Behind the Market Table: Part Three

Yep, I’m way late with this. Oh well.

Anyway, let’s discuss the special darlings that are outdoor markets. Where I live, summer time brings almost weekly outdoor markets and festivals and fairs. Outdoor markets can be super fun. There’s usually music playing, and people are more likely to bring their dogs along (and let’s face it, cute dogs make almost anything better!)

Outdoor markets require particularly steep investments, and I don’t mean just with booth fees. So there are some extra things you need to consider before applying for an outdoor market.

Weather – The vast majority of outdoor markets are “all weather” markets. (I hesitate to say “every,” but I’ve yet to see one that wasn’t.) That means if it’s raining or cloudy or hot enough to cause heat stroke in five minutes, you’re still expected to fill your allotted spot. Chances are, you won’t be in a covered courtyard, so you’ll have to provide your own cover, such as a canopy. (I’ll talk more about those in a minute.) Keep an eye on the weather reports, but if your local region is anything like mine, the previous day’s weather is not necessarily an indicator of the next day’s weather. Pack lots of sunscreen (and I mean LOTS,) and bug spray. Bring hats, sunglasses, wind/waterproof jackets, light sweaters, and waterproof shoes or boots.

Sunburns/Bug Bites: Bring remedies for sunburn and bug bites, as well as a basic first aid kit. I was sitting mostly in the shade under our canopy, not realizing/noticing that the sun was shining on one part of my arm. I wound up with a wicked, wicked burn right away. And because we were out of town, we got to drive around looking for some place that was still open after the market closed for the day so we could find some aloe lotion. I was pretty miserable. You’ll also need walls for your canopy, to shield against wind and rain, and weights for the corners so the entire thing doesn’t blow over.

Canopy: Most vendors I know have bought their canopies, but I did know one who was super-handy, so he made one. Typically, outdoor stalls are 10′ by 10′, so don’t get anything bigger than that. You can buy canopies at home improvement stores or home goods stores, but do keep in mind that these canopies are not made to be set up and torn down several times over the course of a season. They expect customers either to set them up at the beginning of the season and leave them up, or haul them out once in a blue moon. They will break, some sooner than others. So if you’re serious about doing outdoor markets, you might want to consider spending the $1000+ to get a high-quality one from a specialty supplier. My mom was buying new canopies every year, because the ones she bought from Canadian Tire for $300-$400 each would break. She dropped close to $2000 on one from a specialty place, and she’s had it for five or six years now. And that included getting a custom colour for the roof, matching side panels, a storage sleeve, and four corner weights. Also, keep in mind that canopies are heavy, and no matter how easily the packaging claims the set-up to be, you will need help, and other people will ask for help, too.

Tables, Power, and Other Things: If you’re attending an indoor market, the organizers may provide a table and chairs. You may even have access to a power outlet. If you’re going to an outdoor market, these things will not be provided. So if your displays require power, you will have to figure out something different, or get your hands on a bunch of portable batteries. Outdoor markets are very bare-bones. Most mark out a 10′ by 10′ space, and that’s it. (Though it is kind of fun to see a market spring up from a previously empty street or field, and then disappear just as quickly.)

Space: The best thing about outdoor markets? So much more space! You can usually use your canopy to help display your wares, or support tabletop displays. And depending on what you sell and where your unit is, you can get two to four tables into your booth. That means more stuff! Yay! You can also play with your setup. Some people choose to stay behind their tables, and some people set up their tables so customers can walk into the booth space. This is especially handy if you wind up talking to your customers for a while; let them get out of the sun/rain. You can play with table sizes, too. Use one 6′ or 8′ table and a few 4′ tables. Or whatever. But make sure you have covers large enough for whatever tables you use, and pin those covers down where ever possible. Customers don’t want to see your bins of junk hidden under your tables.

Car Space: If, when you do an indoor market, you normally pack your car to the roof with stuff, you may want to consider renting or borrowing a larger vehicle. Canopies and their assorted accoutrements take up a fair bit of space, as will the tables, if you’re not used to bringing such with you. You don’t want to give up on stock just to make space for your canopy and tables.

Food and Water: Invest in a good cooler and a bunch of ice packs. Outdoor markets often have food vendors (the rise of food trucks means I’ve been seeing a lot more of these at outdoor events) but it’s not guaranteed. And if you have a restricted diet at all, chances are good you won’t find something to eat. It’s also not guaranteed that you’ll get a chance to go hunting for food. Even if you just load up on snacks and other things you can nibble quickly between customers, you definitely want to bring enough food to get you through the day. And bring as much water as you can manage. Again, not all venues will have a water fountain, and you don’t want to be buying bottled water from food vendors all day. Those flats of twelve or twenty-four bottles of water are great. You don’t even need to unwrap the flat, just toss the whole thing into your car, and in the summer, they’re usually on sale.

Garbage: Definitely, absolutely bring something to collect your garbage and recyclables! Chances are good you won’t be anywhere near a garbage can, and the wind can send things flying in a moment. I like bringing ziplock bags, because then if I knock it over (as I usually do) it doesn’t spill everywhere. For an outdoor market, garbage bags might be too flimsy on windy days, but you could always clip it under a table. If it’s a multi-day market, bring bags for each day (so you can dispose of any food waste each day to discourage flies and smell.)

Cell Phone Coverage: If you use your cell phone or tablet to process credit and/or debit sales, check your provider’s coverage for the area, especially if you’re travelling out of town. And you may want to look into topping up your data for the month, if possible, or budget to go over for the month. Because you never know.

And of course, bring all your usual bits and bobs that you’d bring to an indoor market. You will need them…especially that portable battery.

Read Part One here.
Read Part Two here.