Depending on what you are selling, the type of market will make a difference. If you are grower that grows lettuce and radishes, you probably want to focus on the farmer’s markets and not the art shows. Likewise, if you make jewelry, you may find that you can’t participate in a farmer’s market.
Each market has its own focus and rules of what they will and won’t permit to be sold at their market. Don’t fret over that. Just like you have a focus, so does the market. There is a market for you out there somewhere. Once you find one, you will probably find many others that are a great match for your products.
Monica and I started out at a local farmer’s market that focuses on farm-grown produce and meat. Fortunately for us, the market manager is also open to other vendors that are local. It’s not a true farmer’s market, but a local market.
I don’t recall how we found out about this market because before we started selling our own products, we wouldn’t make it out of the house that early and this market runs from 8:00 AM until noon on Saturdays. Since we’ve started at markets, it is very rare that we even sleep past 7:00 AM on weekends – even on our non-market days!
Markets are organized by market organizers (that wasn’t redundant!). Market organizers are the people who find a location for a market, recruit vendors and process market applications. They make the final determination if you are a good match for their markets based on their focus and rules.
Markets are run by market managers. These market managers may also be the organizers of the market or they may be an employee of a larger entity that organizes the market. In any case, it is important to get to know the market manager and understand their rules and guidelines. You want to be a welcome addition to their market.
The role of the market manager ranges dramatically but is largely focused on logistics. The market manager makes sure that each vendor is in the appropriate spot. Often these spots are pre-defined and clearly marked with tape or spray paint. Other times, it may be more fluid depending on the expected number of vendors and any special events that may be going on.
Another role of the market manager is to address any concerns that vendors and customers may have. From a vendor perspective, these concerns are usually related to logistics, such as booth placement. From a customer perspective, it is usually related to the types of vendors, such as where they can find honey, or if there is anyone that makes natural soaps.
The market organizer and market manager may be the same person or people or it may be different people performing very distinct roles. One of the markets that we attend regularly is run by two guys. These two guys find the location, arrange the vendors and are on-site during market hours. They are the market organizer and market managers. Another market that we go to is run by a dedicated market manager who answers to the neighborhood district. The district is the market organizer and they are very involved in the events in their neighborhood. Therefore, we have a more formal relationship with the later market.
Types of markets
In general, there are several types of markets. Many of these markets have very strict rules that correspond to the type of market they are. Others are more flexible. It all depends on the market manager.
Below is a description of just a few types of markets. There are probably many other categories, but they generally fall into one of these type or are a mixture of more than one.
Farmer’s markets tend to focus on agricultural products – hence the name. However, not all farmer’s markets limit their vendors to just the people that grow food. Often, bakers, coffee vendors, juice vendors soap makers and the like are welcome there. Farmer’s markets tend to focus on vendors that sell “household consumables” and such.
This is where we started. While my focus is on cutting boards, pens, razors and other wood crafted items, it was Monica’s soaps that got us into the market. If it wasn’t for Monica’s soaps, we probably wouldn’t have been let into that market. Today, we are a regular at that market.
Farmer’s markets are generally regularly occurring. They tend to happen weekly depending on your location and the weather. Here in Texas, we have outdoor farmer’s markets year around. Other locations, such as Michigan, probably won’t have many outdoor markets in January. Even if they did, there probably wouldn’t be many vendors – brrrrrr!
Artisan markets are synonymous with “maker’s markets”. These types of markets are generally for local people that make their own stuff. Jewelry, wood crafts, handmade paper, up-cycled lighting, and some food products, such as artisan cupcakes and candies, can be found at an artisan market.
Artisan markets are a great opportunity for the micro business or fledgling artist to get their start. They invite local talent to sell their wares at their markets. They typically do not allow direct sales. Direct sales are sellers of product on behalf of a corporation. Mary Kay, Tupperware, Pampered Chef and Scentsy all examples of direct sales.
Artisan markets also occur regularly, but typically not weekly. They may occur once a month, biannually or even annually. However, if they occur less frequently than monthly, they are more like a show than a market (see below). The big difference between an Artisan Market and a show is the application process. With an Artisan Market, once your application is approved, you are not required to re-apply. With a show, you will be required to apply each time you want to attend.
Shows are a big deal! Not really, but when we got into our first show, we were so excited! Shows are essentially markets that are sponsored by some larger entity. Churches, neighborhoods, cities, and schools are examples of entities that may sponsor a show. They do this either to raise money for some project (such as funding missionaries at a church) or to raise civic awareness as part of a festival (such as an annual harvest festival).
Shows typically have some limits of who is allowed to sell at their show. Some shows may focus on up-cycled and vintage goods while others may focus on hand made items. It really depends on the show so read the details carefully. Remember, they make the rules based on their needs so don’t get bent out of shape if you are not a good fit for their show. There are other shows out there.
The application process for a show is similar to that for any other market, but may be a bit more involved. Some shows are juried shows. This means that they want to see your product – either in person or through pictures. They do this to ensure that your product is a good fit for their show.
Some shows are organized by professional show organizers. Their reputation is at stake if they allow vendors that are not a good fit, are unprofessional, or low quality. The jury process is there to ensure that they host a quality show that people will talk about for the next time.
The costs of getting into a show vary dramatically. Some shows may have a minimal application fee of $20 or so while other shows (such as the Nutcracker Market here in Houston) can be prohibitively expensive except for the crème de le crème of the vendor world. Not only are these high-end shows expensive to get into, but may also charge a percentage of gross sales. We have seen as high as 20% of gross sales. However, they bring in large crowds and have waiting lists of vendors wanting to get in.
We have not yet broken into these high-end shows. In order to even think about a show this large, we need to have a far more massive inventory than what we typically carry today. However, if you have a made-to-order business model, your barrier to entry with inventory may be lower. It is our goal to grow big enough for a show like this, but it will be a while before we are ready.