By Kristin Bivens
Boss Lady of Wicked Pop Candle Co.
The last in-person handmade market I attended was February 1 in Grand Rapids, Michigan at Harmony Hall (a I Heart Indie Market, to be exact). By March, I was highly anticipating one of the biggest markets of the year at our local distillery that was set to take place the first weekend in April. The supplies were purchased, the booth had been paid for, the money I was waiting to make was already dancing around in my head (or really, maybe it was already spent).
But, then the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak hit the U.S.
Before I go any further, I’d like to say that I do not rely on my small business/side hustle - Wicked Pop Candle Co. - for my regular income, so this is certainly not a woe is me scenario. By the time Governor Gretchen Whitmer (“That Woman From Michigan”) shutdown the state of Michigan, my day job had already sent us home to work remotely. However, I couldn’t help but think, as market after market continued to be cancelled, all of this free time I suddenly had was going to waste and I could seriously use some cash to pay for the supplies I had already purchased.
One of my biggest fans, and past colleagues, suggested doing some sort of online sale on social media. She had no advice to give, or any idea how it might work, it was just something she threw out there. I attempted to research advice on how to do an Instagram live sale, or a Facebook live sale, but found little information. What I did find wasn’t very informative or helpful.
So I made that shit up myself.
My biggest fan following is on Facebook, so I picked that as my platform. Being that I already have a website, and people can order candles from there, I realized that I needed to make this market worthwhile. So, here are a few tips I want to share on making your Virtual Market a worthwhile event for your customers, as opposed to just a replacement for shopping on your website.
Flat Rate Shipping
I don’t know what deal fits your business model but my products are heavy and therefore shipping costs are of the utmost importance to my customers. I charged a $5 flat rate shipping fee only at the Virtual Markets, which, of course, didn’t cover the full cost of any of the packages, but all in all, it paid about half of what I ended up spending - and considering there was no booth fee for this event - it worked out well.
Make It Fast
My events are scheduled for a total of 4 hours - 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. With that being said, I don’t make people sit there for four hours while I post different items. I begin posting right at 5 p.m. and aim to have all items posted by 6:30 ish and after that people are free to continue shopping until the close of the market at 9 p.m. Most people are there for the beginning so they can snag the items they want, but often, they do go back and peruse once everything is posted and grab what hasn’t been claimed. Posting early and quickly also provides a sense of urgency for the shoppers. It’s the thrill of the hunt, which brings me to my next tip...
Set Limits On Products
People are going to be more excited and eager to type that “sold” comment on your post if there is a limit to what you have available. I make a list prior to the event of items I want to showcase and set a specific limit on how many I have available. This really seems to keep people engaged and it makes the entire thing much more exciting and fast paced! One of my customers messaged me during the event and said “these bitches are FAST.”
One of the most exciting things about many of the products at my Virtual Market event is that they are often exclusive, limited edition candles that aren’t up on the website. I try to give folks a variety that they wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else. I’ve made candles inspired by quarantine and social distancing. I’ve debuted brand new candles that I plan to add to my website at a later date. Each time, I’m sure to add new items and mix up the products I’m selling.
The biggest thing I wanted to know when I set out to research how to do a virtual market is the overall format. I didn’t quite understand what it would look like. So, here’s a look at what I did.
Create a Specific Event: I found it best to create a specific place to hold the event - not just on my general Facebook page. Having a specific place to post seemed to provide a sense of intimacy with my customers and created a space where engaged followers could hang out. I also threw a few bucks at boosting the event a few weeks before it took place.
Have a Posting List: Be sure to have a list of what you want to post beforehand, in the order that you want to post it. It makes it easier to organize photos and keep your pace when posting. Be sure to mark how many you have if you decide to set product limits.
Hold a Contest or Random Drawing: People LOVE to win things. Keep folks engaged by posting a contest or two between your product posts.
Use a Google Form to Collect Customer Information: I created a Google Form for customers to fill out before or after the event with their name, email, and shipping information. This made it easier to have all information in one place.
Reserving a Product: To reserve a product, a customer commented on the picture to grab it and then the next day I went through and tallied up who got what and entered it in my spreadsheet. Of course, there’s no guarantee they ended up with what they wanted because some folks don’t pay attention to the product limits. Such is the game!
Sending Invoices: Once I had everything counted up, I used Square to email invoices out. This seemed to work well as you don’t have to have a specific email service or membership or anything to receive the invoice.
When I did my first Virtual Market at the beginning of April, I kind of assumed no one would show up. It was a brand new way of doing things, and did people really want to sit at their computer and watch me post pictures of candles? But, I was extremely surprised by the turnout. I sold more at both of the Virtual Markets I’ve held so far than at any other in-person market to date. And, I was able to do it from the comfort of my home, in my sweatpants, not having to actually make small talk with anyone, while sipping on a beer.
What could be better?
Kristin Bivens is the candlemaker and girlboss at Wicked Pop Candle Co., a soy based, pop culture infused, female powered candle company in Niles, Michigan. When not covered in fragrance oil and soy wax, Kristin works in school communications and spends time watching Parks and Recreation and trying to keep her goldendoodle Alice from barking at the mailman. You can find her products at www.wickedpopcandleco.com