Hi makers! Kelly here, and I'm so excited that Alison is letting me take the Tip Tuesday wheel this week!
The thought of signing up for your first handmade market can be intimidating, and downright scary. Personally, I was a frazzled mess and barely slept the night before my first one. Even after a season's experience of handmade markets under my belt, I must admit - I still get nervous and jittery.
At my first market, in Fall 2014, I sold a single item - one headband. Yep, one measly $15 headband, which didn’t even cover the cost of my $20 table fee. Overwhelmed with maker devastation and embarrassment, I tucked my tail between my legs and scurried home to hide under the comfort of a handmade blanket. But, a couple weeks later I tried again, and again after that. At each event, I learned something new and in October 2015 I quit my day job to work markets full-time for the fall and winter season.
Though I won't title myself a 'market expert' by any means, I do have some tips that have helped me from the beginning of my handmade market journey until now, and I want to share what I've learned with you.
Ready to make leaps and bounds in the handmade market with me? Ok, let's go!
Handmade market tips
Before Signing Up
Do Your Research. You could have the best display and most beautiful items among all the makers, but it won’t matter if you’re selling to the wrong crowd. So before signing up to any event, be willing to put in a little maker grunt work and research. There are tons of Facebook groups that focus on event and organizer reviews that I highly recommend makers searching out and joining. In doing so, here's a few questions you’ll specifically want to research:
1) Is this event strictly for handmade sellers?
Trade shows and home-based business events are often thrown in the mix of available markets, but my experience is that events specific to crafters and handmade artisans are infinitely better than those open to entrepreneurs of any kind. I learned this the hard way; after doing two trade shows and not selling a single knit item (talk about discouraging). Firstly, keep in mind that trade shows and home business shows have many vendors (e.g. Scentsy, Younique) who depend heavily on networking, and not just in-person sales. While networking is great, there's a big difference in selling large portions of knitwear as opposed to just handing out 200 business cards. It literally pays to know the difference. I would also recommend steering clear of events with titles that suggest customer-catered deals, like a bazaar or flea market. While these are great for bargain hunters and thrift lovers, as makers we all work hard to create our items, and the last thing we want is to have someone haggling over our item prices in honour of a good deal. At strictly handmade shows, customers attending will come through the doors already expecting to pay a little more for quality handmade items.
2. Does this market have a good track record?
If possible, try staying away from the “first annual” anything. Why? Well, markets require a lot of work to put together, and a first-time event is going to have its bumps in the road. At least with events that have already occurred in the past, you have the possibility of repeat customers, and a community that is familiar with the event itself, in addition to an experienced event organizer. For ongoing markets, ask yourself: Does the event have a website and/or a Facebook page? Can you see how many folks attended last time, along with their maker reviews? Who were the previous vendors and what were they selling? Are vendors required to be approved based on their business and product quality, or is it based more on a first come first served basis?
3. Are the organizers advertising?
Of course as a vendor you’ll need to do your part to promote the event, but a lot of that responsibility lies with the event organizers. Ask yourself: Are the organizers active on social media, like Facebook and Instagram? Will they be taking an ad out in the local newspaper and radio stations? Do they have flyers to hang up or send to vendors? Is all the event information (location, time, entry cost) readily available to the public? The event could be fabulous, but if no one knows about it…well, no one will show up!
Word of mouth is important too, but organizers should be consistently updating the community about the event. It’s also nice to find organizers who do small vendor features leading up to the event.
4) Is it worth the price?
Here's the short and sweet: most markets will have a table fee. I’ve paid as low as $20 and as high as $800 (and I'm preparing to pay my biggest fee yet of $1000+ for the Ottawa Signature show this November - gulp). All the points above will help you determine if the price of the market is worth it for your specific maker needs, however one of the most basic ways I like to think about it is in the number of pieces I’ll need to sell to break even. For example, if I pay $40 for a table, I’ll need to sell one cowl to make that back. Anything else on top of that $40 will be my profit. Remember: The price of the market might be very reasonable, but if you don’t have the time or means to make enough stock to cover the cost (and make a decent profit), it may not be worth it in the end.
Before the big day- market prep
Ah, knitwear stock and prep. So Kelly, how much knitwear should I actually have at a market? This is a question I'm often asked, and my honest answer: There’s really no way to predict how many items you’ll need, what the popular styles will be, or what colours will be in demand. So helpful, right?
I can tell you though, that I do create a base stock, which is basically a handful of items I keep in stock at every market I attend:
• Two types of hats (one with a pom, one without)
• Triangle scarf, regular scarf, infinity scarf, hooded scarf
• Two types of cowls
For me, having a smaller number of items with a wider variety of colours (i.e. one of my triangle scarves in cream, grey, black, brown, red, orange, mustard, blue, green, and pink, versus 3-4 of my cowl styles in just cream and black) seems to work best. This makes it easier for both market prep and market display. Of course, we can't make the entire colour spectrum, so I bring an official yarn sample display to showcase every colour I have available for future or custom orders.
