All of a sudden it is December and I am meant to be thinking about putting up the Christmas tree and getting my presents ready. Having just finished the celebrations for my boy’s 11th birthday it came as a bit of a shock when I realised that my eldest chick finishes school this week and that Christmas is only three weeks away! What have I been doing with myself?
The short answer is focusing on family and on making. The longer answer includes market preparation for a market that was cancelled for technical reasons, managing medical appointments for all three children, and trying to stay on top of the basics like feeding them and keeping the house clean. (Some of those have been more successful than others!)
My son turned 11 last week and wanted to celebrate with a sleepover with three friends. One of them couldn’t make it but the two that did come had a great time and he truly felt that he had celebrated his birthday as he wanted to. Phew! It was pretty low key – I took them to the movies then we came home and made pizza, then they played games, built Lego, shot Nerf guns and slept! Gone are the days of elaborate themed cakes and parties, treasure hunts and party bags, and what a relief that is!!
I have not started on my Christmas making or buying! With not a lot of money around there won’t be extravagant purchases this year, but there will be handmade gifts, made with love and with the person they are being made for in mind. Now to remember to actually make the list and make the gifts! I suspect that, like last year, pyjamas will feature heavily for the younger generation. I like to tell them that it means that they are wrapped in love when they sleep, but really it is because you can’t have too many pairs, and they don’t have to be an exact fit!
As for all the making – well that has been going well. When the market last week was cancelled I even managed to list quite a few of my products in my shop, so feel free to have a browse at what I have there now. A few new tea cosies, some new cacti, jewellery, and even bookmarks have found their way onto my workbench over the last few weeks. I did a big analysis of my products after the last market (just like I recommended in my last post) and did some streamlining of both products and processes as a result. While any handmade business will always be a work in progress, I feel better about my set up at the moment, and ready for the next market I am attending, the Makers + Merchants Twilight Market in Goulburn on 15 December from 5 – 9pm. Goulburn is about 40 minutes up the highway from where I live and I am looking forward to another regional market after the great time that I had at the Gundaroo Market. Being able to meet new customers and talk about my products is fun, and I know a number of the other stallholders who will be attending so catching up with them will be great too!
For now though, I am enjoying the sound of rain on our tin roof, the sight of our tanks and dams overflowing, and the ground soaking it all up. A great day to be at home making and planning and thinking! The danger is, of course, that it means that I am already putting in orders for supplies to use in new product ideas that keep popping up. Next year is going to be busy when all the parcels arrive!
I hope that you have had a great week and that the lead up to Christmas isn’t too crazy. This year my focus is on keeping our celebrations simple and meaningful. We won’t be spending money we don’t have on food we don’t need, or rushing around trying to see all the people we haven’t seen for the last twelve months. Instead I will be working with the kids on making our decorations, making presents for teachers and special friends, and talking about how we can remember the meaning of Christmas and live it in our daily lives. Lofty aspirations are better than none I have decided!
Yesterday I attended the Collected and Created Gundaroo Market as a stallholder and am pleased to report that it was a great day! Not only was the venue lovely (the historic Soldiers Memorial Hall in Gundaroo) but the whole market was well planned, attended by beautifully talented local creators and collectors, and had the whole community supporting it. All my thinking about attending markets, branding, displays, etc, came together seamlessly and I had a lovely day telling the story behind my products, selling to interested customers and generally enjoying the whole experience.
Of course although I am the face of my business the reality is that it doesn’t happen without the team behind the scenes. My parents provide such huge amounts of support that make it possible. Yesterday Dad drove over to Gundaroo (about 15 minutes cross country from us) to help me unload my car, then he came back with my two daughters in the afternoon to help with the packing up. In the meantime Mum looked after the children, tidied my house, and gave me the peace of mind to be away from home for the day.
Now we are the in after market phase and although my first inclination is to sit back and chill for a few days, the reality is that I don’t have time! Last night after going through and counting my sales, working out the overheads and determining the level of profit (important so that you know whether you truly made money or just had fun) I also sat and assessed stock to determine where the gaps are that need to be refilled before the next market in two weeks time. A quick online order to supplement my supplies, a list of products that need to be made, and a plan is starting to come together.
After market analysis is important so that you can see what sold well, what didn’t work, what you need to change in your display and what you forgot! One of the stall holders I spoke to yesterday said that she was surprised by what sold and what didn’t, and I had to agree. Even with knowing your target audience, and researching what you think will sell best, until you actually hit the event the predictions are just that, predictions. Things that didn’t move at all at my last market went like hotcakes at this one, and items that I thought would really appeal to the community didn’t move at all! This doesn’t mean that I will abandon those products but I will think about how to make them more accessible, appealing, and inviting to my customers.
Things to think about before your next market:
How do you keep track of your stock? Is there a better way to track what sold and what didn’t? Do you need a spreadsheet that you mark off as items sell, a notepad that you make notes on as things move, or an inventory system connected to a point of sale that provides a full retail experience?
How did your display work? Where there products that didn’t move because they were lost in the display, or items that customers couldn’t easily see? Do you need more height variations, more signs, or different ways of showing pricing?
How did your stall set up work for you as the seller? Did you have a place to take money and wrap purchases without crowding customers? Did you have a place to sit when you had a few minutes break? Did your cashbox and credit card facility work for you or was it too unwieldy and awkward?
Do you have supplies to replenish your stock, and how long will supplies take to arrive? If you have enough for the next event but none for the event after that, assuming you sell the same amount, is it time to order more now so that they are ready when you need them?
