published Wed 01 February 2012
Craft and design markets are becoming a significant feature in the Australian craft and design scene. These markets provide Australian designer/makers with a means to gain experience in marketing themselves and their products directly to their customers.
You may already have wholesale and online sales, but you will receive relatively limited feedback compared to what you can gain through personally marketing your work. Being a stallholder enables you to meet your customer, see their response to your product, test their response to your pricing, and listen to their feedback and stories about their experience and appreciation of your products.
Earning the opportunity to be a stallholder requires effort. You have to find out when the markets are held, and the application processes and deadlines. Research markets early, using the internet, professional association newsletters, and networking. Visiting a market beforehand can help both your confidence and the effectiveness of your application, but this can be difficult when individual markets only occur infrequently during a year. Reconnaissance of interstate markets can be expensive unless you’re able to connect the event date with an appointment or holiday, in which case networking with people who have previously participated is your best avenue – and how do you build this kind of network? By participating in your local markets.
Research about a market enables you to determine whether a market is suitable for you, and vice versa, rather than paying all your costs and making all your preparations only to turn up on the day to suffer a poorly organised event or to find that your target customer didn’t attend.
Average stall costs appear to be steadily increasing at this time. This cost is somewhat mitigated by rising attendance numbers, which means more potential sales. At the same time, rising stall costs are a reflection of the rising levels of professionalism. Rising stall costs also reflect increasing competition for stalls; markets are themselves businesses and market managers can be expected to raise fees in line with demand. An unavoidable result is that the rising costs increase the financial risks involved for the stallholder.
Once confident with local market participation, you might attempt an interstate market, but beware of the increased effort and higher costs: travel, freight, and accommodation. It is often necessary to hire a car as freighting directly to a venue is rare. Where jewellers can often fly interstate with their entire stock and display as luggage, a glass artist or ceramicist may need to allow extra accommodation time to manage stock pick-up, set-up and repackaging afterwards.
Interstate markets can be particularly daunting if you have no pre-existing product recognition there and you may achieve lower sales as a result. Brand recognition increases sales; use interstate market experience to learn the value of branding and to hone your sales skills. Perhaps consider the potentially lower profits of involvement in interstate markets as the practical cost of introducing your product to new customers?
Whatever the intrinsic value of your craft and design products, they cannot sell themselves. Being a stallholder affords you an opportunity to understand your customer and to learn how to best sell your craft.
Being a successful stallholder requires energy, interest and enthusiasm. If the costs of preparation and participation cause you too much stress and this shows on the day it will show in your sales and people’s perceptions of your product. This is best avoided by honest assessment beforehand of the costs and required effort.
Another challenge of interstate markets is lack of access to friends and family. You may be used to having these people help with set-up and packing up and the value of this is sometimes under-appreciated. Simple things like being able to have a toilet break or get something to eat become a challenge when by yourself. Some food vendors are blessedly helpful and come around taking orders and making deliveries. Your stallholder neighbours are your best likely help, but you cannot expect this as they are there to sell their wares, not to mind your stall. Expect to work right through and to work hard, so bring something to eat and drink if by yourself.
There is equally as much to learn after the market is finished. Check your inventory and sales sheets and ask yourself what sold best and why? If you only have one stock item, which colours or sizes sold best? If you design and make a range of items and something sold below expectations, perhaps it wasn’t well displayed? Plan your display and practice setting up your stall beforehand, but also take photographs once set-up at the event. Mistakes in placement and display that may not previously have been evident may be readily appreciable in hindsight.
Successful stall holders are welcoming, enthusiastic and engaging. People like to meet makers and designers – be prepared to meet them: with stories and business cards and warmth.
Be attentive to your customers. I watched one stallholder ignore a woman who manages five retail outlets across Victoria and NSW because she was too busy chatting with their visiting friend. The retail manager eventually walked away, having judged that the stallholder was not a suitably motivated and focussed stockist for her stores. Take no customer for granted!
There is much to be gained by crafters through attending and participating in the current generation of Australian craft and design markets. The pitfalls can include exhaustion (physical and financial) and disappointment, but these risks can be avoided or managed through early research, careful planning, and honest self-assessment. The benefits are much more than making sales: you can learn how to best sell your product, assess your pricing and product reception, and identify your product strengths and weaknesses. Done well, participation in craft and design markets can become an integral element in building your craft and design business.
Chapin, Kari. The Handmade Marketplace. North Adams: Storey Publishing, 2010.