How To Run A Market Stall (that actually sells)

the-british-blanket-company-market-stall-designThe virtual marketplace can be pretty lonely for independent online shop owners. Although our shops Decorator’s Notebook and The British Blanket Company are web-based businesses first and foremost, selling at markets and artisan craft fairs has been an important part of getting ourselves out there and has been hugely beneficial in growing our brands. We’ve been selling at our favourite market, The Frome Independent, for two years now and at last month’s market our takings were a whopping ten times what we earned at the first market we did. This made me realise that we’ve learned some pretty important lessons in how to set up a market stall that not only looks good, but actually sells. In this blog post I’ll share our best tips for aspiring market traders, craftspeople and designer makers.

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DO YOUR RESEARCH

Whenever we hear about a new market in our area we always try to recce it before applying for a stall. Before you get distracted by all the lovely things on sale, take some time to objectively review the market from a trader’s point of view. Are there lots of visitors and a good atmosphere? Are people buying or just browsing? Note whether some areas of the market are busier than others and write down landmarks that will help you request a stall in your preferred areas. Chat to stallholders if you can, but avoid questions that probe into how well they have done that day… traders will tend to put a positive spin on things, even if they’ve sold very little. Instead, ask whether the market is a regular for them as this will give you a more accurate picture of whether they consider it worth going back.

KNOW YOUR PRICES AND HAVE A STRATEGY

Try to represent a range of price points when choosing which products to take to the market. Your aim is to appeal to a range of shoppers with differing budgets:

  • Pocket Money Items: many people attend markets and fairs to browse rather than buy, but still like to come away with a little something as a souvenir. Aim to have some items around to £2 – £10 mark that customers will feel comfortable buying without too much deliberation. These may have a smaller profit margin for you, but if you can sell lots of them, the money soon adds up.
  • Mid-priced Items: these items will appeal to shoppers who have a deeper interest in your brand and should be a good representation of what you are about, in terms of style, craft methods and ethos. We aim for the majority of our market stock to fall into this mid-range bracket, with each item selling for around £20 – £60.
  • Statement Items: have you been working on something special with real wow-factor? Markets are a fantastic way for online retailers to get instant feedback on new product ideas. You might not sell many of your top-priced items, but if you make an effort to chat to customers who show an interest, they may just think of you when they need to buy that special gift.

Most importantly, be clear and confident in your pricing strategy. If you’re uncertain or apologetic about your prices potential customers will immediately doubt the value of what you do. For more expensive items, try to engage in a friendly dialogue to explain what makes that item particularly desirable, rare or valuable.

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DECIDE HOW MUCH STOCK TO BRING

I’ll let you in on an embarrassing secret… the first market we did we went completely overboard with stock and were still packing-up 2 hours after the market ended and the street had been re-opened to traffic! Running out of stock is every market trader’s worst nightmare but try and think logically about how much you can realistically sell. Tot up the total retail value of the stock under your table… if the figure is enough to fund a Caribbean holiday, chances are you’re bringing too much!

SMELL WHAT SELLS 

Take a list on a clipboard of every item you have on your stall and keep a tally so you know what you’ve sold. Markets are a fantastic opportunity to get instant feedback from your customers (especially if you normally only sell online) so keep your ears open for comments customers make to their friends as you can learn a huge amount. Your products should be accessible for customers to touch, smell and taste (as appropriate!) so you can glean as much feedback as possible. If you sell out of a particular design jot down the time it sold out so you know to bring more next time. If some items get very little interest, consider dropping them from your range altogether to make space for more popular products. It was this experience that led us to create our second brand, The British Blanket Company. We noticed our small selection of throws sold well, so we gradually added more to our stall and eventually launched a whole new brand.

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GET A CARD MACHINE AND DON’T FORGET THE FLOAT

At busy markets, queues at the ATM can be enough to put customers off buying from you. A card reader is an investment that will pay for itself very quickly in extra sales. There are several to choose from that connect via your mobile phone, such as Worldpay Zinc, iZettle and Paypal. You’ll pay about £30 – £75 up-front for the device, plus a percentage fee on each transaction, so you might want to set a minimum value for card payments so you don’t loose too much in fees on low-value items. You’ll also need an adequate cash float in small denominations. Rounding prices up to whole numbers (even this means a slight variation from you online prices) will making it easier to give change. Oh, and don’t forget to check your card reader and phone are fully charged before setting off (we learned this lesson the hard way!)

