2017 Strategies for Growth
It’s already February, which means outdoor flea market season is fast approaching in the Northern states. Between the expected tax changes under President Trump and a surge in value-priced shopping from our younger demographics, many small businesses are hopeful that 2017 will be a prosperous year. To make the most out of this consumer-confident year, it’s important to have a clear strategy for your business. Follow Merchandiser‘s tips for tightening your bottom line, boosting your sales, and taking your business to the next level.
Know Your Market
When it comes to selecting products, it’s easy to work from personal taste. However, just because something is appealing to you, or is a phenomenal bargain, doesn’t mean it will resonate with your customers. Really take a look at who is shopping at your market. Is it an equal mix of all ages? Is it primarily families? Young adults? Does your market draw a lot of tourists? Or are shoppers regulars who live nearby? Take some time to walk around your flea market to people-watch. Next, take a look at the busiest booths. What type of merchandise are they selling? Also take a look at what booths seem to be the emptiest. Once you figure out who your ideal customer is and what they’re interested in, it’s easier to select products that will resonate and sell.
Now that you have a general idea of what products will and won’t work for your market, you want to find the best value. Since most flea market shoppers are value-priced shoppers, keeping prices low without sacrificing quality is the biggest challenge for many vendors. As a flea market seller, to stay competitive while still making good margins, you will need to find products that are priced at the very lowest end of the wholesale spectrum. While this seems difficult, finding the absolute best prices doesn’t have to be a wild goose chase. Many online wholesale directories have a separate category for deals, sales, or clearance prices. For example, WholesaleCentral.com has a “Deals and Steals” page highlighting the top sales from their suppliers. One of the benefits of going through a directory instead of directly to the supplier is that the directory company serves as a curator or moderator. You can buy with higher confidence knowing that another company vouches for that supplier and their products.
Another option is attending a local trade show. Most trade shows are free to attend for buyers. Exhibitors usually have show specials and sale price offerings that are exclusive to that event. Buying from a trade show also allows you to meet the wholesaler in person, build a relationship, and experience their products first hand. Once you find a wholesaler you are happy with and whose products sell well at your market, inquire about bulk purchases. Many suppliers will offer a discount for larger orders.
The biggest value for your dollar will come from purchasing lots and pallets from liquidators. These bulk lots are sourced from a mixture of customer returns, overstocks, and end-of-season merchandise from box and chain stores. The only caveat is that you have to be prepared to sort through the lots and discard or repair items that may not be saleable as-is.
Dress for Success
Now that we have the right products at the best prices, it’s important to present them attractively. Your booth should have a strong presence that is warm and inviting. The first step is being visible. Corner spots and other premium booth locations are well worth the extra cost. Many times these spots are rented out for the season in advance. However, talk to market management to get your business on a wait list.
Whether you’re able to snag a corner space or have a traditional booth, lighting is key. Having a well-lit booth can not only visually separate your business from other vendors, shoppers can get a better look at your products. For outdoor vendors, the weather is unpredictable. On a sunny day extra lighting might not have much impact, but on a cloudy or gloomy day having a well-lit booth can cheer up your customers. Indoor markets tend to have industrial lighting, which is effective, but not warm or flattering. Decorative lamps, flameless candles, and other aesthetically pleasing lighting pieces will create a softer and more welcoming ambiance.
Having a welcoming booth also means having an organized booth. Tables filled with seemingly unrelated products and bin upon bins of items for shoppers to sort through are more overwhelming than inviting. Instead of trying to cram every available item into your booth, focus on your best sellers. Group like items together, leaving space between each item and each category to create a cleaner-looking booth. If you sell clothing, make sure it is hung up on a garment rack. Separate large bulky items like purses or scarves from smaller or daintier items like jewelry.
Similarly, if you have garment racks or display cases, make sure they are easily accessible to shoppers. If customers have to squeeze between tables to get to your garment racks, that’s not a very comfortable shopping experience. An ideal flea booth will be brightly lit, especially around jewelry and smaller items, customers can visually scan to see what types of merchandise you offer, and they can browse through your selection comfortably.
