Selling a fairs and craft markets is one of the main retail routes for many handmade jewellery businesses.
Taking your first steps into selling can be daunting – deciding what markets to choose, what and how much stock to take and how to get the best out of the day. So we decided to talk to three jewellers about their experiences at markets and what advice they would offer other people starting out.
Our jewellers are:
- Helen Walls who makes mostly sterling silver jewellery mixed with semi-precious gemstones, colourful recycled glass beads, leather and natural materials (which are animal by-products / naturally shed) such as ox horn and deer antler. She describes her jewellery as sophisticated rock’n’roll with a vintage bohemian twist.
- Louise Farrow who has two ranges of jewellery, one using mostly sterling silver and precious metal clay with stones (Nanuk Jewellery), and the other using polymer clay (Nanuk Designs).
- Annie Mason works in both silver and beads, sometimes combining the two – her work features loops and chains and striking, colourful beads
Why sell at fairs and markets?
It is all about the people. More than pretty much any other way of selling your work, markets and fairs bring you into contact with potential customers as well as ones who actually buy. This means you have opportunity to tempt new people in and get feedback.
“I love the atmosphere of a market,” says Helen. “I feel that face-to-face selling to customers is always best, as you are your best sales person, you can describe how it’s been made, and talk about your inspiration with passion. I think potential customers appreciate this personal touch.”
Louise agrees: “Online and through shops you have very little or no interaction directly with your customer, whereas at an event I can meet people, see what kinds of people are interested in my work and what they like about it.
“People are also sometimes happier to discuss commissioning an item if they can speak to the maker in person, and talking to people at fairs gives me new ideas for things to make and which areas of my work to develop further.”
How to choose the right market.
Choosing the right fair is crucial. Something Annie learnt from experience: “I simply picked fairs that were local to home and not too pricey. I didn’t do any research about them before I went along. I’m now a bit more selective.”
And she says it can be difficult to predict in advance which fairs will work best: “It’s kind of a mixed bag. Some fairs I thought might be a bit rubbish (cold, rainy day and located a bit out of the way) and they’ve turned out to be brilliant. Others look great on paper looked but don’t work out that way.”
You need to think about how many people attend the fair, if it is likely to attract the right sort of customers for your work and how well it is advertised says Helen. She also recommends thinking about the time of year, whether it is indoor or outdoor and if it clashes with any other local events.
And checking out the event (or a similar one run by the same people) before you commit is very useful.
“Go along and see what the footfall is like and whether people are buying from the stalls or simply mooching (looking and walking away),” says Annie. Also check if the customers at the fair are your target customers.”
“I visited some local fairs and found some that looked right for my work,” says Louise. “Local event pages on social media have also helped me to find other suitable fairs to sell my work at. It is worth not dismissing smaller local events, as sometimes these can be very successful, sometimes more so than a big, busy event where your work may get overlooked amongst everything else there is to see. You will also probably find you get repeat customers coming back to these smaller events to look for your work in particular if they like it.”
Choosing stock and getting your pricing right
Once you have chosen your market you need to decide what to take, how much stock to display and at what prices.
Louise says that if she doesn’t know very much about the types of customer at a particular event, she will bring items from both her silver and polymer clay ranges to test out what works.
“I’ve found that a fuller table is more likely to be looked at than a sparser one. A few striking pieces on display can look lovely, but if people can see all your work in one quick glance that may be all you get,” she says. A few more pieces on display, attractively laid out on different levels, is more likely to make people come over for a closer look which gives you a chance to speak to them and help them find exactly what they are looking for.”
You may want to have cheaper items at certain markets says Helen who warns that this is about having pieces that cost less to make (in materials or time) rather than selling yourself short. “You are trying to make a living out of making and selling,” she says. Although sometimes you may want to do a special offer to attract sales.
What makes market day a success?
Even a market where you barely cover the cost of your stall shouldn’t be regarded as a total failure, says Helen. “They are all good experience for future successes. If it does feel like a failure, reflection a day later can help you make possible changes and improve your display, banners, sales technique etc.”
And even if you don’t sell a lot on the day, both Annie and Louise point out that you will have still had an opportunity to market your work. “Even if someone doesn’t buy on the day, they are more likely to come back to your website or online shop in the future if they have seen your work in person beforehand,” says Louise.
And Annie adds: “I did one fair where although I sold very little at the time, I had a rise in visits to my website for a few days after the event.” She adds that she also uses quite days at fairs to network with other stallholders which can be useful a future events.
And finally some advice for your market day
All three agree that having enough food and drink with you is essential – if you have a busy day you may not have time to queue for food and anyway you don’t want to blow your profits at an expensive gourmet stall.
“If your table is quiet even though the event is busy,” says Louise, “try rearranging your display during the day, and it is worth remembering that just because an item isn’t your favourite piece, doesn’t mean it won’t be somebody else’s, so give it a chance in the spotlight.”
And finally, Helen says: “Enjoy the experience – after all, you have made beautiful products that deserve to be talked about and shown off.
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