How did you feel about the experience? Were you happy talking to customers or did you feel overwhelmed? Did you find that people were queuing to pay for items because you were too busy? (I know – there are worse problems that can happen, but if customers get tired of waiting they will just walk away instead.) Do you need to have someone else to help you serve customers for the next event? Were you tired, hungry, thirsty or stressed? What can you do to change that for next time?
What was your most frequently asked question? If the question was about how much something cost, it is time to rethink how you display your prices. If it was about what a particular item was, it is time to rethink how you package and display that item. If it was whether you made all of this yourself then that is a great conversation starter! Thinking about these questions can help you to be better prepared for next time.
Having now addressed all of those questions myself I am off to conduct another Distance Education session with my son, then start making lists. There are some packages that need to be rethought, some signs that need to be made, and a shelf unit that needs to be painted to provide more height on one table. Plus some blue wool and fuzzy green ‘cactus’ wool to be sourced!
I hope that your after market analysis gives you lots of inspiration to keep growing your business.
I am preparing to attend my second market in this, my revitalised small business life. And while I would love to report that all has been smooth sailing i would be lying because that is not how life happens. For anyone!
On the product development side I have lots of positive things to report, including new earring designs, key rings, wine charms, stitch markers, and more ideas that are coming together. I have enjoyed finding new ways to make tea related paraphernalia and the process of sourcing supplies, learning new ways to craft things, and thinking about packaging and branding. The products in the following photos are all available in my shop, with more if you would like to see the whole range.
I have also been crocheting away, making tea cosies and delivering orders. This cosy is my current favourite and sold very quickly so I am inspired to play with this style a little more. You really can never have enough ladybirds in your life!
That is all pretty positive isn’t it? What has real life got to do with all of this? My chicks and I have been having a bit of a rough life over the last few weeks. My eldest ended up in hospital for a week unexpectedly (she is receiving great treatment and support for what ails her and will be fine) and the ripple effect through the family is still being felt. Existing struggles with school attendance have been magnified, and anxiety levels are high. I saw a friend briefly this morning after a horrible couple of hours at home and answered her query about how I was with a very breezy ‘I am great’, then realised that I was great in that exact moment, standing in the sunshine on her front step, even though a couple of hours earlier I had wondered if the sky was about to fall in. It is a useful reminder that there are lovely moments even in days of stress.
Big changes are happening in the latest round of strategies to make life better for my chicks. My beautiful boy is now doing a combination of Distance Education and school attendance, which makes me his supervisor. Not a fun job but we have had some nice moments in amongst the tough ones in the short time we have been doing it. The long term challenge here is to understand how he learns best so that I can support him to gain the right skills to go on and succeed in life. He hates to make errors so any process of asking questions or asking him to give answers is fraught with anxiety, and therefore aggression, for him. In order to give him the best chances I need to stay calm when I really want to scream at him to just do it. Oops. Best keep working on not saying that!
Oh how I wish this was true!
My biggest girl is planning a huge adventure, going to live with their father for a while. She will be living overseas, attending an International School, and being exposed to all sorts of amazing experiences. I am going to miss her but this is the best decision for her at the moment and she deserves to have a chance to live as a teenager without feeling responsible for her siblings and her mother. I keep stressing to her that she is not to feel responsible for her father, and that it is his job to look after her, not the other way around, but only time will tell how that one goes. This is not a decision that I thought I would be making, but it was my suggestion that she go, and I am really comfortable that it is the right decision for her, and that we need to try it as an option for her. And seriously – what teenager doesn’t get excited at the thought of moving to the other side of the world and getting to see and do amazing things for a few months or longer?! (I admit openly that I am very envious of the experience she is about to have!)
As for my middle chick, well, she is still struggling at the moment. I haven’t quite worked out the next strategy for her, to help her to feel safe and secure enough to attend school, but I do have a project to keep her busy for the next few weeks. Today we had a blank library box delivered to our house, as part of a larger community project to see 10 little libraries installed in our community. She is going to design and then paint our box before it is installed, possibly at our driveway, to hold books for passersby to borrow, swap, etc. I am really excited about this project so am keeping my fingers crossed that she maintains her enthusiasm too!
The blank canvas is so exciting in its possibilities!
That is the real life part of running a small business. Family and homelife will always have priority, and plans for products and for growing a business will always be affected by whatever surprise event comes along. And that is where the tea comes in. Over the course of the last few weeks as we have moved in and out of crisis mode, tea has been a constant theme. Sharing a cup of tea with a friend as we talk over the latest development in our lives, finding time to sit and drink a cup of tea as a break from being in a hospital room, or sitting at home with a book and a cup of tea to clear my head. Tea has kept me going in the way that wine would have in my younger days. My favourite flavours at the moment are a Red and Green Vanilla Rooibus, and New York Breakfast (a black tea with almost maple syrup notes) and a refreshing herbal green tea. In my younger days (when wine was the answer, not tea) I was a focussed clothes shopper. I could be in Melbourne for a meeting and pop out at lunchtime and buy my year’s wardrobe before getting back to the meeting. (I was living in Darwin and shopping wasn’t great there!) These days I don’t buy clothes and shoes like I used to, but I can hit T2 and stock up on flavours, present my loyalty card and be back at the car within an impressively short space of time. Same focus, just different products!
Anyway, that is it from my little corner of the world. Preparing for the Collected and Created Market in Gundaroo on Sunday 19 November from 10 – 4, living a real life, and drinking lots of tea. I hope your real life is in solution mode rather than survival mode!
