10 Helpful Market Tips for Small Businesses this Christmas
When I decided to start a blog, this was the first idea I had for a post as I would have found it the most useful to read when I was starting out. I’m no expert and can count the markets I’ve done on my hands, but I have learnt so much from each one. I’ve gone from feelings of slight dread towards them (after a few bad experiences early on - more of that at the end of this post…), to actually enjoying them. Hopefully, this blog can be helpful to others embarking on their first market or a reminder for me and others before a busy season ahead.
Starting off with Pre-Market Advice:
1. Research markets as much as possible before you agree to take part.
This is one I wish I had done in the beginning, it would have saved me from a few bad days. I’d suggest either going to one of their events or talking to someone who’s taken part before. I know it’s not always possible, so if not, try and stalk their social media for past event photos and stories. It can really help to know how busy they are, what kinds of stalls are taking part etc. and get a feel for the atmosphere.
2. Try not to spend too much money on displays at first.
It’s so so tempting to spend a lot of money on displays before your first event as you want it to look perfect. But you may do one market and then realise your displays don’t work for you, you’ll see an idea for something that’s better, or realise it's too hard to transport etc. I’d try and use as much as you have around the house, source second-hand items and borrow items from friends/family until you have a few under your belt and know what works for you. I’ve found that a lot of the stuff I almost bought I haven’t needed, or someone has recommended a cheaper/better alternative to me at a market.
Here’s a photo from my first market back in 2016! I spent next to nothing on this (maybe you can tell 😂) vs. a recent market in 2022. I'm still using the same boxes..
3. Do a test run at home.
I have done this for all my markets and it really helps me - especially with calming my nerves to know that everything is organised. I mark out the size of the stand on a table or the floor and work out the layout. It helps me to see how many products I need to print/make for it to look full and it also really helps with set-up on the day.
4. Think of how to take money from customers.
This has thankfully changed since I first started doing markets as cash is no longer the standard - which I’m very relieved about! I’d highly recommend buying a card reader to take payment. There are a few different ones out there so you can research which works best for you, but I have a Zettle one. Just be sure to test the reader before the market so you know how it works!
For cash - if I have any at home I’ll take it, but if not, I’ll say I’m happy to take cash but have no change. It’s never been a problem, people seem to expect card payments and if people do pay in cash then you start to build up some change naturally. Saying all this, I do have a market booked in for November that won’t have any WiFi/signal so I’ll have to get some cash for that, if anyone has any tips I’m all ears - I guess I’ll be off to the bank!
5. Prepare stock + packaging.
Figuring out how much stock you’ll need is the hardest part. I actually don’t really have any advice, other than making sure the stand looks full enough when you test your set-up and always make sure you have enough stock to make a profit.
Packaging, however, I can help with. Make sure you have some paper bags or a way for them to carry your products home in safely. Many customers won’t have bags, especially if they’ve just stumbled upon the market. Ensure your packaging is quick if you have to wrap/box up anything! I’ve seen people lose customers when a queue forms as one person waits for their item to be packaged (think the Love Actually Rowan Atkinson scene.. 😅).
On Market Day:
1. Arrive Early + Follow Instructions.
This one is pretty obvious but make sure you read and re-read all instructions so you know where to go on the day, what time to arrive etc. Some venues have very strict rules on where you can park and what times you can unload. Save the contact number to your phone so it’s easy to access if you’re running late or have a problem on the day.
2. A few essentials to bring with you..
I won’t include the obvious (stock, displays etc.) but here are a few extras that I’ve found useful:
- Chargers (for your phone, card reader etc. bring portable ones if there won’t be plugs. I don’t always use them but it’s good to have just in case)
- Tools!! - string, tape, glue, scissors, blue-tac, pens, paper (honestly, you’ll be surprised at how much you need)
- Signs with prices (although however many you put out, people will still always ask 😅)
- Business cards / flyers. I wasn’t sure about this but I’ve had loads of people take and ask for my card. Maybe they just feel guilty if they’re not buying something, but you never know!