It’s also nice to have a wide price range: something such as $20 for headbands, $40-80 for scarves, and $200 for blankets. Also remember, that it’s always better to have too much stock as opposed to not enough. If you have a lot of leftover knits, you can always sell those pieces online or at another market. If you opt for small stock and sell out - yay for you! - but keep in mind it’s not the greatest to be sitting at an empty table...it’s boring, and you risk losing out on a lot of potential customers.
Keep in mind as well what you'll want and/or need to bring. For me, I have a designated plastic tub filled with supplies that I pack up the night before an event. Along with my display essentials, here's how I pack my magical maker market tub:
At the market: tips for display
The way you present your items is so important. I admit, I cringe a bit looking back at the photos of my very first markets (which were tables of total disorganization and not visually appealing at all).
Now, I have several Michael's crates, baskets, two mannequins, some styrofoam heads, a mirror, and a Vistaprint made banner with my Knitbrooks business name. I don't use all these items at every market (it will depend on space), but it helps to be prepared for anything.
Before you open for sale, be sure to keep these display tips in mind:
1. Give your display some height.
I love using Michaels wooden crates and baskets because they’re stackable and easy to maneuver based on space. If you have room, a clothing rack is great too; just keep in mind not to place the rack behind your table so customers won't have to reach over into your seller space.
2. Make your prices visible.
I can’t stress this enough. As a customer, if I don’t see a price on something, I’ll leave it before asking for a price check. A few mini clothespin chalkboards with listed prices to clip on various crates and baskets, or event a printed price list on display, go a long way.
3. Show your items in action.
The best thing I did for myself was create a photo book showcasing my knitwear. It’s often hard to tell how great a piece looks on, especially if it’s folded up on a table or even hanging on a clothing rack, but photos that show your knitwear being modelled on a real person is extremely helpful to interested customers and makes for a great icebreaker: "Hello! That piece you’re holding can be worn as both a scarf and a shawl, which you can see in this photo," or "Hi!, please feel free to have a look through my photo album, and let me know if you have any questions." Additionally, I bought myself an instant camera so I could snap quick pics of my customers sporting their new purchases, right there at the markets.
4. Pick your theme, and decorate!
My knitwear business, knitbrooks, has always revolved around nature, so I bought some little pinecones to place throughout my display. I also use a large stick to hang my knitwear on versus a standard clothing rack, and I stained my wooden crates darker to look more rustic and woody.
Create a mental script
Yes, coming up with a short blurb to repeat to every new customer might sound like a broken record on your end, but remember each customer will hear it once, and that first impression needs to be lasting. For example: "Good morning! How are you? I have hats and headbands here, and scarves and cowls over there. You can see most of what these pieces look like on a real person in this photo book, and there’s a mirror here if you want to try anything on. Please let me know if you have any questions!"
Bring a buddy
Markets can get pretty busy, and manning a table or booth by yourself is hard and stressful. You can’t do everything and be everywhere, and talk to everyone all the time (I know, it’s hard to accept). So bringing a friend or family member to keep you company, give you bathroom breaks, answer questions and to help you co-sell if you’re already talking to another customer is life.
Keep track of your sales.
I prefer to keep a notebook to record sales, but you can also use some kind of receipt book. This is important for tax/income record purposes, and also helps you determine which of your products are most popular from season to season.
Say hello to potential customers passing by, stand up to greet browsers, and smile! :)
It might seem like common sense, but I can't count the times I’ve seen a vendor sitting behind their table, head down, playing on their phone. And remember to be social, but not overbearing -customers want to be acknowledged, but hovering around isn’t cool. Give them space to have a peek through your knitwear in peace, and avoid looking over their shoulder.
Interact with other vendors and persevere
Get to know your market neighbours! I would not have survived beyond my first market experience had it not been for the other vendors. Pretty much 99% of the time, your fellow vendors will be more than willing to help you out, and who better to ask for market advice than those who have been navigating the handmade scene for years? Not only have I made some solid, meaningful friendships with other vendors, I received encouragement, advice, and constructive criticism. Other vendors have watched my table for me while I ran to the washroom, offered me supplies that I forgot at home, given me change after I ran out, and directly supported my business by purchasing knitbrooks knitwear.
Regardless of who you interact with or how "well" you do, don't get discouraged and give up if you have a bad experience. Sometimes a market is just a bust. Every event is a new opportunity to improve your display, to discover customer needs and to determine the current and future goals of your handmade business.
Did this inspire you to enter the market vendor world? Tag #OMLTipTuesday here at @ourmakerlife so I can peek at your page and see all the amazing ways you are using these tips and answer any other vendor questions you may have - you just might have the next great market pic that we'll feature!
Kelly, OML dream team
Kelly is the mind, body and soul behind @knitbrooks: handmade modern knitwear inspired by nature’s endless beauty. After completing a photojournalism program, Kelly used both knitting and crocheting as a way to relax after a long day working as a reporter/photographer. This hobby has since transformed into a way to combine her love of creating fashionable knitwear, with her passion for photography, a cozy lifestyle, and her awe and admiration of the untouched wilderness.