How To Sell Handmade Products At Markets.

Woodwork for sale at Mareeba markets.

The article below constitutes the collective skills and knowledge that we at Pickers Ridge Hardwood Designs have discovered and learned while attending markets and craft fairs and is applicable to live events where you are talking face to face with prospective customers.

We have taken part in these events at an equivalent rate of one market per month for 14 years without a break, however this time frame has been compressed into 4 years where many months we attended up to 7 events.

We’re not shy to say we know our craft and we are happy to share what we have learned with newcomers in particular.

The information below is what we have used to create a small business that began in the small farmers markets of the Atherton Tablelands in Far North Queensland.

We have progressed from these small country markets to now being a part of curated handmade markets in our Nations Capital.

We believe this information is applicable to all kinds of stalls and products with individual nuances applied to each.

Steps to Selling Products at Markets.

  • Research Potential Markets
  • Make contact with management
  • Establish your intentions. Hobby or Business.
  • Market Stall setup requirements for Outdoor Events
  • What is the best Display Layout for you
  • The portable office
  • Product range and stock levels
  • How your Display helps to work out your prices
  • What is Competitor Risk
  • Meet customers’ expectations
  • Expectations VS Reality.

How To Research Potential Markets.

Every town, shire, county, and city will have events where you could possibly attend to sell your Wood product (whatever it may be).

Find out the dates and times of any upcoming events and plan the visit. When you arrive, take your time and wander the event with intent.

researching markets to sell at
visit local markets to see about suitability for your product.

Take note of the following items…

What are the standard stall sizes? Are they 6mx3m, 3m x3m, or small umbrella sized stalls? What size do you think would best suit your product? The bigger the stall you choose, the more expensive it will be to set up.

Have a good look at the many stall holders’ displays. Not just what they have on offer to sell but how they have it displayed. You will have to either make or buy displays for your product to fit inside the stall that you have chosen to sell from.

Whilst walking around enjoying the market, take notice of the other visitors there. Do they seem to be buying a similar type of product that you would like to bring to the event?

Now would be the time to also look at both the Quality as well as the Price of what the other stallholders have on offer. Would your product suit the patrons? Do you have a unique product? Can you compete?

You need to be unbiased and honest on this point as misguided notions can be costly. If your answer is yes, note it down and we can move on to the next stage.

drink can holder made from wood
Timberskin coolers made from recycled floorboards, one of our unique products.

If you want to know more about our Timberskin range

How to make First Contact with Management

All Markets will have an information tent available. This is where you would ask about potential availability.

The Market coordinator or helpers will give you instructions on how that particular market likes to have the applications filled out. Most do it all online; a few still work with forms.

Online applications are generally worked out through your email. Here you will fill the forms, add relevant Public Liability Insurance and any other info that they may require.

 Generally there will be a wait to get into certain markets due to category ratios that the Coordinators like to keep. E.g. Garden/produce x%, to Art, craft and woodworking x%, to Food vendors x% etc…

It may also be a fully booked out well patronized market that is just plain hard to get into. Patience is key here. These are the Markets worth waiting for.

Once you get your acceptance email make yourself aware of the rules and guidelines for this particular Market. This is very important as it will give you the information needed for your setting up times and when it is allowable to take your stall down.

This will also let you know what the protocol is in regards to your tent position, the use of awnings, vehicle accessibility and parking instructions. All Markets are unique and so too are the Rules.

Please don’t skip this part as it is in your best interest to keep fellow stall holders as well as the Coordinator on your side.

Establish your intentions. Hobby or Business.

This is the section where you need to work out how you intend to approach the markets. The difference between the two choices is huge.

The public can spot the difference between a hobby and a business quite quickly and will treat you according to how you present yourself and your products.

setting up display at a market
Early start to setup before the rush.

The hobby path will allow you to have far lower setup costs, stock levels, and paperwork, and you may very likely have far lower profits.

If you intend to approach the markets as a business then this article should benefit you the most. This is how we at Pickers Ridge approach the markets.

We put a lot of effort into every items display area to let the customers know that we believe in our quality. The featured image in this article titled “woods that bend” is an early cooler display that we trialed.

Market Stall setup requirements for Outdoor Events.

  1. The fold up Gazebo Tent.
  2. Tables
  3. Display covers to enhance your Wood products.
  4. Packing blocks for un-even ground.
  5. Ladder rack display units for Wood Products
  6. Weather walls and awnings (if allowed)
  7. Keeping it all attached to mother earth in strong winds

1. The fold up Gazebo Tent.

These units are the staple of market stalls everywhere and the range is diverse.

We suggest that you avoid the cheapest as we have witnessed failures in the frames, with flimsy and weak metal connections and components and or the roofing, particularly when rain showers surprise you.

