how not to sell at markets

December 21, 2010 |  Category:   favorite posts holidays life the biz

I have to be honest with you. I don’t *really* enjoy being behind the table at Fleas and Markets. Because of the way things have gone for us, however, I’ve been at the Flea a lot more than originally planned – 5 of the first 6 days – so that Mark can be at the kitchen to bake. It’s been stressful trying to juggle schedules because of my own client work, so on the slower weekdays I’ve been bringing my computer in and working while manning the table. I’m getting used to the selling thing by now, but I’m a terrible sales person, I think. This is related to that whole “I feel pushy promoting cookies” sort of thing that I wrote a few posts back. I feel uncomfortable accepting money from friends who come visit and buy from us. I tend to give discounts and round down if people are buying multiple items because I feel “bad” that they’re spending so much money (I know I know, but if you bought from us while I’m at the table, lucky you; you probably got a break). Here was one particularly ridiculous transaction yesterday: a woman who I am acquainted with online, but who I have never met before bought a whole bunch of cookies. She’s bought from us in the past and is familiar with our brand so she isn’t a stranger. Her total came out to $49. She handed me $60. I handed her $20 back (Sorry Mark, I know you would never do that, which is why you’re better at this than I am). She shoved $5 back into my hand. Ridiculous!

Since I hardly ever sell at the Flea, it’s been interesting to see all the different types of customers pass throughout the day, and although selling isn’t really something I’m super comfortable doing, it’s been sort of fun (sometimes). There are a few awkward moments, however, when you can tell a customer thinks the prices are too expensive. Sometimes they’ll put the package down and leave right away, but other times they’ll linger around. I like to imagine that without saying any words, there’s this whole silent dialogue that goes on between us and it goes something like this.

Customer: “How much for these package of cookies?”
Me: “Those are $8.”


Customer (thinking to themselves): $8? For one package of cookies? That is really expensive.
Me (thinking to myself): They’re handmade. By us. With love. And hard work. And this week, with blood, sweat and tears.

Customer (thinking): I can get 2 packages of cookies for the price of 1 at the grocery store.
Me (thinking to myself): Hmm…would I spend $8 on a package of cookies? Maybe not. Maybe I should take a buck off. No no, stay firm. They’re competitively priced with other small food brands. We don’t make a huge profit from a package of cookies especially since our prices haven’t changed in 3 years. We’re not the Keebler elves you know. Ok, stay firm.

Customer (fidgets with package. Puts it down. Picks it back up, thinks to herself): Well, this could be a unique New York gift. I don’t want to show up at the in-laws with a package of cookies from Pepperidge Farms.

Me (thinking): Have you even read that NY times article about Brooklyn, the brand?? Brooklyn is hot! And it even says Brooklyn on the label. Sure it’s in really small type, but you won’t find those cookies in your bodega in Houston.

Customer (out loud): “How much are they again?”
Me: “$8. Um, but I’ll give you 2 for $15.”

I’m actually sitting here typing this at the Flea now, my last stint for the season. The weekend was crazy hectic, but the weekdays have been much more quiet. The food vendors have been stuck in the back room of the main ground floor. See that lovely, golden, majestic room in that photo? Yeah, that’s not us. We’re in a concrete, drafty room with bad overhead lighting that we’ve nicknamed “The Meat Locker” the first day because it was so ungodly cold in there due to the door being open from vendors loading in. Do you want to know how cold it was? It was so cold, the battery on my laptop wouldn’t charge. It froze my battery, people, it froze it! Later in the week, the room became known as the “Fallout Shelter”. No windows, no light, no wifi, spotty cell service. Day 6 and all the vendors are starting to look like tired zombies.

9 days of markets is really long for us. We weren’t sure how we were going to pull it off when we signed on and now we know that stocking and restocking the market everyday is challenging, while juggling wholesale orders and getting packages out the door. It’s been a long string of late nights and running back and forth around Brooklyn, from kitchen to Flea, from store to store. 3 days left. Mark is taking the last 2 shifts. Compared to everything that’s been going on the last 3 weeks, it’ll be a breeze sitting down for 8 hours the last 2 days. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel. This holiday season, my friends, is almost over.

