I was invited to speak at the world-renowned fashion school Central St Martins to a group of budding designer-makers. I spoke about my brand journey with a particular focus on how trading at markets has helped to shape my business.
Markets have been a great springboard for my brand, but it hasn’t been easy and most of what I have learned has come from trial and error. Can I really stand up in front of a group of ambitious young designers and reveal that the secret is that there is no secret? Turns out I can, and it was a super useful exercise for me and the students.
I love working with young design entrepreneurs. It gives me great satisfaction that I can give something back to the professional community to which I belong, and will hopefully be a part of for a long time to come. But aside from a sense of self-satisfaction, it forces me to reflect honestly on my business and work.
I thought it would be a good idea to share some highlights from my talk. They might be useful for you if you're interested in trading at a market or perhaps you already do and would just like to read about another trader's experience. Either way, enjoy reading and I hope you find this useful.
Some of my market stall setups.
How to choose a market location for you.
The market scene is really saturated, especially in London. It's hard to decide which one to book yourself in for as markets are so unpredictable at the best of times. How do you limit your risk of taking part in a market and select one that gives you the best chance of doing well?
List the markets you are thinking of applying for and visit as many of these as you can. This allows you to see what the other traders are selling and if there is someone else selling something similar to you. Sometimes markets won't accept similar brands, but if it's a large enough market they might well do. What's the footfall like? Are there many customers shopping? What kind of price points are there? Is it a bric-a-brac market or a more high-end market? Is it expensive to take part in?
I'd say between £30-£45 a day is an average London designer-maker market (including a 4ft-6ft table with gazebo). Ask the traders how they're finding it. Some might be a bit cagey, but if you introduce yourself as a fellow designer maker and that you're interested in applying, you should get the answers to help you decide.
I've tried and tested quite a few visual setups and what I realised is, the simpler the better. Less is more. My products are quite busy - they're colourful and patterned and when I have too much product out, it just confuses customers. This approach works for me as it suits my products.
Think about what you're attracted to when you shop and how you would like to see products displayed. Having clear pricing, great visual merchandising and being available to answer questions is important.
Being approachable and friendly is really important. I think you do need to be a people person to enjoy trading at a market as engaging with customers plays a huge part in the day. There is so much to learn from your customers, and don't forget that they are the whole reason your business exists. Ask your customers questions like 'which designs do you prefer?', ask for feedback on new products, find out where else they shop/which other markets they visit. You might be interested in booking yourself into one of those.
Varied price points are good. Have some items which work well as add-ons to an existing purchase along with the higher priced products which make great gifts or novelty purchases.
Don't forget to pack the essentials!
You'll be kicking yourself if you've forgotten vital things like your card machine (I use iZettle), money float and your branding banner. Equally important from an analysis point of view is a cash book to note down your sales and a notebook to jot any ideas or thoughts which come to mind throughout the day. In my cash book, I make a note of the market I'm at, the date, cost of pitch and the hours worked. This way I can figure out which markets have the best ROI and which ones I can knock on the head. I also write down which designs I've sold so I can discover patterns in what colours and products people respond well to.
Collaborate with other designers.
One thing I really love about markets is meeting other designer-makers! I've been on the London market scene for six years now and have built up quite a network of wonderful designer-makers who I often trade with at markets. It's so great to share advice with one another and also be inspired by each other's work. I have also gone on to collaborate with some of the designers I have met which have been great fun! I worked with ceramicist Camilla Webb Carter on a ceramic cup range, and Michelle Wang from MWMakes on a hand-painted leather accessories collection. Both of these collections have proven popular and not only does collaborating mean that you can design collections utilising another creative talent, but you also get to share each other's social networks and spread the word twice as much. Another added bonus is that your collaboration pieces get to go to more events. I'll take the pieces to events I'm taking part in, and vice versa.
I can't emphasise enough that markets are not just about sales on the day. Market days are really unpredictable and so many things can affect them. The weather, bank holidays, school holidays, other big events in the area, the economy, local roadworks, similar traders, trends...
Like many of the retail brands who have started at markets (M&S, Accessorize, Dunelm, Tesco, Oliver Bonas), putting yourself out there in front of people and learning about what products work or fail is crucial. If you drop the price a little, how does this affect sales? If you bulk items together, how does this affect sales? If you display items in a particular way, how does this affect sales?
Like I say in the above slide, 'Have fun and keep learning!'
Be the brand that people remember.
Don't forget to share your social media channels with your customers. Give out postcards or business cards with your website on. Perhaps share a discount code so you can track how many customers are visiting your site as a result of seeing you at a market. Ask people if they would like to sign up to your mailing list. This is a great way to stay in touch with people and share new products, upcoming events or discount codes. With so many brands out there, you need to be visible in as many ways as possible.
I hope this post has been useful and has helped to give some insight about the market trading life of a designer-maker brand. If you have any questions or would like to add a comment below, please do. I'd love to hear from you.
If you're considering organising a pop-up shop, read about how to run a successful pop-up shop here.
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