Many of the cheap ones catch water on the roof and form ponds above your stock and yourself, not fun.

They don’t have to be cheap to pond water though, as age and misuse of any roof lining can stretch the material and allow this to happen.

At some point you might consider waterproofing the gazebo roof. We have done so with very mixed results but we must take into consideration the tropical climate that we operate in.

The UV ratings are off the charts many days and that breaks down most things prematurely. Waterproofing may work fine for you however.

We suggest you check the connections and bolts/screws that hold the frame together each time you pack it up and maybe put a kit together of tools and spares. You may never need them but you will appreciate them when something gives and you can apply a running repair without stress.

2. Tables

 We use several different sizes depending on the market and the layout we use. The plastic blow-formed tables are good value and are robust enough to take the abuse of market life. Weight and a lack of water issues are why we use them.

We could easily construct a few tables in the workshop and use them but the abuse would require more upkeep than we are prepared to allow.

The professional approach will require maintenance free and robustness where possible.

3. Display covers to enhance your Wood products.

 Tables without covers are a poor look to a prospective customer and do little to show off your Wood Products. For sure you could sell off of a bare table and someone will eventually step up and buy something, but can you run a business like that? I know we couldn’t.

Choose your colors wisely. Don’t have blue table covers on one table and green with pink dots on the next unless this is the theme you intend to have.

We use washable table cloths in white over black. The coverings do get a bit grubby after a big day outdoors but they set the scene and the expectations of our customers, so we are happy to do the washing after every market.

Our customers can notice the attention to detail in our presentation before they walk into our stall and so are not surprised or set back at the prices, if compared to a competitor who has just tossed their products onto a bare table.

Quality plus presentation goes a long way.

table coverings at a market stall.
Presentation matters.

4. Packing blocks for uneven ground.

Outdoor markets often don’t have flat floors.

They can be held in parks, on sports fields, or in car parks. One particular market we used to attend actually had tree roots above ground everywhere.

The overhead trees presented a lovely tropical atmosphere but the roots presented challenges every week.

To get around this we took to carting a bag of wood off-cuts in various thicknesses and bits of ply; we leveled the tables and display units with these by putting them under the table legs as needed. You may want to put a bag together yourself.

5. Ladder rack display units for Wood Products

We made a few sets of ladder rack “a-frame” shelf units that we present turned bowls and platters on.

The shelves are planks of ply and the ladders are made of 25x25mm hardwood with dowel as the shelf support rails. There is a cross brace on the wall side of the unit that keeps everything braced and safe.

We have several sizes of these units and have found them the best way to present the products professionally. We run strips of black vinyl along the ply as a covering and they look good.

ladder racks for woodwork display
Our ladder racks loaded up.

These units pull apart and stack flat for transport.

6. Weather walls and awnings (if allowed)

Depending on your gazebo brand, you will need to get a few detachable walls to suit. The weather can turn nasty and catch you out so it is good planning to carry a couple of these as insurance.

We suggest the walls with clear plastic panels in them as they let light in while keeping you and your products dry.

7. Keeping it all attached to mother earth in strong winds.

 Outdoors can bring nasty weather. You will no doubt hear many stories of gazebos deciding to be parachutes and launching themselves across the way and landing on some poor unsuspecting neighbors tent.

Please don’t join this group. Sort out some method of keeping it attached to the ground.

rain at a market
Port Douglas flooded this day.

We use a cordless drill to wind in long screws into the ground through the foot panels of our gazebo.

These screws are about 4 inches long or 100mm. They have done the job so far. Some markets don’t allow this so find out when you first make contact with the organizers.

They may require you to use weights on your gazebo legs instead of allowing hard connections to the ground.

What is the Best Display for Handmade Markets?

This is a taxing subject. It is really difficult to come up with a site layout that maximizes the area and allows both stock and customers in at the same time.

The only good part about it is that everyone expects it, both stall holders and customers alike. It is just a market thing so a level of understanding exists even if unspoken.

A major consideration if attending outdoor markets is the sun and its path during the day. Every woodworker knows about wood and its behavior when you let it sunbake for a while.

It’s not a good look when your best lathe turned display platter curls up and rocks and rolls on its base. Keep track of the sun, and be prepared for it.

Think about customer flow in and out of your stall. Give them enough room to move about without crashing into each other or your displays.

You may not be aware of it, but when you rented the stall site you paid for the walls as well. Use them if you can. Think about how you can display items vertically and securely in the wind.

Giving the display some visual structure works wonders for customer interaction and also gives you more display potential for the same price.