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  • linda December 21, 2010 at 2:10 am

    im eating your treats as i’m typing this. ha. you are so cute. i know exactly what you mean when it comes to being a bit of a push over with prices, especially when in my head i just want them to have it. oh well…maybe it’s one of those things where because you OWN the business, you feel you have the power to adjust it however you want, and so you kinda do, and that’s okay. i know i’ve done it.

  • wendy December 21, 2010 at 3:08 am

    i totally admire you guys for working so hard. and it’s been neat reading about the craziness of the last couple of weeks. i hope you guys get some much-desreved rest after all this!

  • sos December 21, 2010 at 4:05 am

    Your in-head conversations are funny. I totally do that all the time to fill up the awkward moments. Post of the day!:)

  • Cristina December 21, 2010 at 4:12 am

    when I read this post I totally understand that feeling I work with felt and fabric and at the markets I’m very bad not pushy but strong to try to make understand to buyers that my works are unique handmade and I’m not getting rich from that
    But I noted in these days it’s hard to find people who want to spend the right price etic price for everything unless it’s what they make themselves
    sad but true
    good luck

  • Helle (Helen) December 21, 2010 at 4:51 am

    $8 for a whole packet of cookies sounds reasonable to me, just read the other day that in Copenhagen, Denmark somebody is selling macaroons for $7 for one – 1 – macaroon. But I’d probably be like you, I’m very bad at selling –

  • Katie @ Grow. Cook. Sew. December 21, 2010 at 4:52 am

    If I was in NY (not Sydney) I would pay $8 for your cookies..

  • Emma December 21, 2010 at 6:18 am

    I always buy the nice food at markets. Home made cookies, cakes and nice pasta/sauces and what not. So it costs a bit more – it tastes lovely, has good ingredients, tastes like home made and I’m supporting local small businesses! Most people are willing to pay more for that. (I do understand though, as I grew up selling stuff at markets with my mum and when friends would come over we’d practically give stuff away – typical women!)

    Good luck with it all πŸ™‚

  • Christy December 21, 2010 at 8:12 am

    Lol!! The meat locker and the fallout shelter are awesome ways to describe those conditions!!

    Thanks for this post, Jenna. It lets me know that I’m not the only one who’s uncomfortable with charging friends and acquaintances full price for the treats I sell! I tend to volunteer to give away free stuff to ppl I know who comes visit and buy from us at the farmers market, up to the point that some of them actually said ‘No, we want to pay you!!’

    Also, on a bad day, I can have doubts about the prices that I charge—i have to constantly remind myself that I’m not making huge profits from this, that my prices are determined by the fact that everything is hand-made in small batches, and the local, and where possible organic, ingredients that go into the baked goods.

    So again, thank you for sharing. Here’s to counting down until the madness is over.

  • Alli December 21, 2010 at 8:58 am

    If it makes you feel any better, I get really uncomfortable when sellers at these type of markets are super pushy and chatty – a friendly greeting is more than enough! I was at the market in Union Square looking at some candles and the girl bounded (as much as one can in those small booths) up to me and went into this 5 minute sell-talk and the whole time I’m trying to edge away….I felt terrible, but it killed the sale for me. Stay strong!

  • arounna December 21, 2010 at 10:57 am

    very funny
    I would pay $8 for your cookies
    I know how you feel – but in the end they are handmade and I feel good about supporting a small business.

    good luck with the rest of the market days

  • janet December 21, 2010 at 12:09 pm

    jenna, this is funny. since opening our shop, i’m feeling the same way. super uncomfortable and awkward sometimes. i like your silent dialogue.

  • Lynn December 21, 2010 at 12:29 pm

    I think it’s perfectly reasonable to pay $8 for handmade gourmet cookies. It’s not like you’ve slapped together a recipe from the back of the chocolate chips bag and are trying to upsell it.

    You guys work so hard! You deserve every penny!

