Monday, 6 February 2012

Top 10 things to bring to a market stall

I've had stalls at several craft fairs and markets now and one thing is true for everyone.... I will forget something.

This is not a list by someone who does everything right and says, 'Hey guys, look at me and how well I do' rather a list to myself as well as others. On Sunday I forgot the jewellery boxes I'd promised to bring.

  1. Your Stock. This might sound obvious, but believe me, nothing is worse than turning up and remembering the latest wares you spent last night carefully labelling and pricing are still on the craft table at home. I've only done this once, but once was enough.
  2. Warm clothing. Very important at this time of year. I have five layers and sometimes even that isn't enough. I know understand the phrase 'cold to the bone'. Even if the stall is under cover and indoors consider taking extra layers. Some fairs have been indoors, but the heating, even during the Christmas fairs, was firmly switched off. One tip I have learnt from my youth carolling with the Salvation Army, stand on corrugated cardboard for insulation under the feet. It really works.
  3. Packaging. My most common mistake. Not just boxes to put your jewellery in, but carrier bags in various sizes. Sue brings a small box full of packaging items. Organza bags, little boxes, fold up cardboard bags. Me, I forget these things almost every time.
  4. Business tools. Sue taught me to carry a note book with me to list my sales. I wasn't sure at first but it's become a useful little tool. It tells me what I sold and how much for, also the costs of the stall and travelling, lastly I put a little comment on each market. How I felt, busy or quiet, what I forgot... just so I can look back the next time I go to the same place and know what to expect. I also take a receipt book, pens, spare labels, and most importantly, Business cards and adverts. If it's your first time at a fair is there paperwork you need to take? Oh, I've also started taking a camera with me, I find photos taken on the stall in natural daylight look great.
  5. Displays. At least a table cloth. Even if, like me, you're still not sold on a solid look for your stall, bring what you have. Boxes to carry your stock that can double as a raised display, a doll to show off a knitted outfit, even a piece of cardboard cut out and covered with foam and velvet for jewellery. If you struggle with finding the right display for your look at the groups on Flicker. There are several groups dedicated to displaying craft items at shows. Take your camera to fairs and take photos of what you like about other stalls.

    If you have room, take a spare tablecloth. I've been at fairs where someone hasn't shown and I've been offered an extra table. The spare cloth has come to my rescue several times. If you're doing a weekend fair it's a good idea to use a spare cloth to cover your stall at night. However, I was once at a weekend fair which was really poor on sales. Someone hadn't turned up so I was offered an extra table, thank God for my spare cloth. At the end of Saturday everyone covered up their stall but I'd used my spare cloth so left it uncovered and went home. I came back the next day prepared for another day of low/no sales and was handed a few notes by the fair organiser. One of the security staff was walking around the building at night and saw my uncovered stall. They'd had a closer look and decided to buy. It turned out that was my only sale that day but was enough to more than cover expenses and a little extra. You just never know.
  6. Some Comforts. I take a chair with me because I have a problem with standing for long periods. Some fairs treat you well, others don't have the facilities. If you're going to a new market take what you'll need to make your day easier. My chair, flask of tea and pack of peanut butter and jam sandwiches are a must for me but what about you? Could you manage a whole day standing in the outdoors? What if the coffee van is right at the other end of the market or doesn't give traders a discount and is charging a fortune for a cuppa? What about food? Toilet breaks need to be considered too. If you're like me you usually have someone with you (A huge thanks to Pricilla and Sue) but what if you're on your own? Markets and fairs I found have one thing in common; other traders are great people and will always step in to give you a break. Remember though, if you are asking others to watch your stall for you, they might not know your products as well as you do and therefore won't be able to answer questions from potential customers as well as you. Also they are working on their own stall, don't take advantage.

    During quiet moments you might think about taking a book, but if you're a crafter consider taking your craft instead. I have often gathered customers during quiet moments because I've been sat or stood at the stall crocheting.
  7. Oddities. These are things you need for certain fairs. At the Coal Mining Museum we get little badges to wear so we get discounts at the cafe. My first market was at Spitalfields in London. A great place where you simply turned up at 10am on a Friday, paid your £10 and got a stall. Undercover and huge, plus it was packed at lunchtime with local office workers on their breaks. One thing though, you needed to bring your own light bulb. Being undercover there was no sunlight so a bulb was a must. At the end of the day you also needed a good thick piece of cloth to take out the hot light bulb, since there wasn't an on/off switch. Otherwise people left the bulb and brought a new one the following week.
  8. Change. Apart from nice traders and forgetting to bring something, the other certainty is that your first customer is likely to want to pay with a note. You can always get change from your own bank (other banks don't like to give you change if you don't bank with them!) You don't need loads, a few £5 notes and £1 coins. If you are one of those people who like to charge £1.99 instead of £2 you'll also need a bag of pennies. As the day goes on you can get more change from other traders, but again don't abuse the offer and return the goodwill by changing notes for them when you can.
  9. Your Good Self. There's a shop I once went into, I've passed by it several times and always spend time window gazing. There's a lovely handmade pendant in the window that I'd really like. I don't know if I'll ever get it though – I'm too scared to go back into the shop. Remember how you felt when you were treated badly or had poor service when buying and try not to repeat those experiences. On the other hand, remember when you've bought something simply because you liked how you were treated.
    As much as I love that pendant, I won't face the bad mood of the shop owner. However, I've so many pieces of jewellery that are not my favourites but I bought because I liked the service.
  10. Note book & Pen. Inspiration hits at the oddest moments. How many Eureka moments have been and gone because we've said, I'll remember that, but didn't?
    Often I have ideas on what to sell more (or less) of, or while people are looking at my crochet roller skates they'll make a comment that's worthy of noting. Quite often I'll get useful information from customers or other stall owners on places to sell or suppliers to visit. Your notebook/sketchbook and pen should be with you at all times, but especially at the market stall.
You'll have your own list of things to bring I'm sure, and space is a consideration. I don't have a car, like a lot of people in the UK I can afford the car, but I can't afford the insurance. All of my items have to fit into one wheeled suitcase, apart from the chair that despite being folded up, still needs a huge bag of its own.

I love market stalls, but then I live in Leeds, home of Europe's largest indoor market. I love looking around them and finding things that you'd never find in the high end department shops, I love the friendly sellers who sell because it's their business, not because it's just a Saturday job. I love being at my own stall and meeting people, having people come up to me and telling me they liked what they bought last time. I love being face to face with a customer and telling them I don't have their size or colour, but will make it and get it to them.

If you've yet to experience the thrill of selling face to face, find out about the nearest craft market and ask about a stall. Sometimes, like me, you can find someone who is willing to share a stall. Have a look at the Stall finder website and see if there is a market you can try. Some market owners will offer first timers a discounted rate so you can see if it's something worthwhile.

Have a look at business start up organisations. In Leeds we used to have a great stall called How Bazaar. It was a place where people could have a section of the stall for three months and sell their own items. A way to experience a market stall and see if your own items sold, you also got a business advisor, and it was run by someone who had years of experience selling, and best fo all, it was free.


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