From the Other Side of the Table

I want to talk about craft markets.

Pretty much everything you hear from stall holders at markets is 100% positive, showing our can-do attitude and how excited we are about everything around us. It can be a bit tiring to be totally honest and a lot of the time I feel a bit like a fraud. Markets days are some of the most difficult for me.

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For a customer, on a good market day you will have great weather, you will wander leisurely through beautifully curated stalls filled with interesting and unusual work made by the people on the other side of the table. These stallholders will be passionate about everything they’re selling and, depending on your personality, you will either want to be met with someone who instantly engages you in an in-depth conversation about every aspect of their work or you will want someone who is obviously polite, friendly, courteous but who let’s you browse in peace, letting you forget that they’re even there. You might get some delicious handmade food and maybe even purchase something special that you just couldn’t resist. Then you’ll go home to admire your purchases and reminisce on an enjoyable day out.

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For a stall holder, a good day means something similar but not quite as relaxed. Generally, stalls indoors are the most sought after because customers mostly want to stay undercover, so you have a greater chance of selling. Indoor stalls also give you more protection from the elements - wind and rain are the stallholder’s enemy. I have seen work ruined from falling on rainy, muddy ground and I’ve seen work actually blow away in the wind to be lost completely and, to the stall holder, this means instantly losing money and a lot of wasted time! A good market day will have a steady flow of visitors who are genuinely interested in handcrafted goods, who have the money and want to spend their money on arts and crafts. The first hurdle in terms on money-making is to sell enough work to cover the cost of your stall. From my experience stalls can cost anything from £20 to £65 for the day. Established fairs and festivals that last a few days can be in the hundreds of pounds for a weekend. Once you’ve covered this cost you can breathe a little easier because at least you haven’t lost anything. Any sales after that get more and more exciting, especially if you have repeat buyers. Even if they don’t buy anything, it’s still exciting when people take business cards, sign up to the mailing list or just ask about my work when they seem genuinely interested and excited themselves! It’s the enthusiasm of other people that keeps my motivation going in this business even when I do have bad days.

On bad days you feel like a sand-timer and with every passing hour your positivity, energy and perseverance seeps out little by little. Perhaps setting up was a pain because something broke on the drive to the market, or you couldn’t find your stall and had to track down an elusive organiser that you’ve never met or you’ve forgotten something crucial, like a chair, so you have to stand up for 6 hours. You might be given a terrible stall location outside in the wind and rain (which will probably be relentless throughout the day) so even the few people who do brave the weather to come to the market, don’t want to hang around your stall. If you’re an introvert like me it takes a lot of energy and strength just to face the general public and be so open about presenting your work. Trying to judge who wants to be spoken to and who will be scared off by me saying hello is difficult and I get it wrong all the time which is disheartening. Then there are always the people who seem to resent being at the market at all and who will walk by your stall, take a brief look and then say loud as anything to the person they’re with, ‘why would you want that?’ or ‘no, don’t bother spending your money on that’ or just ‘no, that’s not for me.’ Honestly, I know that my work isn’t for everyone and it isn’t designed to be! But I’m also not forcing anyone to take my work so there’s no need to be rude. One of my worst market experiences was being accosted by an extremely drunk man speaking a language I couldn’t recognise who picked up my work and pretended to throw it on the floor. I have been drenched, head to toe, by rainwater falling from a gazebo roof like a waterfall in the wind. I have spent a few miserable days in the wind and rain without a soul walking through the market, let alone buying anything, so that I haven’t made a single penny and have actually lost quite a bit on the stall fees.

What I can say about all of this is that I’ve learnt a lot and that I try not to repeat my mistakes. I am now very careful which markets I sign up to and always do a trial run before committing to multiple dates. I try to be as prepared as possible for each date so that I don’t feel rushed or unorganised. I have now met enough people who love my work and truly understand and appreciate it that I don’t take every negative comment quite as personally or lose confidence in myself because of it.

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Of all the markets I’ve done so far my favourite is Altrincham Market, which is why I have now committed to the last Sunday of every month from now until September! Being a completely covered market really changes the vibe of the market - even when it’s raining outside, everyone is still happy and cosy inside. There’s live music which keeps everyone’s spirits up and such delicious hot food, made to order by the loveliest people. The other stallholders are also part of the reason I like this market so much. At some markets stallholders can be quite isolated, clique-y or just keep to themselves so that new-comers don’t really know where to fit in but at Altrincham everyone is genuinely so kind and generous that you feel like one of the gang as soon as you arrive. I think that feeling translates to the customers to help everyone have a great day!

I think I’ve rambled on enough for tonight so I’ll finish here. If you want more information about the market dates you can head to my EVENTS PAGE. Please let me know what you think of this week’s post and ask any questions that come to mind.

Until next time,

Rachel xx