Site frontage matters. Use the front of your stall to give a hint of what is inside without blocking the entrance. People will pull up and look at the display before coming in, and you don’t want them creating another blockage.

When deciding internal lay-out often the site size will only allow for a u-shape or L shape display that follows the walls and leaves the front open, or a small center island with customer access all the way around.

This can do your head in if you let it but persevere. You will eventually come to a suitable layout that displays your wood products well and therefore delivers.

It’s a fine line between maximizing the display and maximizing the flow. Get it right and the results will show in the sales.

One more thing; having a professional looking display that stands out from your competitors sets up certain expectations with your customers.

This is expanded upon further down.

The Portable Office

Not all of our customers want to pay by card, so we always have a cash float that has smaller denominations of coins and notes for early bird sale customers who need to break their bigger notes (i.e. 100’s)

For our card carrying customers we use a payment processing platform called Square.

This is so much easier for us as all it requires is a smart phone. In this digital age you need to have backups for when technology decides it is taking the day off.

We have a back-up battery charger for days when the phone and square are working overtime and run low on power. Consider investing in one of these.

What packaging should I take?

 We have a diverse range of Wood items for sale, from tiny earrings to large wood platters, bowls and boards. So we carry different sizes of paper bags that have been selected to suit our products.

We brand these literally with a branding iron. It is cheaper than a sticker and looks better we believe.

We also carry tissue paper to wrap bowls and rolling pins. Have extra tape, price tags and pens to write prices with.

We print out stickers that carry our brand to tape the edges of the wrapping. It looks good, and the customer walks away with our contact details attached to the item.

Repeat customers are the best customers. Make it easy for them to remember you. Most people are busy and can easily forget where they got that wonderful gift when you are in amongst a few hundred other stall holders chasing a sale.

What Signage and banners are required at markets?

These should reflect your brand, and level of professionalism. Don’t make them silly or ridiculous.

If you wish to suggest to someone that you know what you are about, that your wood products are better than your competitors, then a good banner can set the scene and be visible well before the customer sets foot in your stall.

If you can match the expectation in real life, then you are ahead of many other stall holders. Some banners and displays just scream at the shoppers “don’t come near me” and the shoppers oblige.

banner at market stall
Banners can help.

Having business cards printed with your contact details and/or website address is a necessity. We have had many online sales come through after the day due to customers asking for a card and shopping at a later time.

Act professionally and you will stand out.

How much Stock Should I Take to a Market?

Ok, this is where your research pays off. When you first checked out the market for viability and competition you should have noted who your competitors would be and gained a rough idea on what prices they charge.

This is where it really matters if you are a business as getting this wrong can slow down your progress dramatically.

We have discovered that selling wood products is easier if you have a plan.

We started selling years ago with a broad range of items and found over time that some just didn’t sell, no matter the price. These were soon dropped and replaced.

Over time we have been able to refine the product range to a manageable list that we can expect to sell in a reasonable time. There are some pieces that linger and are removed but this happens less and less these days.

Stock levels can be tricky. You never know when you can get a rush on a particular product so we carry at least two markets displays worth at any point in time.

This allows us to bank time and product between markets in case unforeseen events happen between markets and we cannot make the items in time. We call this sales insurance.

There is strength in diversity. Don’t pigeonhole yourself with only one or two products. Details on this further below. If you can dedicate the space within your display, we suggest you devote a small space for product development.

Trialing new ideas and seeing how the customers take to them is invaluable input. Don’t give too much space to them but bring one or two and see how they go.

If they are popular then produce more and allocate them a little more space while removing others that seem to have no interest shown them. It is best to write off research and development costs.

Trying to build them into the price of products will just push you out of reach for many people.

You need to always be bringing fresh ideas to the market as this keeps your regulars interested and buying. You have already established a level of trust with them and selling something new and interesting is far easier than converting a complete stranger into a regular.

Play smart, and prosper. The regulars love it, and can become good friends. It also allows you to keep improving your skill level in your craft.

How your Display helps to work out your Prices

In this section we hope to highlight the intricate connection between the quality of your display and the prices you can ask.

There is always a battle on how to price your work. It becomes even harder when you are an artisan who makes one off pieces and you soon discover you can’t work to an hourly rate in this business.

Sometimes time just gets away on you in the workshop and the piece eats the day away. When you add up the hours and do the calculations you just know that the number you see will not pass at the markets.

That piece is certain to sit and sit and sit. What do you do about it? The way we handle this is to acknowledge that this will happen and allow a space in the display for one only in this category.

Woodwork for sale at Mareeba markets.
A quality display allows for better pricing.

In our stall we have a huge range of products and prices, and we plan out the display so that every wood product helps to support the next one.