  • benson December 21, 2010 at 1:37 pm

    on the floor. I am EXACTLY the same way.
    “I know you! You’ll get the friends and family discount!” My husband can’t understand. He has no problem telling someone their house will be a million dollar house that he’ll build for them and “pay me now” but I waffle and stumble on a $20 t-shirt. Maybe that’s why he does so well at the business end (thank goodness we depend on his income and not mine) and I’m the amazing creative one πŸ™‚

  • Sophie December 21, 2010 at 2:06 pm

    haha don’t worry about it.
    I’m from scandinavia and your cookies ARE really cheap compared to out market. lol, you guys should come and sell here, you would earn a fortune haha.

  • Em December 21, 2010 at 4:17 pm

    This made me laugh. I so get the whole selling thing. I’m exactly the same, especially with friends and family.
    Your biscuits look beautiful though, so don’t question your prices!
    Best of luck for the rest of this busy time.

  • Amy December 21, 2010 at 6:51 pm

    Ha, I actually dragged my sister out this past weekend during my visit to NYC just so I could buy one of your tea towels and then when I got to your booth was suddenly too shy to do anything but smile and buy the towel from Mark. I felt like such a dork lol. Love the towel though, and the maple marshmallows I also bought were fab!

    And that room you were in was totally bizarre. The whole place was gorgeous, then you walked through a door and were basically in a bomb shelter haha.

  • rosa December 21, 2010 at 7:28 pm

    My hubby and I were coached by Israelis (we worked in malls selling all kind of products) and I assure you that discount was out of the question unless it means an opportunity to make a real deal, ha ha!
    Your cookies-boxes are so nice and tempting! Luv them!

  • Danita Luna December 21, 2010 at 9:09 pm

    I wish you the most amazing time relaxing when all of this is over with. I really wish I could try your goodies! IΒ΄m going to make your brown sugar ginger men recipe cookies for family christmas presents, but I got a girl cookie cutter, so itΒ΄ll be ginger girls. πŸ™‚

  • Alicia December 21, 2010 at 9:24 pm

    *is the girl she’s talking about with the $49/$45 transaction*
    Jenna! I can’t stop eating the stuff I bought for my family! Haha. I ate a brownie and almost all of the earl grey sandwich cookies already, and I haven’t gone to the store to get wrapping paper yet, so who knows how much of this will survive! lol.

    Anyway… first of all, I wish there were some way to communicate to people how worth it your products are. The person behind the table is always going to seem bias, but I wish someone could jump out and be like, ‘shut up, thos $8 are worth every cent! buy them for everyone you know!’ W&S flavors taste like nothing I’ve ever had before. I had to stop buying stuff because of how addicted I was! I love supporting you guys. I wish other people would see how wonderful supporting small and local business is. πŸ™‚

  • holly December 22, 2010 at 6:31 am

    I understand how you feel about the price of cookies.
    I love give yours of a box of cookes for the present to my client.
    They all love way it lookk and the quality and tasteness
    Be proud of what you doing even it killing you and Mark at times/
    We all pay price to achieve way you want to be.
    One more day, hang on. thenyou all rest with feeling of
    accompished another holiday madness with award.


  • rebecca December 22, 2010 at 9:11 am

    so did she buy them?

  • c December 22, 2010 at 10:51 am

    You seem to have a guilt trip about selling. Don’t be. You don’t have to be pushy about selling, this customer in your post seems to testing your waters. Some customers can be abit rude in trying to get a bargain/discount. i would have just said to her “You don’t have to buy them if they’re too expensive? “.

    Do you give out cookies samples? that ought to give customers a bit of how “fresh” it tastes.

    Your cookies are made from dedication, lots of love and sweetness. They transcend Mediocrity!

  • bronwyn December 22, 2010 at 11:29 am

    I can see how that can feel awkward. The internal dialogue is hilarious! I also like the fallout shelter reference. That’s what my husband named his screenprinting shop because his first space was just like that – and it was below ground level. πŸ™‚

  • Meg December 22, 2010 at 1:19 pm

    Like Amy, I visited your flea stall after reading your writing here, and then was too shy to say anything!! That was the reason for MY awkward silence. “Should I say how much I love her blog? No no, that’s weird. Quick, buy the cookies and run!”

