Thoughts of a One-Time Street Vendor

Posts have been scant of late, for which I apologise and hasten to explain that I am not just bloody lazy, but have to the contrary been extremely busy since we last spoke.

Happy Tummies arrives on a High St near you!
Happy Tummies arrives on a High St near you!

I’ve mentioned my little side project, Happy Tummies Treats, before I think. Tis a humble attempt at independent trading of handmade goodies which I began work on last year after receiving oodles of compliments on the fudges I made for Christmas. One individual said ‘I’d pay good money for that’. Long story short, I took the compliment, jotted up some plans and my little enterprise was born.

So far it has gone small-scale well, with multiple commissions from colleagues and, well, mostly colleagues who were suckered in from a few strategically placed freebies in the kitchens at The Day Job. Plus some friends and family who needed bits for mothers or fathers days and that kind of thing. It was a compliment to my skills, and much appreciated but at the same time there was always the little inner voice questioning if I was actually any good at this. If this was just a long extension of sympathy sales and relatively low cost gestures of support. In truth, most people don’t really like me that much and aren’t prepared to continually part with cash for something they don’t want to eat (diet shakes excluded) so I shouldn’t have listened to that little voice. But I wasn’t to know this until I really put myself out there with my first ever open trading moment- the annual Colchester Christmas Market. This happens early each December and involves the town High St being taken over by sellers and pedlars of all sorts under the organisational watch of local events team Snake In The Grass. There really are all sorts in attendance and shoppers can look for bespoke and more generally available toys, gifts, woodwork, jewellery and a huge amount of edibles. I tend to drop in on most events like this in my home town and know by now what to expect from the Christmas Market as a shopper, but it took some heartfelt consideration and several hard sums to convince me this year that actually, it probably wasn’t worth me doing. A pitch wasn’t cheap, it would be masses of work and well, what if they didn’t like me? What if no-one bought anything? DEAR GOD WHAT IF THEY ALL JUST STARE AND LAUGH AT ME!!!!!!!

Fortunately, joint fountains of positivity from the Mr and the older male sibling talked me into signing up, signing the cheque and committing myself to my first retail outing for Happy Tummies. Eeek.

It was a shed load of work, with several weeks of early starts, late nights and complete neglect of my already scant social life. Maths declared that I needed to get up about 200 units for sale to avoid losing money, 300 to actually make a days wages worth of money. Given my own tiny kitchen and small batch methods, this was no mean feat. I managed it though, and I wont go on about it.

Cut to a chilly December morning and it began, lugging boxes of fudge (and brittles and chocolates and jellies and chutney and cakes) out to the car before sun up with the hearty assistance of the two chaps who talked me into this ridiculous idea in the first place.

I was terrified, and if you enjoy spending much time cooking for or feeding anyone else, you know why. Because you like it, because you want to be the provider of joyful and enjoyable sustenance. Because you love that little run off of joy from their satisfaction in consumption. Because you need it. There is nothing worse than cooking someone you love a crappy dinner. This felt like a golden opportunity to provide plenty of random strangers with a load of craptastic sweets they weren’t going to enjoy and charge them for it to boot! It was the worst idea in the world.

Until we got there.

Don’t believe your bible, kids. Pride is a wonderful thing. Pride propels you through the cold to get tables up and tablecloths weighted down. Pride gets the sign straight and the ropes tight and gives you the momentary double jointed fingers required to obscure all the mechanics of your banner hanging with tinsel. Pride stacks the jars and sits back with a coffee and tells your inner failure to shut the hell up while you admire your work and admit that even though it’s just a little sweet stall, it looks pretty damn good. This could work out after all.

fudgey close up, credit for the pic to the older male sibling
fudgey close up, credit for the pic to the older male sibling

There was a momentary slump in spirits as one set up van departed to reveal us positioned not two hundred yards from a mahossive Grannies Bastard Corporate Fudge wagon but we kept the faith, counted out the change and waited.

I cannot tell you the warm, fuzzy sense of satisfaction that comes from selling something you have made with your own hands to a complete stranger who has just walked past, paused, and decided that they like the look of your work. Yes wonder of wonder, my dear reader, my first market customer was not my mum! It was unfathomably good to make a sale, and early into the proceedings too, to a lovely lady who took advantage of my 3 for £6 offer with no need for hard sales or even a taster. Brilliant. It went onwards and upwards, and I lost my fear and anxiety for my little sugar babies making their way into the world and smiled til my face hurt. Smiled even harder at at the slow wandering, view blocking dullards who think it’s ok to block legitimate potential customers while they gurn at your produce and ask stupid questions.

Pride again, there, stoked by the fires of indignation at the sheer front of some people. I’m a regular foodie event person and yes, I’ll take freebies and have a good rummage and not always buy but I don’t ever insult the available wares, or absent wares. Again, I shan’t go on but no, you sour faced old hag I don’t have any tablet. No, no I don’t have any apple jelly either. Would you like to try some fudge? Yes, yes it is quite sweet what with being made of sugar you miserable bat if you could try not to spit it out over my display that would be lovely now move the hell along!!!!!

Old ladies can be mean.

Lesson learned as with life, not everyone will be a fan and not everyone will remember their manners but boy did we form some fleeting friendships. The small children who would happily take the tasters then smile, nodding up at their purse holding parents were probably my favourites but also the converts. The suspicious, reluctant hands that picked a small taster and took a smaller nibble before pausing, repeating the nod of the children and admitting that actually, yes that was pretty good. And back we go to the pride. I’m actually turning out a reasonable product here. They like it. I am valid.

The day rocked on and turned colder, more coffee was consumed and slightly less than the ideal number of sales were made and it began to weigh on me that I had overshot my potential market and invested in too much stock. Bugger. And not all of it would last for the upcoming Christmas orders from work and family types still to be filled. Double bugger. Panic began to replace dismay as the sun disappeared and the crowds thinned leaving me with over 100 bags of sweets still to go and more cake than I wanted to take home. Lesson No 1 to the food fair buyer: Hang around until the end, because sellers will drop their prices because they’d rather lose a quid than lug it all home with them again. Lesson No 2 to the food fair buyer: It’s not really their last bag/box/brownie slice, they are just shouting that to get your attention and as soon as you have paid up and moved on, they will get another one out to look forlorn and appealing on the otherwise empty stand. Sucker!

In summation: I’m glad we went. It was an eye opener in many ways as well as a needed confidence boost for both my creative and negotiation skills. It was fun, people aren’t so bad you know apart from mean old ladies who spit and in truth I’m inspired to give it another go and run the risk of actually having to pay some extra income tax this year.

If you are thinking of going solo and getting out there with your business, I say go for it, you’ll never know until you try! Just smile, and be proud of your work, you did all that! And take plenty of 50ps and someone you can trust to hold the fort when you need a pee.

And finally for all you consumers out there I give Lesson No 3 to the food fair buyer: Have a good look around any market or food festival before you part with your cash, because there might be a nice little local with a perfectly acceptable product who needs your patronage a lot more than Grannies Bastard Corporate Fudge Wagon.

A well refrigerated fudger. See you next time!
A well refrigerated fudger. See you next time!

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