How much do you need to make at a market.

Success is not absolute. What some people deem a successful event others consider a complete and utter failure. It all depends upon what you want out of an event. I know many woodworkers who enjoy the experience of working an art show. We spend an inordinate amount of time in our shop alone with our thoughts. The social interaction with new clientele and the family atmosphere developed with other vendors has an intrinsic appeal to many. Even if they don't make a single sale it was an enjoyable way for them to spend the day. So success is determined by the experience.

That is a perfectly acceptable attitude.

There are others that utilize markets to 'dump' product to support their hobbies. (Yes I use that 'dump' term derogatorily.) You've enjoyed the experience of making new and exciting stuff. Learned new techniques and expanded your skill set. The reward is creation and thus sales goal is to be able to continue making. I'm willing to bet more than half of all casual vendors at events, which includes an inordinately large percentage of woodworkers, fall into this category. If you every hear someone say "It supports my hobby." they are likely in this category.

I have to admit this category of artist very often makes some incredible products and I'm completely jealous of their skills and talent. They might take an entire weekend perfecting a bowls carvings or weeks applying dozens of coats of finish to a box. Maybe a project takes days of work spread out of months of time. And it is the experience of creation they enjoy and the product is almost secondary to the pride of accomplishment at level of execution.

The main goal of many of this type vendor is to just be able to continue and grow in the craft. So if they are able to make enough money to cover the costs of production or buy a new tool to make even better stuff they are happy. And that is success in their mind and perfectly appropriate for their goals.

Unfortunately these groups are your competition and if you are trying to earn a living off of your effort you start out at a disadvantage. Accept it, deal with it, learn, and work to overcome it. I forget where I heard the saying but it's quite common and rings true. Striking out on your own to make and sell provides you the freedom to work three times as hard, twice as long, for a fraction of the income.

Despite that, if you can make it work it's a nice way to exist.

So having said that lets discuss what a person trying to earn an income needs sell in order to say an event was a success.

I've worked hard lately and made major changes in order to reduce my costs of living and operating my business. So I'll use my personal numbers to illustrate a point. You adjust to your circumstance.

There are large costs in setting up a booth at an art market. Commonly these include tents, tables, displays and all the labor needed to organize, design, and build such items. I'm making the assumption with my numbers that you've already got these items, deducted and monetized them, and thus they don't count as a cost in my numbers. But if you are just starting out understand this might be hundreds or thousands of dollars. Same with vehicles, tools and material to make that first inventory. What I'm going to discuss is ongoing costs.

Here are my assumptions used to determine my break even sales:

  • retail price is double material cost
  • you wont sell more than 10% of inventory on hand in any one event if you plan properly
  • total rent/mortgage/insurance/utilities/maintenance cost/repairs of your living + work + storage establishment(s) is $1000
  • you have a set vehicle expense (payment, insurance, maintenance, fuel, etc...) of approximately $800/mo.
  • your work week is a 5 day 40 hrs, (add about 10 hrs per event worked (with a goal of working 2 day events on the weekends) on top of that.
  • booth fees plus buying food and water at the event averages about $70 per day set up
  • your goal is to earn only $1000/mo above and beyond basic living/work expenses.
  • you work the event alone and pay yourself minimum wage to work it.
  • you want 2 weeks off a year

So lets add up what you need to sell in dollars to meet these fairly meek goals.

  • $250 a weekend to make your income goal of $1000/mo.
  • $250 a weekend to cover facilities
  • $200 a weekend to cover vehicle expense
  • $90 a weekend day for min wage hourly pay per person working (10hrs x $9) (1 person)
  • $70 per event for fee and sustinance

So far we are at $860 in sales to work a weekend event. Now if you work two events that means you need $475 in sales per day (remember you add another $90 in labor)

Here's the heart breaker. If you are using a pricing model of selling your work at double it's cost to produce then you now need to sell $950 each day of a weekend to make your life goals.

In all seriousness, what I've layed out here could easily describe a retiree needing to earn a sustenance living. A situation I see very frequently on the circuit.

Now take away all income expectations (like those who are just 'supporting their hobbies') for someone who just wants to work a Saturday market once a month what must they sell in order to meet that goal.

Well paying for your hobby still requires overhead expenses such as a place to work, materials and such. Supporting your hobby for me means it doesn't cost you anything other than time. So I'll use the same numbers as above minus any income. I'll also say they only work 1 event per month because that seems pretty common for this type of seller.

You would need to sell at least $1040 per time you set up. Anything below that and your hobby is costing you money.

Now does anyone want to look at the numbers for an individual who just enjoys the atmosphere of a market?

You will quite often hear me talk of a $500 an event break even point. This is because I don't use the 'double costs' pricing structure because many times I collect free material. So when I work a market until I hit $500 I am paying the difference for the privilege of being there. $500 is the equivalent of a goose egg.

After reading all this what are your thoughts about trying the art/farmers market scene yourself. Do you see how the measure of success you set for yourself can affect both your enjoyment of the event and success of others?

In the next article I'll talk about picking markets I see will give the best chance for success.