If you’re a young business who has recently started selling online, then it’s worthwhile to try selling at local markets to test your products. Selling in-person helps you achieve two things: 1) build awareness of your brand 2) see how customers react to your products in real-time. You can see how customers approach your brand and see how they make choices between other sellers. This is valuable information in helping you understand what appeals to customers.
Selling at local markets can be expensive and overwhelming. So it’s important to consider which markets to apply to and think carefully about who your customers are.
There are so many types of local markets you could sell at, and there isn’t a central list of them all somewhere. Many of the smaller ones are only on Facebook or Instagram. It can feel like shooting in the dark. When you sell at a market, you are making an investment. There is no guarantee on you getting returns, so do your research and maximize your chances of profit.
You have to start with customers when looking at markets to sell, they become your compass. When you understand your customers, you will know where to look.
As a new seller, you don't know for sure who your customers are yet. But, you can guess and work from there. What do they value? Where are they likely to be located? Think a little bit about the kind of customers you want to sell to. Break it down into two broad categories:
Tip: Some markets share reports and numbers on the type of shoppers they attract. I also particularly like how Toronto Art Crawl gets attendees to get their free ticket on Eventbrite to track numbers. The more metrics provided, the easier it will be to help you decide if the market is worth applying to.
If you think about how markets work, they rely on the collective of sellers to give shoppers variety and choice. Shoppers want to browse around and maybe discover something new they will like. On the seller's side, you rely on other sellers to pull in shoppers and hope that by chance, they will also check out your booth, and vice versa. So, take a moment and look at the type of sellers who tend to get accepted to these markets. If the market has been around for a few years, you can go to their Instagram and see past vendors. See if there is any overlap with the products you sell.
Tip: When you look at other sellers, check out who is commenting. Look for people show an interest in buying, and do some research on the customer. Do they look like the customer you want to sell to?
Every market comes with vendor fees. If the fees are high, then it might be due to administrative fees and marketing they run to promote it. Fees are high especially if the market has been around long enough to establish a brand for themselves. If vendor fees are low, then markets are relying more on sellers to bring in traffic. So there are pros and cons to high fees and low fees. I would consider $30-$100 per day to be on the lower end, and $300+ per day for higher end shows.
When you do your research of these markets, look at how much work they do promoting the event. Are they just posting on social media a few days before the event? Or are they spending months in advance to build interest and awareness?
One thing I want to add is that most vendor fees have taxes applied to them. In Toronto, it's called HST (Harmonized Sales Tax), which is 13%. So if the vendor fee is $100, expect to pay $113.
The type of words you use to search these events matter. If you are looking them up on Google, mix the words up. Try the following and you will see the varying results:
Mix these up or try new terms.
Check out Facebook groups local to your area for vendor calls. The Ontario Craft Shows - Vendor Calls Facebook group is worth looking into. Although it's a private group, it's open for anyone to join.
Another place to look into is Instagram. I tried finding markets through hashtags, but haven't had much luck since you can't filter posts by location. An alternative is to find other sellers similar to you on Instagram and see what markets they attended. You can find similar sellers by searching for them on Google.
Tip: It's a good idea to subscribe to email lists of these markets so you know when applications open again. Add a calendar reminder so you don't forget to submit the application!
For the purposes of this blog post, I'll consider three key categories of stationery:
Toronto Stationery Show Spring 2022
Hosted by Q&A Letterbox, the Toronto Stationery Show (TSS) have been running events for stationery enthusiasts in Toronto since 2019. In 2020, they converted the shows to virtual, and remain virtual into 2022. TSS typically runs in spring and fall.
So far, these are the shows they ran in the past:
|Date||Location||# of Vendors|
|2022 Spring||May 1-14||Virtual||TBA|
|2021 Fall||Oct 31-Nov 13||Virtual||65|
|2021 Spring||Apr 4-17||Virtual||56|
|2020 Fall||Oct 18-Nov 7||Virtual||40|
|2019 Summer||Aug 25||In-person||40|
For the 2022 Spring show, here are some details on vendor application:
They don't have a mailing list, so the best way to get updates from them is to follow them on social media such as Instagram . Keep an eye for updates around early spring and fall as that's when they usually run events.
