It's been more than a year since I participated in my first pop-up market. As such, I have now learned so many lessons that I hope you can now benefit from! Read on for my ideal timeline of prepping for your first (or 100th) market.
1-2 months before the market (or ASAP)
I. Start applying for markets nearby OR within a reasonable distance from you/your target demographic.
- It took some experimentation, but I eventually learned which cities/events fit most into my target demographic. For example, most market attendees in Bellflower had never heard of Studio Ghibli, which was the theme of over half of my products. As a result, I got several polite nods and people mumbling disinterestedly as they walked past my booth. On the other hand, there was not a single passerby in Downtown Burbank or Pasadena that was not a huge Studio Ghibli fan, and therefore a huge Seenee Scribbles fan! I even encountered a young couple who was planning their baby's nursery to be Ghibli themed. In conclusion, markets in big cities with plenty of young people who love pop culture are basically the only places I apply for now, and every market has been a success since then.
II. Don't be afraid to get yourself out there – but pay attention to who you are working with!
- At the start of 2022, I was so eager to get back into the game of pop-ups after a long winter season, so I applied to as many markets as I could. Looking back, I'm glad I had that drive to really get myself out there. However, it caused me to overlook several red flags with a few event hosts! One host used her Instagram page to passive aggressively express her personal frustrations with vendors. I even messaged her about it privately, asking her to take down the posts because I found it incredibly insulting to small businesses and unprofessional. Although she took it down without complaining, the event turned out to be a huge failure. She chose to ignore the extreme weather conditions that day, causing several vendors (including me) to have no choice but to pack up and leave before anyone got injured from the flying canopies. We then had to beg for a refund, or at least to use our vendor fees for a later event date. I eventually got my refund, but it was definitely not worth the emotional toll of working with a disorganized, unaccommodating host.
- On the bright side, I've had many good experiences with event hosts. Whenever fellow vendors ask me what the best markets are, I always start by recommending the Jackalope Art Fair. This market was so well-organized and well-marketed way in advance. I think I was able to apply for the Burbank event half a year in advance (most events don't even release applications until 1 month beforehand). Their months of investment and dedication allowed thousands of people to save the date and make travel plans, which in turn helped me yield about 10x my usual net profit. In addition, from start to finish, the hosts were incredible communicators. There was no Instagram group chat with tons of spam or email chains with confusing and conflicting info (cough, cough – please stop using run-on sentences and maybe use spell-check!!!). Instead, the Jackalope hosts sent out 3 emails over the span of those 6 months of applying, being accepted, and the day of the market. I never had to chase them for answers, and if I forgot some detail, I could simply find all the info I needed on the website! (At the same time, vendors – please check all the resources available to you before you spam the host with unnecessary questions. Too many people have asked "So when does the event start again?" just because they're too lazy to check the flyer!)
III. Start planning your setup and purchasing any displays you might not already own.
- I emphasize the word "start" because as the market closes in, you may notice some part of your planned setup doesn't work for you anymore. I'd recommend starting by creating a Pinterest board to gather ideas and inspiration from other vendors!
- Despite the fact that you might be indecisive like me and change your display a million times before the actual market, you do want to commit a bit to certain displays that might take a long time to make or ship. For example, these Vertical Ledge displays are quite an investment and may take longer to ship than any old Amazon product, but will certainly last you a long time. If you're looking for a slightly more affordable option, you can also browse Clear Displays where I got this beautiful wooden display for my prints:
- If you can cut costs on displays with some DIY, go for it! I'm blessed to have a dad who knows woodworking so we've been able to work together on my displays, which has saved us a TON of money! This display cost us less than $50 to build (not including my dad's manual labor of course...)
1 month in advance
I. Estimate your needed inventory.
It’s super tricky to nail down an exact number for this part of the planning process, but I believe you can get a good estimate based on a couple factors:
The event’s reach. I made the mistake of not bringing enough to my first Jackalope Fair. Halfway through Day 1, I had sold out of most items! I’m not complaining – but I do wish I brought more items judging by the fact that the event was heavily marketed, and that 200+ other vendors were also going to be present.
The event’s location. Not even counting the guests who already knew about the market in advance, we received tons of foot traffic! These passersby who just stumbled upon the event because they lived nearby or shopped on that street every weekend basically doubled my audience.
- Of course, you might still run out of stuff and not be able to reproduce it quickly. That’s okay! My suggestion in this case is to keep a few items on hand that are not for sale so that you can still showcase your work and direct people to your website/whatever platform you’d use to take online orders.
II. Begin marketing the event yourself!
- Frankly, I haven't had much success on this front simply because I don't have a ton of followers who actually live near the markets I participate in. (This is not a bad thing – I appreciate you, my out-of-state friends!) However, it doesn't hurt to film a couple reels or boost a couple posts to your audience, even if it's just to let them know about this next exciting step in your journey.
- Ahhh yes. Reels. Where do I begin? For starters, as much as your sanity allows, film everything. I've gotten used to filming time-lapses while I set up my booth, while I package items, or even while I'm just typing away on my computer. There's just something about giving a look into your everyday life that fascinates people. (P.S. I'm working on a blog post about how to market yourself using reels, but thanks to Instagram's ever-changing, impossibly unpredictable rules, I'm putting that one on the back-burner for now.)
- Even if your usual followers on social media have no feasible way of attending the market, I've found that having a schedule of your events published in a few places can't hurt. I've even had a couple friends check my schedule and drop by my markets last-minute when they realized their Saturday plans fell through! I'd say that Instagram Story Highlights, a Facebook post, as well as a blog are the best places to keep a running list of scheduled pop-ups.
1 week in advance
I. Take care of yourself.
- As someone who has pulled too many near-all-nighters for markets, please do not overdo it the week of the event. Finalize your inventory and setup, but do not sacrifice sleeping and eating normally! As exciting as a market can be, standing and waiting for the entirety of the market can leave you very fatigued. I'd suggest investing in a comfy chair, comfy shoes, and maybe even an anti-fatigue mat to prevent sore ankles.
- Let's face it, most people who come to these events did not mark it on their calendar months ago and sit around waiting for the day to come. I'd say 90% of my customers have usually stumbled upon it or decided to come last-minute when their original plans fell through. So use these last few days to really push the event in people's faces as their plans get canceled! :D
1 day in advance
I. Compile a checklist to make sure you bring everything (and leave with everything!).
- I've linked mine here for FREE! Feel free to download and edit it according to your own needs. Here is a photo as well in case the link stops working:
I am sure I have way more to say, but I'll leave it up to you to ask specific questions in the comments. Wishing you the best for all your future markets! :-)