I started this post a couple of weeks ago, when I was preparing to attend my first market (after a long break) but decided to wait until the market was over before completing it, so that I could share my experiences along with a check list. What I have put together is a general list of things to take with you, that you can use as a guide for your own market preparation. And hopefully you will learn from my mistakes!
I can report that I really enjoyed the market. I sold enough to make it financially worthwhile, got to test out my displays, my packing and my products, and I was able to talk to customers. I even sold one of the tea cosies that my mum knitted (as well as a few of my own!) Overall it was a great start on my journey back to markets. I made a few mistakes but recovered from them, and learnt a lot at the same time.
Is your market indoors or outdoors? If it is outdoors are you going to have shelter provided or will you need your own. In my case I have a 3m x 3m portable gazebo that I can erect for outside markets, so that is on my checklist. If you are attending an indoor market it pays to check whether you are allowed to set up gazebos inside as many markets will not allow it.
If you are outside remember to have something to secure your gazebo or marquee in case of strong winds. (Yes – something I forgot to take with me). You can buy weights for the legs or make them yourself – just remember them and remember to put them in place because it would be quite disastrous to have your shelter fly across the market ground if the wind picks up!
It also pays to think about whether you need walls for your structure. I had two walls with me, but as I ended up on a corner site I only used one, as a backdrop.
My set up at an outdoor market with the back wall up.
2. Display furniture
How are you displaying your products? I will be taking a table, some shelves, a screen and some boxes that provide different heights for displays. Doing a run through at home is always good so that you know how things will look on the day. Make a list of all your props so that you can check them off in your packing. Then be prepared for changes. My stall was moved to a corner position on the night, so it would have been useful to have a second table – something I will definitely be taking next time. I am also thinking about floor covering – it makes a difference!
The shelves worked well to display the tea cosies but I wasn’t happy with the rest of my display – tweaking is required!
3. Cloths and props
A table cloth that reaches the ground is an important part of a good market set up. Apart from making your table look good it also gives you an excellent storage spot that is out of sight. I find it handy for hiding the storage boxes that my products are carried in so they are at hand for packing up at the end of the market.
If you are using props for your display these need to be on your list. Most of my props are teapots for displaying my tea cosies so I need to remember these otherwise there will be some floppy crocheted piles on my shelves!
It is a bonus when your props double as storage
Lighting is important whether you are at an indoor or outdoor event. Events indoors can sometimes be gloomy so having some lighting to brighten your display is a great way of attracting customers. Outdoor events that go into the evening will definitely benefit from lighting, and even daytime outdoor events can be gloomy so some lighting to brighten your space will help.
The range of possibilities for lighting is wide. If you don’t have access to power during your market then the range of solar lighting is large and affordable these days. I have some rice-paper-style globes from Ikea that are solar powered that cost about $15 and add light in a nice way. Another option is battery powered lights – rechargable or not. I have a rechargable flourescent light that gives great lighting (from the auto section at a hardware shop) and fairy lights from Big W that run on two AA batteries. All of these provide flexible lighting solutions……if you remember to pack them. Ahem. If the bright light is still plugged into it’s charger on the bench at home it isn’t much use when night falls…..
If you do remember to take your lights, make sure you know how you are going to attach them to your display and pack cable ties, bluetack, hooks etc, depending on your needs.
I have a banner with a stand lets people know who I am and what I am selling. One of the best responses I had to my banner was from a man who said ‘I know that name, ‘a little bird made me’. Let me think – your mother is Elizabeth, and you are Theresa and you live out in Bywong.’ It turns out he is the local courier who delivers my parcels – that my mother always signs for.
6. Bags and packaging
When people buy your products it pays to be able to package them so that they will travel home from the market safely. Paper bags with handles suit most items, but have a think about the size of your products and make sure you have bags that suit those items best. I have carry bags that will accommodate cups and saucers, and tea cosies but a pair of earring would be lost in them, so I will have smaller bags for those small items. If you have a fragile product it is good to be able to wrap it in tissue paper or bubble wrap to cushion it on it’s trip home. Having your packaging branded is good to do before hand too – in my case I use a stamp with my logo to mark the bags as being from my business.
7. Admin Box.
This is the box that holds all the things that you will need for each market, so that you don’t have to find and pack them everytime. The admin box is where you put:
(a) Business cards or fliers
People like to take a card so that they can look you up when they next want a product like yours, so having a pile of cards or fliers is an easy way to ensure return custom. They also provide a great discussion point with customers who are asking whether you sell on line etc.
You need to be ready to give change to the first customer who comes along! And it helps if you remember the KEY to your cash box and don’t leave it sitting on the bench at home, 20 kms away. Ahem. Luckily my parents willingly drove home, found the key and returned it to me. After all of that I didn’t have to make change for any customer – they all had the right money or used my card facilities!
(c) Credit card facility
Again – if you have the facility for people to pay by card they are more likely to purchase from you. Make sure you have any connecting hardware, that you have tested it and that you know how to operate it. If your eftpos facility gives paper receipts carry a spare roll.
(d) Notebook and pen
For taking orders, fo writing reminders to yourself about what has worked and what hasn’t, for writing out notes for customers, or taking down phone numbers, this is important to have.
(e) Repair kit
Accidents happen, both to your products and to your display. Having a small kit with sticky tape and duct tape, a screwdriver, scissors, pins, and whatever else you might need for your set up is sensible.
Because there is nothing worse than running out of battery on your phone, your eftpos facility, your lights etc. Having the right charger cords and plugs, plus a power bank if there is no power provided, takes a lot of stress out of managing your stall.
