How To Start Selling At Markets
Jarenice Bravo is a U.S. artisan. She let us pick her brain in this exclusive interview to help other makers expand and grow their business.
She spends her time creating splendid mixed media art for Panoptic Arts and hunting down the best local markets to display and sell her creations. We wanted to know, how can small business owners break into their own local markets?
We'll take a peek into Jarenice's journey and her best tips, tricks, and resources.
How did you become an artist?
Roughly 3 years ago, Jarenice was working as a behavioral therapist for children with special needs. She began crafting with the children because, "It was a requirement that I think outside the box. I always had a creative side in me and working with the kids brought it out more."
At home, she turned to YouTube tutorials by Gabrielle Pollacco, a successful mixed-media artist who uses cardboard, cloth, paint, metals, and more. "I tried one of her videos and it was a total fail. But I thought, I'm going to use that and make something for my sister for Christmas." The gift was a Nightmare Before Christmas art piece, one of her sister's favourites.
"That's how I saw what worked and what didn't. I have a close friend who does wire-wrapping and learned that wasn't for me. I tried creating jewelry out of clay and that didn't work for me. I fell in love with resin, instead. Now I'm off the YouTube videos. I recently made a Harry Potter-themed canvas, and it was all from the top of my head. My family helped a bit with ideas of their own, and people love it."
Jarenice fell in love with mixed media art and persisted along with encouragement from her mother, sister, and brother to keep going.
How did you decide to start selling at local markets?
"I had several people tell me I should start selling art. I was really scared, because I always compared my art with other artists who inspire me and who I think are amazing. I was very, very afraid, but when I saw there were other people who created simple things, that made me think I could do much better and gave me the boost I needed. Slowly I looked into vending at different events because I joined Facebook groups like Creative Hive VIP Public Group where they talk about it."
How do you know if you should sell at a local market or not?
Jarenice says it's simple. "Just ask."
"When I started, I sent emails to local market hosts asking if I should sell there. They would reply asking 'What's your art?' and I would tell them that I make mixed-media, recycled art, resin, and clay jewelry. A lot of events also ask for photos, so I make sure to send them good pictures. Most of the time they would respond to me saying, 'Cool, here's the application.' I thought, 'Wow, that was easy!' You just gotta risk it."
Make sure to ask about the requirements to sell, too.
"Since I don't have a business or resale license yet, I would ask if one is required. I would also ask, what kind of art do you accept? It was scary for me, but I learned that lots of events allow you to sell without a license and accept my art. Most farmer's markets do require licenses, so I simply don't apply to those."
How do you find local markets to sell at?
"I started looking on Facebook for events based on my wire-wrapping friend's recommendation. Many market event pages have sections where you can apply and reach out to the event hosts."
Several websites list art fairs and local markets:
- Artfaircalendar.com: art fair, art show, and craft show event listings across Michigan, Illinois, Midwest, Florida, New York, East Coast, West Coast, and Canada.
- Official city calendars: many cities and municipalities host local markets and events and post the events on their websites only.
What tips do you have for someone selling at their first market?
Prepare A Great Display
"Most markets do require you to bring your own tent and materials."
Make the best of your stand with these key tips:
- Draw customers in with visual appeal. Use risers, white tablecloths, and white backdrops to make your products pop. Instead of displaying all product flat on a front table, tuck additional products within your tent or on side tables so customers need to walk inside or around your booth to see everything.
- Price your products. Customers don't like asking for prices and might assume they can't afford it if there's no price. Check out our product pricing guide for help determining costs when you're ready.
- Start small and cheap. Use setup materials like tables, chairs, baskets, and risers you already own or can find at thrift stores instead of buying new. Try selling at a market that's indoors or provides cover for you. It's best to start purchasing materials once you attend a few markets and can take note of how other vendors set up.
- Focus on good signage. Invest in large, clear signage so people can learn who you are. Your signage should match your brand and include your social media handles.
