For many makers, craft shows and farmer markets just aren't what they used to be.

June 05, 2017

For many makers, craft shows and farmer markets just aren't what they used to be.

Although this article is a year old, it recently popped up in my Facebook feed. Take a look and consider it the next you head to a market or craft show.

I clicked on the article because the sentiment in the headline resonated with me. In fact, it has been something that I've been pondering for quite a while in relation to crafters/makers who rely on markets and shows to generate sales (aka, people like me). In many respects this article confirms my decision as to why you will not find me at local farmers markets this season and why you may not find me in as many shows in the future (but don't worry, I'm not going away).

I haven't been doing the market/show circuit for very long (only 3 years, which is blip in relation to many vendors) however in those three years I have had MANY discussions with other vendors that have helped me formulate a belief that craft show and farmers market sales in general are on the decline.

All in all, people don't shop in the same way they used to - when markets were the only place you could find unique, innovative, hand crafted products. You will hear vendors universally blame a decline in sales on "the recession", but I think it's more than that. It's a cultural shift. Sure, a new generation and higher cost of living has an impact. But it's a new era and I think we all need to be mindful of what this means for crafters/makers like me.

Moss Street Market

Increased competition is having the biggest impact, in my opinion. Just look at the farmers market scene here in Victoria. Twenty-five years ago we had only one major farmers' market. ONE. Today every neighbourhood has it's own market. You can hit a different market every single day. And this can be said for larger cities like Vancouver and Toronto as well. So, what happens when you have more markets? Rather than having a good sized crowd come to 1 or maybe 2 markets, you've now spread out that same crowd across 6 or 8 different markets. Less people per market = fewer sales.

make it vancouver

Similarly, there's a million craft shows now. You can count on one hand how many shows have been established for 25 or 30 years but when November hits you will find at least 2 or 3 fairly good sized shows happen every week and more new shows pop up every single year.

And while this article talks about younger folks not shopping in season or "shopping with their eyes", which I wholeheartedly agree, what I see is that the demographic of Gen Y are a bit more fickle - they come to markets & shows with the intention to buy the newest and latest. So for vendors, it's integral to create something new every single season. Which, while in theory is nice and all, new items are an expensive endeavor for vendors (new packaging, new labels, you have no idea if it will actually sell).

And to follow the fickle "what's new at this show" mentality, it's almost become integral that vendors bounce around to different shows in different towns so we capture that 'new vendor' vibe, which is unfortunately a bit of a catch 22. If vendors bounce around then people will say they couldn't find you because you weren't at the shows they go to. But if you stay at the same show over and over then you might struggle to maintain sales because the masses want new vendors.

And then there's the boon of online shopping and the burgeoning bricks-and-mortar boutique retailer scene. You can't go a few blocks without finding at least one store that carries unique, handcrafted, artisan, canadian-produced goods. Those kinds of retailers didn't exist 10 or 15 years ago. There's almost no need to purchase a ticket to go to a show when you can walk to a local retailer to purchase something uniquely local for Aunt Martha. Or just go on Etsy and search Canadian and you will find anything your heart desires with a simple click of the button.

Etsy canada

This isn't to say that farmers' markets or craft shows are dying. They will always be around and for many vendors, they are still a way of generating some sales. I just think the strategy that these shows are the best way to make sales, as they used to be for many vendors, is outdated.

From an outsiders perspective (I feel like an outside and not an insider, btw), the hype and pressure to sell a markets and shows is a bit intoxicating. You hear from people how "that show was amazing". Or "I heard from so-and-so that they made 60% of their yearly sales by doing these 3 shows". Lots of friends told me that there was/is nothing like Tout de Sweet at any of these shows and I would "rake it in". As a vendor you take this big risk and apply to these shows in the hopes you get in ... (oh and don't get me started on the politics around applying and being accepted into these markets & shows. Let's just say it's NOT EASY like people think it is!)  ...and then if you do get in, it's the gamble that the cost of the show, the travel, the shipping, etc, all pays off with a PROFIT. Sometimes it does; sometimes it doesn't.

This past 6, 12 months, has been the biggest learning curve of my Tout de Sweet career. I jumped into this career change full of piss and vinegar. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely LOVE making candy. I actually love making and selling candy. I love markets. I love craft shows. I love meeting and getting to know other vendors and interacting with customers. I feel like I have the best job in the entire world. But it's not been an easy transition and trying to figure out how to make a LIVING has been an interesting exercise, to say the least.

There are no easy answers for anyone here. I highly recommend that vendors have a variety of sources to generate income. Right now I sell online, at shows, in my retail shop. I also wholesale to boutique stores and I recently brought on a distributor who will hopefully get my product on to gourmet grocery store shelves. I don't think that one avenue will win out over the others but rather it will be the combination of them all that will keep me alive.

But ultimately, I can't be everywhere or else I will burn out and start to hate the thing I love. So something had to give this year and for me that is farmers markets. Instead, I will now go to the markets and see them with new insight. I now extremely mindful and grateful for each and every vendor at every market and show. Because it's really hard work!  SaveSaveSave SaveSave