8. Price tags
The best way to ensure sales is to have the prices for your products clearly marked. If people have to interrupt you serving another customer to ask how much something is they will often walk away instead of asking. If you can’t put a price on each item, make sure that you have clear and easily visible signs that announce the prices. Ikea picture frames are handy for making your signs look professional without breaking the bank.
9. Drink bottle and a snack
Keeping hydrated helps you to maintain your energy levels while you serve customers. A low mess snack to help keep your energy levels up is important. High protein snacks like nuts are a good option here.
No point going to a market if you have nothing to sell! Make a list of your products and then tick them off as you pack them, so that nothing is missed out and left behind, Then check that you have packed all your boxes in the car so that you haven’t left one behind either (not my mistake but a very common one for other people I know!)
Having a box for each product category helps keep track of what you are packing
If you have other ideas that you think should be added to the list do let me know!
It has been a busy couple of weeks on the farm and in the studio. The school holidays have ended, the weather has been steadily improving (in other words getting warmer) and I have been continuing to prepare for my first market.
The return to school was not as smooth as I would have liked with one child struggling to get there at all and another excluded for two weeks on the first day, which means that I have spent a fair bit of time in conversation with various professionals, providers and support people, looking for yet another new strategy. The search for the strategy isn’t over yet but some ideas are starting to come together and some further meetings this week should help to finalise a new plan. Until the next crisis hits and we need another plan. The life of a special needs parent – constantly looking for the next plan, idea, strategy or support. Sigh.
Of course this all eats into my ‘making’ time but I have still been able to work on a few new products over the last couple of weeks. I decided that attending markets means that I need a broader range of price points (because, you know, I am taking my own advice!) so I have produced a range of earrings that are all centred on teacups and tea pots! They have been really well received and I have some further ideas in the pipeline so that is a bit exciting.
I also decided that I needed to express my support for the LBGTIQ community while the same sex marriage survey is going on here in Australia. I have a number of friends who are part of this community and am conscious that the conversations being held in the media and online are hurting people that I love. One of my friends shared a picture of her family making the word ‘yes’ from stones on a beach, as a positive way of expressing how they were feeling. It got me to thinking, and the end result is a rainbow ‘yes’ tea cosy, because that is my way of sharing my feelings.
I managed to get some more candles made, using some new tea scents – chai latte and a rooibus and mango fragrance. The house still smells good!
Then we hit Tuesday. Tuesday was my birthday and I had quietly thought I might take the kids out for a treat, get a bit of time to myself and then go out to dinner with my parents and the children. A gentle, slightly self-indulgent, plan. But nature had something different in mind, so when I woke early on Tuesday it was to my Dad telling me that there were two new sets of twin lambs born. We all rushed down to the paddock and could see one set with their mum , very obviously only just delivered.
The brown and white lamb is a boy while the black and white twin is a girl. We think her spots look like constellations!
Then there were two other babies wandering around amongst all the ewes, being headbutted out of the way quite roughly. Some investigation showed me which ewe was their mother but she was very disinterested in looking after her babies, so we settled in to watch for a while. After a few hours it became obvious that she wasn’t letting them feed – each time they tried to attach to her ginormous teats and udders she kicked them away. This set the pace for the rest of the day – we had to separate her and the twins from the rest of the flock, to pen them and see if she would feed, then to try and help the babies to attach (which involved Dad holding the ewe in a headlock, me holding her back legs, and my mum holding the lamb to the teat. When she continued to push them off we resorted to milking her to get some colostrum for them, and had to make the decision to take the babies and bottle feed them. I second guessed and questioned every decision I needed to make, rang the vet, took advice from others and worried and worried and worried. But we got there in the end – two baby lambs who were tired and hungry were warm and snug in a crate in our house. It took two days before they could attach to the bottle teat themselves – we had to pry their mouths open to get the teat in, but on day 4 I can report that they are happily drinking without aid, and are full of beans, bouncing around on the grass in the outside run and sleeping in the crate inside at night. It has been a little stressful, with middle of the night feeds and worry about their health but we seem to be through the worst of it. Although their mother still has a giant udder she doesn’t seem to have developed mastitis and is wandering around the paddock with the others quite happily. Now to wait for the rest of them to have their lambs! I am quite glad that they didn’t all arrive at once – four was quite enough for one day!
These are our poddy lambs, who are being bottle fed. The brown and white one is a girl, while the black and white is a boy – the opposite of the other set of twins!
My birthday was sort of lost in all of the lamb care and we didn’t go out anywhere but the day ended quite nicely. I had a gin and tonic with my parents, sitting outside enjoying the evening air, then defrosted a curry from the freezer and the children and I sat and talked and laughed while we ate it, then played cards together and went for a walk. That hour together was magical and was the best gift I could have hoped for!
Since then we have had the middle chick’s birthday – she is a teenager now! I finally gave in a bought her a horse for her birthday. The fact that it is plastic and stands about 20 cm high doesn’t seem to have bothered her too much!
I had another cake fail/rescue for her birthday when I discovered that the cream that I had planned to whip for her birthday pavlova was ‘non-whipping’ cream. Gulp! So a batch of thick vanilla custard was made, and cooled down in an ice bath, and served very well as a substitute. It would be nice to make a birthday cake that doesn’t require custard to save it though!
As so often is the case, my week looked nothing like I thought it would, but it has had some lovely moments of joy even though it was completely off script! I hope that your week has had moments of peace and joy too.
