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How 5 small businesses grow at local markets

Five small business owners share why a local market presence is crucial to their business’s success. 

 

At a glance

Here’s a snapshot of the advice from our interviewees:

  • Organising a stall at the local market can help boost sales and drive small business growth.
  • “Selling at the markets is such a great way to interact with customers,” says stallholder Clare Robinson.
  • “The consistency of being at the markets helps you develop relationships with your customers and shows potential stockists that you’re not a fly-by-night operator,” says Kalpana Laitflang.
  • There are challenges involved – such as the time commitment – but it’s typically worth it in the end.

Markets come to life every weekend across New Zealand and never more so than over the busy end-of-year holiday season. 

Their popularity is largely due to the unique shopping experience they offer, whether customers are after fresh food or unique gifts. 

As Te Atatu Toasteds Clare Robinson says, “Have you ever noticed how people shopping in the markets always look so much happier than in a supermarket? Everyone is strolling and stopping for a chat and it’s just much more relaxed.”  

Five small business owners share why a market presence is crucial to their business’s success. 

What’s your favourite market to take part in? 

Clare Robinson: “The Parnell Farmers Market is great for us as it’s not too far away and we have lots of regular customers. We’ve got to know each other so well – I know who’s doing a kitchen reno and who’s away on holidays. It’s a wonderful way to connect.” 

Corrin Miller, Smooch: “The Nelson Market is so well run and has a focus on really high-quality products, plus there’s a great combination of tourists and locals.” 

Augustine Mathews, Earth and Sea Jewellery: “The Nelson Market has built its reputation as the premiere artisan markets over 35 years. It’s beautifully curated with no junk.” 

John Kalb, Ceramics in Harmony: “I’m at the Queenstown Markets every Saturday throughout the year – it’s the most profitable for me overall. I also go to the Wanaka Market every Sunday through summer and I run the Wanaka Artisan Market on Thursday afternoons.” 

Kalpana Laitflang, Mixed Roots: “I do the Nelson Market most weeks but also like the bigger seasonal markets that take place at this time of year. Marlborough and Geraldine are both terrific too. Once the weather starts warming up, our local farmer’s market in Motueka is a great community to be part of.” 

What’s the best thing about having a market presence? 

Clare: “Selling at the markets is such a great way to interact with customers. I can see what people are asking for, I can offer samples and they can give feedback – it’s a very direct way to get an understanding of your customers, what they’re after, and what they’re prepared to pay. It’s definitely helped me hone my offering.” 

Corrin: “Markets give me a great opportunity to trial everything. When I was changing my labelling, I put out examples and people could tick which one they liked best. And now I’m developing some candle scents on which I’ll get feedback from at the markets before I put them online.” 

Augustine: “It’s the most supportive community and there’s a wonderful sense of camaraderie. On a tough day, when the winds are blowing and your gazebo is lifting, you know you’re all in it together!” 

John: “Market customers tend to be very honest about what they like and don’t like. It’s great to have my work sold through other stockists but the market is where I get the most valuable feedback. And it gives people a hands-on experience they can’t get online.” 

Kalpana: “The consistency of being at the markets helps you develop relationships with your customers and shows potential stockists that you’re not a fly-by-night operator.” 

How does being at the markets help you open up new revenue streams and boost your business? 

Clare: “Connecting with people at the markets helps me build my database and social media following, which definitely has an impact on my website sales.” 

Corrin: “For me, a direct presence is essential to making sales. I really noticed that when the markets started back up again after COVID, I immediately started getting more web sales from the areas around the markets I attended.” 

Augustine: “Even if people are just browsing at the market, it gives me a chance to engage with them and invite them to come and explore Māpua and visit my shop while they’re there.” 

 

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What do you do to stand out at the markets? 

Clare: “Luckily there aren’t too many people selling muesli so I already stand out. But having an attractive stand and beautiful pictures of your product definitely helps.” 

Corrin: “Good signage is essential and I used to offer a free sugar scrub – I might go back to doing that again!” 

Kalpana: “We have a strongly branded presence which reflects our ethos but I don’t want things to look too commercial. Our product has real heart so we want it to be both artisanal and accessible. I also like to offer the customers some written details about my products that they can read in their own time to help them make up their mind.” 

 

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What are the challenges associated with selling at a market? 

Augustine: “I can’t be at my shop and at the markets at the same time. And to stock my market stall I have to strip my shop for the day. My goal ultimately is to have the shop staffed on the days I’m at the markets. Then it’s a matter of deciding whether the other big seasonal markets are worth the cost of travel and accommodation – it’s always helpful to ask other business owners about their experiences.” 

Kalpana: “You have to figure out whether the costs are worth it – there’s the market fee, fuel, and just the sheer amount of time involved. Market days are very long and exhausting, and on weekends they take you away from your family. But at this time of year, there’s no doubt they can be very profitable.” 

John: “It’s a big time commitment – I’m often doing three markets in one weekend and I’ll travel hundreds of kilometres to go to other markets. The costs can be considerable but it’s definitely worth it.” 

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