    They are delicious, thank you. I hope you make it through the holidays in one piece! Almost there…

  • Jenna December 22, 2010 at 4:48 pm

    rebecca – that dialogue was just a made up scenario, not a specific customer. But yes. sometimes they are sold!
    oh hi, mom.
    Alicia, thanks for all your nice words!

  • A December 22, 2010 at 7:41 pm

    I may or may not pay $8 for cookies, depending on the moment, how many other things I have purchased, my budget etc. But you shouldn’t feel bad if you feel they are priced appropriately for your business’s needs. It’s a “treat” item and I am not going to starve if I don’t get some $8 cookies. πŸ™‚

  • lara December 23, 2010 at 11:59 am

    i sell at handmade shows as well so i totally understand the whole “worrying about what people think about my prices.” but i just have to keep reminding myself that they have no idea how much work goes into each piece and they are probably comparing the price to some mass produced equivalent made by a machine. i totally have that imaginary conversation in my head too, trying to decide if i should offer a better deal. i’m not the best business person. anyway i think all your products are totally worth it! merry christmas!

  • Coleen Sosa December 23, 2010 at 2:20 pm

    You seem to have a guilt trip about selling. Don’t be. You don’t have to be pushy about selling, this customer in your post seems to testing your waters. Some customers can be abit rude in trying to get a bargain/discount. i would have just said to her “You don’t have to buy them if they’re too expensive? “. Do you give out cookies samples? that ought to give customers a bit of how “fresh” it tastes. Your cookies are made from dedication, lots of love and sweetness. They transcend Mediocrity!

  • alicia December 24, 2010 at 10:11 am

    My mother put me through college by selling her art at craft shows and flea markets. The next time you are fretting about being too expensive and feel the urge to offer someone a “guilt-laden” discount, think about your daughters and their future. Aren’t they the reason you’re doing this anyway?

  • Alicia December 29, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    I have the same feeling, but your prices are more than fair, as evidenced by all the people who are willing to pay just that much. You have no reason to feel like you need to justify it to anybody, except yourselves.

  • Chau and BJ, the Houstonians December 30, 2010 at 4:09 am

    Lord, if only these were available here in Houston, in bodegas or otherwise. We’d fork out the money in a second. We traveled from here all the way to NYC this year; we went to the flea and were repeat customers for your, if I recall correctly, mint jasmine limeade. Its deliciousness still comes up in conversation. Totally missed those cookies, which we regret.

  • Karen December 31, 2010 at 6:14 am

    lol…this is so me. i feel your anguish, girl, and for what it’s worth, keep giving the discounts and freebies! It’s the best and easiest way to build a solid, loyal customer base, and in the end, the $1 you lost will come back and back and back again.

  • Valerie G January 4, 2011 at 2:50 pm

    I agree with Chau and BJ- please bring the cookies to Houston! We’d all be thrilled!

    Loved your inner dialogue- that’s exactly what I go through at the art shows around here with my custom vinyl toys. Hopefully someday more peeps will have appreciation for quality handmade cookies and critters! πŸ™‚

  • jessica January 6, 2011 at 8:18 am

    I am the biggest grocery bargain shopper around, mainly due to 3 teenage sons and a 10 year old daughter. Cookies at the grocery – half price, I throw 3 packs in my cart. However, I go to markets to buy something special- I believe I would think your $8 cookies were special and would actually enjoy them more because I paid $8 for them. Its expensive enough to be special, but not so expensive that I would feel guilty. Leave them at the price they (and you) deserve and feel good about being able to sell something special to someone who might just need an $8 treat.

  • mindy Trotta January 6, 2011 at 6:31 pm

    I LOVE how you asked yourself whether you would pay $8 for a bag of cookies for yourself. I too, always ask myself whether I am charging too much for my wares…millions of times. Do not give in, I say!! You (we) put our hearts and minds (and quality ingredients)into our products and we should stand tall and proud!! I will probably continue asking myself the same silly questions, but at least I now know I am not the only one. Thank you for your honesty!