How To Get Orders After Closing Flea Market Table?

Business By rwarren Updated 6 Dec 2014 , 11:47am by smysha

rwarren Posted 4 Dec 2014 , 5:03am
post #1 of 15

A

 

Dear cake people,

 

After several years of attempting to sell baking at a flea market, we are seriously considering giving up these tables at the end of the year. We are selling less and less each month, bringing home more and more leftovers to live in our freezer, and later in our tummies.  It is terribly discouraging to spend days and days baking and decorating, lugging it on the bus and metro, and sell less than $100 during the day.  I am royally fed up of the remarks passed by non-customers -- our stuff is too expensive / too sweet / "flavors are mixed" (i.e. offer chocolate, offer raspberry, but don't offer chocolate raspberry)... and my un-favorite, "ARE THOSE REEEEEAL?!"  (A basic cupcake with a simple swirl is accused of being soap, candle, ceramic, anything but a cupcake.)  The prettier it is, the more exotic the flavor, the bigger the chance it will come back home with us.

 

My partner in crime (alias Mom) is a senior citizen and slowing down healthwise.   We cannot afford to hire anyone to help us out.  We bake out of our home, from scratch with no preservatives. We offer a Cookie of the Month, a special flavor we make once and never again, with mixed results.

 

What I want to do after Saturday is take orders with a deposit and delivery.  When we suggest this in the past, the reaction is very negative and we do not get orders.  People only want to buy when they see the food, they do not want to plan ahead.  "You don't have banana bread?  No it's ok never mind." 

 

Herein is my question: What is the best thing to tell customers so that they will place direct orders with us for delivery?  "We're retired" would suggest to me that we are not taking orders.  "We are not coming back in February" also sounds like the door is shut.  I have social media presence and a Flickr page but I don't want to go e-commerce.  Many of the flea market visitors don't have email anyways.

 

Please don't suggest finding an alternate flea market / craft sale / etc.  Been there, done that, mostly to even worse sales than our regular haunt.  We currently pay $25 for our table in a church basement (once per month).  Other venues want more money from us than we would bring in, never mind covering expenses.  The whole goal is to make a profit, right? 

 

As for going where "our target customers go" :  My so-called friends say they love my baking (when it is shared for free), but when it comes time to buy something they will only buy from a store.  Or at an event where the table fee is in the hundreds (no joke) and furniture is not included.  No ordering in advance.  They will not set foot in the flea market, and they won't give me a straight answer why.

 

Your thoughts, kind bakers, are much appreciated. 

 

14 replies
Pastrybaglady Posted 4 Dec 2014 , 7:20am
post #2 of 15

I don't have any firsthand experience with flea/farmers markets, just a pat on the shoulder and "I am so sorry!"  I've never done a market and I don't know that I would because it seems like such a gamble.  We have farmer's markets here and the cost is $150 for a space.  It would absolutely break my heart to have put in so much work and have it come back home with me. So I definitely feel for you there.  I do feel pretty confident to say the flea market crowd looking for something to munch on while they're shopping is not your target customer.  There are a number of threads about building a customer base.  Use the search box and you'll find a lot of good discussions.  The things I've seen most often are:  It takes a long time to build a customer base, you need a good professional website with professional looking pictures, it's a good idea to get to know other vendors in your area and network, leave business cards with party stores, florists, etc...

 

Best of luck!

MimiFix Posted 4 Dec 2014 , 1:20pm
post #3 of 15

I hope you stop going to flea markets. Immediately. Those are not your customers. Neither are your friends. (They can still be friends, just don't give them free products.) If your permit/license allows for wholesale, I suggest you approach stores and eateries that sell to your target market. @Pastrybaglady has some excellent advice about searching threads for more ideas.

rwarren Posted 4 Dec 2014 , 2:07pm
post #4 of 15

Quote:

Originally Posted by MimiFix 
 

 If your permit/license allows for wholesale, I suggest you approach stores and eateries that sell to your target market.

 

Here you need a different set of permits to sell wholesale or retail.  It's considered a completely different business. 

