July 12, 2018 Marketing, Small business


Last updated: 17 November 2019

Small food businesses are obvious candidates for markets. For those just starting out, attending markets as a customer first can be a great way to learn how established and successful operators do it. Pick up tips on how they display their products and engage with customers. Do your research and pick the right market – is it a good fit for your business? It might have a theme that suits, or it may be in an area where your potential customers are.

NEIS graduate Michelle from Dirty Doug’s Essentials (below) says “Don’t forget the rural markets – you can make far more money with far less outlay. We did one recently. You just need effort – to get up at 2.30am to drive 3 and a half hours, to set up a stall ready for business from 9am to 4pm then get in the car and drive back home for 3 and a half hours… But hey – $44 for the stall, $1053 in the pocket – you’ll be skipping! We did an inner city street market the week prior, with an outlay of $500 and just $1100 in sales… you do the maths!”

Michelle has a regular schedule of weekend markets she sells at and advises that if a market charges high fees, you should make sure they have a great reputation and large attendances to match. “What percentage of the people attending do you realistically need as customers to make money? Do those numbers add up? I have the attitude that I am not leaving the house to pay the organisers for the privilege of being there. I would rather be at home making more stock.”

Former NEIS client Pascale from The Red Balloon Candy Artisans says, “in the early days of our business, weekend markets gave us a solid income and got our products seen and into the mouths of people from all around Victoria. This generated new wholesale clients, wedding and corporate orders; literally giving us the foundation to grow to where we are today. Markets are a great backbone for small business and we still keep an eye out for new and exciting ones.”

Pascale is keen to be a part of the movement that is happening Australia-wide, of customers wanting to meet the makers and find out the provenance of products before purchasing. “It’s really important to make that connection with your customer. The Big Vegan Market was the perfect storm for us, as our entire range of candies is vegan. A growing demand for vegan products in the right location, amongst other top-shelf businesses that create some incredible vegan products. We had a blast! We met our customers face to face. We also expanded our network of friends and like-minded businesses; getting new ideas and seeing what is going on in the industry. It was also organised so well and super busy. We made big sales and it didn’t feel like work at all. On the back of that, we also created an online special that generated record sales for our online purchases. We’ll be jumping on it again next year for sure.”

Mahadeva’s Kitchen opened last year, with help from the NEIS program. They also found great success at the Big Vegan Market for their vegan baked goods. Owner Pushkar (below) explains, “we’re at a point in our business where we are very confident with our product range, and excited about others trying it out! Big Vegan Market was the perfect event for us as it was our target audience. Lots of people, even interstaters, got to taste our products. We would not have had the opportunity to reach them any other way. We had people calling us after the event to find retailers. We also had cafe and restaurant owners wanting to stock our products. That’s what you need to sustain a business! The direct interactions with people, and the feedback we received, were very valuable too.”

Make the most of your effort – let everybody who could possibly be interested, know what you are up to on social media. Use Instagram’s geo-tag feature to show your followers where you are physically located, and use event-specific hashtags on the day. Upload regular tantalising images leading up to the event, and feature photos of your customers tucking into your products on the actual day (with their permission of course – it’s a good idea to keep a stack of model release forms handy). Former NEIS client Big Bite Dutch Treats have an energetic Instagram account featuring happy market customers enjoying their hot Dutch waffles!

Another vital consideration is your takings! Although most market-goers pay with cash, it’s important to have another payment option such as portable EFTPOS or Paypal mobile. Michelle from Dirty Doug’s Essentials says, “on average our sales are 60% cash and 40% Eftpos. That 40% are sales we wouldn’t make at all without EFTPOS.”

Last, but not least, don’t forget to do it right! You will be familiar with the standards you are required to meet on your own premises, but there may be differences or additional requirements at a temporary market setup. It is likely you will need some type of registration, license, permit or insurance to run your stall. This may even involve footpath usage or obstruction permits. You may already have insurance policies for your business and products, but do they apply to selling at markets? There are specific policies available, often known as Market Trading Insurance. Check with your appropriate state body for all the details. For food safety, codes and liability information visit the markets page on the Australian Government business website. The Australian Farmer’s Markets Association have a Market Food Safety Guide available online.

For the right businesses, hard work will turn into sales and new clients. Do your research and wear a hat!

Thanks so much for your input and advice for this story Michelle, Pascale and Pushkar.

Interested in starting your own small food business? Take the first step to becoming self-employed with free NEIS training. Use the postcode search tool to locate your nearest NEIS provider for a chat.


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