On selling stuff at markets - when the weather conspires against you.

Coming up to Christmas, should be a good time to sell www.muddyground.com t-shirts as gift purchases think I. So I've booked up a few events in eager anticipation. Bought in a load of new stock, and added to my display. Big sales here I come! Bet you can't guess what happened in reality now can you Dear Reader? You can? Buggeration!

So, yesterday, Saturday in Dorking. Big sales? Nope. UK in flood following massive downpours. Stock got wet, spent the evening drying it out. Oddly happy and content doing so. So content I made cheese scones for us all. Lovely things on a winters evening. Go on, make some now!

Last night couldn't sleep as wind howling in big gusts. Got up early as had an event in Horsham to go to. Dry day initially but big, big gusts of wind up to 55mph. Set up my stall, used a whole roll of Duck tape to hold everything down. Really; a whole roll. Kind of stood there, cold, for a few hours holding everything down, and then the sun came out. Big sales here we go!


Sun was followed pretty much instantly by a big black cloud that rolled in ominously. The rain started slowly but built up constantly over the next five hours to a deluge. I stood in the middle of Horsham in the pouring rain all day, sold nowt. This time I put the stock away fairly early on so only my display items got a little damp - they didn't get rained on but absorbed a bit of moisture from the air. They dried out pretty quickly in the car but the drive home was a hoot. Standing water, biblical rain and the odd flooded out road made for a slow and hazardous drive home. Took me an hour to do the last fifteen miles as everything slowed to a crawl. Had a moment on the M23 as my car aquaplaned in the lorry ruts. No big drama; I've yet to be in any car that doesn't have trouble on that road.

In two days I lost out to the tune of £50 on stall fees and almost 15 hours of just standing around getting soggy. I'd have been better off not bothering to attend; OK the stall fees would still have gone out, but I'd not have had to use up two gallons of fuel, £20 on entertaining myself [magazine purchases] plus I'd have gotten 15 hours back to go for a ride or play with the kids. Well, that's the theory. In reality it was raining just as hard at home so I'd have done sod all anyway.

This selling game is not easy at all. Indeed it's down right impossible for the majority of traders. I wasn't the only one who had a bad day, so it wasn't product orientated. Don't think for one second that in just having an idea, buying or making some stock, and then opening a stall you're going to be in the money. Certainly you could if you sold 10p sweets to children at school fairs - boy do those people rake it in. But if you're after something more sustainable, and to a degree ethical, then it's a touch harder. Not impossible, but far from easy.

So having sold nothing am I miserable about the whole affair? Sales wise yes, of course; ultimately I'm there to sell stuff and in not doing so makes the whole event rather pointless and makes it difficult buying or investing in new designs. There's a Catch 22 situation for you - you need to sell stuff to move on, but as stock gets older you sell less of it, so income diminishes at exactly the same rate as you actually need it to increase by. Note this is all relative; income is never very high to begin with so don't get carried away. I met a t-shirt seller during the summer and had a chat. He'd got the notion that his designs would sell well so dumped well over £20k on buying in a designer, getting them printed and setting up a professional web page. Confidence is one thing, but maths another. He was punting his t-shirts at £20 with free delivery. Now delivery can cost around £3 if you include packaging materials, so straight away his t-shirts are £17 in reality. In the UK £4 of that would be VAT to the government, so his t-shirts were £13 then. But some of his designs were ten colour screen prints. That's expensive even bulk buying. I worked out that the absolute minimum cost of actually producing a shirt was £15. Perhaps he sourced a Taiwanese supplier so got it for less, I don't know, but whatever he did he paid top dollar. Worse though being the fact that even with good publicity he was selling nothing. Essentially the bottom line was here was a keen, professional outfit that must have screwed up big time very, very quickly. I suspect that all of his working capital was chewed up within three months, although he does seem to still be limping along on the web. How are you going to move on from that? I wish him luck but can't help feeling that he spaffed it all too soon.

Oh and the web. Makes me laugh. The people I've met who say that as soon as they are on the web and have their own site, they'll give up the markets and retire to somewhere hot is beyond belief. I must meet one or two a day who honestly think that having a web site is second best to directly printing money off. And these are sensible, intelligent people with proper degrees and jobs. They seem to think that any web site produces income that'd make Google envious. Perhaps they know something I don't? Am I on the wrong web place??

Are the poor days character building as some stall holders are wont to suggest? Is it cock. The only character it builds is a negative one. Twelve hours wasted standing in Horsham on a rainy day does not for a positive frame of mind make. Yet somehow at the same time the effort of bringing the stuff out, setting up and then chatting to people is a positive experience. You get a very real idea of what people like - T2 VW campervans - and what they don't; Zombies. And for me this is the interesting bit. People say they like the VW t-shirts so am I about to go out and produce loads of them? Am I heck. They stand there and harp on about how they like the T2 t-shirts yet I've not sold one of those in over a year. The Zombie one I've sold a few of. What people say they like and what they buy can be miles apart. Don't get sucked in people. Do what you like, not what others think you should be doing. The logic here is infallible; you're the one doing the selling, not them.

OK, I'm boring myself here. I'm off to draw out a triathlon design as some good guy in Dorking gave me a cracking idea. Not what he said to do, but the opposite. I couldn't do a triathlon myself - too many motorcycling accidents put paid to that - but I know quite a few people doing them, so why not a t-shirt? Oh and I've also ordered myself some Certain Death (?) sauce from www.norfolkheatwave.com as it's mad stuff. Their Jalapeno sauce is brilliant with cheese, and not so hot as to be inedible. The Death stuff you can't consume without crying or going into spasm. But I'm from the Midlands, home of the true curry. I do silly hot. Well I mean I don't. I cry and dry heave just like the rest of you. Once had some stuffed chillies from Lake Placid - some down at heel restaurant - that were so hot I couldn't taste anything for three days. Why I keep going back and doing same is beyond me. Bit like doing the crummy markets then ;¬)

You see what I did there? Crummy markets. Like it's their fault that I didn't sell anything, not me or the product. I'm nothing if not optimistic.

And really two days standing around in the rain getting slightly damp isn't that much of an hardship. I got back home, looked at the news and realised that the UK has been hit very hard with severe weather and quite a few homes have been flooded out. I got home and my stuff was dry withing half an hour, and I was having a much needed beer. It wasn't really proper wet now was it? Some people out there will be stuck until spring at least by the looks of things - one woman was been flooded out eight times in the past two months. That's just horrible. My next sale, in the cold, will be much better.... Honest!