The Union Square Holiday Market is a six week outdoor market in New York City’s Union Square Park. Named one of the best holiday markets in the country, scoring one of the 185 booths at the Union Square Holiday Market is no mean feat. For the first time, Effie’s Paper was a vendor at the Union Square Holiday Market in 2022.
As a New Yorker, I’ve walked in and around the Union Square Holiday Market for years. Becoming a vendor at it, or one of the other Urbanspace holiday markets – Bryant Park or Columbus Circle – had been on my list for Effie’s Paper for a while. But, to be honest, I was afraid. Afraid of what I didn’t know. Afraid of the costs involved. Of standing outside in the cold for days on end. And the list goes on.
In December 2021, however, I walked through the Bryant Park Holiday Market and met two other women business owners who were kind enough to chat with me about their experiences vending at Bryant Park. Both of them are seasoned veterans who shared their knowledge, and numbers and heaped lots of encouragement on me in the upcoming year. In March when there was a call for vendors for The Bryant Park Makers’ Market, I applied. You can read about that experience here. So in May when applications opened up for the 2022 Holiday Markets, I applied with abandon!
The Application Process
As with all things, the more organized you are upfront, the easier it is to execute when you need to. If you’re thinking about applying to one of Urbanspace’s holiday markets, you should go to to their website and create a profile now. Your profile becomes the basis of your application. When you create your profile they ask you to submit photos and detailed information about each of the SKUs or products you plan to sell in your booth. Additionally, they request photos from other events of your booths or tables.
And, among other things, they ask for a company description, your website and other brand-specific information. Creating your profile before the call for applications gives you a leg up on the competition. The application process is not difficult, but it does take time and attention to detail. Often when pressed for time, it easy to forget to include something or spend an hour searching for that perfect photo of your booth at that event from last Summer. Start early so that by the time Urbanspace calls for vendors, the heavy lifting will be done.
Booth Size & Costs
The application process itself is fairly straight-forward because the application itself is really just your completed profile. There are four Urbanspace holiday markets to apply for in NYC: Union Square, Columbus Circle, Bryant Park and Borough Hall/Brooklyn. Prior to submitting your application, familiarize yourself with the Urbanspace website to learn about the different booth sizes. Each market has a single booth, a half booth and a double booth – the cost to participate in the market depends on the size of the booth you select.
I applied to the two markets I was most interested in: Union Square and Bryant Park. Regardless of the booth size you select, the deposit required for each application is $3000. Yes, applying to two markets meant that I had to fork up over $6000 in May. When you’re application is accepted, the $3000 deposit is applied to your total booth fee. If you’re not selected, the deposit is returned to you.
What If You Get Waitlisted
In June, Effie’s Paper was waitlisted for both Union Square and Bryant Park. To stay on the waitlist, Urbanspace holds on to your deposit. I elected to stay on the waitlist, but the mistake I made was that I moved on to the next thing. Just like the typical entrepreneur … Was I chosen for one, or both, of the holiday markets in June I would’ve begun preparing for the event.
I can’t say that I did, or didn’t, think Effie’s Paper would be chosen; I honestly didn’t think about it hard enough. What I can say is that I’m a busy person – business owner, a wife, a daughter, an aunt and the list goes on – who is constantly juggling many balls and often dropping one or two. I dropped the ball on coming up with a plan in case we got off of the waitlist. (I did, however, get our new day planners designed and manufactured!)
In early August, I received an email inviting Effie’s Paper to be a vendor at Union Square. I was elated, but at the same time I was like a deer in headlights because I was in the middle of selling an apartment and preparing for a two week vacation in Europe. Read the paragraph above again. I had no plan in place.
How To Prepare For A Six Week Holiday Market
I had no plan in place and was headed out of the country. Don’t let this happen to you! Take the time to at least sketch out how you might do things, what you might sell, who you might hire – you know some of the key components of a plan. That said, thankfully I have a great Director of Operations who was able to jump in.
I got comfortable with the idea of doing a six week holiday market because I met two business owners who shared their experiences with me. Their shared knowledge, combined with my experience of doing pop-up events, including the Bryant Park Makers’ Market gave me the confidence to move forward. That said, you just don’t know what you don’t know. I’m sharing some tips below to help you prepare for one of these markets. This list is not exhaustive by any means, but it is a place to start.
Things To Factor Into Your Preparation Process:
Talk To Other Vendors. Talk to other vendors and ask them everything you can think of! For us, it was important to get a sense of how many sales they had per day at the beginning of the market and during the busiest days. We used this information, along with that from other events we’ved popped up at, to extrapolate what our daily sales flow might be. From there, we were able to guesstimate how much additional inventory we would need based on what we expected our holiday market daily sales volume to be.
Design Your Booth. I got lucky here. Because we had just done the Bryant Park Makers’ Market, our booth was pretty much designed. The decor of the holiday market booths run the gamut – some are beautifully designed and decorated and others are a little more DIY – but spend some time to make sure your booth reflects your brand. Google brands that have previously participated to get ideas for your booth decor.
