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ON / BY Creative Admin/ IN Event Planning, Food & Drink/

Ahhh; Spring through Summer; warm breeze, light and colorful fabrics, fresh and crisp produce and a whimsical rouge to our cheeks… or was that the gin?

Every year we see the new trend of outdoor and social experiences change yet markets seem to have only evolved and elevated.
I remember as a young girl from the coast of Durban, every Sunday we would be forced into the family car to prowl the streets of the city center’s flea market. “Stay close” was the statement my mum would always say loud and firmly as we walked from the parked car onto an open car park converted into a retail centre without a roof. My brother and I would walk closely along with my parents weaving through each isle of trestle table and clothes stands. The usual suspects were always the mini donuts, an oversized can filled with cold drinks, an old lady seated on a plastic garden chair selling laundry pegs, tightly woven doilies and fabric shoe holders you hang. Brass candle holders and 2nd hand books would always sit side by side. Tables that catered for kids were the abacus, puzzles or paint kits that had you painting a cushion cover with a parrot design.
Week after week we would be on the same mission at the flea market with the parents.

Fast forward 20 years and we now have flea markets on steroids!
Each market trying to best the next with location, décor, layout, offering, entertainment, food or even just with a very clever name or theme.
My last visit; I was offered to ride a camel… 1 more time, a camel! For some odd reason, I must have looked like a foreign surprise for the handler to assume I would want to roam through a market with lanterns and cannabis oil like Jasmin on a magic carpet with soft tunes of Arabian night in the background. It was 12h30 people, not 4:20.

I’ve been an event planner, a marketing manager and performing artist for many years. I can sympathize that as the market organizer you have this incredible pressure to put on a show and create an experience that is not only memorable but all-inclusive for any person to enjoy.
It is your job to ensure all is compliant, the health and safety of your guests, that each vendor and exhibitor is in the “prime” location and is assisted. It is your responsibility to ensure that the area is clean and set up according to your approved floor plan, look and feel. It is your objective to ensure that there is flow, fun and flawless execution of the sound, power, technical, ablution facilities, quality produce and retail items (none of which are second hand), positive experience for all guests and consumers while still managing the expectation of turnover, foot traffic, the eye ball from your boss, staff happiness and motivation and finally… deep breath… that you look cheerful, energetic, passionate and happy to be spending your weekend amongst the farm animals and stalls. Insert “No… I’m Fine” here. Understanding this, I needed to see for myself what all the fuss was about and what truly makes the perfect market.

So; I took to the forest, wearing my meditation pants and chakra bracelets, I was on a hunt to find what makes the best market in Johannesburg and compare it to my Durban childhood.
I have been to over 20 successful markets and each had their own hook that could not be matched by the other. Here are the keys to a truly successful market:

Safe and Secure environment: Each market made sure that their food vendors was properly equipped with their certificates of compliance and that their gas taps were located on the outside and not the inside of their stands. Clean, stocked and ample restrooms are always available without an excessive queue.

Large and open space with enough seating: Top on my list markets ensured there were seats; even if it was bails of hay, logs or soft grass patches everybody was able to comfortably enjoy a meal and some entertainment as a group or even just a couple. Whether the space is a converted church, farm or football field it seemed the greener the better with cover and shade.

Entertainment: If you want your market to hum, buzz and vibe it is vital that you have entertainment. Those that provided entertainment for both the adults and children ensured that their customers made a day of it and entertained at all the food stalls, the beer tents and bars and the impulse buys turned into gift planning and shopping sprees. Live musicians, bands or even unplugged up and coming vocal artists made sure that there was never a dull moment. Choosing the artists wisely is a full-time job and of underestimated importance. 1 tired or out of key performer can have mass repercussions.

Kids zones: Organizers have outdone themselves in recent years and don’t come close to what we had to endure as kids. Where some markets have relied on the surrounding restaurants to host their own play area and childminders; the successful markets have created their own kid empires from jumping castles to go karting. Trampoline bungee jumping and train rides to camel or horse trails. Obstacle courses, girly crafts of beading and painting and of course the standard practice of having your face painted.

Stalls with a difference: The best markets created a flow with their retail stalls where items that complimented each other would be grouped which created a better organized flow and gondola effect to spending habits. All items on sale were fresh, different and not available in shopping centers. From clothing and accessories to garden and home décor. Organic bathroom products and treatments to practical gadgets, toys and crafts. Seemed my Pinterest boards came to life in an open field as you find Arty wine holders that could double as a vase, city skyline wall pieces that doubled as well lit lamps, neon colored bags, clever cosmetic jewelry for your hair, thighs and belly (not just your run of the mill toe ring from year 2000), Vests with bold and brightly colored prints, loose pants from Thailand (Is it a skirt, is it pants, is it both, where do they start and end), Vape oil and devices, Cannabis oil and treatments. Kids are no longer painting cushion covers but their own sneakers and pencil cases for school and it’s not restricted to parrots but now we have mermaid and unicorn designs!

Food and Beverage: There is always an abundance of choice at a memorable market. Food trucks with interesting combinations and Masterchef quality pork belly sandwiches, stuffed burgers, pizza cones. Crisp mixed lettuce salads, tempura prawns and spring rolls. Pastries, cakes, desserts, ice cream that is made in front of you off an instant freeze metal sheet! Banting, Vegan, Vegetarians are all catered and provided for. Beer tents, cocktail gardens; I hardly know where to be – Gin. Most beverages are premixed, bottled or on tap and you’re always spoilt for choice to ensure there aren’t any queues and the service is always streamlined and efficient. Prices are rounded and point of sale systems at the ready for quick turn around times. Beverage garnish is prepped and stocked for consistency and I am yet to see a bar run out of ice.

Finally; after 6 hours of sunshine and social, enjoying the fresh air with beautiful people and bubbly spritzers; its’ time to pack up all my goodies and head home. Once at home, I will establish that I spent far more than what I prepared myself for and on cocktails that I would never pay the same price for at a local pub but I will argue with and justify it to myself that I am happy to spend for a quality experience outdoors. If I was lucky enough to find a secure parking close to the entrance when I arrived, its generally a breeze to slip out and escape the traffic however be careful of the safety of your vehicle when you arrive, tip your security appropriately and hold thumbs you haven’t been parked in by the desperate masses who arrived late. Some markets tend to forget that the parking and crowd control is equally as important if not priority over most elements. As a guest, I don’t particularly fancy parking my car on a verge, road side or unsecure plot too far from the event space. Word of advice, plan your route with arrival and departure times in advance. Research the event space so you are better prepared and will most certainly have a fantastic day out with friends, family or just your partner.

P.S Year 2000 me; Flea markets get so much better so don’t fight your mum, stay close and you might just ride away on a camel with a super cool toe ring and a mermaid pencil case. *Wink *Wink.