- QR code with the link going to your shop/email list/instagram etc. I only found out last year that you can make your own but it’s great.
3. Bring Snacks!!
I’ve separated this from the packing list as it may be my number 1 tip 😅 I’ll never forget the day when I was at a market in Seven Dials and realised I’d forgotten any snacks! It can be hard to sneak away if it’s busy or you’re on your own. Treats can also keep you going if it’s a slow day…
4. Be prepared for a lull.
Every market I’ve done, however busy, always has slow moments. Ideally, if you can bring someone with you to keep you company then that’s ideal. If it’s not possible, then bring something to do. I try not to look at my phone as I’m worried it’ll look rude. One time I took a book but couldn’t get into it as people kept coming over (so selfish of them… 😅👀). At a recent market, I took my iPad and did some drawing. This turned out to be an accidental stroke of genius as it was a great conversation starter. People came over and asked to see what I was working on and it made it more clear to people that I draw all my designs. I understand an iPad is small and easy to carry so this may not be doable to many people depending on what you sell or make but it’s maybe worth a thought if you can!
5. Chat to other stall holders.
I find this quite hard if I’m honest, I go in with the best intentions but then go all shy. Some markets you can be quite far away from your neighbour too which makes it tricky. But I’ve met some lovely people at markets and it’s a great way to meet other local business owners. They might have tips for you or can recommend other good markets (I discovered a lot of markets I’m doing this Christmas from other sellers). You’ll then also have someone to watch your stand if you need to sneak off to the toilet. You could also share your snacks to help break the ice….
Now for my Terrible Market Story..
It was in 2016, I’d only just started Bamber Prints and had done one previous market which was a nice event but quiet. My second market was very local to me (I wish I’d taken my own advice and checked it out first), it was on a weekday (something I personally try and stay clear of now, unless it’s in a school/bank holiday). It was advertised as a craft market but nothing else was hand-made and it’s hard to explain but most stalls were re-selling random items (hair bands, marbles, buttons, pencils etc.) and it seemed the most expensive thing in the room (other than mine and the stand next to me) was £2. No disrespect to the other stallholders, but it just wasn’t as advertised. Not many people came in and those who did were obviously regulars who went straight for the things they wanted. None of the other stallholders spoke to me (except the man next to me, who I’ll come to in a moment) or even really made eye contact, it was all very awkward and disheartening.
Now, the man next to me was in a similar situation as me. It was his first time and he sold really nice vintage watches. His cheapest item was £50 so it wasn’t the right market for him either. He was very chatty which was good as it made the time go quicker but he got more and more irate at the situation as time went on and started loudly slagging off the event, the owner and everyone else. It was SO awkward and I just sat watching the clock wishing time would move faster...
The final blow was when the woman who organised it (who did seem nice and she was obviously feeling bad for us) came over and picked up one of my A4 prints. She said she wanted to buy it for her friend and proceeded to hand me £2….. two pounds! I awkwardly told her my prints started at £8 (which was on a sign on the table and in my market application) and she physically recoiled, saying she’d buy a card instead (£3 at the time). She had to go out the back to get more money and I could tell she didn’t want it and I wanted the ground to swallow me up. The market cost me £10 and that was the only thing I sold.
I also didn’t bring any snacks or a drink (what was I thinking) and I was STARVING. Let me tell you, I have never packed up an event so quickly, I basically legged it out of the place as soon as it was over. I swore to never do another market again.
Fast forward a few years and I did try again… mainly because the market was with The Pop Up Club who I’d already worked with. Luckily that one was a success and I’ve had lots of good experiences since.
So there you go! Not all markets are going to be great but hopefully, there are a few tips in here to help you have a better day. I do still have the occasional market where I don’t make the money back. There are so many factors to contribute to whether a market is a success, so try not to let it get you down if you don’t have the day you expected. Each one is a learning curve but hopefully, you’ll meet nice people and have a good day regardless. Fingers crossed for us all that the Christmas markets this year are a success 🤞I’ll be posting a list of events that I’m taking part in over on my Instagram soon, so if you’re local to Surrey follow along here to find out when and where they’ll be.