The first step in finding a market is to determine what type of market would be a good fit for your product. If you are growing vegetables, the local farmer’s market is your best bet. If you are doing bottle cap art, an artisan market or local church show might be a good start for you.
Finding a market is not always as easy as you would think. Many regular markets rely on drive-by traffic or word of mouth for their advertising. Even if this is the case, don’t rule out this market because it might be a great location.
Many markets are advertised in the local newspaper. In your location, search your local newspaper online for “things to do”, “craft market” or “farmers market”. Many of these markets do not have a huge advertising budget so the paper may simply list the markets.
If you are not in a major metropolitan area, it is still wise to search the paper of the nearest large city. Our local Houston paper has listings for shows and weekend activities 150 miles away! Your local paper can be a great resource.
Another way to find a market is to ask people. Ask your co-workers or the staff at your favorite hobby supply store where a market may be that would be receptive to your products. You never know what you may uncover.
Many people find the local market simply by stumbling upon it as they are driving by. Take a drive and see if you can find one on Saturday morning.
We have seen new vendors get their start at markets by sharing a booth with someone. Maybe you don’t want to sell regularly or are not ready to make the commitment to be a vendor. Look for a friend who is already established at a market. They may be willing to share their space to give you an idea of what to expect and prepare you to take your leap into the market family.
Visit a market
Once you find a market, go visit it. Don’t just show up ready to sell your products! There is a process involved. Sometimes the process may be very simple, other times it may be more involved. Every market has finite space so they may not have room for another vendor.
When you visit the market, make sure you understand their rules, fees and policies. It will save a lot of time and frustration later.
General questions to ask
Sometimes when thrust into a new situation, such as looking at a market from a potential vendor perspective, we tend to get overwhelmed and our brains lock up. Maybe it’s just me. The trick is to know what questions you want answered and plan for your visit. Write the questions down. Of course, once you start talking to a market manager or vendors, you will think of many other questions to ask.
You can get a lot of answers not only from the market manager but also from the vendors there. The vast majority of the vendors are extremely helpful to potential market vendors. They will be more than happy to answer any questions you might have (as long as there isn’t a queue of customers vying for their attention).
Some of the questions you may want to ask the market manager include those below:
How long has the market been there?
If it is an established market, it probably has a track record of success. Established markets tend to have a set of loyal customers. If it’s a new market, don’t overlook it. New markets are an opportunity “get in on the ground floor” and learn how to sell at markets as the market establishes itself. As the market grows, you could have an opportunity to grow as well.
How many visitors to they see each day?
A market exists not only for you to sell your products, but also for customers to purchase your products. The volume of potential customers is important here. Markets with high customer traffic are better opportunities for sales for you. Remember though that not every visitor to the market will buy something from you. Even those that visit your booth will not all make a purchase.
We typically see that about 15% of visitors to markets actually stop by our booth. This means that that they at least stop and look at what we have to sell. If ALL of that 15% actually made a purchase, we would probably run out of inventory quickly.
At best, only 5-7% of all visitors to a market become customers for us. And that is on a really good day. So if 300 people visit a Saturday morning farmer’s market at a church, we typically see that about 15 of those turn into sales for us. Depending on what you are selling and where you are selling, you may see very different conversion rates. Dustin, who sells eggs at the aforementioned market, typically sees that 90% or more of the visitors to the market visit him within the first hour. It typically drops off dramatically after the first hour though. This is usually because he has run out of eggs. Dustin’s eggs are highly regarded.
These numbers are important for us to know because it lets us know how much inventory we need to take with us so we don’t run out. This could easily be overcome by taking two or three times what we need, but that gets really heavy having to move it multiple times a day. We want to be as easy on ourselves as possible. The inventory we would take to a farmer’s market that expect 300 is dramatically different than a show that would expect 10,000 visitors.
What draws people to this market?
People attend markets for various reasons. It might be the closest place to get farm fresh eggs or it may be a neighborhood weekly event. At some markets, people “hunt” – that is they get what they came for and get out. These markets are what I refer to as “stop in” markets. Other markets have people that visit the market and then stay for a while. They may be there to have lunch from a food truck or a vendor, listen to music, or meet with their friends in addition to shopping. These are what I refer to as a “destination” market. Destination markets are highly preferred because they become a routine for customers as a weekend destination instead of just stopping in for a bit.
