2018 Holiday Markets-The Recap

In case I haven’t expressed this enough, doing a legit market has always been in my business wish list. For the longest time, I was only doing free pop ups in retail stores or tiny markets. Honestly, I’ve always felt that I don’t have enough products to showcase. Every new product I carry have a pretty significant initial investment to produce and not even one sale will be guaranteed, so everything is pretty much a gamble. But I’ve been working on this goal and dream for a while. I’ve spent lots of my profit this year on manufacturing more cards, vow books, and even soft enamel pins! I think I’m ready, at least merchandise wise. So for this year, I finally took the real plunged and applied on multiple holiday markets. And these are some serious markets too; the ones where I had to apply, juried, and actually invest good money to be a vendor!

I ended up being accepted on both Unique Markets, Makers Arcade, and Artisanal LA Holiday Market while only managed to get white-listed for SF Renegade. That means I cranked out more products, spent tons of hours on SketchUp (hello, old friend) to design my perfect booth, hours on Excel to make sure I don’t blow my budget (I like expensive things), more hours revising the design based on real life limitation of my wallet and the trunk size of my car, and finally making my display. I was holding my breath for the longest time between managing my expectation and fear that I’ll lose tons of money! But now that the dust have settled, I can give you all the recap from the sales, what lessons I learned, and if I’ll do this again in the future!

The Numbers

Unique Markets DTLA-Dec 1-2

The Deeds: Unique’s 10th annual DTLA market, indoor, paid entry, 300+ vendors

Application: $30 | Booth Fee: $625

Gross Sales from Square Dec 1: $403 | 20 sales

Gross Sales from Square Dec 2: $584.50 | 27 sales

What’s selling

Artprint 3

Custom Ornament 28

Enamel Pin 15

Framed Agate 3

Single Card 9

Husband/Wife Card 2

Box Card 2

Mug 4

Handmade Vowbooks 1

Foilpress Vowbooks 1

Vintage Stamps 6

FedEx failed me a little (okay, a lot) and wasn’t able to deliver my restocked enamel pins until Monday after Unique’s DTLA Market. That means turning down at least 10 people each day who want to purchase my California Soft Enamel Pin (they’re fully restocked now and also available at M.Lovewell and Redemption). Also, I don’t bring nearly enough agate slices for custom ornaments. I have about 10 extra slices from my stock and did not think it will be such a big hit with people. That means I left lots of money on the table. I also only have about 20ish of the glass baubles. Everyone decided they’d like some on the second day and I ran out by 1 pm. So there’s another 4 hours without none of my best selling products.

Makers Arcade SD-Dec 8

The Deeds: 5th annual San Diego market, indoor, paid entry, 100+ vendors

Application: $15 | Booth Fee: $185 | AirBnB with Fancy Clawfoot Tub: $204.86

Gross Sales from Square: $715 | 37 sales

What’s selling

Artprint 5

Custom Ornament 20

Enamel Pin 17

Framed Agate 1

Single Card 2

Box Card 3

Mug 5

Vintage Stamps 10

I got my restocked of enamel pins and ready to sell with my full lineups. That means selling more pins in one day compared to what I’ve sold in 2 days at Unique. I also got the memos on how popular the custom ornaments are and I stocked accordingly. Buuuuuut, I can only get shiny burgundy and matte gold because all other colors are no longer in stock. I wish I ordered more of whites/shiny gold early on since everyone keep asking for those colors. Still ran out of the 25 agate slices I bring tho.

Artisanal LAxBrooksfield DTLA-Dec 14

The Deeds: Indoor, free event, 30+ vendors

Booth Fee: $350

Gross Sales from Square: $472.50 | 21 sales

What’s selling

Artprint 3

Business Card Holder 1

Custom Ornament 19

Enamel Pin 8

Single Card 2

Box Card 5

Husband/Wife Card 1

Vintage Stamps 2

Unique Market Santa Monica-Dec 15-16

The Deeds: Unique’s first ever Santa Monica’s market, outdoor, paid entry, 160 vendors

Application: $30 | Booth Fee: $625 | Santa Monica Parking: $20

Gross Sales from Square Dec 15: $627 | 31 sales

Gross Sales from Square Dec 16: $497.50 | 26 sales

What’s selling

Artprint 1

Business Card Holder 4

Custom Ornament 58

Enamel Pin 27

Framed Agate 1

Husband/Wife Card 2

Mug 2

Foilpress Vowbooks 1

Linen Vowbooks 1

Vintage Stamps 5

It’s very interesting to see which product resonates more for the corporate peoples on their lunch break (Artisanal LA x Brooksfield) versus the regular market attendee at Santa Monica Pier on the weekend. My ornaments are still the most popular regardless, pins are more popular for casual buyers as oppose to office people, and I’ve sold the most box of cards during my market in Bank of America Lobby! I finally stocked my agate slices and ornaments accordingly for the last three markets (I have plenty baubles from Makers Arcade). In fact, there are some extra baubles, agate slices, and framed agate with Rumi’s quote that’s currently listing in my Etsy shop. I did, however, sell my hand-cut leather business card holder on my last Unique Markets and actually sold 4 of them!!! I made them for my Christmas Vendor Gift and use some extras for my display. But someone asked to purchased them at the Artisanal LA market and I’m not the one who say no when someone offer me their money!

