Why market participation isn’t just about “getting your stall fee back”

Handmade Pretzel Earrings

As mentors of makers at DBP, there is one phrase we hear a lot.

It happens mostly when we ask members of the community a little about how they fared after participating as a stallholder at a market …

“I didn’t even make back my stall fee”.

This is such a disheartening thing for us to hear. Not because we’re upset about the stallholder not making their fee back, but because market participation is about so much more than that.

What do I mean?

Participating in markets is a fickle concept in and of itself. Effectively, we don’t believe any small creative business should ever RELY on income from market stalls. That should be seen as a “nice to have” add-on to their online or wholesale sales targets. Making your stall fee back is only one, and a very small part, of market attendance.

Why isn’t it the most important part?

Firstly you cannot guarantee acceptance into markets based on applications. Application numbers are massive, and curators are choosy, so it’s way too risky.

Secondly, participation should be seen as an overall sales and marketing exercise, not one where you’re solely thinking about making sure you cover the fee you’ve paid to be there.

Thirdly, there are WAY too many variables on whether or not a market stall is successful, or in fact the event itself is successful, to ever be certain about the level of income you’ll attract.

Sure, we agree, it’s always awesome to make your stall fee back, if not more. That’s the point and of course we get that.

However when you factor in the expense of market participation into your overall business budget, you’ll discover your investment can return much more to you than just sales on the day.

Optimise your involvement

Everyone who’s involved in markets, whatever their size, whatever their cost, is in part, responsible for promoting their participation. Why pay stall fees at all if you’re not going to maximise the potential for people to check out your stall?

Take responsibility for your success

Promote your attendance! Get onto social media and let your online following know that you’ll be there, what kind of new pieces you’ll have, what kind of special offers they might be able to take advantage of.

You could even have a “mention this post” and receive a discount offer to measure the success of that push. Take some responsibility for getting people to come to the market and actively involve yourself in the community of stallholders.

Talk about other stalls that will be there; you all have friends in the industry. Use the media assets that the market organisers have provided for you, especially their campaign hashtags.

Maximise your marketing

The marketing opportunities are right there in front of you… your potential customers! Even without making a sale, you’ve had the chance to have a conversation in real life with someone who is interested and engaged with your business.

Tell them about how you make your pieces. Convey the passion that you have about your own business. Those stories are contagious! In those cases too, if something IS bought, the word of mouth marketing you can generate is still the best possible method of people finding out about who you are and what you do. Make sure your customers are empowered with your story.

Be open to the opportunities

Give people a card! Give them your Instagram handle and ask them to follow you. Encourage people that have purchased something to use a special customer hashtag you’ve created. Maybe you have a promotional postcard with a free shipping offer so that you can measure the marketing efforts that you’ve engaged in during the market event itself.

You never know who is looking at your stall; it could be a retailer, the editor of a popular online blog, an Instagram influencer or a book publisher. Many stallholders have encountered great strokes of ‘luck’ due to the hard work they put in around their market participation.

Gather email addresses for your newsletter! Placing out a list for people to use good old-fashioned pen and paper subscriptions to your newsletter still works a treat. Make sure it’s not empty so people know how to ‘follow suit’ with the list format. Email newsletters are still one marketing channel where you’re not at the mercy of the algorithm coders, and are a reliable place for you to engage with people who are interested in your product. Giving people the option to sign up, no matter how small the number of emails you gather, is always worthwhile.

Involve your social following

Discuss the event WHILE you’re at the event! Maybe do a live stream on your social media channels to show people what it’s like! Encourage them to come along to see you and your fellow stallholders on the day.

Use the opportunity to grab pictures and future content for your website and social media. Maybe your customers look great in that dress you made. Ask them for a photo, even if they’re just trying it on! Maybe your visual merchandising looks red-hot. Grab some photos of the stall looking spiffy for future stall applications! Make sure you’re in them – ask a neighbouring stallholder to take a picture of you if you need to.

There’s many more ways you can use participating in events to your advantage. Sure, we know money is at the heart of every market day, and that everyone is doing their best to make the most of the event.

However, focusing purely on the single day of costs in the hope that you’ll make that money back right there and then, is way too narrow to consider in the grand scheme of your small business.

Focus instead on the long game of marketing yourself and how that factors into your overall business strategy.

How do you make the most of your market participation? What else do you find being a stallholder at markets good for when it comes to your business?

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