Holiday 2015 was really the last super-magical Holiday experience we had. But this year, we’re giddy about all the new, exciting, amazing, simply-celebratory experiences we have planned for you. Here’s a peak behind the curtains of how Holiday Market works as well as why it didn’t quite work as well as we’d hoped in 2016 & 2017.
We’re so lucky you stuck with us and we have some exciting surprises for you this year.
A few facts
You know we’re a big market right? We take up the size of a full city block (if you count all you shoppers and your cars). The thing is, we know many of you want a social atmosphere. And we know that takes up a ton of space when we move indoors.
You know we’re a startup right? We’re run by 1 tenacious and talented woman who, like all of the vendors at Cleveland Flea, didn’t go to business school for the business she is currently running. Very inspiring, yes. But also a TON of learning going on at all times. That’s true for all of these brave businesses. None of us have support from rich relatives or trust funds or grants or generous nonprofits. We’re all hustling away. And that’s one of the reasons you all like us– because crafty, scrappy startups are creative and dynamic and fun. But it also means we’re limited in our funds. And our time. And we’re trying really really really hard.
You know small, startup businesses change ALL THE TIME, right? Even within the season some of our businesses will go from being a part-time hobby to a full-time business and with that change comes a radically different set of priorities for them. And some will scale back because life will happen (babies, new homes, weddings, death, and more). We live in a ship that we hope to keep stable for the constant turbulent seas of the small startup world.
You know each customer of Cleveland Flea is different, right? We have 6 distinct visitors at Cleveland Flea that all add to the magic of this day / economy each and every month. The Small Batch Scout LOVES all the super-creative food options. Where the Maker Fanatic is always hoping to see new and very original work each month in order to spend their money. And the See and Be Seen person comes for the crowds (and possibly the bar). They might not even buy anything, but they’re looking for experience.
You know each business at Cleveland Flea is different, right? I used to think that we were for ‘creative small businesses’ but I’ve learned over the years that it’s much more nuanced. We have Side Hustle Businesses + Full-Time Businesses. Within each of those, we have Fast-Growing Startups + Slow-Growing Businesses. We have those who love their craft and don’t want it to be a business. We have those who are so excited to move fast and launch big and change the world. We have others who want to remain small. And there is no RIGHT way. We are supportive of each business in their own way. We have food businesses (some that run kitchens, some that do catering, some that do only one product and some who even bottle and manufacture their products). We have people who are testing the market and some who are totally committed. We have people who are at various levels of skill in the production, display, pricing and curating of their goods. We have people who are great at display and others who shy away from it. We have people who are tech-challenged and those who read every email we send out and who always show up with a new gadget that makes their lives easier. We have people who are scared to spend time or money or those who just go for it without hesitation. We have people who are tired and those who have tons of energy. In a nutshell, no one is really the same and we have become experts in all of the nuances.
You know that a lot of you come to Cleveland Flea every month (thank you!), right? To be exact, there are between 8,000-10,000 of you monthly + all the dogs). That’s a big crowd to care for in many many many many ways.
You know we are a place that creates opportunity but we aren’t for everyone. To be honest, no one is for everyone. We’re all unique brands run by unique people and many people WANT us to change to support them, but we are sticking to who we are and bringing along the people who love us for who we are. We have both an internal mission and an external mission and NO MATTER WHAT, every decision we make has to:
Be good for our shoppers / visitors
Be good for our vendors
Be good for us.
If it doesn’t meet that criteria, we don’t do it. Now that doesn’t mean it will work for every single person. What it means is that it will work for our dreamiest customers and our dreamiest vendors and us.
Why Holiday kinda was lackluster the last 2 years.
We’ve sort of run out of spaces that work. When we began, there were more spaces that needed people like us to come in and activate. Plus we were much smaller and needed less. Now, it’s a struggle to find a space that will deliver:
The right square footage. We know you want to do A LOT of shopping. However, we can’t really take this many vendors into a building. It’s impossible. But we do really require at least 20,000 square feet and an occupancy of 800 to deliver on experience to both vendors and shoppers (and us).
The right price. (Full disclosure we spent $20,000 on our Holiday space + buildout last year to try to turn a space that wasn’t quite right into a space that would deliver a super experience and it worked about 60% of the way). That’s a lot of money for just a few days and guess what? You CANNOT do construction in that amount of time, so there was no way we could improve on anything structural, mechanical or electrical.
The right ambiance / atmosphere that our dreamiest customers + vendors expect. The Masonic Temple was cool but it also was super hot in some rooms and super cold in others. Many of the doors didn’t even unlock (a fact we didn’t know until we got in). The rooms were all split up. Also, they double booked us in November so we spent most of Thursday setup fighting with them and the person who was supposed to have a party in our space on Saturday night. It was bonkers.