Thanks for all the lovely feedback on my earlier post about things to think about before attending a market. I have had some great conversations with people as a result of this! Today I am going to focus on the things that you should be doing in preparation for attending a market. These are all things that take a bit of time and organisation and need to be done in the weeks leading up to the market – not the day before. The stuff you are doing the day before is a whole other list!!
Organise some great product shots.
What? Why do I need good photos of my products for a market – the customers at the market will be able to see them in the flesh (so to speak!). Hypothetical narrators questions aside, the answer is that having great product shots means that the promoters of the market are going to be able to share your images on social media, and on their advertisements, so that people are enticed to attend the market. If you have some dodgy shots taken on your old iPhone3 in dim lighting and with a cluttered background the organisers are not going to want to use your images, so you miss out on attracting a whole bunch of potential customers. I have seen some shocking product photos provided by designers – one set was of some beautiful handmade knitwear displayed on a glass topped table that was covered in greasy hand prints and dust – which definitely did not induce me to look further at the products.
Tips for good product shots include natural lighting ( I personally love taking photos outside in spring in the middle of the day but that is not always possible or convenient!), a flattering background that doesn’t overpower the product, and if the product is an unusual one, having it presented so that it’s purpose is obvious. For example a scarf will have more impact draped over a form than folded flat on a table. Backgrounds don’t have to be elaborate – I have friends who have had great success with some patterned wallpaper that gave the look of wooden boards or bricks. Once again, making sure that your photos reflect your brand is important. You don’t have to have a professional photographer take shots for you (especially if all of your products are one of a kind) but it can be a good idea so that you have a nice set of professional images to use in your marketing.
A designer I know has a great eye for matching objects and creating stories. She has helped out a few other designers I know by taking flat lay photos of their products paired with accessories that enhance them. Those photos really pop on social media! (Hmmmm……maybe I need to give her a call myself!) Remember – you don’t have to do everything yourself – you might know someone who is happy to help with making sure you have great photos.
2. Make sure you have a way of letting people know who you are.
I get really frustrated when I attend a market and see a stall that I like, but I can’t see the name of the stall or business so I can’t make a note about ordering from them, etc. Letting people know who you are is really important. Getting a banner made up doesn’t cost a lot these days – a vinyl banner with your own design from Vistaprint starts at about $20. If you want to do something different to match your brand there are lots of options for handmade signage, from painted fabric banners, to bunting, painted wooden signs, light boxes and more. It just needs to be something that can be identified by someone who is a few metres away from your stall. Hanging it below your table may look cute but can’t be seen by someone the next row over. Hanging signage above your stall or on a stand that stretches above eye level is much more effective.
The second thing you need to have organised in this regard before you attend a market is business cards or flyers. Customers will often take a card so that they can remember you for a custom order, or to come back to at the next market, or for them to follow you online and purchase from you in the future. If you don’t have an easy piece of paper for them to pick up they aren’t going to remember you. What should be on your business card or flyer? Your business name, your tag line (you know – the bit that tells people what your business does), your email, social media addresses and website. I used to keep mine really anonymous until a marketing expert told me that if she is given a business card that doesn’t have a name on it she throws them out. As a result I now have my name and phone number on there too – in case someone wants to place an order that way.
3. Be ready to take people’s money.
After all, that is the name of the game. You aren’t there to take names, you are there to take money in exchange for your wonderful products. (Actually you might also want to take names but we will talk about that later. Right now we are focused on the moola, the cash, the big bucks. Alright – I will stop now.) What does that mean for preparation? You need to think about how to look after the cash that you receive in a safe manner, and you need to decide if you want to be able to offer credit card facilities.
Dealing with cash first, there are two main options that I think work for a market – a cash box or a cash apron. A cash box is useful because you can separate the notes and coins out and therefore give change easily. It can be locked and you can keep the key on yourself for added security during the market. An apron has several advantages – you can have a zipped pocket to hold the money so it is on your person at all times and less easily stolen by dodgy thieves, and you can use the apron pockets to hold your phone and credit card reader. I have previously used an apron that I made myself so it had pockets for everything, plus a copy of my old logo printed onto fabric so it marked me as the stall holder. I am undecided about which option to go with this time, but will need to make the decision soon so that I can buy or make what I need.
With regard to taking payments from bank cards it is worth thinking about because many markets don’t have ATMs and once people run out of cash they stop buying if they can’t use their cards. The options for taking money via card are broad these days. Paypal offers a facility that connects to your Paypal business account, many banks offer a facility that connects to your bank accounts, and there are card readers such as Square which allow you to take payments without belonging to a certain bank. Each of these methods will charge a fee for transactions, so you need to be aware of how this affects your prices, but with the ability to buy a unit like these starting at $60 it is a good investment to make if you are going to be attending a number of markets.
4. Know how you are going to display your products
In Part One I talked about designing your display to enhance your product, etc. In the lead up to a market you need to know what props, tables, screens, marquees, etc you are going to use so that you can buy parts you don’t have, repair any that have been damaged, or make what you need. A few things to consider here are the size of your furniture and props, and how you are going to transport them to the venue of the market. For example I have a great set of shelves that would be really attractive as part of my display in a stall, but they can only go in a trailer, not in my car. Taking a trailer will work well for some venues but not for others, so making sure you know what you are taking and HOW you are taking it is good to work out well in advance so that changes can be made if necessary.
If you are going to use a table cloth (cannot recommend this enough) you need to make sure that you have one that fits your table/s, and check whether it needs cleaning, ironing, etc. Again – not something you want to be doing the night before a market if you can help it.
