Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Maximizing Your Presence at Flea Markets, Fairs and Others

February 2, 2016 by publisher  
Filed under How-To Zone

by Kevin Zimmerman

Flea MarketsMany retailers are increasingly splitting their time at different sites – flea markets, fairs, and other outlets – in an understandable attempt at boosting their selling potential. But novices and even some veterans may not necessarily be maximizing their opportunities. Following are some tips to keep in mind when approaching a new alternative … or perhaps even when refining how you do business in your usual venue.

Do Your Research. Whether you are exploring a Sunday-only flea market or a large annual county or state fair, it is important to have reasonable expectations. Just because Joe’s Widgets is doing fabulous business does not necessarily mean you can do the same, especially if you are also selling widgets. In addition to your due diligence – registration/rental fees, hours of operation, etc. – you need to get an actual feel for the venue … and that means personal visits.

Taking a site’s website at face value can be a fool’s game; sure, the photos and copy make it seem like everyone and their brother is busting down the doors to buy merchandise, but is that really the case? Wander around, talk to vendors about their experiences there, size up any competitors, and generally get the vibe. Does it seem well-run, well-attended? Are customers actually making purchases, or just wandering around desultorily?

Also pay attention to those competitors: Are there a lot of people selling the same sort of inventory you do? If so, how will you stand out? And if not … why not? Maybe this is not the place for you.

Light It Up. Once you have determined that this is the right venue for you, you need to build a presence that attracts customers. Lighting can be key here; after all, no one wants to feel like they are shopping in a cave. Outdoor venues are of course heavily reliant on clement weather, but having sufficient light on hand for overcast days can bring a bit of cheer. At indoor sites, rather than simply rely on the building’s lights, bring in your own to shine on your flagship product or at least your company name. Flameless candles or other self-powering lighting products can also add ambience.

And speaking of ambience, what about bringing along your own music? In general, if you want to have some tunes playing you should stick with something featuring an “easy listening” vibe: light jazz, James Taylor, early Billy Joel, maybe some Adele. The exception here is if your target audience consists of bikers or metalheads, in which case blast that Scar Symmetry!

“Lighting it up” does not just refer to illumination; it also includes creatively showing your wares. While how you display your items depends on what you are selling, try using risers or decorative crates to maximize your space and create a more aesthetically pleasing atmosphere.

No Clutter, Please. This may seem obvious, but many sellers are still guilty of trying to throw everything they have on their display tables or around their booths, with the idea being that they stand a better chance of moving inventory. However, few potential customers want to paw through boxes of mismatched merchandise, especially when there are better-organized, “cleaner” looking vendors right next door.

Instead, try to focus on your best-selling categories/items. Group similar items together, divide heavier/bulkier merchandise from lighter, easier to handle items, etc. If Category A is selling well, restock it immediately … and consider decreasing Category B’s floor space. If you really do sell everything from A to Z, invest in “Don’t See What You Want? Please Ask Us!” signage. All of this will help promote a friendly, professional atmosphere.

Make the Customer Comfortable. With space usually at a premium, it may not always be practical to include chairs or stools for visitors to use. If your specialty is jewelry or some other merchandise that is best shown in a display case, however, it may be worth considering having at least one easily moved seat on hand to make the customer’s perusal of inventory easier. This will also provide an excellent way to engage them in a more intimate manner: What are they looking for specifically? What do they think of the market overall?

If you are in a suitably large space, consider how you would like customers to flow: From large items to small, from expensive to more affordable? Again, simply providing customers with an array of merchandise that has been haphazardly thrown together does not necessarily instill confidence that you will have their best interests at heart should they have questions or problems with your product down the line.

Brand It. Also underscoring your professionalism is your branding. Company logos and mottos should be prominently displayed at the booth, as well as on all business cards, pens, stationery, etc. If your logo includes a signature color – aqua, maroon, atomic tangerine – consider using that shade as an accent around your space. Covering everything in lime green is a no-no, of course, but simply relying on white can be seen as dull or unimaginative … hardly the message you want to send.

Flea MarketsBe Present. Having yourself or a knowledgeable representative at your space all the time is imperative. Who knew, right? But we have all been at markets or fairs where there are abandoned booths, most often at the beginning or ending of the day. This sends an incredibly negative message: That you do not care, that you grew bored, that you found something better to do … whatever. If you are there by yourself, what is your plan for grabbing lunch or going to the restroom? At the very least, make friends with the vendor next door so they can “watch” your space while you take a (very) quick break.

But “being present” does not just mean being physically on hand. Customer service is always at a premium, and maintaining a friendly, welcoming demeanor is critical. A customer whose questions receive a disinterested grunt is hardly likely to make a purchase or recommend that vendor to others.

Knowing your merchandise should also be obvious. If your answer to “How does this work?” is “I don’t know,” you need to stop displaying it and, probably, stop selling it. Is this particular t-shirt likely to shrink? What are the advantages of vinyl tiles over ceramic ones? If you receive an unanticipated question, offer to Google the answer right then and there, or at least get the customer’s contact information and follow through with the answer to their query.

If you have an anecdote about a particularly striking item or line that you carry, now is the time to share it. You do not want to get caught up in an endless conversation with a customer when there are other buyers awaiting attention, but coming off as a friendly professional should not be a chore. Assuming that you do have an associate with you – allowing for that occasional break from the action – consider taking turns at the “front” of the booth. This will help conserve your energy and focus, as few of us can truly be “on” for eight-plus hours, and further underscore how your company maintains an affable, informed staff – another sign of professionalism.

Offer Payment Options. Cash-and-carry is fine for many retailers, but if you tend to sell in bulk you will want to accept a variety of credit cards. You may also want to consider offering Apple Pay, Google Wallet, and/or another of the new mobile payment options out there; this will emphasize how you are on the cutting edge and is a customer-service touch that can be appreciated even by those who do not know what “Apple Pay” is. As for those folks who still prefer to pay cash but may be short, be sure you know where the site’s ATMs are located.

After the Event. Did you collect contact info from customers and/or fellow vendors? If so, try to send them a follow-up note within a week, especially if there is an outstanding question. Add customers to your mailing list to notify them of future shows you are attending, special discounts/offers, etc. With vendors, follow up on any discussions you may have had about how to help each other’s business, ask what they thought of the event, and so on. Do not let this chance to garner new leads and establish new relationships pass you by.

After gathering feedback, reflect upon your own experience at each particular market. Was it worth the time and expense involved? If you plan on attending the next market/fair, what would you do differently to make the experience better for yourself/your customers? If you doubt you will return, let your feelings known to the market’s organizers and see if they have any helpful suggestions or offer incentives that are sufficient to overcome your misgivings about returning. Just as communications with your customers are key, so too should be the organization’s communications with you.

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