Selling Art At Markets

Selling Art At Markets

Without repeating the points I made in my Selling Greeting Cards Through Stores post, here are some of my pointers for selling artwork at markets. It’s going to be another long one so I’ll use headings and give you some pretty pictures to look at on the way :)

Pin-Up Strip Collection – Cards : Freedom by Helen McLean

Know The Market You are Attending
Visit the market first! This step is often overlooked and yet it will help you a lot. Some markets can be described as ‘glorified garage sales’ (nothing wrong with that) and others are almost outdoor shopping centres with every convenience. Make a special trip with your stall in mind and ask yourself some questions: What is already being sold? How would you categorise the shoppers? How many people are buying things vs. having a look? How much do things cost there? Is there an entry fee for customers? Have a talk to the current stallholders who will give you the gossip on which spots are the best and how much you can charge for your stuff. Find out about how to get a stall/space. Some markets will ask you to pay an stallholder fee and rock up on the day, others will require a formal proposal in writing and an interview. So find out how to go about it and get advice from current stallholders. By the way, if you’re freaking out about approaching store holders for advice, get over it. Market folk are the nicest people and love a good yarn, just make sure you don’t keep them from their customers.

Know Your Target Customer
In an ideal world you would look at your art and work out whom it is best targeted at. Then you would strive to get their attention by stocking your art in places that they go. In the market circuit, things are backwards. You find the market with its existing crowd of shoppers and find a way to sell them what you have. Or you could even make artwork especially to appeal to them. (This is known to some as “selling your soul” – I prefer to call it “paying my bills”)
Since you have visited the market, you have some idea of who goes there. Think about what they are likely to buy and aim to supply it. So take your lovely florals to the nursing home charity fair, your brightly coloured clown shots to the school fete and your super chic city shots to the tourist market. Always have some variety but you can often work out what will be popular before you pay for a heap of printing.

Matilda and Scarlet by Lisadee

Displays Are Important
Displays are important. Displays are important. Displays are important. I can’t stress this enough! Most people who sell at markets will at some point learn (usually the hard way) how true that statement is. Think about it before you get there. How do you want it all to look- even if you are artistically challenged like me, draw a picture of how you are going to set everything up. Do you have any space restrictions you need to consider? Are you allowed to hang things? Put them on the floor? Allow people to walk around your allocated space? Are their any other restrictions such as number of displays or tables? All markets have their own (seemingly random) rules so find out before you spend money getting your display units. If you can, do a mock up at home first and see what it’s like from the customers’ side. Some pointers from me on this topic are:
1) Make sure people can ‘try before they buy’ i.e. can they touch your products to see what the quality is like?
2) Display things at an appropriate height. Putting your work on the ground degrades its value. If it’s a children’s item, keep it lower, if its wall décor hang it at eye height.
3) Protect your stock from children, accidents and the weather

Just a brief note here that in addition to packaging you items to look great, in a market situation they have to withstand the weather. It is also a good idea to have shopping bags so that people can easily carry their purchases around with them.

Charge the Right Amount
If you are at a busy tourist market, you can usually set higher prices. As a general rule, I charged 50% more than my ‘shop’ price at tourist markets. Yet at less commercially driven markets you may find the price point has to be a lot lower. You simply have to suss out what is reasonable before you get there by checking out other stalls. The other thing to be aware of is that a lot of market shoppers are out for a bargain. So be prepared for hagglers and decide before you get there how flexible, if at all, you are going to be. You can try and nip it in the bud by having special deals planned ahead of time. It’s also a good point to drop here that human psychology is a wonderful thing and in terms of prices and deals- something displayed in writing will be treated with more respect than information giving verbally. So use price tags and signs.

