basically anything in that ‘miscellaneous’ drawer you have at home ‘just in case’.
10. Have a back-up payment system and come fully charged
And of course, how could you prepare for a kickass stall without knowing how you’re gonna take all the money? The payment system going down is basically every stallholder’s worst nightmare. But it happens, and you gotta have a back-up plan.
Bear in mind, most markets are ‘cashless’ these days, and not all venues have reliable internet, leaving us wide open ye ol’ technical difficulties. If you are using Square — it’s useful to have two different devices that you can connect to, and make sure you bring your chargers or a battery pack (not all markets have power available).
Little things like ‘Low Power Mode’ or reducing your screen brightness can help to preserve the battery during the day. And, if you have an online store, it doesn’t hurt to have that loaded and ready on your smartphone or tablet in case you have to process payment another way.
And just like your devices, which you want to charge the night before, getting a good night sleep before the market is imperative (unless you’re trying to sell zombie-chic). Here’s hoping that with all of these super hawt tips, you will be able to rest easy knowing you’ve done everything you could to prepare.
A couple of bonus tips for good measure:
- Get yourself some Public Liability Insurance (My Market Insurance and AAMI have great, low-cost options) to protect yo’ ass;
- Don’t check sales until the end of the day — it’ll just stress you out;
- Try to do a pre-market poop or take a precautionary ‘pill’ if you’re prone to anxiety or pain;
- Pre-wrap or pack a few of each product in small (preferably branded) carry bags so you don’t have to disrupt your display and you can give people their goodies swiftly;
- Make friends with your neighbours, know what they’re selling and work together — people are drawn to good energy and they love community over competition vibes.
Before we 🦓 trot 🦓 out too many more clichés, the last thing to remember is that you’re in this to HAVE FUN.
While there are certainly things we can do to make our stall run more smoothly, every market is just another opportunity to share your work and learn something new — about yourself, your products, your customers, or the art of the sell.
There is such a thing (don’t I know it) as overthinking it, so, just get out there, have some fun and don’t forget to tell the world where they can find you!
A wear your heart on your earlobes kinda gal, Carmen specialises in story-driven copy and content for purpose-led businesses, and sells joy-filled stationery and accessories to boot (her business, her rules). Based on Wurundjeri land in Naarm, consider this your one stop shop for all those ‘live your values out loud’ needs. All you gotta do is… CARMEN GET IT!
Have you shopped our fabulous ‘Get Bizzy Wit’ It’ collaboration with CARMEN GET IT! yet? An eco-friendly stationery pack for creatives and business badasses, you’ll wanna fill these pages quicker than you can say: ‘abracazebra’.