How To Sell Handmade Products At 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; 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.
The Stages To Understand And Follow
Researching Potential Markets
First contact with management
Establish your intentions. Hobby or Business.
Market Stall setup requirements for Outdoor Events
Understanding Display layout
The portable office
Product range and choice + stock levels
How your Display helps to work out your prices
Meeting customers’ expectations
Expectations VS Reality.
Researching 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.
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.
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.
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.
Market Stall setup requirements for Outdoor Events
- The fold up Gazebo Tent.
- Display covers to enhance your Wood products.
- Packing blocks for un-even ground.
- Ladder rack display units for Wood Products
- Weather walls and awnings (if allowed)
- Keeping it all attached to mother earth in strong winds.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
These units pull apart and stack flat for transport.
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.
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.
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.
Understanding Display layout
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; with a professional looking display that stands out from your competitors it 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 do I need?
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.
Signage and banners
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.
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.