Mark Sopchak, co-owner of confectioners Whimsy & Spice, prepares to fill a bag with his business’s handmade treats during a recent street fair.
The duo behind New York City confectioners Whimsy & Spice enjoy the savory perks of selling their handmade sweets at flea markets and street fairs nearly every weekend.
Like countless small business owners across the United States, married business partners Jenna Park and Mark Sopchak have taken the plunge into the street fair waters and continue to swim in its occasionally fruitful tides.
“You expose yourself to other customers that you may not otherwise attract,” said Park, whose sweets business operates online and not in a brick-and-mortar store. “It’s great for marketing and putting your name out there.”
As an increasing number of small businesses function strictly as e-commerce stores, street fairs offer an inexpensive option for having a physical selling space.
Fashion designer Ryan Greer of Flux Productions, for example, increases his customer base, gains brand exposure and gets instant reaction to his products by exhibiting at street fairs.
“Not every event is a success, but enough of them are that for me that it is worth pursuing,” said Greer, who last month manned a booth at the annual Atlantic Antics market in Brooklyn, N.Y.
“A good market will give me lots of sales and, just as importantly, lots of feedback about the work I'm doing and what products work or don’t work.”
Greer branched out from only selling printed apparel partly because of the feedback. He now makes shoes and leather bags, which have become his most popular item.
While street events help businesses attract new customers who can analyze products with fresh eyes, Greer and others work to retain repeat shoppers. Flux and Whimsy & Spice post where they’ll sell next on their websites.
Pure Spa Squared owner Lydia Clark asks people who buy her beauty products to sign up for her business’s newsletter, which tells them where to find her booth in the future. From the newsletter, several customers discovered she would be at an event on Governors Island and followed her there this summer, she said.
“Participation in street fairs is critical to my success,” Clark said. “With bath and body products, pictures are nice, but touching and feeling works best. I have gotten direct feedback from customers who would not have tried my product if they had not sampled it at a fair.”
The cost to rent a space at a street event usually ranges from $25 to a $150 depending on the size of the community and the number of anticipated attendees.
“Even doing several fairs and markets each week, the cost of rent is still below what it would cost to rent a brick-and-mortar shop,” Greer said. “The beginning investment is really low for fairs and flea markets. It’s a perfect chance to test out your small business idea on a large sample of people.”
Vendors also budget for transporting their goods to and from the event, providing samples of products and buying a tent, tables and other display items.
Should you give it shot?
Every business owner who is interested in participating in a street event should try at least once, owners agree.
“Operating a table at a flea market isn’t for everybody and it may not even be the right venue for your business, but you will learn a lot about your business and your customer demographic,” said Park of Whimsy & Spice.
Designer Greer cautions entrepreneurs not to rush into vending, though.
“I would also advise people to ask around about markets before jumping into one randomly. Some of them can be fantastic but a lot of the less established or known markets will end up being a waste of time and just generally discouraging,” he said.
“I think the smaller markets and the bigger holiday markets have been really helpful,” added Greer, who aspires to operate a physical storefront and says that participating in street events gave him the confidence he needs to accomplish that goal.
“Running your own business is an unbelievable amount of work; no market or street fair is going to change that and make it easy.”
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