Having a trial run of your set up a few days prior to the market is a good plan as it allows you to check that you will fit into your allocated space, that you have all the pieces you need, and that nothing needs repair or replacing. If you are relying on the venue to provide a table, display board, or chair, make sure that you know the dimensions so that you can measure and check your equipment at home and know that it will fit.
5. Know how much product you have and what you need to make before the market.
I know I sound like Captain Obvious but you might be surprised by the number of times designers ask a few days before a big market how much stock they should bring. If you are going to have a successful market then you need to have this worked out a few weeks in advance. It is a good idea to make a list of all the products that you already have, and how many of each item you have, then to make a list of what your target amount to take to market is. This then allows you to map out how much you need to make before the market. In determining how much product to take things to think about are what sort of traffic the market is expected to get, how long it goes for, what have been your best sellers previously, etc. One designer I know who attends a quarterly market keeps records of each market so she can predict how much stock to bring for different times of the year. When you are starting out it is definitely a bit of trial and error so it is important to have a plan and then you can assess after the market what worked and what didn’t.
I recently read a comment in a forum I belong to by a woman who explained that in deciding whether to attend a market she looks whether she can make 10 times the cost of the stall hire. If she can’t then she doesn’t apply. This is useful to think about when determining your stock levels. If you are paying $20 for a stall then on this formula you need to sell $200 worth. If you have paid $50 you need to sell $500 worth. How much do your products cost – do you have enough to sell to make that sort of money? Do you have a good level of stock at the price point that you think will sell best? For example a school fair will probably see a high turnover at the low price point with kids spending their pocket money and parents supporting the local school. At a design market touting itself as high quality, exclusive, etc, customers are going to be willing to spend larger amounts of money on big purchases so you would be short changing yourself if you only take a small number of high price point pieces.
6. Tell people that you are going to be at this market
Social media promotion of an event that you are attending is a free but effective way of drawing customers to your market. Most markets will have some graphics that you can use, or you can use your own images and set out the location, date and time of the market. Creating a Facebook event and inviting all your friends is another great way to make sure that people know that it is on. And don’t just tell them once – remind people in the lead up to the market that you will be attending and share some images of what you are bringing with you to the market. Build a campaign so that they can’t avoid knowing that there is a market on next Saturday and that you will be there, and that there are lots of other great things to do in the area.
7. Read the stallholder information
When I was working on the administrative side of a market it was incredibly frustrating to have repeated frantic phone calls from stallholders asking questions that had already been answered multiple times. It was equally frustrating to arrive at the market to hear stallholders say things like ‘If I had known there was this event on at the same time as the market I would have brought different products’ when the details had been provided and advice given on this very issue a number of times. So many of the designers would then say ‘Oh I don’t have time to read that material’. Really??? This is your business and you don’t have time to read the information that will help you to have a really successful market experience, not get fined for breaking local bylaws, be promoted as a designer to watch, etc?
If you are serious about getting the most out of your market experience, do yourself a favour and read the material provided. Know what time you can bump in and what time you have to bump out by. Know what the rules are about whether you can set up a marquee inside a building, whether you need to have your electrical cords tagged and tested, whether you will be allowed to drive into the venue or not. Know whether you need to provide your own tables and chairs, what size your allocated space is, whether there is free wi-fi, and what will get you banned from the market! Because when you don’t know these things and are confronted with them during your set up, or in the middle of selling your products it causes nothing but stress!!
If you are on top of these 7 things in the weeks leading up to the market you are attending then you are well on your way to a successful market experience! My next post will be the list of things that you need to take with you to a market – the checklist of what to pack the day before. If you have any suggestions to add to the list of pre-market preparation I would love to hear from you!
In preparation for my return to the world of being a market stall holder in a few weeks time, I am going to publish a series of posts on preparing for a market, and attending a market. I have spent the last few years working on the other side of the fence, supporting designers to hold stalls themselves, and giving advice on how to maximize their sales, their business and their brand. Now that I am back on the designer side of the fence it is time to remember all my good advice and apply it to myself. By writing a series of posts I hope to help myself remember all that good advice, and share it with you at the same time!
What is the purpose of you having a market stall?
This might sound silly but actually there are lots of different reasons for taking your products to market. These can include testing your products, marketing your products, taking orders for future delivery of custom products, attracting wholesaler buyers, and, of course, making money. Your purpose might be a combination of all of these reasons, but it is good to be clear with yourself why you are doing this, as it will help guide your decisions about which markets to apply for, what products to take with you, how to display your products and how to design your stall presentation.
2. Who is your target customer?
While it is easy to say ‘anyone who wants to buy my stuff’, actually knowing who your target customer is can help you with everything from which stalls to apply for, to how to display your products and how to market them. When I was holding market stalls selling my bags I had a description of my target customer that I wrote down – it included the sort of job my customer might have, the things she liked to do in her spare time, and where she lived. While my target customer never actually presented herself to me and said ‘Hi, what you have is perfect for me, let me buy it all’, having a clear idea of who I was aiming my products at helped a lot. It especially helped a lot when someone who didn’t fit my target market criticised my pricing, or when someone who didn’t fit my target market started a conversation with me that ended up with them learning more about my product and buying it after all!
My target customer is more than someone who likes tea. My target customer also includes people who are buying gifts, who like quirky ideas, quality materials, and unique, one of a kind items. This means that they probably aren’t going to be found in abundance at a garage sale set up in the carpark of a shopping centre, but will definitely be found at a market promoting handmade or local makers.
