What I Learned From My First Market Stall

It’s been a hectic few weeks for my husband and me, cutting, sewing, and gluing items for our first market.

Technically speaking, this wasn’t the first market I participated in. In 2007, I sold fabric-wrapped storage boxes at a Christmas bazaar in the Philippines, where I’m from. But I was young then. And it didn’t really matter that much to me whether I succeeded or not. Back then, it was something I thought would be fun to do.

This time was different. I quit my job a few months ago and moved halfway across the world with my newly wedded husband. I’m young, I have some savings, and loads of free time, so I thought, why not try and take a stab at self employment? I wanted this to work. And that’s exactly what I tried to do. I opened my photo print Etsy shop within six weeks of moving to Ireland, and my handmade and graphic design shop two weeks later. Needless to say, I can’t put all my eggs in one basket. I had to come up with other ways to actually sell my products. So I signed up for markets.

It was all new to me. I didn’t have to go through a formal application process with my first one (got in through my sister’s friend). This time, I had to show the organizers why my products are worth selling at their event. What’s more (and perhaps the biggest challenge), I was, and still am, new to the country and haven’t quite gotten the culture nor how things work. Luckily, I got accepted at two markets, one weekend after the other.

So how did they go down? Let’s just say it was definitely a learning experience.

1. Promote, promote, promote. This doesn’t need to be said. Get the word out that you’ll be at a market as much as you can. Throw in event-exclusive deals to entice customers even more. If you have friends living in the area or a local social media following, then this would be a great strategy for you. For those of you who, like me, just moved to a new city, haven’t got a lot of friends in the area, no huge social media following, or all of the above, what you can do is promote yourself by using the event’s and/or the venue’s hashtags or post on the Facebook event page and say something about the products you’ll be selling or special deals on the day.

2. Bring change. Don’t expect customers to pay you with the exact amount. I had one give me a EUR 50 note for a EUR 3 item. Have money exchanged from a bank beforehand or just start collecting change about a week before the event.

3. Bring food. I don’t know about you, but I’d feel guilty spending my earnings on food… even if at the end of the day, my total earnings would probably go to rent or groceries. 🙂

4. Label all the things. Making signages is not enough. I initially had three 7″ x 9″ photo frames around my stall (which basically was just a small table) with the prices but people still asked me how much an item is. This happened less when I labelled each item. Also, bring extra paper and markers in case you need to change pricing on the fly.

We found that people tend to like handwritten signages better.
We found that we made more sales when we changed to handwritten signages.

5. Have two sets of pricing prepared. People might disagree with me on this and say I’m down-selling myself. But if people aren’t buying, then maybe you need to lower your pricing. Or… you’re in the wrong market. See next item on the list.

6. Do your research/pick your battles. As mentioned above, I got accepted into two markets, one week after the other. The first one was a flea market at a pub. I didn’t do as well as I hoped I would but at least I broke even, which is definitely better than not having sold anything at all. I guess the point that I’m driving at is, if it’s a flea market, it is more likely that people expect cheaper prices/old clothes (if that’s what you’re selling, then great!). My products were handmade notebooks and accessories.

You’re probably going to say, I didn’t do my research. I did, but admittedly maybe not enough. The flea was a monthly thing and saw that previous ones sold accessories as well. But whether or not they were successful, it was hard to tell.

The second market I was in was slightly better. Made a little profit but still not well enough in my opinion, which brings me to the next point…

7. Just because you like your product doesn’t mean other people will too. This may be a horrible comparison, but…  we love our own. I may not have kids yet but I love my nieces very much and I think some kids are annoying (admit it, not all babies/kids are cute). The same way that I think my products are great but may be garbage to somebody else.

And I just have to accept that.

But maybe they’re not all that bad. After all, people do stop and take a look at my products. That’s a start. I got a lot of laughs from my quirky notebooks, but hardly any sales. But I got their attention, so I must be doing something right.

Maybe it’s just too early for Christmas shopping.

8. Know your audience or at least familarize yourself with the buying culture. People rarely buy novelty notebooks nowadays. And I can’t blame them. Note-taking is even more convenient with smart phones. A few taps and swipes and you can easily transfer and continue your work on your computer. Notebooks, handmade ones much so, have become something you give to someone as a present. And I was hoping to tap into the biggest gift-giving event of the year – Christmas.

Christmas is huge in the Philippines. Radios and malls start playing Christmas songs and people start thinking about their holiday shopping as early as September 1. Not in Ireland. I should’ve known. One of my products was hipster Christmas tags and one lady actually told me, “I don’t want to think about Christmas yet.”

And this is what I did…

9. Smile. Be approachable and friendly, even if you think they’re not going to buy from you. My husband and I also learned that, for some reason, you’re more likely to make a sale when you’re standing/at eye level with the customer rather than you sitting down. I don’t know the science/psychology behind this, unfortunately.

10. Have a unifying theme or product. Probably one of the more valuable things I learned. During down time, sometimes you can’t help but look around at other people’s stalls. One thing I realized is that it makes a whole lot of difference if you’re selling just one type of product or at least one unifying theme.

I was all over the place. If you’ve been following this blog, you’d know that I like to make a wide variety of things. I had fabric necklaces, handmade notebooks, handmade accessories, printed notebooks, and gift tags. While it’s good that I had items for various audiences, I lost in the impact factor. What was I about, really? Was I handmade store? No, I had printed notebooks. Was I notebook store? No, I had accessories. I looked like and probably was, to be honest, a stall with random stuff in it.

My stall of random stuff

Don’t get me wrong, having a variety of items is not a bad thing. But I didn’t have that unifying theme. There was a stall that sold accessories, throw pillow cases, and greeting cards… but had a vintage theme going on and it worked.

11. Special coupons/incentive to buy online. Another promo you could do is to give your buying customers incentive to check you out online. Provide event-exclusive coupon codes for people who bought from your stall. Have slips of paper and hand it to them with their change, or include it in your receipts. Also, have business cards at your stall. Some might be interested in your products, but currently not in a shopping mood. Or some might be on the lookout for consignments.

If all else fails…

12. Have a final hour sale. Again, some people might say I’m devaluing myself. But a third of my day’s earnings actually came from this. I put out a sign that literally said FINAL HOUR SALE and made sales one after the other. People like getting a good deal.

☘ ☘ ☘

You may or may not agree with some of the things I said here. Everyone’s first market experiences are different, but I hope I was able to help you with yours.

When the market’s done, relax and take a break. You deserve it! Give yourself a pat on the back. Making products and manning a market is not easy.


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