- Bring business cards. Place them front and centre for passersby to grab quickly and for you to hand them to interested buyers and new customers.
- Have change and bags for customers. You can make a customer's day with a bag for their newly purchased items, or for freebies they've been given at the market and have been holding in their hands. Use gift bags you have stored at home for a quaint touch.
- Set up an online payment system. Don't miss out on card sales! Look into payment processing systems like Square. Learn more about merchant services.
- Do a trial run at home. Set up your booth ahead of time to see how long it takes and make sure the vibe will attract your customers.
- Check the weather. You are part of the display as much as anything and will want to be dressed appropriately and comfortably for potential buyers.
It can be harder than you think to maintain a friendly attitude when your sales are on the line. Keep these tips in mind:
- Maintain an open, friendly attitude. Look up and around and greet every guest at your booth.
- Do not look down at a phone or book. This will kill your sales potential. Local markets are about engaging with local vendors, customers won't walk up to your booth if they feel they can't talk to you.
- Work on your craft if you do have downtime. People love seeing the craft process, so this spare-time activity is more likely to draw buyers in rather than push them away.
- Give people space. Don't hover or act too eager. As long as you present an open attitude and are available nearby, buyers will engage when they have questions.
- Offer information. Educate interested buyers about your product and offer background stories that bring your product to life. Let them get to know you and your business.
- Bring a friend. Markets can be exciting and exhausting. Bring someone you trust to help you speak with customers, give you breaks, and handle the ups and downs with.
- Don't be discouraged. There may be days you sell little or nothing. Don't take it personally! The weather may have been bad or it may not have been the right fair for you. No matter what, it'll be a valuable learning experience.
- Pack snacks and have fun. Don't risk becoming hangry.
Ask Event Hosts and Fellow Vendors
If you have a question about selling at your first market, just ask. Event hosts are often accessible via email or Facebook messenger, and there are plenty of Facebook groups to support fellow vendors.
Check out the Facebook groups Jarenice has found valuable:
- Creative Hive VIP Public Group – for getting the support you need in your handmade business.
- Advertise & sell handmade crafts only – for the promotion and selling of handmade crafts or to advertise Etsy, Facebook, or any kind of ecommerce shop.
- Etsy Success – for Etsy sellers to collaborate, brainstorm, and help each other grow.
What advice would you give to a fledgling artist just starting out?
Research, Research, Research
"Do lots of research. You can learn where you can sell yourself and where you can't, and you'll find the right demographic. If you have local art events, go to them. Ask how you can join."
Once you join the market, keep researching. Jarenice was recently selling at a market for the first time. As a fresh face, business was slow.
A veteran vendor nearby explained to Jarenice that the market could be profitable given the artsy demographic and encouraged her to be persistent.
Another vendor told Jarenice about an app called Ripl where you can create videos of your own artwork and post on social media. These kinds of insights drive Jarenice forwards.
"I'm always researching."
Don't Be Afraid
"I would say not to be afraid. Don't be afraid of going out there and asking questions. There are local artists who are willing to help and give you advice as well. If you feel like your art is good or you hear others complimenting your art skills, don't be afraid to throw yourself out there. You never know. You can be judgmental about yourself and think your art is crap, but others will look at it and think it's beautiful."
How did you come up with your shop name?
"Ooooh! That's quite interesting. As a family we wanted to create a family business that could include my sister, brother, mother, and me in our separate ventures. My sister ventured into the skincare and beauty industry and she wanted to create a business name that was mystical. I came up with "panoptic" which means viewing everything as a whole. Think of it as a hawk and how they can see everything when they're up high - that's panoptic. It's every kind of art you can think of - not just one. I did research for the name since we had a variety of different plans for the family business. Panoptic Arts just stuck with me."
We're proud to support aspiring entrepreneurs. For more advice, read How To Get Into Farmer's Markets. You can also check out our content on increasing market sales and taking your side hustle full-time.