What are the types of vendors at the market?
Depending on the market type, you may see a wide variety of vendors. Other markets may specialize in a narrow range of vendors. Farmer’s markets, for example, may only allow meats, dairy and produce while a neighborhood market may allow anything from home crafts to produce to prepared foods.
You may find yourself in a situation where you just don’t fit because your product is out of scope for the market.
How many of my type of vendor are at this market?
Let’s say you make candles and want to sell them at market. Your candles are all natural soy-based candles using only renewable resources. You know that they are the best candles out there and they are good for the environment.
What if you start selling at a market with a total of 20 vendors and half of them are candle makers? That could be a problem. How are you going to stand out?
Many market managers will limit the number of various types of vendors. They may have only one kettle corn vendor or only allow one honey vendor. They may also only allow one or two candle makers. You want and need to know this upfront so you can know what to expect.
As always, there is an exception. Suppose you are applying for vendor space at an International All-Natural Candle Maker’s Symposium. You could fully expect all of your competition to be selling all-natural candles.
Logistics Questions to Ask
Once you get a good overview of the market, take some time to discuss logistics. The bulk of your effort will be spent outside of market hours in setup and tear down. You will want to know what to expect when you arrive.
What are the hours of the market?
You definitely want to know the hours of the market so you can commit your time to those hours. This is particularly important for regular markets that may change their hours at different times of the year. You don’t want to miss out on opportunities.
What time is setup and when must it be completed?
You want to allocate yourself all the time you need for your setup. It is never pleasant to have a market open and not be prepared. It can leave you frazzled while trying to address customers.
How are vendors expected to load and unload?
Loading and unloading is probably the toughest part of markets for me. We have an entire booth worth of display items and inventory to setup and tear down. Luckily, many of the markets that we sell at let us park the truck right next to the booth. In this situation, it is very convenient to setup and tear down.
Other markets may allow you to bring your car or truck close to your booth space. This also expedites setup and tear down. You will need to know where you can legally park your car though during market hours.
There is also the situation where you may not be able to bring your car or truck up to your booth space. This means that all of your display items and inventory will need to be lugged from your vehicle to your booth space. It would be very nice to know this before you arrive for your first market so you can plan accordingly.
For these situations where we have to lug all our stuff to our booth space, we have a folding cart. This soft-sided folding cart makes our lives so much easier when we have to carry our inventory long distances or inside a building.
Where will we be in the market?
Just like in real estate, location matters a great deal. You want to be in a high traffic area with great visibility. This gives people an opportunity to see your booth. However, if your booth is not attractive, even prime location won’t help.
Where are the “facilities”?
There are very few things worse that doing the “potty dance” half way through a market and not knowing were the nearest facilities are. Not every market will have a bathroom set up for the market. Instead, they may have made an arrangement with a local business to provide access.
One of our markets in Houston is set up in a parking lot in a very high-traffic shopping district. One hot summer day about half way through market, I need to use the facilities. The market manager informed me of the arrangement they had made with a bar and grill next door. Once I experienced how cold they kept in their restaurant, I think I visited 10 more times in the last two market hours. Don’t tell Monica, but I really didn’t have to go that bad after the first time!
Is there any help available?
Some markets may have people around to help with setup and tear down. This is not usually the case, and when it is, these helpers may work for tips. Be aware of this so you know what to expect and what may be expected of you.
Questions for Vendors
At a potential market, take the time to walk around and meet some of the vendors that are already there. They can be a wealth of information and are probably more than happy to help answer any questions you might have.
Be wary of getting too “in their business” though. Many vendors may not openly divulge sales data to someone they don’t know. Understand their position and watch for signals that you might be close to stepping on toes.
Stay away from questions about how much they make at the market and how well they do at the market. Keep in mind that people sell at markets for many different reasons. Some are there to build a business while others are there to supplement retirement and socialize.
How do you like the market?
All markets have ups and downs. Different vendors have different perspectives. Getting a general vibe from a variety of vendors can help you understand the general dynamics and personality of a market.
What do you like the most about this market? What do you like the least about this market?
These questions can really get into the pros and cons of a particular market and help you understand what to expect.