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The Market Life

I wanted to do a trial run of what it would be like to sell my soaps at a market. Living in Rosslyn, it was only natural that I go up the street to Court House and set up shop there. Butch, who runs the Saturday market, said to show up by 7.30 a.m. and he would assign me a spot. The week before my market debut, I rushed around preparing for all kinds of things. I purchased a canopy and folding tables. My husband got me a Square reader for credit card transactions, and I bought a cash box for loose change. My inventory had to be labeled and loaded into the car the night before, so I was good to go in the morning.

Saturday February 18th was a bright and unusually warm day for winter. I was excited and nervous, and barely ate anything before setting out. Butch assigned me my space next to a clothing vendor, who sucked on his vape as I scurried by. My husband helped me set up, unfolding the bright pink canopy whilst I draped a rustic cloth over my tables, and arranged the soaps. My giant "Handmade Soaps" sign was propped up artfully on the corner, and business cards were proudly on display. Set up completed, I went to look for a restroom - and ironically it was during this time, that my husband, who was watching the stall, made the first 2 sales!

I was excited that something sold, and couldn't wait till it was my turn. But it turned out to be slow....

It's still early, I told myself. At 9.00 a.m. people probably slept in on the weekends. Taking advantage of the lull, I went and introduced myself to the other vendors, a very friendly bunch. There was Ceba, an elderly lady with impeccable hair, who sold antiques; Aslan and his brother sold original paintings and Louis sold sculptures. Carpets and rugs adorned Courthouse Square, greeting cards, jewelry, camera paraphernalia, old books, and furniture were offered at the Urban Village Market. It was a community and now I was part of it.

Back at my stall, I waited. An international couple walked by and purchased some soaps! The husband was Spanish and the wife was German. Their beautiful daughter liked my Cinna-Mint Symphony soap, which made me happy. A few minutes later, students from Arlington Independent Media came by and filmed some of the vendors and their products. I was excited when they chose to interview me: I got talk about my palm-free products - and in the end they bought some soaps too.

The sun rose higher in the sky but it was still slow. Butch came by and said, "It's a holiday weekend." And then it occurred to me - I had launched my line when most people were out of town! I couldn't believe that I had overlooked one of the most basic business strategies - timing.

By the afternoon, it was obvious that the town was deserted. Some of the fellow vendors came over to buy some of my soaps and to offer their advice. Cebu told me that the "Handmade Soaps" sign only faced one way to the street, and that I needed something that could be seen by people who were coming in and out of the movie theater. Marketing 101. Why hadn't I thought of that? Louis told me that branding was key, and since I was local, I could really make Arlington my base. I appreciated their insight and took to heart, their encouragement. These folks were professional salesmen-and-women, and they made a living from what they did. I, on the other hand, was a novice with high expectations and low sales.

At 5 pm I packed up my soaps and headed home. That night I made my After-Action-Review list in 2 columns: what worked, what could be improved. eg. on the plus side people loved the display; things to remember for next time: pin down the table cloth - the slightest breeze could ruffle the cloth and topple everything. It was a learning curve, and it was practical. I might not have made what I was expecting, but I was richer for the knowledge I had gained.

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