Keeping your display consistent throughout so that everything flows from one item on display to the next is key. There should be no clash or visual blockage points.

When customers expectations are set even before they enter the stall, the display has done its job. It should be of no surprise to a customer that there are items that are of a higher quality than elsewhere and are priced accordingly.

Have you noticed the vases yet? This article may seem like an ad to sell them but it is not. We are showing how something like these vases sets expectations before the stall is entered.

The hard work has already been done when the customers arrive. They set the bar of expectation at a nice level that allows us to actually play a little on the artistic side more often and sell those items in a reasonable time frame at a reasonable price.

Naturally there are limits as to how far you can take this, but it has worked for us and we think it’s worth sharing.

Competitor Risk

We mentioned above about pigeon holing yourself and exposing your business to unnecessary risk. Let’s address this problem now.

The story below highlights the risks in having just one or two product lines.

Every so often new players arrive at the markets who have decided to sell their wood product. This may be someone who has received “free wood’ or a retiree looking for an outlet.

There are several variations of this scenario that present risk to your business. We can say with some confidence that these people didn’t go through the suggested steps above from the beginning.

What they failed to see, because they didn’t do any due diligence at the beginning, is there are already other people selling similar products and are already involved in a price war.

We call it The cutting board wars.

This happens when the new arrival has decided the first doable project they will attempt is a few cutting boards and the next step is to take them to market. “It will be easy”.

The barrier to entry on a product like a cutting board is low so it seems to attract a lot of these “arrivals”.

Here lays the problem… in order to sell or even “out sell” the board seller next door the new “arrival” sets the lowest price and the existing board seller drops prices in retaliation;

The next thing you know there is a race to the bottom. The lowest price seller appears to do well. In order to have enough stock to bring to market next time they need to make more.

No matter the Wood product, time is needed in order to deliver a quality product that is appreciated. If they are “pumping out” products to meet a price then quality ends up abandoned.

This will reflect in their sales because the majority of people are not stupid or silly. They will not part with their hard earned dollars for the “rush to market board”.

Eventually a member of this exclusive “Cutting Board War” club will leave the market when the “Free” wood supply has dried up.

Why would they buy wood to make boards and then sell them at a loss? But as one competitor leaves the field, in steps the next contestant who has a pile of “free wood” and he thinks “I know, I’ll make cutting boards and take them to the market. I’m a genius it will be easy money”

And so the War continues. Don’t be one of these guys with one product, taking part in the race to the bottom.

Under no circumstances are we saying not to sell Cutting boards. What we suggest is to have a range of boards and other items. In other words DIVERSIFY.

How to Meet Customers’ Expectations

This is about the finish quality of your products. People love to touch wood.

person touching floor vase
People can’t help themselves sometimes.

The fingers trail across the surface and translate the feeling to the brain. What is going on here is the fingers are seeing better than the eyes.

That faint trace of grit left on the underside of the turned bowl; you can’t see it. But when you run your hands around the bowl that faint trace feels like a mountain. You are not alone with this ability.

Your customers have it also and they have two feet that will turn and walk out of your stall quicker than you can blink.

They will have felt duped and betrayed because from a distance your display promised so much; the customer came into your stall with high expectations and your bowl with that gritty mountain said that this finish is not up to my expectations, so I’m leaving.

They probably won’t return.

Expectations VS Reality.

It is normal to start at the markets with high expectations. You wouldn’t turn up if you expected abject failure now, would you?

The reality is somewhat of a mixed bag. There are days and events where you could sell your chair ten times over and other days and events where you wonder why people are even there.

You may also have high expectations of how a potential customer should act, however not all customers who enter your stall are respectful and will some say some pretty nasty things that can put a cloud over a potentially wonderful day.

There is nothing we can say to help you deal with this other than be prepared. It will happen sooner or later.

Most will be respectful and we do appreciate them and their delightful conversation; but every now and then some peanut turns up full of self-importance and opinion.

Don’t let them worry you. It is imperative that to be successful you need to be honest with yourself. Have a good look at your display and your products; are you standing out from the crowd? Do you have some special item that can draw people in?

We use 3 Floor vases.

The opposite of standing out is melting in. It is easy to just let things slide and have low expectations about the markets and this line of thought lines up with the thinking of the hobbyist.

Near enough is not good enough for a business stall. We have attended many markets and have always approached the next market with some sort of incremental improvement from the last.

It is the only way to survive, thrive, and prosper.

A few final words.

Learn to communicate your love of your craft to the customer; they intuitively know “real” and “genuine”. This will be reflected in sales.

people talking at a market
Good will begins with truth and trust.

We wish you well in your journey.

Tim and Tui

Pickers Ridge Hardwood Designs

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