 

We also are not set up for the kind of packaging and labelling required for wholesale.  Items that are wrapped must have a full ingredient label, nutrition grid, and our home address.  You can imagine crowding all that on one single cupcake or cookie -- oh and don't forget it has to be in at least two languages.  :P

smysha Posted 5 Dec 2014 , 12:32pm
post #5 of 15

Hi! I had a few market stalls with mixed results. Location and weather is definitely important. I also go for the slightly cheaper tables and have never paid more than £40 for a table rent. The biggest problems I've faced are either lack of footfall or having other bakers in the same market. There are times I've come back with some stock and there was one disastrous rainy Saturday where I barely sold everything. I can confidently say though that when people come to my stall they usually buy something and I've never once had any remarks like the ones you've gotten. It's really puzzling. I started doing the stalls as a way to promote myself and lots of people took business cards and I've had a few orders from people who were at my stall. I also dress it up really nicely and make sure that I have the prettiest stall at the market which really attracts people. White tablecloth, fresh flowers, cake stands etc. The sort of markets I've gone for are vintage fair markets and farmers markets. I know how soul destroying it is to take things back with you. :(

rwarren Posted 5 Dec 2014 , 2:45pm
post #6 of 15
Quote:

Originally Posted by smysha 

 

lots of people took business cards and I've had a few orders from people who were at my stall. I also dress it up really nicely and make sure that I have the prettiest stall

 

See that's the kind of thing I thought would happen.  If we get one or two orders a year from our stall, that's a miracle.  We do have a nice tablecloth, trays, everything is wrapped and prices are visible.  This seems to turn people *off* (especially a humorous Don't Touch sign) and they prefer to buy from the lady who has everything in open bins, unwrapped, and super super cheap.  Like 25c for a cupcake, 50c for a Subway-style cookie.  (And she donates all her money to charity.  When visitors learn that the funds beyond our table fee go to us, not the church and not charity, they recoil in horror and spend at the kitchen canteen.  I've had to invent the LOLYPOP Fund, Little Old Lady Proudly on Pension, where we are helping a senior citizen heat her home this winter.  Yes the senior citizen happens to be Mom ---shhh don't tell.) 

 

Mom doesn`t want to give people business cards unless they are serious about placing an order.  She is also reluctant to advertise/promote we are going to be at Such and Such a Place because she says that's promoting to burglars that we are not home.  Plus she is afraid of health inspectors coming along to shut us down.  No it

hasn`t happened yet but we've heard anecdotal horror stories:  fines, food confiscated, etc.

 

So what does this sound like to tell customers tomorrow: 

 

Quote:

For 2015 we are changing our business model.  We are now baking to order.  We deliver in Montreal and Verdun for $6.50.  (Note: The flea market is located in Verdun.  The price is two bus tickets.) 
 
We'd be happy to take your order now (get ready with notepad)  or give us a call (hand person card) at least 48 hours ahead.

 

Now how to elegantly answer the question "You won't be here next time?"

 

 
smysha Posted 5 Dec 2014 , 3:31pm
post #7 of 15

Quote:

Originally Posted by rwarren 
 

 

See that's the kind of thing I thought would happen.  If we get one or two orders a year from our stall, that's a miracle.  We do have a nice tablecloth, trays, everything is wrapped and prices are visible.  This seems to turn people *off* (especially a humorous Don't Touch sign) and they prefer to buy from the lady who has everything in open bins, unwrapped, and super super cheap.  Like 25c for a cupcake, 50c for a Subway-style cookie.  (And she donates all her money to charity.  When visitors learn that the funds beyond our table fee go to us, not the church and not charity, they recoil in horror and spend at the kitchen canteen.  I've had to invent the LOLYPOP Fund, Little Old Lady Proudly on Pension, where we are helping a senior citizen heat her home this winter.  Yes the senior citizen happens to be Mom ---shhh don't tell.) 

 

 

 

I think this answers your question. This is NOT the right location to be selling for profit. Obviously you know your area better than I do but I would never go back there if this is the sort of response I got.

 

Also I have no idea how you can get people to order off you without promoting yourself. You're relying on customers from a flea market that don't buy off you anyway to get orders? If you have stock left over then why not hand them out as free samples to people in your area. Go to your local shopping centre and around your area. Give them to mums picking up kids from school. It's very hard to have anyone take you seriously if you're trying to sell a business without a business card. Nobody knows right now that they want an order for this event later on in a couple of months time. They can take a card, keep it and when it comes to planning the event then they start thinking about cake orders etc.

