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Selling at Markets

Copyright of Lisa Wood-Bradley

I sold my soaps and personal products at markets, via the internet, Ebay and mail order for over three years. I had a great time doing it and learnt a lot along the way. The following is just some things that I found worked for me. They may work for you and, hopefully, if nothing else, may give you some ideas to start off with.

It is very difficult to know whether or not you will have a market for your wares. THE BEST THING you can do is to go to the local markets in your area and see what is being sold and to people watch and see what seems to be attracting them most.

Some markets are notorious for being great for trash and treasure and pretty awful for handmade items. Whereas some seem to combine the two successfully. And then of course there are the markets which are handmade only. Now if you can get into one of the latter than you are likely to do better than you would at the other two. Because people go to these with the idea of purchasing HANDMADE products and KNOWING that they will pay more for them.

With the trash and treasure markets people go there to get the cheapest bargains out and chances are there will be someone selling el cheapo soap at a buck a bar and you cannot compete with them on price. You will no doubt get people saying "Why should I pay $3 or $4 for one when I can get 5 for that price?" (truly I was asked this question!). So given you can't compete on price, you have to make sure that you have a good spiel, good display, good product and compete on quality vs quantity. Some people will understand and appreciate but you will get the others who prefer quantity. So be it!

Now farmers markets or markets which have a lot of fresh produce and stuff being sold at them *can* be good for handmade items too as there are a lot of people who go there looking for organic or farm fresh produce who will think ooooh, looky! when they see handmade soaps.

But as I say the thing to do is to visit a market you think you may want to sell at and people watch. Pick a stall holder or two and ask them questions about the market. They are often really happy to help.

So if you decide to go ahead with markets ... the important things to remember are:

  1. SMILE SMILE SMILE. If you sit there looking grumpy then it can turn people off.

  2. Stand up or stop what you are doing when someone walks into your stall. If you sit and continue knitting and don't acknowledge the person they often walk off without bothering. By standing up and smiling but not pushing forward to much you are saying I value you enough to stop what I am doing - and that's a biggie.

  3. You will need to find a fine line between "selling" your stuff and chatting with your customers too. Some people if you say "hello" to them will scurry away (yep!!!) ... others will love to have a natter about the weather but if you introduce a sales pitch they'll scurry away. Some people will love to hear you sell your products.

So how can you overcome this problem???


Lots of little and large product signs which sell your product for you. I found when I introduced those that my sales increased considerably. Then it was a case of my smiling at potential customers, if they looked approachable I'd say hi, having a fun day or whatever. If they picked up products and seemed to still be approached I'd offer a little information (only a little start off with) and then I'd pause to see what their response would be. If they seemed to want to hear more than I would continue, if they put it down, I'd stop and hoped that I hadn't pushed them away!!!

But signs really do make a difference. Make them easy to read, make them funny or quirky, as little stories really do draw people in. Often people would read them out aloud and then you'd see one or two other people perk up their heads and head on in when they may have otherwise walked past.

The next BIG thing is your display.

This is such a HUGE thing ... get it wrong and it will cost you sales. Get it right and you won't believe the success you can achieve.

The first thing to remember is that you will need to evolve your display so initially don't spend a fortune on a display, do something that mimics it and is cheaper, because you may find that you aren't displaying your stuff to advantage.

First things first.

  1. LAYERS ... you definitely need to have layers, two or even three different heights. This is so that the people who just stroll past in the middle of the aisle waiting to see if something looks interesting at a stall can see at a glance what you have to offer from a distance. When everything is laid down flat it is so much harder to do that.

    The cheapest and easiest way to do it is to just put boxes underneath a tablecloth. Put your expensive or most interesting items on the top layer - you want to suck those customers in.

  2. Have enough stock out but not too much and not too little.

    This is a bit hard! But you'll find the right mix. You don't want to overcrowd your stall ... handmade needs a classy look and overcrowded tends to look cheap. But too little looks like you don't have enough to sell and people may avoid you for that reason!! Not enough to look at can be a sales killer.

    I had about 30 products lines from lotions, potions to bath bags, mitts and soaps etc. Because I had so many different things in different sorts of containers and stuff ... I used to put between three to six items out of each product and when I sold one I would replace it from the crates underneath the table. My table always looked fresh this way.

  3. Invest in a decent table covering. If you have nice tableclothes that match use those, or make your own ... but make it match and make it look nice. Tacky tableclothes can be a turn off. If you don't care enough about your product to display it nicely may imply to people that you don't care enough to make the product well either.

  4. Invest in new bags to put products in, either paper or plastic or a combo of both ... for the same reason as above. Surprisingly bags are quite cheap if you go to packaging places, about 1 to 3 cents each and they are worth it.

