On Sunday I was standing at a market stall at Spitalfield’s market, watching customers walking past. I was freezing, feeling bored, angry and tried. Life on the markets isn’t easy.
Gerry was doing an art market at Spitalfield’s and I was manning the Plane Clothing t-shirt stall. I’ve done a few markets in the past, but they’ve all been friendly, easy indoor markets. They’ve also been around Christmas time when people spend, spend and spend. Doing a market in April, when half of London is away on Easter Holiday and the other half is watching the London marathon is a different thing altogether. I did learn a few things.
1. Market traders like moaning
If you spend any time at all on the London markets you will meet a varied bunch of other traders. Some have done it for years, some have just started, some are doing the markets because they don’t have any other choice of employment, some are passionate about the product they’ve just started selling.
The one thing all these traders will have in common is the moaning. I did it too. It’s almost impossible to avoid if you’re having a slow day. Moaning and complaining is the market trader equivalent of a doctor joking about his patients, it’s a way to let off steam after a stressful day. You need to complain a bit after the third person walks by and turns their nose up at your stall. Or after someone ignores you when you speak to them.
However it’s easy to get stuck in a negative headspace. This will show through when you start talking to customers. They can smell it, they see it in your tired, dulled eyes. Moan a little bit and then remind yourself of the job you’re there to do.
2. There are plenty of customers out there – some will like your product, some won’t
The market is an unforgiving teacher. If your product isn’t working it won’t sell. But even if you have a good product, not everyone will like it. You will meet some people who adore what you do and some people who don’t understand it at all. What you need to understand is that it’s not personal. Everyone is different. No matter how great your product is it won’t work for everyone.
This gets even more complicated if you do several days at a market where people LOVE what you do and spend money with you one day and no one even wants to look at your product the next day. Again it’s nothing personal, it’s probably just totally random and depends on the customers that happen to come through that day. Try to remind yourself of this. Don’t take the good or the bad days too seriously. Just keep working.
This same advice works for writers and most creatives. Some people just won’t like your style or your subject. Keep working away, put your stuff out there. Learn from the constructive feedback you get and believe in your product.
3. Remember the basics, food and staying warm
It’s easy to forget about eating when you’re watching the stall the whole day. Market trading is tiring work. Eating will make you less grumpy. Staying caffeinated and warm is also important. Make friends with the traders around you and ask one of them to watch your stall when you get a take away from somewhere. Be friendly. Offer to bring people tea or coffee. Wear good shoes.
4. Don’t scare the customers – but talk to them
This is something I learned quite early on. Stand outside the stall, that makes the whole thing less intimidating for people who want to have a closer look at your product. Let them browse at their own pace, but always say hi and make eye-contact if you can. Tell them about the product, but only if they’re in the stall and looking at your lovely wares. Sometimes people need to be told what they’re looking at.
5. Market traders are doing a fucking tough job so make sure you treat them with respect
Market traders run small businesses, many of them make or source their own products. They work their asses off the days they’re not trading and when they’re doing market days they drag all their stuff to a stall, set it up in the morning, stand around selling the whole day and then pack everything down at night. It’s a tough job. Most people who do it voluntarily like it on some level (even though they moan), otherwise they wouldn’t be doing it because it’s fucking hard.
Most of these people are professionals. They and their products should be treated with respect. A market stall is their shop. Don’t put your pram in the stall and have a long phone conversation, you’re taking up space and valuable time. No one will browse through the product when you’re standing there. Don’t flick through the products like it was total cheap garbage, this isn’t Primark. Don’t be rude if you’re spoken to, the traders are just doing their job.
Most customers are great, but some clearly left their manners at home.
6. Market trading can be great – but don’t let that fool you
There is a certain freedom to the job, You’re your own boss, you choose your own hours. On good days you can walk home with your pockets stuffed full of cash. Every time a customer walks away with a bag you get a little kick. Sometimes you’re so buzzed and happy it’s a bit difficult to sleep. But market trading is also insecure, your product can work one day and be totally overlooked the next. You’re depending on the whims of the market so stay flexible, work on other avenues, have a website and put your stuff up online. Make sure you have a mailing list, connect with your customers on Facebeook or Twitter. It’s easy to get addicted to those good market days, but for most traders that won’t be enough to sustain a business.
7. Have fun
Even when the weather is shitty, when you’re cold, when no one buys anything, try to have fun. There are always interesting people to hang out with. Make friends. Chat about life and listen to all the interesting life stories around you. If you’re spending any time at a market you’ll be surrounded by the most fascinating, creative and brave people you’ve ever met in your life.