Pastrybaglady Posted 5 Dec 2014 , 3:54pm
post #8 of 15

AThere is no way for you to "compete" at a church with someone selling that cheap for charity!

MimiFix Posted 5 Dec 2014 , 4:27pm
post #9 of 15
Quote:rwarren 

So what does this sound like to tell customers tomorrow: 

 

For 2015 we are changing our business model.  We are now baking to order.  We deliver in Montreal and Verdun for $6.50.  (Note: The flea market is located in Verdun.  The price is two bus tickets.) 
 
We'd be happy to take your order now (get ready with notepad)  or give us a call (hand person card) at least 48 hours ahead.

 

Now how to elegantly answer the question "You won't be here next time?"

 

Sadly, you have locked yourself into a self-defeating business model. Even with the good advice on this thread, you are unable to listen. PLEASE, the flea market shoppers are not your customers. They will not order from you and they will not care that you won't return.

 

PLEASE, break your cycle. Tomorrow, instead of buying two round-trip bus tickets, take your mom out for breakfast. Then next week, see what you have to do to get your business legal.

rwarren Posted 5 Dec 2014 , 5:39pm
post #10 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by MimiFix 
 

Tomorrow, instead of buying two round-trip bus tickets, take your mom out for breakfast. Then next week, see what you have to do to get your business legal.

 

So what becomes of the table fee we've already paid, and all the Christmas cookies and breads and fudge and everything else already baked and decorated? 

 

I definitely don't want to go back to that flea market; I agree that this flea market is not the best showcase for what we do, what I want to do.  But we can't afford to rent at the kinds of places our target customers expect to shop: commercial establishments charging thousands of dollars per month.  Farmer's markets and festivals are primarily outdoors (we've had problems with condensation, flies, etc. so we are very firm, no outdoor events), only operate for a few days or weeks a year, and again ask for more money in table fees than we would bring in.

 

Going "legal" means: Business registration (cost tba), food permit ($400 first year), health a safety traini ng ($299 per person), renting commercial premises (minimum $4000/month), nutrition grids (about $500 per recipe), health inspectors, language inspectors, and on and on.  That's all before buying ingredients and equipment.  A 79 year old diabetic with failing eyesight and unsteady limbs, who insists on doing things "her way", and a 45 year old with a haphazard income from I.T.  are the people who are expected to make this work.  (more on my shoulders than Mom's)  And no guarantee of making a living.  I would literally make more money sitting at home collecting E.I. than baking full time. 

 

I want this to stay small -- but profitable. I want to have enough orders to satisfy our creative juices, without becoming overwhelmed. We both want repeat orders, and sizable ones that make it worth it. 

 

Hey my whole life has been about expectations exceeding reality -- why should this be any different.....

Snowflakebunny23 Posted 5 Dec 2014 , 5:55pm
post #11 of 15

I think you need to decide what your objective is.  If you really want to sell cakes properly, you HAVE to promote yourself to the RIGHT people and you CANNOT COMPETE with 25c per cupcake.  I'm guessing that's like £0.17?  You cannot make them for that much so if that is your competition, don't bother or go somewhere else.

 

If I were you (and you really want to make this work), I would start over.  I mean completely.  If it is not already (I'm not sure from your comments), get your kitchen vetted and legal.  If someone gets sick and you have no insurance and an unlicensed kitchen, you will have serious problems.  Leave the flea market behind, re-brand and start looking for the right customer.  If you really believe that you will have customers at the flea-market asking after you, leave some cards at the venue but the flea-market buyer is generally not brand conscious or brand loyal, they are price conscious meaning they will buy the cheapest, no matter what.  Get yourself some new business cards with a mobile number and email (website if possible) and a new facebook page to begin with.  It can be done for virtually no cost.  I know how difficult it is to work with your parents (I work with mine full-time for my day job) but in this case, your mum needs to learn that you cannot sell cakes if no one knows you exist!!  This is also going to sound maybe a little cold, but in terms of promoting where you will be, do you think that people will actually drive to a specific place to buy your cakes?  If so, that's fantastic, but if not, then you need to look for other types of promotion.  Cakes/cupcakes in a market-type environment is usually a spontaneous purchase so there is not a lot of consideration as to the vendor.