  5. Keep your table clean and your products dusted ... especially if you are outside during the day.

  6. Decorate your table ... I used to use vintage plates or jugs to display stuff in and I also would put out some fake flowers. I also paint and my paintings for sale were part of the display and would often bring people in too who might not buy a painting but they'd end up buying something else

Tacky packaging can kill sales big time :(

So even though cello bags can look nice to display soap to start off with ... after a while of packing and unpacking they get really tatty looking and that turns people off.

I initially starting wrapping my soap with cello and a cigar band but my back just couldn't take it anymore so I made a drastic decision to sell my soap nekid. Now believe it or not my sales went through the roof! But my display and where I was selling all combined to work in well together. I had a three tiered hardwood display stand and sold in the grounds of an historic museum ... so that worked well. Only problem being that trying to dust soap can be a pain!

I also worked hard at the labels I made to have them informative (people want to know what is in stuff and of course you legally need to do that but so many don't!) put decorative too.

Take the time to work on labels and design them well.

Initially I went with a bright red paper and it stood out really well against the cobalt blue of my bottles and the white of my jars etc. Also I had a red tent and red checkered tablecloths.

Later on after my back decided it didn't want to have me sitting over paper and cutting them to size, I went to sticky labels but of course had to go white. I was lucky that I had access to a colour laser printer and so I redesigned the labels to incorporate some colour and it worked well.

If your labels get tatty ... change them ... tatty labels make it again look like an unloved product and may make people think ... hmmm how much care did she take making these!!!

Freebies or samples!

This is a really awkward one. I have spoken to a lot of other soapmakers about this and most of them found that samples didn't get them many sales. However, a little freebie product (say when they spent a certain amount) did generate return sales. This was certainly true for me. I started off having samples but found that most people grabbed at the sample and didn't even buy anything at all. But the freebie product turned out to be quite a good investment.

The hardest part of all - Pricing!

Importantly when you price things ... don't start out too low trying to encourage people in and thinking later on I can increase the price. You'll find that you will lose more sales than not in that instance. It is better to start off higher and decrease it later if you find you need to do that.

It is hard because you want sales but you don't want to undersell yourself either.

Handmade soap typically sells between $3 and $8 a bar depending on your area.

I live in a typical blue collar area and so I priced my soap at $3 a bar. I also offered 4 for $10 as well and often sold the $10 rather than the individual bars because people do like a bargain. But whilst that all sounds like I was almost giving away my soap, my turnover was considerably higher than when I had the soap at a higher price. So I was actually doing better with the lower price in terms of returns. But of course, as I say, I sold in a blue collar area and that did determine how much I could sell my soap for. In city or more upmarket areas obviously you can get a higher price.

You need to factor in ALL your business expenses when pricing and that includes insurance, labels, stalls costs, petrol to get there, everything ... so you need to remember that when pricing.

And don't forget brochures and business cards are good too!!

Websites are good as well ... I did get a lot of tourist customers who would revisit me on line and buy ... but that doesn't need to be a priority and it also doesn't have to be expensive ... but that's another email and subject altogether, LOLOLOLOL.

A professional approach on the day and in how you make, market and sell your products is the only way to do it. If things look rushed and shoddy you won't get sales or repeat sales. So many of us have seen handmade soapers at markets who look like they just made their soap out of play dough :-(

It would take me near to two and a half hours to set up each market day and an hour to take down the display (so factor that into your day too!) ... but I often got comments on my display and it did make a difference in sales as I found out as my display evolved.

Always look and listen to your customers too ... watch what they seem impressed about and what they don't and take cues from them in that respect as well. If all the customers pick up a bottle and grimace ... look at it closely and see why!! Maybe the price is too high, so lower it down.

On the other hand with pricing ... do you have a good product that is cheaply priced but won't sell??? I know I said differently above ... but occasionally an instance like this will happen. It happened to me with satin eye pillows. I had them down at a low price and they were lovely to look at, made well, but I couldn't sell one of them. So one weekend I doubled the price and believe it or not, I sold out!

And before you sell ... definitely do the product testing route. You want to make sure that your products last the distance as well ... so don't just try it out on a few friends when it is freshly made. Wait about three months or so and see if the product has held up during that time. There is nothing worse than finding a product has developed DOS or mould or separated because of heat or something. :(((( Not a good look!!

So product testing takes time.

Take copious notes too of the products you make so you can replicate it time and again without fail ... don't you hate it when you make something that turns out divine and then can't quite remember that special touch that made it that way!!

So what else?

Not much except to advise you to go to a lot of markets between now and when you potentialy sell and people watch big time! Its not a guarantee that that market will work for you but its a good test to see if it is worth trying. Plus you may find you need to do two or three markets at a place before your sales start increasing ... sometimes people are funny like that and won't buy from you the first time they see you!!

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