Ok, I may be exaggerating just a wee bit, y’all. I may be feeling just a tiny bit bitter about the fact that I applied to be a vendor at a bazillion markets, (and paid an application fee for almost all of them), and have only gotten accepted at three so far. I LOVE Farmer’s Markets, you guys…love. I love the crowds and the fact that I can buy enough fresh veggies to last me for three weeks for under $20. I love the fact that said veggies still have dirt on them because someone just pulled them out of the ground. I love the local artisans, I love the handmade jewelry, all of it. So when market season rolled around this year, I was SO excited at the prospect of being able to a part of that community. Getting to know other small business owners, being outside all day in the sunshine, talking to people about what I do. Turns out, it’s not nearly as easy as I thought it would be. It’s highly competitive and many of our local markets are controlled by just a couple of entities. I’m not sure what I was expecting. I guess I thought it would be a bunch of hippie artists who would OF COURSE be happy to have Sweet Georgia Sugar at their market. Turns out, well, it’s an actual business. There are rules and regulations and politics and all the stuff that comes with any money-making endeavor. I’m learning that the hard way. So, I thought I would put together a sort of “best practices for beginners” list of the things I’ve learned so far. This is something I wish I’d had when I started out.
- Start early and identify the markets and craft fairs that you want to be a part of. Spend some time on this one, y’all. Research the market, the area where it is held and where you think the customers are going to be coming from. Consider the demographics. We did a market not long ago that was a terrible fit for Sweet Georgia Sugar, but the dude selling magnet jewelry and the gals selling juicers cleaned up. It just wasn’t the right audience for us. Go visit the market, talk to the vendors, check out the vibe and get a feel for whether or not it would be a good fit for your brand.
- Make a schedule for when the applications are available, when they are due and how much the application fee will be. I did not do this. I am so easily distracted, you guys. I had an idea of a few markets that I knew about that I wanted to try, but there are literally hundreds of opportunities throughout the year. A lot of the applications are available and due at the same time. I got so confused about which ones I was applying to that I’m sure I missed the boat on some good ones simply because I was unorganized. (I learned from this one and am ready for the fall/winter/holiday markets!).
- I can’t stress enough how important it is for you to do your research on prospective markets. Find out how many vendors do what you do or sell what you sell. The folks who run the markets often have agreements in place that prevent them from over-saturating the market with all the same stuff. So if you sell soap, and the market has eight other soap vendors, that may not be the best fit. Having too much of the same thing isn’t good for the vendors, or for the customers. Remember, that there is often an application fee, simply for applying to the market. Finding out in advance what the market policies are and researching the lay of the land ahead of time could save you some money later. Trust me on this one.
- Understand state and city requirements for what you are selling. It is possible that you will need to meet different tax/vendor/special event requirements for each city that you are looking at for a market. Regulations can change based on time of year, type of event, etc. Make sure that you know what you need to do and that you give yourself plenty of time to apply. You will need to submit proof that you did with many of your applications, so don’t let this catch you off guard. Also, these things cost money too, so be ready for that too, (on a totally unrelated note, I’m SO broke y’all…)
- Think about logistics ahead of time. How will you transport your goods to and from the market? Do you have a table? A tent? What are you going to keep your money in? Do you need electricity? Are you using Square to take payment? What if your phone dies? Make a list of what you will need. Check it twice. If it’s just you, you won’t be able to run home and get what you need. Think about your mom’s purse: scissors, tape, glue, portable phone charger, tissues, snacks, water, recycled bags, you get the idea.
- Think about how you want your display to look. Y’all, the first market I did, my table looked like it had been arranged by a five year old. There was no order to it. It wasn’t eye-catching in the way I wanted it to be. I set it up in a way that made it hard to grab the product when someone wanted to buy it, (as my saintly husband pointed out right before I yelled at him to “just let me do it”…sorry honey)…so, think this through, look at pinterest, look at pics from other markets, make note of the things you like and try to incorporate them into your display. You want people to notice you, to be comfortable, to be drawn in. Think about what would draw you in. And then make a plan.
- Be friendly, but not pushy. This is a throwback from my hotel sales days. I worked with so many salespeople who gave the whole pitch without even considering if the customer was even listening. You can usually tell if someone is genuinely interested. Be available to answer questions but don’t hover.
- My last bit of advice is network, network, network! Now, I am the shyest, most introverted person ever, y’all. I HATE networking with strangers. I would rather walk the plank. Truth. But I’ve learned something being a part of these events. We are all doing the same things here. None of us have it perfect and we can learn SO MUCH from one another. My last market was definitely not the most lucrative one I’ve ever done, but I learned so much from my colleagues, (even from my competitors), and I came away with such a lovely sense of community and being part of something great, that it made it all worth it. So, even if you are a wallflower like me, get out there, say hi, shake hands, talk, listen, learn.
See you at the Farmer’s Market, y’all!