3. Do you know your brand and how you want to represent it?
Describing how you develop your brand is a whole separate post, but the question is, do you have a brand, and do you know how you want to use your brand to sell your products? Knowing your brand can help with things like how you want to display your products, what you will wear while working on your stall, what colours and styles you will use in your signage, and how you will ‘dress’ your stall. For example, if you are selling a product that is organic and earthy in nature, your brand is likely to be one based on nature, clean lines, and healthy. Having a market stall dressed with flashing coloured lights and blaring 80’s rock is not representing your brand or telling your story.
My brand is more than just a logo (although my logo reflects my brand). It is about handmade items made with care using quality materials to create unique, one of a kind, products, and products that are kind to the environment. My stall set up needs to convey this, so there will be no flashing Christmas lights, or hawker style inducements as they don’t reflect my brand. (There probably will be a few cups of tea happening though!)
4. Do you have a range of products that will appeal to different price points?
If your products are all handmade, unique or artisan items they are likely to have a higher price point. Not all customers can afford large purchases, but many are attracted to your stall by the promise of beautiful things, so having a range of items with differing prices can allow them to buy something that gives them that sense of being part of your story, without breaking their bank. At my first stall at the Handmade Markets, selling my bags, I also had a box of fat quarters for sale. My bag prices started at $40, but the fat quarters were $5 and $6 each. Part of my brand at that time was about sharing a love of beautiful fabrics in each piece that I made, so selling some of those fabrics stayed with the brand, but allowed for smaller purchases too. I also had smaller pouches and pencil rolls priced between $10 and $25, again providing a range of prices for those attracted to my brand.
5.Is there a cohesion between your products and how you are displaying them?
The ways in which you can display your products at a market are many and varied and range from the simple to the elaborate with everything in between. I will write a separate post about the options with displays but the question I am asking here is a little like the question about branding, but has a different emphasis. A designer who I know and respect changes her display props regularly, always looking for a point of difference between her stalls and her neighbours. However there is one key point that always remains, no matter what her props – they are always re-purposed objects that subtly highlight that her products are ethically made from recycled clothing. The cohesion between her products and her display means that the display doesn’t overpower the products but enhances them.
Knowing your brand helps here, but also knowing how your products will stand out helps with this question. Now that I am focused on quirky tea paraphernalia using large shelf displays where teacups will look lost in proportion to the shelves isn’t going to work. I need to have smaller displays that won’t dwarf the products, and will allow them to be clearly seen. A flat shelf full of teacups has much less impact than a tiered display where each cup and saucer can be seen fully. Tea and all it’s paraphernalia lends itself to a cosy indoors feel, so having an industrial style display shelf would be incongruous.
My next post will be all about the list of things you need to do prior to attending a market, and then I will follow it up with a list of things you need to take to the market. With all of this writing I am sure to be organised for my first stall! I would love to hear any advice you have about things to think about before you attend a market!
Not the catchiest title for a blog post but there is so much to report from the last few weeks that I needed a catch-all phrase! This time of year is when I traditionally get moving – on projects, in the garden, around the house, etc. After the cold short days of winter the arrival of sun, longer days and a garden popping with growth is just good for the soul.
Which means that over the last couple of weeks we have been away camping, I have painted my son’s bedroom (finally) and our garden is full of beautiful blooms and green-ness! Our camping trip was only for three nights, but we were at our traditional spring campground, right on the beachfront and it was just what we all needed. We had two other families with us which meant that all the kids were busy and entertained, and the adults got to relax, catch up with each other and take turns watching children. My parents joined us for two nights which was an added bonus (especially because I left my favourite teas at home and they kindly delivered them for me, avoiding a major first world catastrophe!)
From our tent we could watch the waves, and were very excited on our last morning to be able to watch a mother and juvenile whale breaching and playing right in front of us – my daughter described it as doing back-flips as the baby jumped out of the water and landed on it’s back over and over again. The day before we had seen dolphins in closer and a whale further out but this was a new level of wonder!
We arrived home vowing to book for longer next time – and hopefully with the same group of friends as it worked so well. In the three days we were gone the garden had really started to blossom – literally! And the warm weather hasn’t just brought me and the flowers out into the garden – the lizards are appearing to sun themselves. As long as the snakes don’t join them we are fine!
A shingleback lizard hiding amongst the plants
A blue tongue lizard sunning on the concrete, very unperturbed by me and the dogs.
The most exciting spring news, however, is that at least 7 of our sheep are pregnant, and judging from their size, the size of their udders (who knew I would become an expert on sheep udders?) and the date that ‘Gordon Ramsey’ was introduced to the flock I think we will start to see lambs arriving from next weekend. I am excited but nervous about this development – hoping that nothing goes wrong, and that all the babies and mothers are healthy. Yesterday my boy and my father and I constructed a shade shelter/wind break from shade cloth and an old trailer cage frame – I love being able to repurpose in all areas of our life! I also plan to make another one with some pallets and corrugated iron. I had hoped to finally get to repurpose the swing set frame that I had originally planned to use for a chicken coop, but have accepted my father’s sensible advise about a different plan (for now!!)
