Entering into the handmade / hand-poured market can be difficult when it comes to grabbing some market share. The market is saturated and there are so many great makers out there that have been doing it for much longer and are much more well known. eCommerce sales seem nonexistent outside of supportive friends and family. You're competing with the rest of the internet. This is why the best way to get yourself out there is through makers market!
I'm going to dive into my first market experience. This will include things that I learned along the process like finding a market to sign up for, buying the supplies, making the product to be ready for the market, and how market sales differ from online sales. This blog will also include some advice that I'm now comfortable offering with a few markets under my belt.
Sign Up For A Market
Sign up for a market(s) as soon you as can. Shopping in person is never going away. The experience of getting to feel a product and see it in person can not be replicated by a website. At least, not yet anyway. Think of markets as your brick and mortar store if you aren't able to immediately go into a retail space. Depending on the market, there's foot traffic that is going to be allured by your booth set up and all of the products that you make. They'll get to feel your product in their hands, and for candle makers like me, they get to smell your product.
Online anonymity won't get in the way of making a sale at a market. Online, you're just another website trying to sell someone a product. A website can only be so personal. At a market, you're a person connecting with someone with a need. People love buying from other people. Especially people that provide an experience they can't get at a national retailer with underpaid, melancholy employees.
Don't sign up for just any market. Do some research before you pay that booth fee. Here's some things you need to consider before making a commitment to a market:
- Marketing - Does the market manager promote the market, or do they expect you to promote yourself?
- Foot traffic - How much foot traffic does the market get?
- Location - Where is the market located? This can affect foot traffic and the shopper's mind set (will the shopper already be in a buying mode?)
- Booth fee - Your booth fee determines how much product you need to sell to make the market worth it. The higher the booth fee, the more you need to sell. Use this break even formula to determine how much product to sell just to break even:
Preparing for the Market
Preparing for your first market involves buying all your booth supplies, ensuring you're legally set up to operate as a vendor, and making/bringing the product to sell. The market that I regularly attend requires me to have everything of my own (tent, table, etc.) so I can only speak from that experience. I have yet to attend a market that regularly provides any tables or tents.
Preparing your booth
I had a long shopping and todo list after getting approval to join Soco Makers Market. I needed to buy a tent, weights to hold the tent down on windy days, banners, a table, decorations, acquire a storage unit to store all these new things (I live in a tiny condo with my boyfriend), the list goes on and on. Luckily, the Soco market is well established and they provided a list of recommended items. Beyond that, I scoured Pinterest and Instagram to gain inspiration of decorations I wanted and what look to go for with my booth. I highly recommend you search for "makers market booth design" or something similar into Pinterest. There will be plenty of inspiration you can use for the design of your booth.
I also recommend designing and printing out marketing material. Every store you walk into has signage that is either explaining a specific product, or explaining the company's message. Your booth should do the same. I designed a sign that gave a brief description of my business as well as the charities I support. This way other customers can read it while I tend to customers who are actively engaging with my product.
Again, treat your booth like a brick and mortar. The more personalized and refined it is, the more your customers are likely to connect with you and your products, and come back for more. This is especially important if your products are priced in a "luxury" vertical. Customers are much more willing to buy into a luxury product if the space they are buying them from is a cohesive experience.
I'm not going to go into detail with this section as I am not an expert and only followed the instructions from my market manager. This also depends on the state you are selling from. In Texas, we are required to have vendor insurance and have a sales tax ID for collecting sales tax.
I got my insurance from ACT. It was about $300 for the year after rounding up. The sales tax ID is so that you can properly report the sales tax that you are collecting during a purchase, or, responsible for if you are including tax in your purchase price. It's also a great way to show your customers your professionalism.
Preparing your product - How much to make and bring.
This is, without a doubt, the biggest question I had before I got started. How much product do I bring to the market? Ultimately, this really depends on how much foot traffic the market is going to get.
Some advice that I was given was to bring 10 candles for each scent that I carry. This also means I need to make 10 candles of every scent for this to be possible. This can be difficult to plan when you have weekly markets and a product that takes two weeks to cure. When you're making candles for a market, you aren't making candles for this weekend's market. You are making candles for a market two weekends from now. Lead time planning and inventory management becomes very important.
With my experience, I did not sell 10 of any candle on Sunday markets; however, I did sell much more than 10 candles of a particular scent on my Saturday market. This is natural because Saturdays are going to generally see more foot traffic, and I was able to have my booth set up a few hours longer than I normally would on a Sunday market. That being said, it is important to bring more product than you think you need. It's not a bad idea to have too much inventory, and you might have a happy surprise and sell through it. I once brought a whole weekends worth of product to a Saturday market so I could take less trips to my storage unit between markets. I almost sold through my entire supply of one scent. I barely had enough for my Sunday market. haha oops Good problems!
How Market Sales Differ From Online Sales
I didn't think too much into the difference between online and markets sales at first. I just had an equal amount of scents available amongst my line. Going into markets, my best seller was Palmdale. After markets, my best seller by far is Oakdale. Obviously, to me at least, the difference is that there is only text online to describe a candle. The customer is making an assumption on their favorite scent with what is presented to them. At a market, they can smell for themselves which scent is their favorite.
What this tells me is that I need to edit some product copy on my website to better represent my candles and their scents.
The first step... Sign up for a market!! After that, the fun begins. That's the conclusion you should derive from this. Markets have changed the trajectory of my business and my life.
Online sales are likely to be terribly slow when you're just starting out, unless you're starting out with a strong personal following. Markets offer foot traffic and exposure. Two things that are vital to any business. Even if someone doesn't buy a candle that walks up to my booth, I hand them a card, and say "go follow Canldedales on Instagram. We need the followers!" Not everyone can buy, but anyone can follow and show support, and more people than you might think.
Put yourself out there, learn, and have an adventure! Follow me on Instagram @Candledales with questions or comments about your upcoming market! Or if you want to banter on your market experiences.