A Hidden Treasure: Selling at the Weekend Markets

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I recently suggested the weekend markets as a sales and marketing avenue to a friend who has a new and fabulous game. While “selling” the idea to him it got me thinking about all the things I learnt from my own experience selling my merchandise at the weekend markets last year. I learnt a heap about sales and marketing and had a ball in the process.

Although much is done online these days, if you have a physical product to sell, I highly recommend the weekend markets as the ultimate platform for testing how your rubber hits the road – how well you know your product and your market, how you engage with it, what the demand is, and how people respond to your stuff. This is particularly useful if you’re just starting out.

Markets can vary greatly, so I tested a few different ones until I found the one that was the best fit for my products and me personally.

Now before you turn your nose up, consider this: The majority of people who go to markets are already in “buying mode”. They’re cashed up and looking to offload it. It was an eye-opener for me just how much money is out there! Many stallholders at markets (around Australia) make a very handsome living. In fact, quite a few of them have become millionaires courtesy of their market stall.

When I first set up stall, I had no idea what I was doing. No idea what market to sell at, how to present my stall, or how to sell. So for me, there was no downside – all I could do was learn!

Here’s some of the amazing benefits I found hidden at the weekend markets.


Low cost: The upfront costs to set up your stall are minimal (and nil if you already have a table and tablecloth!), and most markets will allow a week-to-week arrangement for booking and stall fees. Doesn’t get much better than that.

Market research: Oddly enough, markets are an excellent place for market research! One of the most challenging things when you’re starting out with a new product or concept is not knowing exactly how it will be received in the market. Market research is a guide, but in my opinion there is only so much faith you should put in it because it is not a “live” environment. Markets are.

The markets enabled me to observe how people truly perceive, respond to and engage with my merchandise and my concept. It’s impossible to convey how valuable this is.

Create brand awareness: Thousands of people will walk past your stall in a day. And many of those will come back week after week. Some will come back and buy, some will pass on information or a story to friends.

Learn sales skills: The markets are a fantastic training ground for selling skills. Not only will you learn through your own experiences and observations, but most stallholders are only too willing to teach you the tricks of the trade. I found them to be amongst the warmest, kindest, and friendliest bunch of people I’ve ever met.

Personally, I detest “selling”, but soon learnt it’s a vital skill in business – funnily enough! If it’s something you struggle with too, then you’ll need to work at it, simple as that. Check out Daniel Sitter’s blog, Idea Sellers for some great sales tips.

Build your database: I asked all my customers and even people I just had a conversation with if they would like to be advised of upcoming events, and many of them said yes.Some stallholders use the time at the markets specifically to connect with people and build their database. They know in advance they will sell very little in a day, if anything, but they will come away with a list of leads that they can then start building a relationship with.

This is particularly useful for people who sell services. You can sell other people’s merchandise (or develop your own line!) and “sell” your services on the side.

Networking: Forget paying for networking functions, you’ll meet a stunning array of people from near and far, and many of them want to chat and exchange business cards. Locals, tourists, buyers, business owners, and other stallholders with a seemingly never-ending source of contacts. I spoke to people all day long, and every so often I would ask my neighbour to watch my stall while I went off for a quick bit of socialising with the other stallholders. I never ceased to be fascinated with the information I encountered. Plus, it was fun!

Piggyback on other stallholder’s traffic: Find a busy stall and ask to be situated near it. Food stalls are great for this because they always attract crowds who then happen to notice you en route. After finding the market I liked best, I then trialled a few different stall locations and chose a spot beside a woman selling “laughing witches”. These little witch-like dolls that cackle with the recorded “laugh” of the kookaburra are hugely popular. Their sound and entertainment value drew crowds all day long and they sold like hotcakes (in fact, she now exports them around the world). It’s nice to be situated amidst all that traffic.
(And no annoying SEO concerns here!)

Presentation, Presentation, Presentation: Presentation is to retail what Location is to real estate.

Not having a clue, I started with a plain old sheet draped over the table and just laid my stuff out. After graduating to a fancy cover made from a lovely material (courtesy of my darling mother) and building attractive displays, I noticed a vast difference in the way people perceived and responded to my stuff. I can’t tell you how much of a difference this made to their initial reaction and their willingness to engage. And people aren’t consciously aware of it – I would observe them closely, and their reaction takes place in a split second.

Personally, I think the degree of importance on the quality of your presentation depends on what you’re selling, but in most cases it plays a very significant role; whether your customers are consciously aware of it or not.

Weird and Wonderful is welcome: The markets are a vibrant, exciting and interesting place. A weird and wonderful world where whacky ideas are welcome.

Given that I come from a corporate background, oddly enough I felt right at home at the weekend markets. Most of the market stallholders are people who have escaped the corporate treadmill, or refused to ever get on it.

