Markets. Have they had their day?
Too many markets?
So; we have had a few bad experiences recently at markets and on this Good Friday eve, when we are about to embark on one of the bigger ones for us of the year, I have been trying to Google the persistent thought that is going through my head and is niggling me like a devil on my shoulder.
Have we had too much of a good thing? Are people fed up of craft markets, vintage fairs, and artisan exhibitions
Craft markets are always a gamble; an exciting and potentially lucrative gamble. There is no better high I know of in my job as a maker than setting up at a show and finding that all the people looking at your work want a piece of it. Those first moments of unpacking your wares and starting to lay out your table and seeing the other traders coming over and coveting your wares, with flashes of ‘stall envy’ in their eyes (I too have been guilty of this!). A crazy-good or even a moderately good show can boost your spirits tremendously. Not only do you suddenly have a wad of working capital in your pocket, you’ve been looking all day at the smiling faces of people who are telling you that your work is lovely and worth money! It’s fantastic. All your incredibly hard work has paid off. Your late nights of frantic making, your tedious repetitive tasks, your careful labelling, your thoughtful packaging. All of it rewarded.
However, when a craft show is a disappointment or washout, not only are your stall fees and hours of your life gone, a bad market can deflate you so fast that it’s hard to remember that it’s not the end of your business. It’s likely not even a reflection on you or your work; it’s probably just that your 'people' did not show up. Sometimes that’s because NO people showed up! You can tell that’s the case if other vendors also say the show is poor for them. You commiserate together; you bemoan the weather, the promoters, the other things going on in the world, the sporting event obviously taking precedence in the potential punters lives. But if other traders are doing fine all around you? That likely means your people are not in this crowd, or….if you let those negative thoughts win; your stuff is RUBBISH!
This has happened to us these past weekends.
In January we painstakingly went through our calendar of market applications for the coming year and chose, for the first time to exhibit with event organisers that have been in the business for several years now and with many successful fairs under their belt.
This first of these fairs would take place in March, at Arley Hall in Cheshire. We also made bookings to exhibit at a couple of markets in January and February, and planned the rest of the year too
The couple of smaller markets prior to Arley Hall weren't fantastic. One of these we have attended several times in the past and always managed a successful days trading there. The other was an unknown quantity, but the stall cost was low and it appeared to be well advertised. Both of these markets were a disappointment. Both were well marketed, well attended with a wide mix of stallholders selling hundreds of unique products. Unfortunately, both of these events failed to return much, and speaking with other traders on these days, they had a similar story to tell. Two markets in and the horrible feeling of over marketuration (markets saturation!) starts to take a hold. If we had so much choice about which markets to exhibit at, then so did the customers in which to attend. Are they special anymore or can one pop to a market, fair or such on any given weekend? Have they replaced the High Street? How many non essential luxuries do people want or need? How much can they afford? How long before they are no longer luxury?
On the other hand perhaps we'd just had an unlucky couple of days. We tried not to let these setbacks get us down too much and got everything ready for Arley Hall.
The weather wasn't on our side for this particular weekend. It was wet and pretty cold when we arrived, but we got on with setting up our wares as usual. This was about as good as the entire weekend got. Sales on Saturday were non-existent, and whilst Sunday improved slightly, the whole weekend was a washout. (In every sense!) - We didn't even cover the stall fees.
At markets like this, you can start to feel really bad about what you are offering for sale. And the sinking feeling you experience when it becomes clear that each sale will be hard fought for and rare is just so dispiriting. You try not to indulge in fantasies, but your expectations can get so high ahead of a market.
We could see that other stallholders weren't having super days but they didn’t seem to be having the awful day we were. We sat there and tried to puzzle out why. The main thing was we just didn’t see as many of ‘our’ people in the crowd. The people who did brave the weather, weren’t the usual clientele you find at this kind of event
In the end we managed to keep our spirits up by getting out a bag of clay and sculpting a range of small clay animals, and because we know deep down that not every show is a winner. Sure, we felt bruised. You work just as hard for a bad payday as a good one and it’s very hard work. We really liked our market neighbours, super people with great attitudes who were fun to chat with. A weekend markets certainly engenders a bit of backstage camaraderie.
Now the feelings are back again - have our people gone? Do they not come to the markets anymore? Are people only interested if they can buy it from Tesco?
Some specific things I do to keep my head up when a market is not going well:
- Smile and be cheerful and relaxed toward everyone who stops to looks at your wares, tell them you are doing great when they ask. It will absolutely not help to appear desperate or grumpy. (Of course you can vent quietly to friends and fellow makers so you don’t go insane, but try not to broadcast it) - Try this, it is hard.
- Remind yourself over and over that ‘your' people did not come to this show. Does your work sell well elsewhere? Online? In shops? Then you have the right people, they just didn’t shop at this market. Or at least not this year. Or this isn’t the right season for your goods. - So many wrongs, it can be hard to see any right
Note: If you hate doing markets you will probably not do well at them. But that’s OK; you don’t have to do them at all! It’s not a requirement. When we talk to the other traders you’d be hard pressed to believe that this isn’t the truth but really, who doesn’t like earning money! It’s the days when it just ain’t coming in that can make even the most cheerful and light hearted of trader turn.
- Take a look at all that inventory that you've built up! Yay, you can still sell it; stock your online shop, or just be ready for the next market.
- Drink. I’m sort of kidding. (But not really). All those artisan beers are hard to resist. Just the one in the afternoon mind, to support the other traders of course! But otherwise we take advantage of the trader discount on the teas. (Some places don’t even offer this - but that’s another story) What I mean is, do something nice for yourself afterwards. Take a night off you workaholic! Tomorrow you can unpack and reassess. Plan your next move. Use the experience to spur you to make changes, up your game. That’s what I’m doing! I’m speeding up development of new products. Our next market starts tomorrow for three days, over a bank holiday too, AND with forecasted ’nice’ weather. I am going to kick ass! – Well I guess we’ll let you know!