The one thing we did not have from the Bryant Park event was a counter. After reading a number of blog post articles, it became clear to me that there are a lot of business owners with YouTube degrees who make their own shelves and counters. I am not that girl. Fortunately, I met a friend of a friend who makes furniture for these sorts of events. He helped us design our counter and even delivered it to us from Philadelphia. Click here for tips on how to design your booth.
Booth Build Out. I am not handy. Thankfully, Aubrie, my Director of Operations is; she gathered everything we’d need to build out the booth. You get two full days to build out your booth. As a first-timer, you will likely need both days. We hired a mover from TaskRabbit to help us get everything from both our Brooklyn office and warehouse to Union Square. And then the two of us plus my husband got the walls up and shelving up.
- Bring a tool kit that includes a charged power drill and keep things like a staple gun, a hammer, zip ties, etc in your booth.
- Plan to cover your ceiling. Our original booth design did not have a ceiling, but the corrugated metal and beams didn’t quite to with our aesthetic. At the end of Day 1, my husband had the great idea of draping fabric. It was a great idea and luckily we located a nearby fabric store. It took us almost 4 hours to figure out how to drape the fabric on Day 2.
- You need a ladder and you’ll need to keep a step stool in your booth to open and close the roll-up door daily.
- You can never have too many zip ties. If the locks you purchase for your booth fail you, zip ties will do the trick.
- LIGHTING IS KEY! We used simple track lighting from Home Depot which looked fine. But, my husband found a super cute minimal chandelier which was the cherry on top!
Hire A Salesperson. When talking to my experienced friends about their seasonal sales help, they each said two things that I didn’t really hear. First, they spent a good chunk of the six weeks working in their booths themselves. And second, they had one or two sales people who’d been with them for years who worked the booth when they weren’t there. I didn’t really focus on what they were saying because we have an amazing woman who’s been doing sales with us at our in person events for the past couple of years and she was going to work our booth.
Well, that was the plan. But, she was very pregnant at the time of the market and was not able to work the booth. My pivot was a staffing agency, but that proved to be cost prohibitive. So I hired a few college-age girls instead and figured I’d work the booth a few days a week as well. The girls were lovely and I’m thankful to have had them, but I should have taken the time to find someone with seasonal sales experience in their 30s or up who was looking for a seasonal gig because I ended up working the booth for the entire six weeks.
Select Your Inventory. As you can see from the photos above, we pared down our selection of product offerings. In May at the Maker’s Market, we brought just about everything we sell. We wanted to test the waters and see what customers gravitated towards. For the Union Square Holiday Market we stocked our booth primarily with notebooks because Effie’s Paper and notebooks and travel mugs have become synonymous. Once we figured out which notebooks to bring, we added in a few of our best selling whatnots. Not knowing what this event would be like, we decided to go with our best selling products. We didn’t want to chance customers coming into the booth and getting overwhelmed with choices.
Prepare A Sales Script. Regardless of who’s working in your booth, a sales script is super helpful. A sales script will allow you, or your employees, to succinctly tell customers about the brand and your products.
Promo Cards. Have promo cards to distribute to customers who shop with you as well as to potential customers who are just looking. In addition to selling products, a pop-up like this is a great opportunity to market your business. You never know who’s going to walk through or by your booth.
Branded Shopping Bags. The more distinct your bags, the easier they are to spot in a crowded market place. There are a ton of ways to brand your shopping bags – buy in bulk from a store like Uline and use a sticker or rubber stamp or go a little more high-end and have them printed. Our bags fell into the latter category. I wanted them to stand out as people walked down the street, but they also meant the customer could gift a purchase from us easily with no additional fuss.
How To Stay Warm. Dress in layers. Wear more clothes than you think you’ll need. You can take layers off, but if you don’t have enough clothing on you’re going to be miserable. Sitting in the cold, even 50 degrees starts to feel cold, if you’re not moving around despite having a heater inside the booth. On days that ranged in the 50s I usually wore two layers of Uniqlo long underwear on the top and bottom. My legs were usually ok in a pair of jeans or heavy athleisure pants like these. I kept my feet warm with shearling lined clog boot. On the top, cashmere reigned supreme.
In the mornings and at night, I’d usually have on two cashmere sweaters, a down vest and a light down coat. On cold days, I wore a full-length heavy down coat, a down vest, two cashmere sweaters, 3 Uniqlo long sleeved thermals, 2 Uniqlo long johns, cashmere leggings and down snow pants. Crazy, but after a day or two of being cold, I figured out how to stay warm. Oh, and fingerless shearling gloves kept my hands warm. You can shop my booth uniform here. We also invested in an electric blanket for really really cold days.
I realize that this is a lot to digest. If I spend more time, I’m sure I can come up with more tips, but I’ll stop here for now. Stay tuned for Part 2 where I’ll share what our actual experience at the Union Square Holiday Market was like along with some of the pros and cons of doing a six-week outdoor holiday market. And to see what our days were like from the beginning to the end, click here.
P.S. If you’re selling something wearable that works for the Winter season, by all means wear it daily! We sold out of our Pretty AF hats because people saw me with mine on every day.
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