Originally posted on The Experimental Oven blog, which is now defunct.
The DC Grey Market a week ago was a resounding success, both for the organizers and us participants! I had a wonderful day--I was constantly busy, scrambling to find time to refill the display platters and make new samples for folks to try. I'm glad I accidentally left behind the containers for pie and quiche by the slice--although the whole unit sold for less than individual slices would have netted, it made for a much more manageable day not to have to portion the pies during sales time!
The above photo was my set-up before the crowd appeared. A lesson I learned is that when you're not a specialist, customers do get a little confused when all you have on the table are baked goods--I put a container of sesame noodles on display shortly after doors opened, but then people kept asking where I got them from, and of course I told them that they were from my cooler if they'd like to purchase them! I'll have to be a little more thoughtful about making my offerings more apparent in the future--I wanted to keep the gnocchi, hummus, pimiento cheese, and noodles in the cooler on ice, but that doesn't mean I couldn't have taken photos and printed them out to put on display. I had a price list that I crossed things off of when I ran out (which I did of almost everything, except the snickerdoodles [I made about 70-80, way too many!] and biscotti [they were hard to make samples of, so I didn't do it after the first set of samples were gone--so they didn't sell as well as they could have]), but it was hard for folks to see it through the press of bodies at the table.
The organizers say that about 950 people came through in the 3 hours the Grey Market was open. It was hard to move around in the area, however, and I was in something of a nook in the room, so I'm not sure I saw everyone--but, again, I mostly sold out, which was something I didn't really expect. The number one best seller was the beet gnocchi, followed by the sweet potato gnocchi. Unfortunately, I don't know whether I'll bring gnocchi back--they take too much time to make, they are finicky (they must remain frozen prior to cooking, or they'll glom together), and I'm not sure I want to charge more for them to make it worthwhile to bring again.
But that's okay, I think--the vegetarian shepherd's quiche, spicy hummus, pimiento cheese, and sesame noodles (once folks found out I was actually selling them!) were quite popular as well. Quiche seems easier to sell whole than sweet potato chocolate swirl pies, but they all ended up finding happy homes and fairy-tale endings. The scones were wonderful hits--being my specialty, I would expect no less!
Although the Grey Market was a wonderful experience and an amazing opportunity, I'm concerned about the profit margin of going legit. Depending on how you cut it, I made money, broke even, or lost money during the Grey Market--if you don't count one-time expenses of equipment (bowls, sheet pans, sheet protectors for my recipe book, etc.), car rental, vendor fee, packaging (not negligible, but it would take 3 to 4 markets for me to need to replace most of the packaging I bought), and the ingredients purchased but not used (say, I only used 4 pounds of sugar, but I bought 50), then I made a ton of money. If you include all of the ingredients (including stuff I didn't use), the packaging (including stuff I didn't use), the car rental, and the vendor fee, then I probably broke even, and I still have a lot of ingredients to create new products. If you include everything, such as the ink for the printer (because we ran out) and the cost of recipe development, then I'm definitely in the red by a little bit.
With such uncertainty about what's reasonable to assume I actually "made" at the Grey Market (which had a ton of people intent on purchasing food, rather different from a farmers' market situation I might be able to be a vendor at), adding on the expenses of getting licensed, renting a commercial kitchen, and buying or leasing a vehicle makes the whole idea less tenable. I still have some numbers to crunch--I know the number of products I bought, what I sold, how much I spent, and how much I made, but now I need to figure out the absolute value of how much ingredients I used and proportionally how much money that cost me, in order to determine what the most reasonable products to continue preparing are.