chapter 29

Get a Booth at a Market

We know that farmers markets, flea markets, and even popup stores might not sound like the savviest ways to sell products, especially if you’re focusing on building an online business. But nothing beats speaking to potential customers one-on-one and selling to them directly, especially early on when you're still building your company and you'll do next to anything to get that first sale. The one thing you’ll learn from running an online business is how important it is to get customer feedback to see what they like and don't like about your products and how you promote them.

That’s why we think it’s a good idea for people who are starting ecommerce businesses to try selling in the physical retail world. You’ll quickly get an idea of what people think of your product and your brand. And you might even make some good money along the way.

Get Ready for Some “Dirt-ache”

Farmer’s markets and flea markets in particular are hard work. It’s no joke. The hardest days we have ever worked in our life were running booths at flea markets. Here’s why:

  • They start pretty early – Chances are you’ll be getting up at the crack of dawn, loading your car or truck with your tents, chairs, display cases and merchandise.
  • There is a lot of manual labor – Aside from standing on your feet most of the day, sometimes in pretty hot weather, you are responsible for lugging around merchandise and equipment as well as setting it all up and tearing it all down.
  • You end the day filthy – There is no way around this. One day at the flea market will get you dirtier than a full day of gardening. So if you’re planning dinner arrangements afterwards, make sure you have enough time to go home and clean up.

Finally, consider having someone help you or at least come by to relieve you at some point in your day. If you are looking after a booth all by yourself and you need to go to the restroom, well, you either have to risk leaving your booth unattended, asking your neighbor to watch over your stuff or worse, holding it in.

Now for the Good News

Aside from all the hard work and dirt that comes along with running your own flea market booth, you may come out making a decent chunk of cash at the end of the day (which will definitely be deserved) and most importantly you’ll obtain one-on-one feedback with real people.

The Most Important Thing: Get People to Sign Up to Your Marketing Lists

The worst mistake you can make when operating a booth is not getting the people you meet on your marketing lists. The sooner you can build your marketing lists, the better shape you will be in down the road. As matter of fact, building your marketing lists should be a top priority every day you’re in business, no matter what you’re doing. These lists will be incredibly valuable years down the road when they are full of thousands of people. So start building them now.

Here are some tips for building your lists out in the real world:

  • Have people Like your Facebook page on the spot – If you have a good conversation with someone at your booth, ask them to Like your Facebook page on their mobile phone. If they don’t have Facebook on their phone, ask if you can get their name to reach out to them later.
  • Have people friend you on Facebook – This is a little bit dicey depending on the type of person you are. If you are a pretty light Facebook user that doesn’t expose a ton of personal stuff on your Facebook profile, sometimes is a good idea to have your customers friend you. Facebook profiles have the ability to market a lot stronger than Facebook pages.
  • Collect email addresses – We would go as far to say that emails might be more important than Facebook fans and friends. Simply because email will always be around while social networks may come and go with popularity. If you are really thinking long-term, building your email list might be the smarter strategy.

Some Financial and Administrative Stuff

Some cities will require you to have a business license in order to operate a booth at one of these events. Additionally, the organizers usually charge a fee to rent a space at their event. These costs are usually pretty minimal and are always cheaper than opening a store front.

Depending on the disposable budget you have for your business, it’s definitely a good idea to stock up on some physical signage and business cards.

Since you’re coming in as an online merchant, be sure to brand your domain name. Remember, you’re building a brand not just a business. So get that domain name out in front of people and make sure your domain name is on:

  • Your business cards
  • Your booth sign
  • Any flyers or coupons

How to Accept Payments

Nowadays, it's important to accept various methods of payments. Most booth operators simply accept cash because they don't even have an online presence. Since you're main business in online and you accept credit cards through your online store, there's no reason you shouldn't accept credit cards at a farmers market, trade show, flea market or popup store.

If you run your ecommerce store on Shopify, simply use the mobile card reader to accept payments right from your iPhone or iPad.

What if Your Products are a Flop?

Say, after a few weekends of selling your products at the market, you find that most people just don’t seem interested in what you’re trying to sell. Assuming you’ve gotten enough feedback, you might want to consider closing up shop and focusing more on your online efforts.

Perhaps the demographic at those markets is the wrong niche. Generally, people there are usually looking for a super deal and only come with a little cash on them. Maybe your product is too high-end or expensive for them. So don’t be discouraged – and remember:

  • Your Target Audience or Customer Base – For the people who did resonate with your product - did they match your target persona? Did the experience help define your target personas better? Keep painting a picture of these ideal customers in your mind!
  • Feedback – Are you learning what real people like in terms of your product selection? What inventory can people do without? If you’re selling your own product – what did people like? What did they dislike? Carefully record these finding for future product development.

Remember to get people to give you feedback. Maybe they are the wrong customers for your product, that’s okay. They still might have excellent feedback on what you’re trying to do.

The Ultimate Goal with Selling in the Physical Retail World

It’s possible to devise a strategy where you employ people to man booths all over your country. That could be an interesting model that works for moving your product. However, most people will find that after a summer of hitting up the markets, the grind really isn’t very scalable for growing a business. But trying to make millions from selling your products at a flea market isn’t the point. The point is about getting used to selling your products for the first time, getting to know your first customers. It’s about getting real feedback, understanding the emotions people have when they first see your product. Listening to the language they use, taking in the overall customer experience.

You’ll appreciate your first customers, your first sales and the marketing lists you built. And most importantly, the feedback you received from real people who were willing to discuss what they liked and didn’t like about your product.

Selling in a physical retail setting? Check out Shopify's iPad POS System to easily sell your products and process payments.

Next chapter

30. Engage Your Local Business Network

3 min

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