So Pedestrian by Melody

Let People Give You Money
You’re thinking, “Jo, of course I’ll let them give me money- that’s why I’m sitting at this cold, wet market to start with.” But are you really? Are you really letting them give it to you? Do this little task right now, while you’re sitting there at the computer. Pull out your wallet or purse and count how much cash you have. Now think about how much lunch would cost you and deduct that amount, now deduct half a tank of petrol or train fare, which you used to get to this hypothetical market and see what is left. Do you have enough money there to buy heaps of fabulous art? Most people will say “no.” Some will be lucky to break even. What is my point? If you were your own customer, you wouldn’t be buying much- if anything. I can hear you saying “But if I was going to a market I’d get cash out first.” Maybe you would, but, and I mean this in the nicest way, most people will forget. So idiot-proof yourself as much as possible. This might mean knowing where the nearest ATM is to direct people, it might mean having credit card facilities, it might mean having business cards with your online store URL for customers without cash. It seems ridiculous but I have encountered so many customers at markets that simply don’t have cash and therefore can’t buy anything. So have a way around it.
Jo’s little tip: bring a calculator with you.

Like They Say in The Scouts: Be Prepared
Make a list of what you need to bring and check it twice. It’s laughable but I’ve seen stallholders forget their trestle table, which is basically the most important part of their stall. So don’t think it won’t happen to you. I know it sounds pessimistic but it’s important to think about what can go wrong. At markets the most common problems are…
1) The toilet paper runs out in the one and only unisex toilet which is a 5 minute hike across town
2) You run out of change to give customers- and then you realised none of the stall holders have enough change so you can’t even beg for it, and because it’s a Sunday you can’t get any from the bank…
3) You are bored stupid waiting for people to start arriving
4) The weather lets you down. We often prepare for rain but the real killer is the wind and in summer intense sun
5) You can’t find anything decent to eat for lunch
6) You need to go to the toilet or eat something but because your ‘help’ is late or didn’t make it, you are literally tied to your stall all day, and the stallholder beside you is too busy to keep an eye on it for you, and you wouldn’t trust them anyway.
7) You forgot your big warm coat on a freezing cold day or your sunnies on a really bright day.
8) People keep shoplifting your stuff or even steal your money tin/bag (much more common at markets than in shopping centres with video surveillance)

So ask yourself how you will prepare for some of these situations and have a plan. Bring extras of everything and generally don’t feel bad when you can’t even move in your car because of all the stuff you’ve piled in there. When I was doing markets, I prayed for the day I could afford a van.

Think about all the stuff you need to take and work out how you are going to get it there, set it up and keep it supervised. Can you park your car behind your stall or do you have to move it? Are there strict set up and pack up times you need to consider? If you need to park away from the stall, can you do it securely and do you need to pay for parking? Can your stall be covered if you need to leave it unattended for a bathroom run or are you happy to ask a fellow stallholder to keep an eye on it? And this is a big one guys- What are you going to do with your rubbish at the end of the day? Expect to take it home because the public bins will be overflowing by lunchtime and littering is just not on.

CLOWNS by Mugsy

It’s really the first thing you need to do but it scares people so I thought I’d hide it down here at the bottom. When you set up a market stall, you are essentially running your own business and like all small businesses, money, is important. You need to think about what it’s all going to cost you and decide if you are going to make a profit. Let me keep this very simple, the three things you need to think about are…
1) Things that you buy once to get set up
2) Things that will keep costing you money as you go
3) Things that make you money

I could write about making budgets all day but I’m trying to keep this post relevant to art. Basically, you want to make enough time to pay yourself back for any major set ups costs like buying new display stands, as well as any ongoing costs, and on top of that you want to make a profit. And please don’t forget to factor in your time. Decide if you are worth $20 per hour or $10 and hour or whatever and include “paying yourself” in your calculations.

Keep Financial Records
Another scary one but important one. Keep a list of what stock you bring with you and what you sell. That way when you get home you can determine if anything was stolen or if any money went missing or the wrong change was given. It’s also good to keep a more general record of how much money you are making and what you are spending for each market so that you can see if your business is growing or struggling. It will also show you patterns; for example, an outdoor market would most likely have a quiet period during colder months. I will have to create a separate post about budgeting and financial records because they are both huge areas and very important. For now, my best advice is to get some advice! Oh the irony!

I hope that is useful to a few people. And if I made it sound like hard work, well it is. But it’s also good fun.

Nurses by Samantha Thompson

Journal Comments

  • webgrrl
  • Jo O'Brien
  • Hien Nguyen
  • Mugsy
  • Darren Stones
  • Craig Goldsmith
  • Steven  Lippis
  • Craig Shadbolt
  • elenis
  • Tee Brain Creative
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