An architectural setup that works (enough restrooms, heat, electricity, water where food vendors needs, clean floors, the right type of lighting for both shopper experience and vendor selling. Unique Thrift was a cool spot, but the lighting was like shopping at a big box store and that fact was not charming to any of you. It’s cool to go into an old factory or manufacturing space but it’s also so hard to bring it up to a hospitality + architectural code. IE we need to hire fire inspectors to be with us, we need to have mechanics on hand to help us fix immediately what breaks, and guests typically have a really hard time finding or getting to our space.
We didn’t curate effectively. When you move indoors and you have less vendors, each vendor must have a killer display otherwise it just doesn’t deliver on experience for shoppers.
We didn’t have a full team and the team we had weren’t all on the same page. It’s crucial that you are a united front with such a big task. And we just didn’t have that.
Businesses continue to change and we weren’t fully paying attention. Our existing vendors began to have new needs, and we weren’t paying attention. But this year, we’ve spoken to tons of our businesses about where they are and where they’re planning to go. We’ve also welcomed a ton of new vendors from out of the region.
So, what’s different this year?
Our Holiday Market space is spectacular
Our 2018 Holiday Market space will be:
Totally on-brand. You will all LOVE shopping here.
Built for events. (it just opened actually). Oh, we can DIM the lights! Or make them brighter! What a joy!!
Easy for load-in and load-out. It’s not going to be a pain for vendors to get in and get out of.
Fun for you to be in. The space is gorgeous and it will be a very special, charming, creative place to shop.
Filled with vendors who have great product AND great display. Part of how we curated this season (based on feedback from you all) was focused on quality of product AND quality of display. And we’ll be working with vendors to make sure they feel confident and excited about their product display.
Be customizable to fit the desires of each category of our shoppers over a 3-day event. Our Trend-setting Shoppers (Friday night), our Treasure Hunters (Saturday Morning), our Small Batch Scouts (all 3 days will have special food experiences), our Maker Fanatics (we’ll be working to curate new vendors–or just new products from existing vendors– you haven’t seen before), our See & Be Seen crowd (Friday night and Sunday are for you!).
We opened a Pop Up Shop for vendors who we know Holiday Market won’t work for.
Our Holiday Market space becomes limited for vendors in a few ways:
There are only 73 spots available.
We have to price those spots higher than if we had a larger space and could bring in more vendors.
The spaces are smaller, so they’re not ideal for many vintage vendors and handmade with large setups.
For these reasons, and more, we are creating 4 new experiences for Vendors + Shoppers.
Holiday Pop Up Shop at Van Aken (!!!!)
Will be for our vendors who choose not to participate in the Holiday Markets
Will be for vendors who have larger setups and don’t fit into our indoor booth sizes
Will be for vendors who operationally cannot manage a booth setup for an entire 3-day show
Will be for vendors who cannot make enough product for a 3-day show
Vintage Pop Up Shop inside Holiday Market (!!!)
Will be for Vintage Vendors who want to take part in Holiday Market but aren’t able to get a full booth spot inside the market
Winter Pop Up Cafe / Kitchen in Van Aken (!!!!)
Will be for our food vendors who need more space and time to craft a holiday experience
Will be for our food vendors who aren’t able to get a booth inside of Holiday Market for a few reasons (limited booth spots, more expensive spaces than usual, indoor markets are challenging for them)
Winter Maker Classes at our Van Aken Pop Up Shop (!!!)
Want to learn how to make 3 holiday cocktails? Or our very own evergreen wreath? Or maybe even a cool knit scarf?
Our vendors will have the opportunity to teach you all this holiday season with a stacked calendar of events at our Pop Up Shop space.
We built a kick-ass team over 2018.
You may have noticed (as a shopper or vendor) that we really dialed in so many experiences and launched new programs and products this season. This is because we’ve been training a new team all year, to get them prepared for our higher level of experience that will become standard for both vendors and shoppers. We built an entire new set of on-site infrastructure, launched a Flea Cafe, a Flower Market, a fully-updated setup experience, a new on-site Team Flea program, a set of internal vendor communication meant to inspire not merely relay important information, and more. And we feel so strong. So dedicated to the job at hand: delivering inspiring experiences to both vendors and shoppers.
Managing a growing startup is challenging. Finding the right people is equally challenging. Prioritizing your own dreams amidst the growing needs of a community of creatives (that you really love) is tough. Being seen as humans instead of a business is not always available to us since we work with so many people who really rely on what we do. We’re up for the challenge. But in order to give so much to others, we needed to find support. We needed to build the right team. And we’ve got them.
So, we’re excited for Holiday 2018 (and the future, truly!) and we want to you to know how important you all are to us. Whether you’re vendors or shoppers, visitors or locals, we’re so lucky to be the event you turn to each and every month. It’s an honor we don’t take lightly.
So, please know that we understand we might not have killed it during Holiday over the previous 2 years and we hope you can now see why. But we’ve put all the pieces in place we need to knock it out of the ballpark this year. Thank you, as always, for sticking with us.
Welcome to Holiday 2018.
Steph + Team Flea
(Sammy, Krista, Sam, Liz, Mackenzie & Kait)