Diving headfirst into the world of pop-up markets as a small business owner was as exhilarating as it was daunting. Vendors scrambling to move in and out, the chaotic mess of products and services, and the energy of all the prospective buyers — it was a sensory experience that would test my resolve, creativity, and introversion.
I remember the feeling in my gut as I realized my very prime booth location was also directly across a DJ speaker table-- not the most friendly to my sensory needs. In the moment, I felt the world closing in, my heart sank, and I felt sick to my stomach. I didn't know if I could survive the day, after all the weeks of sleepless nights and endless crying.
In many ways, this pop-up challenged me in ways that I didn't even know were possible. As someone who has always spent their live striving to do more, achieve more (and do so perfectly), I am no stranger to pushing myself. But there were many lessons that I feel were necessary to learn, and that no amount of anxiety or prep would have been able to teach me aside from direct experience.
In retrospect, one of the most crucial yet overlooked aspects of the entire endeavor was thorough research. As a proud artisan, my focus was often myopically centered around my own products. I neglected to ask critical questions about the event itself: Who was the market for? Was it a seasonal event or an established affair? How much support would the organizers provide for vendors? I didn't do enough comparing in terms of what organizations could offer ME as a vendor: the bread and butter of these events.
I think as someone new to an industry, it's very easy to show up undervaluing yourself. Now I know not to make that mistake again: the vendors are the lifeline of all marketplaces, and do not have any reason to feel less-than, unnecessary, or a burden. As someone with ASD, it's hard to change tracks once I'm on them, but this experience reminded me that shifting perspectives and asking the right questions is key in this line of work.
Pop-up markets are not just an exercise in selling goods; they're an exercise in managing overhead costs. I quickly discovered the challenge of competing against more established vendors, all while juggling the expenses associated with showcasing my products. I've learned to account for unexpected costs and set a more realistic budget for future markets. When you expand, you also increase your risk. I think there is a nugget of information/wisdom about control here... because things were all sorts of chaotic and with multiple product ranges on the line, things had to pull through somehow.
Did I overextend myself financially to force things to work? Yes.
Did it end up panning out? Yes and no.
Unexpected expenses and mistakes are part and parcel of every new endeavor. Leaving room for unforeseen fees and contingencies became an essential lesson in financial planning. I also learned not to rely heavily on suppliers to get everything right the first time. There were countless hiccups, from print materials to delivery and even ink malfunctions. Preparation, patience, and flexibility became my guiding principles. When you think you can finish a project in 2 weeks, double it. If you're relying on someone else to help you get there, double that again.
This is the kind of information I would not have known had I not stepped out of my comfort zone.
The need to pivot and adapt on the fly was perhaps the most valuable lesson I learned. Although this proved particularly challenging for me, it was also an opportunity to explore new avenues. I was delighted to find that my new offerings - teas and candles - were an instant hit (the free samples helped). This success not only boosted my confidence but also reaffirmed my decision to diversify my product range. It felt like there was room for me to express all avenues of my passions in my product range, and that is an exhilarating, life-affirming, mojo-boosting feeling.
Community and personality proved to be the heart and soul of the pop-up market experience. As an introvert, engaging with customers, sharing the stories behind my products, and evoking their interest required stepping out of my comfort zone. Yet, it was precisely this interpersonal connection that brought my products to life. I also remembered a time when I worked in education, customer service, and retail. For so long I've been cooped up at home, working independently and listening to endless podcasts. It was almost euphoric to be out speaking to people again, as clumsy and uncomfortable I was.
Networking with other businesses was perhaps the most challenging. As a newbie, I grappled with imposter syndrome and intimidation. Every other person at that event seemingly had multiple years of market experience, and all of their booths were impeccably designed. Custom furniture, custom banners, matching colors, every single product riser and organizer one could think of... the list went on. To preserve my sanity, I decided to keep my head down and not compare myself by looking at other people's booths too closely. In the end, I regretted not conversing more with my fellow vendors. I've realized that overcoming this fear and forming connections within the business community is integral for growth and support.
Despite the challenges and stumbling blocks, my first pop-up market experience was, ultimately, a victory. As someone who struggles with change and executive function, every step forward was a testament to my resilience and determination. The experience was a reminder that every win, no matter how small, is still a win. It was a thrilling, illuminating journey that has left me better equipped, more resilient, and excited for the next chapter in my entrepreneurial journey.
I hope my story and the lessons I've learned inspire other small business owners and entrepreneurs as they embark on their own adventures. Remember, each hurdle is a stepping stone to growth, and every win, big or small, is a triumph worth celebrating.
Remember! You can do hard things!