The art of the pop-up

Temporary markets help artists and artisans live off their craft, but not without new challenges.


Puces POP

When Mouna Joulali set up her first stall at a pop-up market, she had no idea she would be running her own shop four years later. “It’s because of these little markets that people started knowing about my jams,” she says. “I started building clients and I validated my products.”

Joulali’s full-time corporate day job had nothing to do with making jams, but friends encouraged her to sell her unique homemade flavours. Now, with a solid base of clients she built through local markets, Joulali has been running her coffee and jam shop l’Étagère Gourmande for eight months.

For the uninitiated, pop-up markets are temporary markets organized for local artists and artisans to sell their goods. Pop-ups can be one-off events, but the successful ones tend to go annual, like the Etsy Creative Market, or operate seasonally, like the Marché des Éclusiers in the summer. A number of pop-ups are geared towards Christmas shopping, while some focus on a certain genre of creators, like the design market Haut+Fort.

Many freelance artists and creators start their business adventures online and turn to pop-up markets to sell their handmade products in person, without having to rent a shop. The popularity of handmade products has risen substantially over the past few years. There are 1.7 million active sellers on the leading handmade website Etsy, which is an increase of 11 per cent since 2015, and a number that has more than doubled since 2012. Online shopping behemoth Amazon has gotten in on the game with Amazon Handmade, which has expanded to over 80 countries since its launch two years ago.

While the popularity of handmade products continues to trend upward, local markets have become an integral part of the handmade community. Pop-up markets provide an additional platform for creators and artists to target people shopping for local and sustainable products.

When Laurence Deschamps-Leger started Laucolo Illustrations, she knew that pop-up markets would be essential for her small business because she learned to appreciate them as a customer first. She has been selling food-oriented illustrations at a variety of markets for over two years. “It’s a nice way to get your name out there and meet new people,” she says.

Mark Cregan of Mark’s Hot Sauce said pop-ups give his brand more of a “community identity and feel.” People can learn the philosophy of his company and put a face to the brand. Cregan’s hot sauces have expanded to boutiques, restaurants and grocery stores but he continues to build relationships within the pop-up community by participating in several markets every year.

If done correctly, there are many benefits to participating in pop-up markets apart from making direct sales. Customers can take business cards with links to online shops for future purchases. Creators might receive offers from businesses to sell their products or become featured on local websites. Close physical proximity to other vendors creates a platform for sharing stories and business advice. Usually there is a mix of newcomers and old-timers that learn from each other by sharing tips.

Despite the wealth of advantages, pop-up markets are challenging. Getting accepted into one of them is just the beginning. Part of Gabrielle Godon’s job as curator for Puces POP (a tri-annual market established in 2004, and an offshoot of the POP Montreal festival) is selecting 110 to 120 vendors from the roughly 600 applications they receive for each edition. As an independent artist herself, Godon enjoys helping other artists grow. “It’s nice to be able to offer a platform to artisans who are new to this world or for people that have been doing it for a long time, ” she says. “It’s a way for them to be able to live off their art.”

The downside of low acceptance rates is that vendors cannot actually rely on the income. Despite frequent acceptances, rejection still hurts Deschamps-Leger. “You just cross your fingers! That’s why it’s good there are many [markets]; if you’re not accepted into one of them, maybe you’ll be accepted into another.”

Typically markets run from Fridays to Sundays, eight hours a day. These hours do not account for preparation. Alison Abramowitz of la Reserve Design started knitting products two months before her first market, while still managing up to 30 online Etsy orders a week during the Christmas rush. “On top of everything, sourcing my display structures and trying to make my booth look professional was what actually took the longest.”

Promotion also takes a lot of time and seems to vary quite drastically between markets. Markets like Puces POP want the vendors to self-promote to their followers. La Reserve Design has over 36,000 Instagram followers, so the combined reach of 110 vendors can be huge. However, often the vendors’ followers already purchase products online or do not live in Montreal, which is why some creators think the promotion should be the responsibility of the pop-up organizers.

Marketing expert Mary Ann Cipriano says local markets sell very specific, curated assortment of products that cater to people who are “anti big-box or anti-chain” or people seeking something “different or unique not found in the other types of stores.” Organizers might have a larger reach to potential local shoppers through word-of-mouth, social media and newsletters.

Cregan has found that organizers tend to be sympathetic to the needs and requests of the artisans, but some creators have voiced concerns about issues like stall placements. Joulali thinks twice before signing up to a particular market again if organizers do not try to help out when a concern arises. “Nobody wants to try jam after having hot sauce,” she says, relating a past negative experience. Deschamps-Leger faces placement concerns because she needs a display wall to sell her illustrations. Organizer Godon agrees that there is more to take into account than just the products sold. She needs to consider every aspect of someone’s shop when she curates the markets, including electricity and changing room availability.

Once the doors of the market open, the public benefits from the hard work of the organizers and local creators. The start of the market is Godon’s favourite part of being an organizer. “I get to see everyone be there in the moment. They are there because they have a passion. It’s long days but I’m smiling the whole day.”

Newcomer Abramowitz has already started preparing for the next winter market. Her first market motivated her to keep working hard. “It opened my eyes to the possibility of boosting my sales in a really short time and I got direct feedback from clients.”

Joulali works long hours in her shop but still participates in pop-up markets to try new concoctions and refine her business. Four years ago, she was not sure if anyone would even try her jams. Now, she is the one giving advice to new vendors. She credits her loyal pop-up market customers for her jammin’ success. ■