The new shelter being completely ignored by the sheep
We had a livestock issue of another kind last week when my boy spotted a mouse in his room. Because I am such a chicken I quickly went and asked my parents (who aren’t scared of mice) to help – and while they cornered, capture and dispatched the mouse I delivered the famous ‘I told you so’ speech to my son about eating in his bedroom, not tidying up his mess etc. Of course, as a result of the mouse he then wouldn’t set foot in the room, insisted on sleeping in my room, on us fetching his clothes, etc. I hoped that it would pass with time but when, after returning from camping, he was still resident in my room it was time for drastic action! My parents kindly agreed to take all three children for a visit to their other grandparents, leaving the middle child there for a week, and overnighting with the other two. That gave me the chance to tackle his room – which I had been planning to get to for some months now that his aggressive behaviour has reduced significantly and the walls aren’t being damaged anymore. The before and after photos show what an improvement a simple coat of paint can achieve! I also cleaned out his wardrobe, sorted his toys and steam cleaned his carpet and he is once more happily back in his own room, and working hard to keep it tidy! Success! I bored everyone with my progress on facebook and Instagram, and one friend asked whether I had ruined the surprise by doing so. I explained that that surprising my boy is not a good option. To help him cope with any change he needs to be given lots of warning, to take part in the decision making, and to understand the process. Before I started painting I discussed it with him, and asked whether it would help him go back in there, and whether the change in colours (which he has been resisting for more than a year) would be a good idea. Luckily he embraced the idea and was delighted with the result! Autism parenting requires a whole different mind set!
During all of that time I didn’t get much ‘making’ done. But it did give me time to think and plan. There is something very meditative about painting walls! I have my first market stall in three weeks time after a three year break, so thinking about what I need to prepare, what stock I need, what branding is required, etc is a shift in thinking. After years of supporting other designers to hold stalls at one of the best markets in the country I am starting small, with a primary school fair, but my nerves might be bigger than when I last was involved as a stallholder! I will let you know how I go with getting organised!
In the meantime it is a long weekend here, the sun is out, and I have piles of washing to attend to! I hope that you are having a great week, with some achievements of your own!
A few weeks ago a recent acquaintance asked me if my ‘making ‘ was a business or a hobby. I have been pondering this ever since. A couple of years ago the answer was straightforward- business. I had a plan, I made enough profit that I had to pay tax and there was regular money making activity going on.
Then I had a break for over a year. Little income, no regular activity and no plan. Until 3 months ago when something clicked and I started making again. At first it was just making for making’s sake but it has grown again and while I don’t yet have a fully laid out business plan I do have some vague mental ideas about where I am going! Some of it is instinctual from my earlier time in business and some of it is aspirational because I continue to daydream that my life will magically change to create space for me to have time to be successful. A lot of it is held back by my pessimism/reality checks that my plans are so often undone by family life and my resultant mental health. So I ask myself, like a mantra, ‘hobby or business , hobby or business?’
Where does the line cross from one to another? For me I think it comes with making decisions about ‘making’ in a profitable, repeatable way. My crazy crocheted tea cosies where I create a whole new pattern for each piece? Hobby. I don’t recover the cost of time spent in making each piece if I apply a business model. But do I love making them? Yes!!!! Reusable tea bags? Business. Now that testing has finished I have a repeatable process for making, marketing and selling them.
All the things in between? Some land on the side of hobby, some cross the line to business. What to do with all of that? At this stage my approach is that it is all business. The unique, one of a kind, time intensive creations are attention getters that have a marketing function. The repeatable patterns that can be made in batches cover the costs of making the one off pieces. It all works together to fund materials, marketing and growth.
I also think that for me, thinking of what I am doing as a business helps to add a piece of self esteem back into a life where I previously self-identified as successful through my career achievements – a business is something that is about me, something that other people admire, something I can succeed at. (Because let’s face it, any judgement on my success as a parent and carer won’t really be known until they are grown and leading happy healthy lives!!)
The next hurdle is a mental one. I have products that are ready to wholesale so I can, in theory, start marketing them to retailers to stock. Gulp. But I haven’t. It remains on my ‘to do’ list. Why? Because the last few years have been so much like a roller coaster ride I have an ingrained fear that I won’t be able to keep any commitments that I make. Which begs the next question – why am I worried about letting others down? Do they really have high expectations of me or am I just setting my own bar too high and then self sabotaging so that I don’t reach it? Hmmmm…. self-analysis via writing this post indicates that I am, as usual, my own worst enemy!!
To shift myself fully into that business mindset it is probably time to write the plan down, instead of having vague aspirational thoughts and wandering around making stuff. Time to be a grown up, do the analysis and make a clear decision on business vs hobby. Wish me luck!
(In the background I have been playing with fabric combinations to make fabric insulated tea cosies- getting back to my happy place combining colours and patterns!! I have also been perfecting the cactus teacosy pattern!)
If you also ponder the line between hobby and business I would love to hear your thoughts !
Thank you to all who reached out to share and support when I was having a tough time last week. The great news is that things have continued to improve since then, so much so that I had one morning this week when all three children were at school! Of course I had left my crochet bag at home, so wasn’t quite sure what to do with myself for a while!
I have managed to get into the sewing room, and my other favourite making place, my armchair, and produce a few new things this week. After a special request I made another pineapple tea cosy – tweaking the pattern as I went, and am very happy with the results.
Then I decided to play with the idea of a cactus tea cosy and love this result!
Some time in the sewing room meant some dome style tea cosies and a wrap around cosy! My fabric stash is being re-discovered and I am loving it!!
A few more tiny cacti have grown in tiny teacups and I made some trivets with recycled t-shirt yarn. You might say that it has been a productive week!!
In the midst of all of this Spring has sprung (finally) so that might explain the additional energy I have had – all that vitamin D soaking in! My ‘to-do’ list is long at the moment – cleaning the house, finally painting a couple of rooms, getting some more sewing done, listing things in my shop…… so let’s hope that the sun stays out for a few more days!
I hope that you have had a creative and inspiring week.
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