Who ever said starting a business was easy? No one presumably. When we brought our laser cutter in the summer of 2018 we’d put so much focus on the making side of things that we hadn’t envisaged actually going out and selling them. How naive! So here’s what we’ve learnt from setting up a market stall in the U.K’s Capital….
Self Sell Or Wholesale?
If you want to sell wholesale directly to a shop they normally buy your product at the retail price divided by 2.4 (or 2 if you negotiate). This is a pretty standard rate although some shops may want 3 times the mark up if they’re VAT registered.
As our products are all handmade we can’t produce them quick enough to give away most, if not all, of our profit. So we decided to embark on a journey of selling directly to the customer at craft and makers markets, which has been a steep learning curve! We spent the last year and half experimenting with different markets across London and our experiences are shared below.
It took some time to pinpoint our customer and location but we now feel as though we are trading in the right areas. We tried lots of different markets like Urban Makers in Spitalfields, London’s oldest market at Greenwich, Chatsworth Road Market, the Collective Market, Local Makers Market, The Horniman Museum, Crafty Fox, Netil Market and an array of businesses like WeWork. Out of all these amazing markets only 2 had an abundance of our customer; Netil Market and Local Makers Market. If you’re setting up your own business you’ll need to experiment with different markets because what works for one seller might not work for the next. For example, the Crafty Fox market was terrible for us but is amazing for other traders, you just need to find your spot. Dragging your products to different markets each week is tiring but entirely worth it to meet and learn about your customer.
The Market Concept
The idea is simple, take your wares to the market. Present them in a way that establishes your brand and looks eye-poppingly inviting. Next, explain the benefits your product offers to the customer. In the olden days you’d hope the consumer would be impressed and purchase your product and then tell all their pals about it. If only this were true! There is no pattern to success at markets and we learnt that promotion of your brand is almost as important as the markets themselves. If you booked 4 Saturdays in a row at the same market you’d find each one had a different outcome. Changing customers, differing paydays, changeable weather, politics and a sprinkling of chance makes selling at markets quite unpredictable. I can truly say, from a year and half’s market selling experience that nothing is certain. Every sale sits in a sweet spot of pure chance but that element of chance is what makes standing out in the cold for 8 hours so addictive!
Markets are full of superstition. On quieter days when you chat to other market sellers you will hear prophecies of what makes the perfect market. “Buy a coffee in the morning”, said one seller, “if you pay into the market the customers will come to you”. “Only do the last weekend of every month”, “time your markets around paydays”, “buy a product from another stall as token of collective support for the market.”
Undoubtedly, the highlight of doing markets is making connections with customers. In our case, selling products that are inspired by travel means we often have globe-trotting conversations, finding common ground on places we’ve both been to and getting excited about those locations that get added to the bucket list. Different customers prefer different approaches. Some want to be sold to and enjoy long conversations about the product and make a purchase quite impulsively having heard your elevator pitch. Others will thank you for your pitch and decline all the same. Many shoppers prefer to see the product a few times, over many markets, before making a purchase. Some fall in love with a product without any conversation, they see it and buy it and purchase it. Changing seasons, birthdays and weddings all bring about interesting shoppers and the chance to help customers try and pick the right product for somebody else. Offering packaging, wrapping and a product story the recipient can relate to all help to seal the deal.
An absolute certainty is that a highly aesthetic, on-brand and functional display is a must (and a science). It took us a year to hone our displays and we’re still not happy with them. If you’re starting out the best thing is to research into how other sellers display their products. We use a combination of small plinths for jewellery, vertical boards for larger products like placemats, stands for coasters and block formations of product on the table. Our aim is to create an eye catching and intriguing display with text that is easy to read and prices that are clear at a glance. It’s important to have the right amount of product out. Too much and the display is too busy and confusing, too little and the stall looks empty and uninviting. A lady at Greenwich sold handmade scarves, if she put out 4 none would sell, 9 was too many. The sweet spot was 7. It took her years to find this number and with just one small change was able to increase her sales.
Display height is important as it makes the display look fuller and some shoppers don’t like to make eye contact with the seller straight away. If you have a car to move your product around in then the transport boxes can have a duel use. They can be upturned and covered by a sheet to make your displays too, many sellers use this to great effect. We don’t have a car so all of our displays have been designed to flat pack and fit into our hiking bag!
Have a think about what other things you will need on the day…. packaging, a table cloth, chunky metal clips for pinning things to the table, business cards, lighting, gaffa tape, displays, product, cash, something to take debit card payment. We use SumUp which generally works quite well, but we have had a few instances where it connects to someone else's bluetooth or it won’t connect to our phones. Most traders use Izettle.
It’s important to display your brand through the colours of the display, ticketing, customer bags and business cards. As most of our product are made from birch ply, which is a lightly coloured wood, we choose a slate grey tablecloth to offset against the light wood. Orange is used as an accent across our displays. It can be found in our packaging, bags and tickets for consistency. We’ve experimented with lots of different sizes and styles of ticketing, settling on a simple engraved plywood ticket. Some sellers change their prices depending on the amount of stock they have, others won’t list the price at all making the customer ask (which is not technically legal). Many jewellery sellers buy little plastic numbers but be careful as small parts can easily blow off your table in a gale!
Sadly, the least enjoyable part of selling at markets is lugging everything across London in the early morning. The upside of experimenting with different markets over the last year has been working out what product sells and to who. The downside is that it can be difficult to travel across London with a huge box of product and bag full of displays on your back. We attach the plastic box to small wheely trolley with bungee cords and and nylon straps so it can be carted around, although it’s still very heavy. The box is large and cannot be taken on the underground via escalators, which has really limited us to buses and the overground.
It’s tiring work pushing everything around but it has made our setup costs very low. We can often travel to and from a market for £3! If we drove then we’d need to factor in car rental or if we owned a car; petrol, parking and insurance into our market costs. These costs can make testing out new markets untenable and risky. It has been pure luck that Netil Market is walking distance from our studio, although the 30 minute walk after 8 gruelling hours of standing in the cold is a killer!
After a year of using the same displays at mostly the same markets it’s quite natural to get frustrated with your display and product. We constantly debate how we should improve our stall and these improvements always come in little iterations.
We were recently selected for a temporary license on Broadway market (our dream market) so it’s definitely time to start adding in some new products and upgrade our weathered displays. How we’ll fit this around our 6 month old daughter remains to be seen!
If you want to come and see us at a market or say hi you can find our market dates on our events page. You can see our products in the online shop.
(so you can find it again later)