Markets are the perfect outing for families. It gives all of us a chance to go breathe some fresh, unpolluted air, see what interesting Pinterest crafts are hot at the moment and socialize with the rest of the stroller sisters who have hidden indoors with their energetic toddlers all week. Here’s what I would like to tell all the market organisers if I had the chance to sit in on their brainstorming meetings and help them avoid the silly flaws some of them commit and create a lovely experience in the future.
1. Advertise the cost of entry
Although the South African public is seriously being over-tolled at the moment with charges for driving on a national highway, parking your car anywhere other than your own garage, using a public bathroom and any hint of good (or bad!) service in a restaurant, it is understandable that the organisers of a market should also make some financial gains. I would, however, choose your fare very carefully as visitors still need to have cash available to spend at the stalls. Once the price of entry is decided upon, add it to your advertising. This means on posters, Facebook event page and radio announcements. There is nothing more annoying than inviting all your friends to join you for a day out at a market and then bashfully greeting them at the gate with, “oh, you need to pay to socialize with me today”.
2. Have an efficient ticketing and payment system in place
If you decide to follow the route of selling tickets for the stalls at one central point, please place a capable person at that desk. Have the tickets stacked or colour-coded or alphabetised (key word: efficient) so that it is within easy reach. I highly recommend pay points at the entrance as well as the stalls as we are seeing less and less people carrying cash around any more.
3. Cater enough seating
If you have a track record, you can plan according to the numbers you expect to show up for your market. Otherwise you need to over-plan. People want to sit to eat or if they have to watch live entertainment so make sure there are enough chairs available. We aren’t too fussy about what we sit on as moms can manage with a hay bale, wooden bench, log, patio furniture or cow-milking stool.
4. Allow for enough manoeuvring space
Set up the flow of the stalls in a way that there is enough space for a mom to manoeuvre her stroller without bulldozing the feet of the oncoming traffic. This is valid for wheelchair users too and will also make your market seem bigger. If visitors feel overcrowded in a small space, they are less likely to spend the time to show interest at a stall and very likely to want to get out to where there is a more relaxed atmosphere. A REALLY great idea is to offer stroller parking for moms who want to browse without all the equipment.
5. Offer tasters and samples to the browsers
I am not someone easily fooled by gimmicks and marketing pitches but I have bought many bars of rose fudge and bowls of daring lychee and feta salad only because I had tasted a sample at the stall. Don’t count the small loss of sharing your bounty but rather see it as a small fee to pay for advertising.
6. Sell what sells: try something unique and customisable
I can distinctly recall some of the outstanding purchases I have made at markets. The first is a hand-painted tile collage that can be mounted together on a wall to complete the full picture. Each design was unique and the artist had a flair for spotting indigenous flora and fauna for her work. I still remember the orange honeysuckles to this day. I once bought Mr. Infant a story book about dinosaurs where he was the main character and his sidekicks carried the names of his real friends. The stall owner had a printer and binder and templates of stories to choose from and had our book ready within minutes. Lastly, I have three words for you: pancakes, cinnamon, sugar. Lots of them. So start battering and flipping early morning! Sell what sells.
7. Do not skimp on your facilities
Markets should not be like an episode of Survivor where visitors are required to make do with as little as possible. Guests need an adequate amount of clean bathrooms (don’t neglect the diaper change area), available garbage cans, security to protect all the hands exchanging money, a well-marked central point with an information desk and a first aid kit. Shaded areas, especially in South Africa, are a necessity if you want to extend your visitors’ stay at your market.
8. Make it fun and memorable
Girls just want to have fun. And boys and dads and moms and grandparents and toddlers… the list goes on! Features that are a hit can include live music, dog shows, mascots, balloons, competitions, celebrity appearances, tastings, face painting, photo booth, go-karts and jumping castles.