CONSIDER SIGNAGE, LABELS AND PACKAGING

Visitors to markets usually feel awkward asking for prices, so clear price labels are essential. Business cards should be freely available on your table for people to take without asking for one – this is a (virtually) free marketing opportunity for your online store. For our first markets we had a home-made sign that did the job but, as time went on, we wanted a more professional look to our stall and invested in a vinyl sign with our logo – one sign on the front of the table and a second one hung above that can be seen from a distance over the crowds. Finally, remember carrier bags, packing paper, sellotape etc. We’ve found that despite the ‘bag tax’ people still expect to be offered a free carrier bag to take home their purchase – we get ours from Morplan. Remember, these sundries all cost you money, so don’t under-price your products or go OTT on unnecessary embellishments.

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TALK AND SMILE… ALL DAY LONG

Never sit behind your table… it makes you look disinterested and unhelpful. Standing makes you look more approachable and you’ll notice more easily if a customer would like to ask a question but is too shy to interrupt… wear comfortable shoes so you can stand all day if necessary. Don’t launch into the hard-sell or hover over people as this can be off-putting and make you look desperate… simply greeting customers with a cheery “good morning” and a smile lets them know that you are friendly and available should they have any questions. Be prepared to be quizzed on your craft methods, choice of materials, where you are based, your prices and your online website details. If you’re asked the same question again and again, consider how you can communicate that aspect of what you do more clearly.

BE NICE TO THE ORGANISERS

Being in charge of a successful market is a big and sometimes stressful job. If the market is popular it’s likely there will be a waiting list, so if you’re difficult to deal with, don’t expect to be invited back. If you’re new to a market make an effort to introduce yourself to the person in charge and thank them afterwards, either in person, by email or social media. Make the effort to publicise forthcoming markets through your social media channels or newsletter as this is always appreciated by the organisers. Finally, if there’s a theme, like when we exhibited at the 1940s festival ‘Dig for Victory’, join in!

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RECRUIT A HELPER

It’s not always possible, but if you can persuade someone to help you it will be a real godsend. If the fair is busy you’ll benefit from an extra pair of hands and it will give you the chance to buy lunch, go to the loo and collect your car at the end of the day without leaving your stall and stock unattended. Remember, your helpers represent your brand as much as you do, so ensure they know the answers to all the common questions, stick a price list to the back of your display for easy reference and explain how the card reader works. As a market trader you’re on show all day long, so make an effort to appear professional and attentive, despite your freezing cold hands and 5am start!

BE SAVVY WITH YOUR SPACE

The space you are given will vary from market to market and could range from one trestle table to a full gazebo. Either way, it’s important to plan your space carefully to showcase your products in a way that’s visually appealing and practical. Pinterest is an excellent source of ideas and visiting other craft fairs and markets will give you inspiration too. One good tip is to utilise vertical space as well as your tabletop as this gives your stall visual impact and ensures your products can be seen over the crowds. Before your first market practice setting up your stall at home to check you have all the tools you need and have a dummy-run of where you’ll place your products. This will help you feel much more orgnised and relaxed on the day.

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CHRISTMAS MARKET DATES 2016… WHERE TO FIND US!

NOVEMBER 2016

Friday 18th Nov | Hestercombe Gardens, Taunton, Somerset | 10am – 5pm

Saturday 19th Nov | Hestercombe Gardens, Taunton, Somerset | 10am – 5pm

Sunday 20th Nov | Hestercombe Gardens, Taunton, Somerset | 10am – 5pm

DECEMBER 2016

Sunday 4th Dec |The Frome Independent Market, Frome, Somerset | 10am – 3pm

I hope this blog post has been interesting. If you are a market trader or designer-maker selling at craft fairs I’d love you to share your top tips in the comments. What lessons have you learned? Happy selling!

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