Handmade crafts are enjoying a heyday in the U.S. Etsy is seeing $2 billion in sales a year, which may soon be eclipsed by the fast-growing newcomer, Amazon Handmade. And brick-and-mortar markets are seeing a similar rise in interest. More and more consumers want unique handmade or vintage goods that display high-quality workmanship, and offer an alternative to mass-market chain stores.
So if you’re a talented craftsperson or an avid curator of vintage goods, and you’re currently either running a small business or thinking of opening one, the following question may have crossed your mind: “Should I spend the time and money to become a crafts or flea market vendor?”
Here is an overview of the upsides and downsides of operating your own booth or table at a market, so you can weigh them and arrive at the right answer for you.
Low Barrier to Entry
Once you pick the right fair or market for you, it’s relatively easy to get your business up and running. You’ll need transit for yourself and your merchandise, a table, possibly a tent for outdoor markets, a cash box and transaction software such as Square. You’ll also need to pay a booth rental fee to the market’s organizer. These fees vary quite a bit depending on your location. One of the most high-traffic markets in the country, Brooklyn Flea, charges $150 per day or $1,200 per month. Check your local event listings to see which markets are in your area, and then call them to compare prices for vendors.
Make Extra Money
For most crafts and flea market vendors, the point is more in the passion and enjoyment rather than the cash, but you can bring in new income through your booth or table. The amount you can expect to bring in per weekend or day depends on your location and the type of merchandise you’re selling. After paying rental fees and other expenses, many flea market vendors make between $200 and $500 per day. Meanwhile, many crafts fair vendors make upwards of $1,000 per day.
Build Your Brand Organically
If you look at the people behind many successful crafts or vintage brands, their origin stories more often than not involve selling their wares at local markets. Putting your merchandise out there gives people in your community a chance to see it, and love it. Think of it as a chance to use your booth as a barometer for the rest of the retail market. You can also test new products, perfect your goods, and ensure that what you’re offering is well catered to what your customers want.
Long-term Doors May Open
There’s always the possibility that your hobby or side business could blossom into a full-time venture. It may take some time, but this path has been the origin story for many successful crafts entrepreneurs. Your booth or table gives you a chance to develop regular customers who would be willing to follow you should you decide to expand (so be sure to keep their contact information on file). Plus it’s a great chance to socialize and network with visitors and other sellers, build relationships, and share ideas.
Finding the Time
It may be fun to knit sweaters or create earrings for friends and family, but once you open the door to the outside world, you’ll need to be prepared to meet the demand. There’s also the matter of giving up chunks of your time manning your booth, handling the logistics (described below) and more. Before you leap in, look at your schedule and make some educated choices about whether you’re able to commit the time and energy to becoming a vendor.
Finding Your Market
Knowing what to sell, and where to sell it is a skill that many entrepreneurs learn the hard way. You don’t need a business degree to run a successful booth, but before you get started it’s a good idea to write a business plan outlining the products you will carry, your sources of inventory, your competitive strategy (how your products differ from those of your competition) and how you plan to market your wares.
While you may not have to worry about the logistics of operating a full-time brick-and-mortar business, you still have some of the responsibilities of a business owner while you’re out selling, such as knowing how to set prices, keeping steady customers coming back, and creating a system for preventing theft. There’s also the matter of how to best display your wares — look to sites like Pinterest for ideas.
You’ll need to ensure that you acquire any business licenses, tax identification numbers, permits, certifications and insurance that your state requires of business owners. You’ll also need to pay taxes on your business, meaning that you’ll have some additional work come tax time.
Ultimately, the decision to sell at a crafts fair or flea market should rest on your passion for your merchandise and desire to share it with a larger community. Operating as a vendor does take some time and effort, and may require tasks that are outside your comfort zone as a crafts expert. But if you’re up for it, the journey into becoming a vendor can be very worthwhile.