Evergreen Brick Works Sunday Artisan Markets
Evergreen Brick Works is a cultural centre with a focus on sustainability and environment. The outdoor space surrounding the Brick Works is a generous mix of of trails, ponds, and waterways.
I heard about Evergreen Brick Works' Sunday Artisan Markets from a seller at the Toronto Artisan Market. She sold sustainable food wraps, so this market was in her court. If you sell stationery with a sustainability mission, then this market is a good fit for you.
In 2022, Evergreen Brick Works will run Sunday Artisan & Vintage Market weekly from May 15 to Nov 6. Their applications were announced at the end of March, and will close in April 6, approximately one month before the market. They have a detailed Vendor Handbook that has all the details vendors would need.
Booth pricing per market day for artisan vendors in 2022:
You can choose the number of days you want to sell.
Toronto Artisan Market
The Toronto Artisan Market runs markets from spring to fall. This is a good market to fill the gaps between the major ones that run in the spring and winter. Some markets run weekly in the fall. This market is a good fit if you're just starting out, the fees are very reasonable.
In 2022, they have three locations planned:
Pricing for 10' x 10' booths in 2022 (vendors need to bring their own tents):
Applications opened mid-February, and are reviewed on a rolling basis.
Toronto Art Crawl is great for intermediate sellers who already have some experience selling. The market has built a strong reputation over the years that attracts large number of shoppers. This market could be for you if you mainly sell greeting cards, notebooks, planners, and sketchbooks.
Toronto Art Crawl was founded in 2013 by Nadia Lloyd, a local artist and designer. I went to the winter event in 2021 and the market had fantastic vibes. Admission is free and they have a DJ and food trucks. In the past, she has run two major markets in the year, spring and winter. See past events by Toronto Art Crawl .
For 2022, they have 5 events lined up and listed the expected number of shoppers to attend:
In the applications for most markets in 2022, this is what booth pricing looks like:
At the time of posting this post, vendor applications for all markets except Pampered Pooches is open. all Sign up to their mailing list and follow them on Instagram to get updates on when vendor applications open.
If your niche is in geek culture, then it's worthwhile to consider selling at conventions and comic arts festivals. Stickers and wall art are especially popular at these shows.
Toronto Comic Arts Festival
Toronto Comic Arts Festival , also known as TCAF has been running strong for 20 years to date. The festival features several hundred of exhibitors, and boasts over 20,000 attendees yearly since 2014. The venue is hosted at the Toronto Reference Library, the biggest and most visited library branch in the city. It's also located at a prime location, right on Yonge and Bloor.
The fees looked reasonable, it cost $175 CAD for half a table in 2015. Unfortunately, I couldn't find recent fees since I missed the deadline application info this year. But, I suspect the fees would be in the similar range. If you're thinking of exhibiting at TCAF, this blog post from a previous exhibitor might be useful. Their applications for 2022 opened January 4 and closed on February 11.
Sign up to TCAF's mailing list to get updates on when exhibitor applications open (newsletter sign-up is at the bottom of the site).
Anime North is an anime convention located in Toronto that runs for three days every summer. The annual event attracts over 30,000 attendees. Fees for 8' x 10' booths range from $550-$650 + tax. This info was taken from the 2022 vendor application page . In 2022, Anime North will run from July 15-17.
Follow Anime North's Instagram for updates.
Fan Expo Canada
Fan Expo Canada is a four-day convention located at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre for comics, sci-fi, horror, anime, and gaming. The event usually runs in August and attracts over 130,000 attendees. Fees range from $580-$1285 + tax in 2022 (Fan Expo Artist Alley Application) .
There are markets throughout the year targeted to specific occasions outside of the winter holidays. If you sell greeting cards that feature various occasions, then it's a good idea to search for markets this way.
