Outdoor and community markets can be a profitable way of selling your goods, whether it’s a farmers’ market, antique market, or flea market.

Farmers’ markets offer several benefits to both communities and consumers. For communities, it’s an opportunity for local small businesses, producers, vendors, and independent sellers to sell their goods, increase civic pride, strengthen civic engagement, and help reduce transportation and energy costs. For consumers, it’s a social event and a way to get local, fresh, healthy foods and seasonal goods while getting outside to explore a municipality or region.

But if you want to be profitable selling at a booth or stall, you need to understand all the business expenses involved. Here’s an overview of what you need to consider if you fancy being a vendor at a farmers’ or other kind of market:

Consumers at a farmers market

Easy Things to Sell at a Farmers Market

There’s no shortage of options when it comes to choosing a market to sell your wares, whether you live in a rural or urban area. They can be seasonal or year-round, indoors, outdoors, or both, and large and small.

A farmers’ market is a seasonal, multi-vendor, community-led event featuring agricultural goods, food (sometimes prepared), arts and crafts, and homemade or baked goods. But there are other types. For example, a public market is usually a municipally operated year-round event housed in permanent structures and featuring local retailers, artisans, and producers. Meanwhile, a community market is a seasonal or year-round market catering to vendors and makers of a specific community or neighbourhood.

Regardless, choosing the right market to sell your goods starts with what you’re selling and what kind of customer that market is targeting. For instance:

  • You can sell just about anything a farmer can grow or raise at a farmers’ market, including flowers, meat, fresh produce, eggs, cheese, and prepared foods such as jams, salsa, and baked goods.
  • Arts and crafts markets focus on a certain kind of art, including professional works such as paintings and sculpture, or handmade items made by local community artists, including knitted and sewn items.
  • An antique market might sell old and rare expensive or inexpensive items, for some are junk and others a diamond in the rough.
  • There are all sorts of collectibles markets and street markets that have a distinct focus on themes such as music (vinyl records have made a big comeback), books, comic books, and vintage toys.
  • A flea market has traditionally been a place to sell second-hand goods, collectibles, antiques, and vintage clothing.

There are likely to be part-time sellers who are hobbyists. Others supplement their income from a full-time job or retired persons at any market. Some are dedicated full-time sellers dependent on the income or increasing what they’re getting from a bricks-and-mortar or online store.

If you’re looking at making a market a serious source of income, you need to think like a small business owner, which means having a clear idea of your cost to be there to have a healthy profit margin.

Picking the Right Sellers’ Market

Given all the types of markets available, you need to pick the right one.

Not all markets are run the same; some are long-term, and some are seasonal or “pop-ups.” The fees to have a stall can vary in price and payment terms. Some are local to you, and some may require travel, which means accounting for the cost of fuel (which isn’t cheap these days). There are many considerations when selecting a market to sell your wares:

  • Location is always a primary consideration. You want as much people traffic as possible. Look for markets in walkable communities, on or near major thoroughfares or highways that motorists will spot, and in parking lots or parks near shopping centres or districts. The most popular markets to sell at are ones consistently hosted in the same location because it’s more likely people know about them.
  • Frequency is also a critical factor, whether a weekly, monthly, or annual market. For example, a well-established annual event will have a reputation and fanfare, and people will plan to attend it.
  • Reputation matters, too, so reach out to other sellers at the markets you’re thinking of selling at to get a sense of how well it’s run, how busy it is, and how many serious buyers come through. A high amount of traffic doesn’t matter much if most vendors struggle to make sales.
  • Find out as much as you can about the market’s attendees, even ones hosting a variety of vendors. If it’s a flea market aimed at bargain hunters, you don’t want to show up selling high-end antiques.

Knowing you’re selling what attendees are looking for at that market is one of many considerations. Even if what you’re selling is a good fit, you need to make sure you can make a profit.

You Need to Spend Money to Make Money

If you’re just a hobbyist, making money may not be all that important to you – buying and trading vintage toy trains for fun doesn’t need to be profitable.

But if you’re looking at farmers’ or flea markets to supplement your existing income or make it your primary income, you need to have a solid business plan and understand the many costs involved, including:

  • Transportation costs. They will vary and should be calculated in advance. Renting a vehicle to attend markets will eat into profits, as will the price of gas, even if you own a car. If you’re maintaining a vehicle to support getting to various markets, you need to account for that.
  • The price of renting a stall. Occasionally vendor stalls at markets are free but not always. Depending on the market’s frequency, you may need to pay in advance or commit to renting a table or stall for a specific number of dates.
  • Paying yourself. You need to pay yourself or someone else to run your stall and cover the entire event. You may need more than one person, especially if it’s a busy street market or fair. Your staff should be able to do more than process payments. They need to be able to answer questions about whatever you’re selling and your business.
  • Accepting payments. You need the means to collect payment beyond cash, as people increasingly use debit cards, credit cards, or e-wallets for everyday purchases. But if they prefer to pay with cash, you’ll need to be able to make change. Accepting card payments is easier than ever with systems that will work with a smartphone or tablet, but they require internet connectivity. That means paying your mobile provider or the market’s organizers, who will likely charge a fee for access if they provide it.
  • Storage space. Unless you keep your vehicle nearby full of inventory, you may incur other expenses such as cold storage if you’re selling perishable goods.

All these costs factor into how much you price your items for sale. You want to profit, but your prices need to be appealing and competitive with other sellers at the market offering similar goods. You’re also competing with the cost of goods sold elsewhere, including online – with smartphones, it’s easy for shoppers to make price comparisons quickly.

Optimize Your Booth for Sales

Some events provide advance promotions, but you should also advertise. If you already have a physical or online store, you can use them to get the word out. Having a social media presence with a following will also help drive foot traffic.

Once people get to your booth or stall, you want them to linger, so make sure your table is well organized. People get easily overwhelmed and may decide they don’t have the patience to rummage through everything. Instead, highlight items you know are hard to find and display them prominently. Be sure to label and price everything.

If you sell a wide range of goods, then group like items together. For instance, keep clothing on hangers and have the hangers on racks, and use pegboards and shelves. You want to maximize the space you’re paying for and make sure it’s easy to set up and break down to transport it. To avoid clutter and optimize traffic flow, be sure to stow boxes and totes under tables, so they’re out of sight.

Also, good signage makes an impression. If you’re setting up a stall as an extension of your business, make people aware of where to find you beyond the market, whether it’s a brick-and-mortar location or an online shop.

Don’t Forget the Paperwork

If you want to succeed in selling in any market, you need to think like a business. While some markets cater to hobbyists, others want to see a copy of your business registration or Master Business Licence and the credit card merchant service companies and whichever financial institution you will bank through.

Other permits may be required depending on what you’re selling. For example, some jurisdictions require permits to sell prepared or processed food, while selling raw produce has less stringent requirements. In Ontario, a farmers’ market will be required to complete a Public Health Confirmation form to confirm vendors handling prepared food have been approved.

Most farmers’ markets also require their vendors to carry liability insurance policies, which is another cost you must consider. It’s wise to purchase vendor insurance to protect yourself regardless of the types of products you sell at food and farmers’ markets, craft fairs, and any other kind of event. It typically costs around $45 per month.

A customized vendor insurance policy typically includes product liability insurance. That’s a must-have, as it provides you with financial support to deal with lawsuits or claims alleging third-party property damage or bodily injury caused by any product you manufacture, distribute, or sell online or offline.

Whether it’s just for fun and being part of a community or earning income, knowing the ins and outs of a farmers’ market will make it a worthwhile and profitable experience.

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