The Sales

Given all the personalized calligraphy ornaments I managed to sell, the “calligraphy” part of my business name definitely explain what I do best! Sometimes I have a little identity crisis because I happen to do illustration and watercolor in addition to my calligraphy, but those are clearly the supporting roles that only help my calligraphy shines. Plus, they’re an amazing showstopper! I got to do life calligraphy and I can even let people know about my upcoming workshop (In case you guys are curious, next beginner calligraphy class is January 29)!

Now, product wise, my pins are killing it! I’ve received numerous complements on the packaging and how different they look. So guess who’ll be adding more pins for 2019 once I have a little extra cash to invest on new designs?

My mugs are fun to bring people in but they are not as easy to move and took a lot of storage space. I think I need to figure out how to do those hand-engraving so I can personalized them on the spot to boost more sales. Honestly, I’m competing with hand-turned ceramic mug or similar style at even cheaper price in these markets. So unless I can make them very special and wow people with personalized calligraphy, I don’t think I can sell much.

As for stationery, my paper goods are not the cheapest in these markets. It’s kinda the problem when you like expensive paper but don’t exactly have a significant wholesale orders to justify the bulk order. I mean, I sold a whooping of 10 boxes of my cards in the season where everyone actually buying a bunch! I sold more art prints (especially the Rose, Peony, Dahlia, and Magnolia prints) and those are much cheaper to make and way faster to pack than my boxes of cards. That being said, there’s still consistent sales for my wedding cards even in holiday markets and those are packed individually. But on boxes of cards that I do sell, my watercolor cards (Christmas wreath, thank you cards, and warmest wishes are the favorites) are everyone’s favorite!

Honestly, it’s a bit embarrassing to be a stationery company where my paper goods actually performing the least impressive on these markets. But hey, at least my company name is “Seniman Calligraphy”, not “Seniman Paperie”! I know I don’t have the bargain prices that get people excited for bulk purchases, but I do noticed people are still willing to open their wallet when they have someone very special in mind to receive my cards. So instead of some generic Christmas cards that you can get much cheaper elsewhere, I’m planning to slowly adding more of this keepsake cards in my shop. Currently, I’m thinking encouragement cards, more greeting cards worthy to writing you love letter down, anniversary card and proposal cards. Oh, and more watercolor painting for art prints. I got plenty new flowers to paint thanks to those who stop by! Hopefully, I’ll be able to secure even more wholesale accounts to afford the bulk printings and make my generic card prices more attractive.

The Verdicts

Overall, I make my booth investment back with a little profit. I handed out tons of business cards, have more than 160 new customers in just a month (That’s more than the total Etsy orders in my hottest month and I achieve that sales number in just 6 days), met with lots of cool vendors who gave me amazing tips/insights, and got a few cards from buyers interested to make a wholesale purchase. I learned a lot on what people are interested in, new product ideas from what people were asking about, and what future product I should invest more. I got real good at merchandising my goods. I have all the confidence I need from the numerous compliments on my work, color scheme, packaging, branding, and set up.

Now for the not so fun deeds. These markets took a toll on you, both physically and emotionally! Both Alex and I are not morning persons, but all the markets require 7-8 am set up. All but Unique LA required disassembly each day. In the end of the day, we usually ended up ordering in food and sleep in early. And of course, they’re not cheap! From booth/table fee, transportation/travel expenses, display, merchandise, and time spent; everything adds up.

“So, is it worth it?” Yes, especially if you’re selling retail products and quite new in your business (but not so new that you don’t have anything to show yet). “Will you do more in the future?” Yes, but only the big markets with paid entry, have respectable line up of vendors, and only if I can sell something with life calligraphy. “Should I do this?” Yes*. The asterisk is there because not all markets/organizers are created equals, not everyone who passed by is your target market, and most importantly, not everyone can afford the investments. You’ll need to do your research about the markets and who shop there, lots of homework about how to merchandise your goods, and take a deep look on your numbers accordingly. And most importantly, make sure you have products that make your investments worthwhile. That means you’ll need to have something that people want, willing to pay the money for, and at the right price (to covert visitors to buyers, each item you display need to have at least 2 the qualities)!

Let me know about your market experience and if you guys have any ideas on which market I should try next or what new products I should invest on! Or comment on what else you guys would like to know about vending in these juried markets!