An example of such occasion is Mother's Day. For example, the Mom Market Collective has several branches throughout Canada. This spring, the Toronto West branch hosted a large Mother's Day market in Dufferin mall. They have another one coming up for Easter at the Lawrence Allen mall. Here is a brief comparison of these two events for vendors:
|Spring Market||Easter Market|
|Dates||Mar 26-27 2022||Apr 9-10 2022|
|Location||Dufferin Mall indoors. In front of Children's Place.||Lawrence Allen Centre indoors. Shopping corridor.|
|# of Vendors||25+||15+|
|Are tables provided?||No||No|
|Fees||Saturday & Sunday: $350+tax Sunday only: $175+tax||Saturday & Sunday: $250+tax Saturday only: $160+tax Sunday only: $100+tax|
I find it interesting that these markets specify only one seller per vendor category.
List of occasions to consider:
One of a Kind 2017, Rising Stars seller
The biggest craft markets are during the winter holiday and Christmas markets. Without any doubt, one of the biggest winter holiday markets in Toronto is the One of a Kind Show (also known as OOAK). I mention this show last because it's one of the most expensive ones.
In total, there are two shows during the year, one in spring and the other in winter. OOAK is very competitive and expensive .
The prices for Spring 2022 (not including tax) start from $1,845 for a 5' x 10' booth, and goes up to $4,752 for a 10' x 20' booth. This is the price for the full spring show (5 days), which comes down to $369-$950 per day. In addition to their standard booths, they offer three additional options for vendors: Marketplace, Rising Stars, and Booth Share. The information below is taken directly from their Spring 2022 Booth Sizes + Pricing sheet :
Winter shows are longer than spring and so cost more. If you're interested in selling during the winter show, this was their pricing for winter 2021:
|OOAK Spring 2022||OOAK Winter 2022|
|5 days: Mar 30-Apr 3||11 days: Nov 24-Dec 4|
Personally, I think selling notebooks, planners, and art prints will get you the most return on investment. If you sell smaller items like greeting cards and stickers, then the Rising Stars booths may suit your needs.
If you want to get updates on when winter 2022 applications open, sign up to their mailing list .
When you're doing your own research, beware of scammers. It's normal practice for markets to accept deposit payments to secure your spot. Scammers have caught onto this and take advantage of new sellers. Many scammers pose as the organizer of existing small events and trick vendors into paying them the deposit. There is a Facebook group called Vendor Event Scammers you could join so you stay informed.
One of the members in the group shared this list of helpful tips to protect yourself against scammers (written by Lillian N.):
Always call the fairgrounds/church/venue center and ask for the name and contact info of the person on record. Call that person. If they don't know the scammer, then you know it's a scammer.
Take a look at the person's profile. Look at the likes. Do you see a person from one country featured that has a ton of likes from halfway across the world, almost exclusively? That's a scammer. Look at the likes on their photographs.
If you have identified that this person is a scammer and have heard from people victimized, please consider doing a post search on the scammer's name. Warn victims by instant messenger privately. If you make a public post, they can block you.
If you are a moderator on a vendor event page, please screen all posts. Block scammers who respond to posts. On moderation, please take the step to verify with steps above that the person is legit. If not, ban and block the person from the group.
Block identified scammers from your Facebook, so you don't run into their profiles in the future.
It can be intimidating to put your products in front of real customers, but it's a sure way to gain honest feedback as you see how they interact with your products. One thing I want to caution you is to not treat local markets as your main sales platform. What I mean by that is you become too dependent on them for sales. There is nothing wrong with selling at these markets, but you should be putting in effort to convert the customers into repeat buyers. You do this by asking them to follow you on Instagram, or better yet sign up to your newsletter. You could even offer a coupon for their next purchase. Provide smart incentives for customers to want to stick with you.
Are there any on this list I missed but should have included? Have you sold at any of the markets mentioned? Let me know in the comments below!
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