Being locked down with the Covid 19 crisis has made us realise that although going to markets and selling our product is the main goal of our or anyone’s business, it is now obvious to us that the main enjoyment of this work is the personal contact that we get while working.
It was with great relief I went out 2 Saturday’s ago to Nerac my weekly morning market. While the market itself has finally restarted, it has been under certain restrictions naturally. The event itself has been displaced to a nearby car park rather than running through the town as before. While this allows better circulation of the public, it creates a certain amount of anxiety for the stall holders as we are all used to our space, our parking spot and so on. Now we have done this new version for 2 weeks, things have settled down and I and my fellow stall holders are so very happy to be back doing our work, even if we all have had to compromise on how much space we are allotted.
We have also had the very good luck that the newly created Marché des Créateurs in Toulouse, which ran for only 3 weeks before Covid locked the world down, has now restarted. Both Howard and I decided we had to go together to the 1st one back for the sheer joy of being out and doing some work.
A major part of our well-being is bound up in seeing others, chatting and being outside for our work. We are carefully set up with Gel for the clients to use before they touch anything, wet-wipes for the card payment machine and the card, plus masks for ourselves. I am not sure Howard has got the hang of working while wearing a mask, how to drink his hot chocolate was a major concern!!
Being an exposant/stall holder on a foire or market starts one of a few ways; word of mouth is the most usual. We are minding our own business on another market and someone approaches us and says “can I take your card?” I usually say yes, what for? and they say they are organising a market for artisans and would like our product to be there. Discussion then takes place as to when and where and type, plus how many they have had before.
Other methods are;
That I spot an advert for a market online (Facebook groups for artisans are great for this) or someone I know mentions online that they are off to so and so and I think that sounds ok.
Occasionally I get an offer by email for a market, or the Chambre des Métiers contact us because someone trying to organise an event contacts them for a list of possible candidates. Sometimes we exchange addresses for good markets between other artisans, some artisans are nicer at doing this than others, but that’s true of life really I have found.
Once we picked up a great market because we were driving out somewhere and went past a big poster advertising a foire in the lower part of our department in 3 weeks’ time, when we got home I did a bit of online searching - found a phone number for the organiser and called to ask if they still had a space. Luckily they did and we have been doing that one every year for 5 years now.
The general rule is that you fill in a dossier saying what you do, stating your registration number and provide proof of your business insurance. You nearly always have to provide photos, links to where they can view your work: websites, FB pages, Instagram accounts etc. The smaller and more casual markets are happy to have you describe your art/work over the phone and take a web link verbally. We are lucky in that for the statue part of our life there are very few other people in the world who make what we make let alone locally so get accepted fairly easily. Even if we do sometimes have to dress in daft costumes to do it.
When it comes to my sewing there has been a boom in recent years of small sewers making baby accessories. This does make my life difficult as I can be refused with the comment “we have enough textiles.” I always sigh at this, I know the majority of those textiles are hats, bibs and bags with sometimes some soft furnishings. I make clothes; Dresses, baby-grows, dungarees, aprons etc. etc. Occasionally I get in by asking “How many clothes do you have within those textile stalls?” However it can be frustrating trying to make sure your product gets accepted for certain foires.
So the dossier is filled in, the papers are sent off and we are in receipt of a favourable response, hooray.
The next step is how much space do we have? Some markets are limiting and expensive. Some are how much do you want it’s X for the pitch (heaven). Parc des Expos type foires and bigger festivals tend to sell their pitch by the square metre, all very well but 10m² can be 5m x2m or 4m x 2.5m I had a Christmas fair that regularly changed the shape of the stall on me from year to year despite it being the same square meterage. The usual method is per linear metre however or by tranches of 3 metres.
Next is the moment to decide what we are taking, this may sound odd, you should know what you sell right? However we run a 2 part business; our own Reconstituted Marble Statues and Claire’s Children’s clothes. Sometimes it’s one of the products, sometimes the other and sometimes both. One stall we do in September we actually book 2 stalls one each and are side by side for the 2 days.
Once that is sorted we can work out what to take. For bigger stalls we have been known to go so far as to do a mock-up of the floor plan, drawing a rectangle on the floor or laying out a space using bits of wood or straight edge metal rules. This may sound excessive but it pays off when you are driving 2 hours to get somewhere and don’t want to pack what isn’t needed or conversely leave behind what is needed. There’s also a list of extras that can’t be forgotten, payment system, float, bags, posters, flyers, food if it’s an all-day affair. For most of the time the stall lives in our car but there are always things to add or remove, depending on indoor, outdoor, weather, day, night …...
I love arriving and finding out where we will be on the one off foires, new towns and new places always have a slightly worrying thrill, how will it pan out? where are they going to put us?
Once only, I have walked away from a proposed place. It was a small artisan market down in the Pyrenees, on arrival we were told our pitch was in a large tent and shown a space where we were squashed into a corner so that 3 of our 4 metre stall wasn’t even accessible to the public being blocked by the stall that was at right angles to it. I asked for an alternative but was told it that or nothing, I pointed out the faults but got a shrug, so I shrugged too and walked away. I would rather lose the pitch fee that try to work in bad conditions, stroppy some might say but I would have finished the day so cross and so frustrated it was a better choice to walk away.
Here are a couple of pictures of a funny Market in Plaisaince du Gers. I signed up to knowing I could only have 3 metres of space but got a shock when I arrived to be presented with a ready made run of tents so I had no side space either. It's called making the most of what you have and utilising height and depth when you have no other choice.
I adore arriving at familiar markets too. I enjoy the thought that I know where to go when I get there. It’s great to see friendly neighbours and to catch up with what we have been doing since last time we were on the same foire together. It’s always great to see what else is on the market. It’s the nicest thing in the world to call munging around markets your work, or at least it is to me.
So I am all set up ready to work, I’ve had a look about at the rest of the market and now I get to chat to the public what could be nicer? Markets and Crafter's fairs, I love them and if you are reading this I guess you do too.
So why not make a date to see us out and about when you are next in France. If you follow us on Facebook you can see where we will be. I usually post in the week leading up to each foire.