My experience of the corporate world was that people are accepted into “the fold” in direct proportion with their ability to conform to it. Outlandish ideas and individualism are usually met with stern disapproval. The “market folk” stand in stark contrast to this. They welcomed me with open arms because I was different. Because I was original. And because I dared to stand out from the crowd. When you’re out there on a limb this is a really welcome warm and fuzzy.

When you think about it, how many other platforms offer all these benefits for forty bucks a day or less?

Got a product you would like to develop a business around? Then I suggest you get yourself to a weekend market.

Danielle

Hi, I'm Danielle and I'm a rookie entrepreneur. Prior to launching my new business venture in June 2006 I was self-employed with the noble intent of helping companies to communicate more effectively with their staff. This stemmed from a career in human resources and journalism. Today my new mission is helping men and women to cross the chasm and connect through conversation, humour and playful banter using my board game. I'm currently hatching plans for world domination and can be contacted at [email protected]

Comments

  1. You have made a great point here Danielle! These markets offer every possible scenario. I have often frequented the local weekend market in Charleston, here in South Carolina. My experiences have ranged from “carnival sales approaches” to good old fashioned “deal or no deal” negociations. It’s always interesting and a sure education in human nature.

    Thank you for recommending Idea Sellers for providing solid sales tips. I sincerely appreciate it!

  2. Danielle says

    Hi Daniel,

    Yeah the theatrics of some of the sellers is really something isn’t it! I love watching them – it’s entertainment in itself 🙂

    Wow, you’re from Charleston hey. I travelled throughout the U.S. some years ago (we did a big loop) and I loved all of it, it was fantastic, but Charleston was one of my favourite places – what a beautiful city and the history was fascinating. I’ve always remembered it.

    Cheers, Danielle

  3. Danielle,

    I spent most of last summer in a booth at art fairs. I paint in watercolour.

    I agree that you learn many things about human nature and sales in general, but I have to say My wife Rose and I felt we wasted our summer in that booth last year. We are only doing 2 shows this year. My goal is to find an art gallery to represent me. Some of the techniques we use to lure people into our booth is to put kid friendly pictures on the back wall to lure kids dragging moms and to have a large dog dish of spring water to lure dogs dragging owners.

    Your post triggered a conversation we just had with some creative friends who are doing the circuit this summer. My wife says she feels like a carnie worker, I have to admit it’s not the most enjoyable way to sell your work. I find it is not the serious art buyer out there – just good folks looking for something to do with the kids in the sun.

    I meet a lot of fellow artists though. Good conversations from time to time and a great ego rub most times.

  4. Wow Ed, I love your artwork. You’re very talented.

    Yeah, markets aren’t always the best avenue for some products and wares – and in your case I imagine that you don’t get the serious art buyers. But it really can depend on the market as well. I found markets to vary greatly in their style and theme and thus the type of person/buyer they attract.

    The Eumundi Markets on the Sunshine Coast (a couple hours north of Brisbane) calls itself “Australia’s premier craft market” and specialises in showcasing original products/wares only – as in all stallholders must be the concept designer and/or the artisan. They really keep their standard high and offer first-class stuff. People flock there both for the experience and to get something unique and original. Hugely popular market which has helped to produce a number of millionaires.

    I’m really not familiar with markets in North America, but if you can find one like that you might fair better. A “gimmick” that might work well at the markets is to offer portraits, or something like that. Meantime, best wishes for securing the right art gallery!

    Have you thought of displaying them in classy coffee shops on consignment? – I bought a beautiful photograph at a coffee shop once. Or maybe get some bookmarks made (featuring one of your paintings) and ask certain bookstores if you can leave them on the counter for people to take. Just an idea!

    Keep us posted!! Maybe you can do a marketing case study on Ed Roach the artist! 🙂

  5. I love the bookmarks idea, thanks. I’m about an hour away fro the U.S.’s largest aand oldest art fair in Michigan. I’d love to show there but Michigan has a rule that I can display, but I must have an American in my booth to take the money. As a Canadian, if I accept money I am taking a job away from an American – stupid eh?

  6. Danielle,

    The weekend markets are a huge opportunity! A number of artisans that I have worked with collected great information on their product and went on to create some amazing results. Research – especially for those of us who came out of the corporate world doesn’t have to be elegant surveys and focus groups. It’s authentic interaction with those people who can make or break your brand in the marketplace.

  7. Danielle says

    That’s fabulous Mary Ellen! It’s great to hear about market success stories. Given my own experiences, I felt sure there was great value to be had at the markets.

    And you’re absolutely spot on about clinical, pretend research. I found it to be somewhat unreliable and a guide at best.

    Thanks!