Attentive and Available
As much as we wish it was the case, most of the time our products won’t speak for themselves. You need a knowledgeable and friendly representative at your booth at all times. This seems obvious but is easier said than done. If you typically manage your booth yourself, what happens when you take a break, grab some lunch, or head to the restroom? Friendly neighbors often offer to watch your booth, but what happens when they are preoccupied with their own customers? A seemingly abandoned booth sends a negative message to shoppers: you don’t care, business was slow and you grew bored, or something else at the market is more interesting than your own booth. Any way you look at it, an empty booth leads to lost customers and possibly even theft.
In addition to being physically present, the person manning your booth should be mentally and emotionally present. Staying towards the front of the booth and greeting passerby leaves a much better impression than an employee hiding in the back of the booth texting on their cell phone. Great customer service isn’t optional for today’s customers. Initiating conversation, recommending products, and being able to answer any questions is critical for making sales and attracting repeat shoppers.
Build Your Brand
Your products, presentation, and personality are driving sales. Now, how do you turn those sales into repeat customers? First, they have to know who you are. Your booth or business has a name. Do your customers know what it is? Of course, you should have a clearly printed, legible, large sign at your booth. But that’s not enough. Shoppers encounter many vendors at a flea market, how will they remember a few weeks down the road which business was yours? Your business should have a logo or at least a consistent color and font that you use for your business name to make it recognizable. Print up business cards that include your name, contact information, and where they can find your business. Make sure to give at least one to every customer. Name recognition will not only help customers return again and again but also make it easier for them to refer others to your business.
Now that you have your name and your look, consider spreading them outside of your flea market. Having a Facebook page or Instagram account that you can commit to posting to consistently will help you reach customers and potential customers outside of market hours. If you don’t want to commit to making your own page, many neighborhoods have their own community or tag sale pages on Facebook where people are looking for local events or deals. Posting some quick photos and information about your business is an easy way to get your name in front of a few hundred people who may not otherwise know about you. These visual platforms are great tools for posting new products, sale items, and happy customers at your booth. Sometimes a great sale is enough to motivate shoppers to drive down to your market on a day they didn’t plan on attending.
If you or your target demographic doesn’t use social media as much, there are still plenty of ways to advertise your business outside of the market. Local coffee shops, community centers, libraries, grocery stores, town halls, and other central gathering places often have bulletin boards where you can post flyers for your business. Every town also has a chamber of commerce to support local business. Membership will come with a fee, but you will have access to great networking opportunities, community events, sponsorships, and more.
Onward and Upward
If the above tips already describe your business, here are some ways you can branch out and take your business to the next level:
1. Add a Second Location
If your business is booming and things are running smoothly, it’s time to consider a second location. To do this, you need several things. First, you need enough manpower to be present at your second location. Whether it’s a friend, family member, or employee, you’ll need a dedicated and trustworthy team. Second, you need the inventory to adequately and consistently stock both locations. More staff and more products mean you need to have the cash flow on hand to make these investments. Finally, you need a prime location. The new space should attract a similar demographic that would be interested in your product line. Your new location should be at a convenient distance, however, make sure it is far enough away from your primary location that you will have enough potential shoppers to support each space individually.
2. Expand Your Booth (and Products!)
If adding a second location is not an option, expand in your current market. Consider doubling your booth space. A larger storefront will give you a larger presence in an already successful environment. More space also means more flexibility to experiment with new products without sacrificing real estate on your best-selling lines.
3. Partner Up
Consider diversifying your revenue stream by partnering with another local business. There are many different options when it comes to partnerships. Maybe there’s another local vendor with similar products who is also very successful. Instead of competing with one another, both of your businesses might be stronger if you’re paired together. This type of large partnership can also help ward off other competitors and allow your partnership to dominate your local marketplace.
There are also options for partnering with local brick and mortar businesses. For example, if you make or sell jewelry, a local spa, pharmacy, or community store might be open to carrying your products.
4. Go Digital
Right now, it’s likely your customers can only find you and your products during market hours. When happens if shoppers can’t make it to the market? Or if they’re visiting from out of town but interested in being repeat customers? Don’t let part-time sales hours cause you to lose out on full-time business. Programs like Etsy and Shopify make it easy to sell your products online. Building an online store is one of the easiest and most effective way to significantly grow your customer base.