The Art of Selling Art at the Farmer's Market
Ten years ago, Etsy was founded - and the world of handmade was never quite the same. Selling online was completely revolutionized. The introduction of social media and user-friendly content management systems like Squarespace have made an online presence practically a necessity for artists in order to keep up.
However, let's not forget the humble Farmer's Market. A place for brightly colored stickers, bartering, and a pound of delicious blackberries, the Farmer's Market is also a fantastic place for artisans to explore a market that can be entirely different than what they would find online.
Con: The customer is shopping for food, not art
Generally, people go to the Farmer's Market for fresh tomatoes and eggs, not for a new coffee mug. They may not have budgeted for art, or they may not even be interested at all.
Pro: The customer has cash in hand
If you have something small and inexpensive, the impulse buy can work in your favor. I make small beaded earrings that I sell for $5. Jewelry is not my forte, nor is it something I intend to pursue. However, countless times I've had people stop by to look at the pottery and go to leave without buying anything, and then grab a pair of earrings at the last minute. $5 seems like such a small purchase, but when multiple almost-not-customers do the same thing all weekend, it works out in your favor. Yes, it can be a little disheartening at times - I want to sell my pottery, not earrings! - but if earrings make it so I can buy more clay, then earrings it is.
CON: THE CUSTOMER IS NOT WILLING TO PAY AS MUCH
I have yet to have anyone try to haggle with me, but the Farmer's Market can be a tough crowd. People will pick up gorgeous mugs and bowls and then balk at a $20 price tag. Sometimes this also has to do with budgeting - people tend to bring a set amount of cash for food, and then are disappointed when they see beautiful art that they don't have the money for.
I decided to bring a Square reader with me after I lost a sale like this once. Don't have the cash for that lovely bowl? That's okay, I take cards too! (Yes, the 3% charge is a bit of a downer, but it's worth it to me to not lose the sale. Judge that for yourself.)
However, some people just don't understand that handmade items aren't going to be cheap.
PRO: THE CUSTOMER ISN'T (always) AS PICKY
Sometimes pieces come out of the kiln perfectly functional, but not quite perfect. The glaze may have pinholes or resulted in undesired colorations, there may be a slight s-crack in the foot, or a bit of the glaze may have beaded at the bottom and taken some of the kiln with it. Known as seconds, these pieces are generally sold at a discount - and the Farmer's Market may be the perfect place to do so.
Having a hard time moving some of your product? I've found that having a sale (my most recent one being pink stickered items are buy two get one free) helps a lot.
CON: THE SELLER HAS TO SIT IN A TENT ALL DAY
It could be hot. And so humid you think you need to grow gills. Or raining cats and dogs and maybe a small pony or three.
Either way, you're outside and you're sitting in it.
PRO: THE SELLER DOESN'T HAVE TO PAY FOR SHIPPING
I really shouldn't have to explain this one. Not shipping is the dream. It makes me so happy.
Con: The seller has to cater to an different market
The people you'll find at the Farmer's Market may be completely different from the people that would find you online. They may not like your style, or your color choices. Maybe you only make one specific item, and there aren't enough people at the Market to make it worth your while.
Pro: The seller is able to try new things
Want to try a new handle shape or glaze combination? The Farmer's Market is a great place to send those experiments. Doesn't sell by itself? Put a cute succulent or cactus in it. Everything is better with succulents. (Well, maybe not your budget.)
Seriously, though, the Farmer's Market can provide valuable knowledge about your pieces. You get a small test group and you can see what people like and don't like up close and personal. (Because some of them are quite vocal about what they do and don't want to see. For instance, I have gotten a ridiculous number of requests for garlic keepers and yarn bowls. So what's on my to-do list? Yep. Garlic keepers and yarn bowls.)
If the Farmer's Market is a valid option for you as a maker will depend on multiple factors, including what you make, how difficult your product is to transport, the demand for your product, and the cost of selling at the Market. I am lucky to live in a town where the cost of selling at the Farmer's Market is incredibly reasonable, even more so since I share my table with another potter. In large cities, though, the Market can cost upwards of $500 per season. Weigh your situation for yourself - but don't under estimate the power of the Saturday morning Market.