 

If you enjoy it, don't give up but take a step back and look objectively at your goal.  Good luck! :-)

Rfisher Posted 5 Dec 2014 , 5:59pm
post #12 of 15

AWhy post this in the business section? You are looking for guidance on how to be a more profitable illegal business. Anecdotes mean not based on fact, right? Interesting.....

Snowflakebunny23 Posted 5 Dec 2014 , 6:06pm
post #13 of 15

You just uploaded another post as I was writing...so will now add...

 

In the UK, we are lucky.  Registering with your local health dapartment is free, we have very accomodating cottage food laws, insurance cost me about £40 per year and I did an online food hygiene course for about £20 to get the 'official' piece of paper.  That is me 'legal'.

 

While I know a lot of people do it, selling food without the paperwork is very very risky.  Someone gets sick and sues you, then what happens?  Put yourself in your customers' shoes and ask yourself if you would be happy to buy a food product from somewhere if you knew that they had had no checks whatsoever?  Bearing in mind some kitchens I have seen, i know I wouldn't!!  In honesty, I am surprised you can get a stand at any sort of market without having to show your licences.  If you don't want to go down that route, you could always look at doing cake decoration as a hobby and look at competitions instead?  No food requirements there and you could do it together with your mum.  All the best x

rwarren Posted 5 Dec 2014 , 6:26pm
post #14 of 15

Quote:

Originally Posted by Rfisher 

Anecdotes mean not based on fact, right?

 

The friend of the super-low-prices lady, selling in a different part of the city, was fined $2000 and had her food confiscated.  We don't know her personally, that's why I called it anecdotal.  The super-low-prices lady gave up baking for a few months because of that, but is back selling again.

 

Some of the markets do ask for a license.  There is a "special events" permit of $33 per day per vendor, to accommodate one-off festivals and the like.  This is to the government, apart from any table fees.

smysha Posted 6 Dec 2014 , 11:47am
post #15 of 15

Quote:

Originally Posted by Snowflakebunny23 
 

I think you need to decide what your objective is.  If you really want to sell cakes properly, you HAVE to promote yourself to the RIGHT people and you CANNOT COMPETE with 25c per cupcake.  I'm guessing that's like £0.17?  You cannot make them for that much so if that is your competition, don't bother or go somewhere else.

 

If I were you (and you really want to make this work), I would start over.  I mean completely.  If it is not already (I'm not sure from your comments), get your kitchen vetted and legal.  If someone gets sick and you have no insurance and an unlicensed kitchen, you will have serious problems.  Leave the flea market behind, re-brand and start looking for the right customer.  If you really believe that you will have customers at the flea-market asking after you, leave some cards at the venue but the flea-market buyer is generally not brand conscious or brand loyal, they are price conscious meaning they will buy the cheapest, no matter what.  Get yourself some new business cards with a mobile number and email (website if possible) and a new facebook page to begin with.  It can be done for virtually no cost.  I know how difficult it is to work with your parents (I work with mine full-time for my day job) but in this case, your mum needs to learn that you cannot sell cakes if no one knows you exist!!  This is also going to sound maybe a little cold, but in terms of promoting where you will be, do you think that people will actually drive to a specific place to buy your cakes?  If so, that's fantastic, but if not, then you need to look for other types of promotion.  Cakes/cupcakes in a market-type environment is usually a spontaneous purchase so there is not a lot of consideration as to the vendor.

 

If you enjoy it, don't give up but take a step back and look objectively at your goal.  Good luck! :-)

This is all incredibly sound advice. @rwarren I think you should consider taking a step back, save money and invest in it properly before starting up again. I live in the UK and like Snowflakebunny23 said I'm lucky because it seems to be a lot cheaper here than it is for you. I think it's also worth your time to sit down and think up of a business model. In my area there are adult learning colleges that offer free courses on how to start up a small business. I attended a few classes and found what I learnt there to be invaluable. Is there something like that in your area?

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