Like many business people I didn’t start out in the direction upon which I am currently. I am a journalist by profession but somewhat of a serial entrepreneur I’ve failed and succeeded and have been described as anything from a flake to a renaissance man. I’ve dabbled in publishing, real estate, PR and strategic consultation. My biggest weakness is – I see opportunity everywhere – and that’s how Sai Kung Markets started.
Sai Kung Markets Ltd, emerged between December 2013 and February 2014, when it was incorporated. I’d grown tired of freelance writing and had stalled on my second book, my first had become a best seller in the Middle East and I was trying my hand at fiction. It really isn’t as easy as you might think.
Over time I’d trained myself as a chef but had decided that owning a restaurant would not suit my nature. I thought that selling gourmet foods such as pesto, hummus, etc. would be a better idea . . . except that finding an outlet for those goods was virtually impossible. Never one to let something like a lack of a supply chain get in my way. I made to test the appetite for my wares with a little market in Sai Kung.
The original premise for Sai Kung Sunday Market was for there to be around 20 vendors, me and 19 others. I thought it was quite fortuitous that even if I didn’t sell any product I might still make a few dollars on renting tables to others. If I only knew . . .
The first market that was promoted solely through local Facebook groups attracted 44 vendors. I was so busy jumping through hoops with the school where I put on the market and the government departments that oversea such things I didn’t have time to make any of my own product and was inundated with requests for other dates for markets. The procedures with school and government are relatively simple now that I’ve jumped through the hoops a few times.
There were a few mistakes made along the way with administrating an event business, something I’d never done before, but nothing catastrophic. For the first market I tried to lay out the tables so that it would look busy regardless of how many people came. I was nervous that not enough people would be interested. Boy was I wrong.
The first Sai Kung Sunday Market was swamped from the moment we opened. I was worried that I was exceeding my maximum attendance number, set by the Fire Department, in the first five minutes. Again, promotion had been minimal because I wasn’t sure there would even be a second or third market to promote. The second market had over 60 vendors and applications continued to flood in.
Here we are 18 months later.
Our Sai Kung Sunday Market is still our ‘flagship’ event and regularly attracts so many vendors that we are creating waitlists for almost every market. We had over 100 at our December market. But, rather than simply saying yes to every vendor we fiercely curate the market and restrict all categories of vendor to a quota. We could fill every market with jewelry vendors but the market wouldn’t be around long because it would be boring. We could take on more space and have hundreds of vendors but it would be unsustainable. If we greatly increase the number of vendors we have to supply a considerably larger number of visitors to sustain them and the local infrastructure is not there for that.
We have run other markets such as at Kellett School in Kowloon Bay but we’re very fussy about the venues we would choose. They are hard to find. In Sai Kung we have undercover parking for the vendors with a few steps to where the market is in a Terrazzo-floored bright, spacious and air-conditioned space. A few of our vendors don’t go to any other markets because they’ve been so spoiled. I like that. We’re doing other events these days and I have a small talented team to keep me on the straight and narrow but we haven’t rested on our laurels.
October 2015 saw the soft launch of our new fully e-commerce website. From our online presence and impact, we have almost 14,000 followers on Facebook for example, we knew that our original ‘build it yourself’ website would not suffice. I commissioned a new one to be built with our vendors and visitors at the heart of its design. It should be easy to use and allow vendors to do what they do best. It should not be complicated for a visitor to be able to find what they’re looking for and pay for it 24/7/365.
A monthly market is a fine idea but visitors cannot always wait a month for a fix of pickles or buy the piece of jewelry they’d seen at a previous market. Now the vendors who sign up with us, and it’s superior and cheaper to any do-it-yourself option, can sell at any time they want. Even at other markets. As long as they have their inventory uploaded to the site they can make credit card sales, if necessary, whenever they choose.
The website is a game-changer for us and vendors signing up with us before December 1st will pay no monthly charges until June 1st 2016. We take a small percentage of sales. It’s a no brainer and we’re happy to be supporting our vendors as they spread their wings. When we eventually start charging a monthly fee it will still be less than the standard DIY website that most vendors go for and much less hassle. The potential for cross-selling at a website with many vendors as opposed to one should not be discounted. Indeed, we have a number of vendors with well-established websites who have already signed with us. The more the merrier we all believe.
Our little spark of an idea, that has been cash positive since day one, has become a small flame and will continue to grow. But, we will strictly adhere to our high quality policies and restrictions on the number of vendors in one category. We realise that as we grow and innovate we’ll be a target for competitors and maybe even for takeover but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. We have a good team, no debt, an enviable reputation with reasonable pricing on all our offerings; good people – good quality – hard work are what have got us to where we are today. We intend to stay that course.
By Greg Hunt, founder of Sai Kung Market