Market Life

This is my first season as a Vendor in outdoor markets, and I have some observations that I hope will offer insight into the behind-the-scenes shenanigans of Market Life to those who support it, and hopefully it offers some suggestions for Vendors who want to get the most out of their market experience.

1) The weather can make or break any market
This has been the craziest summer in Alberta. We have had the most rain in the past 60 years, the wildest wind, the most unpredictable temperatures and every now and then we got a sunny, calm day. It hasn't been ideal, and more than one Albertan has had their camping or outdoor plans thwarted. But Vendors are a tough breed - most of them, anyway.
During rainstorms, I would peek out of my dry, music-filled truck to see vendors holding onto their tents to stop them from blowing away regardless of how many weights they used. Their products were damaged, soaked or strewn across the ground. Often, Vendors would pack up early and risk more product damage while they ran to and from their vehicles. Some stayed, hoping the weather would turn in their favour, and desperate to make back the vendor fee they paid to be at the event. The rain was merciless. More times than I can count, I would see a few drops of water on the steps and then run out to bring my books in from the rain that was sure to be coming in with more intensity very soon. The letters on my chalkboard sign would be runny and sad, and would have to come indoors. 

When the weather was sunny and hot, the truck would fill with the heat of the day, and I had to use my portable fan to add some airflow to keep the interior manageable, because who wants to shop leisurely for books when sweat is dripping off the end of your nose?? Sun is also not kind to books, so the direction my doors faced determined where I could display the titles. Shade is best, and warmth without humidity is ideal for books. We didn't have very many of these hot days, however. Maybe next year. 

Let's talk about Winter. Yuck. Let's not. For my whole life, it been a season I have endured, and never enjoyed. As a mobile bookseller, I detest it even more. I have a portable heater to keep the interior of the truck manageable, and we installed a heater in the rear of the truck that runs off the gas tank. Cold air is OK for books because they don't freeze, but people DO. I cannot operate the truck in the winter as I do in the warmer seasons, so I have to be creative. I cannot attend Winter markets because they all occur indoors, and I have seen people rush past my truck to get inside where it is warm. I can't blame them. Winter - yuck.

2) Pay attention to what matters
Here's something that makes me absolutely CRAZY. If you as a Vendor, are going to go through all the work to create or stock your booth, carry all the setup materials to the event and pay a fee to be there, it only makes sense to me that you put your attention towards the people who are potential supporters of your business. I don't care if you crochet, make bath bombs, make dog food or are a cog in the wheel for an MLM business, GET OFF YOUR PHONE and make eye contact with potential customers! I have stood in the truck and seen countless vendors sitting behind their tables on their phones while people walk by. These same vendors complained that "this market is dead", and I lose it. If I am at a market and see a table that intrigues me, but the person behind the table is ignoring me, you can guarantee that I will not be buying anything from them. If you give the customers the impression that setting up your booth is where your commitment ends, they will not support you with their dollars. Show them you care about their business, make eye contact and conversation, for goodness sake. If this behaviour doesn't work in a brick and mortar store, it should not be OK at a market.
I love the human piece of my business.
It's about the Readers, not about the books, after all.

3) It takes a village
Market life demands that you do all your own marketing, merchandising, store construction and customer service. We are setting up and taking down our stores fully every day. It is NOT for the faint of heart, the lazy or the unambitious. It is physically exhausting, and for those of us who run the markets solo, we are often concerned about when we can get a bathroom break. I do all the setup and operation myself at the market level, but I see a whole tribe of what I call "Market Men" who help their budding entrepreneurs set up and pack up their displays over and over, regardless of the weather. They are noble, diligent and so supportive of their wives, moms or girlfriends - it's awesome.

Market life is challenging, difficult and exhausting, and we are doing it all so we can bring our best TO YOU in spite of the cultural lure to give in to the Big Business habit. People who work in a brick and mortar store have nothing to complain about. When you visit a market, consider all it took for these vendors to bring their wares to you for consideration - and choose them over mass market megastores, who don't know you ad don't care about you.

A small business owner will do a happy dance when you support them.


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