“You’re here!” Things That Make a Good Day When the Market is Slow

July was a slow month for us. It was slow last year, so this doesn’t come as a surprise. But still, I feel filled with optimism at the start of every market, that feeling that this one could be great. There are so many quality vendors here – people will come.

And yet – July was slow. Last Thursday, I did a market outside of the city that was well-advertised but poorly attended. It was one of those fuming hot and humid days that carried the constant threat of thunderstorms (-rain that ultimately didn’t come), a sure way to banish any but the most loyal market-goers.

But halfway through the market, as I absentmindedly stared down at my phone, I heard, “You’re here!” and looked up to see the most joyful expression on the face of a woman probably 6 feet from me, standing stunned in the middle of the gravel path. She explained she’d bought from me the last time I was at the market – about 5 weeks previously – but gave the hot sauce away to a friend, and her husband had been annoyed ever since that they hadn’t gotten to try it first themselves. She joked, “Maybe once I bring home a new bottle, he’ll love me again.” She bought the second bottle, we smiled at each other, and I wished her well.

While it always feels good to work a busy, profitable market, there are so many other factors that can make for a good day, even when it’s slow. The best moments are always with customers: that person who says they’ve been looking for you since the last time, or someone who stumbles across your booth for the first time, delighted. When most of the work in this company is done by just myself and our small team, having a window into our customers’ lives gives joy and purpose to all of our preparation.

At markets, I get to learn about each person – what they enjoy, how they cook: “I’m making wings, what would go well with that?” “We’re making dinner with what we picked up at the market – what goes with these ingredients?” Or, “I’m buying a gift for my son who loves hot sauce – what would you recommend?” We become a hot sauce concierge, giving advice and guidance on how to spice it up just right.

I notice what customers notice – what they remark on, likes and dislikes, how they’ve used our products. I get to see folks’ reactions trying our hot sauces for the first time: the big eyes, raised eyebrows, exclamations (“that’s fun!”). On this market day, a couple came through with their baby and tried two hot sauces, giving their infant son the last tiny taste – and even he loved it.

Towards the end of the day, as the forecast worsened and foot traffic failed to pick up, vendors packed up early. With half an hour left, I was the only booth left in my entire row – might as well just stick it out. But in the last ten minutes, a couple rounded the corner, exclaimed “hot sauce!” – bought two of our highest priced items, and left with, “Keep selling – you’re not done yet.” It was the right encouragement, at the right time.

Yes, July was slow, but connecting with our customers is what makes any market – busy or not – worthwhile. We’ll be here.

Am I dreaming big enough?

Image of a framed tabletop chalkboard with a decorative green leaf outline, and white chalk text, "Hot Sauces." Slogan at the bottom reads, "for people who love flavor!"

Markets this fall have been a little weird on my end. September 1st marked the official start of taking Goodlands full-time, which was of course very exciting, but also sent my poor little Capricorn heart into a tizzy re: routines. Here I am, a grown person, getting used to the self-made day.

October arrived, and brought a series of weekends away, family events, and some difficult things at home. I missed a lot of markets, and I felt disconnected from my customers, even as production in the kitchen began to ramp up significantly.

Around this time, I brought on my first hot sauce assistant, Pete. As anyone who’s started their own business knows, the feeling of increasing capacity beyond yourself is like one big, deep, satisfying sigh of relief. I’d been putting this off, not because I didn’t think I’d need it, but because I knew this growth would force me to get organized. I had to plan more carefully, more efficiently, to figure out when, where, and how I most needed the help. It’s a process, and not an accidental one.

The second Pete started working with Goodlands, I realized this change was long overdue. Our production capacity doubled, I had abundantly more energy for the parts of the business I’d been neglecting (–labeling, planning, admin, packaging, you-name-it), and the work became far more enjoyable. I’d been burning myself out with 12-hour production runs that left me feeling exhausted, dehydrated, and isolated, not to mention deliriously behind on the “everything else” in my life.

This is all to say: After this hiatus from markets, the financial crunch of stocking up on supplies for holiday production, and the new leap in our production capacity, I came to this year’s Good Food Fest outfitted with cases of hot sauce in cascading colors, but no idea if we’d do well or not. And I really needed us to do well.

Miraculously, it was a banner day. From the moment the festival opened at 11am, we had a steady stream of customers. Having roped my dear friend Emma into helping me out, we frequently found ourselves passing samples over one another or reaching for the pay terminal as multiple customers enthusiastically tried one hot sauce after another. (I’m pretty sure one customer actually said, “You’re like a hot sauce… wizard!”) By the time the festival came to a close, I hadn’t taken a food break, water break, or pee break since 7am, but I had sold all but 2 of the massive stack of “spice flight” gift boxes I’d packed for the festival, and 5x the number of full-size hot sauce bottles I’d normally turn over in a market. We’d done better than “well”; We’d totally eclipsed my goal.

This has me thinking a lot about ambition. For as small as Goodlands is at this moment, I’m doing my best to set big (relative) goals for this company. A few weeks ago, I sat down and named my 4th quarter sales goal, well aware that this is the biggest quarter of the year. My ambitious target for today’s festival would have met 12% of that quarterly goal, a pretty sizable chunk. Instead, at the end of the day, my actual sales met 25% of the goal. I did twice as well as I thought I would.

It’s startling, because now I have to ask myself, am I not dreaming big enough? Have I underestimated how well this company can actually do? And if I worked this hard for it all to sell so fast, can I handle the increased demand?

I think it comes down to a matter of risk tolerance. If I’m honest, I’ve been hedging a bit — not taking on more markets or demand than I know I can handle. I’ve been at my growth edge, but just barely, not leaning into the kinds of decisions that would take me further, faster (–like bringing on a hot sauce assistant). This careful kind of planning feels steady, but perhaps at the loss of momentum. What would it look like to dream bigger, to double my expectations? I worked so hard just to be ready for this one market, what if I can’t make the next leap? But if I don’t try, I won’t know. If I don’t reach, I won’t grow.

So here I am, committing publicly on the internet: I am dreaming bigger. I am doubling my expectations. I won’t share exact numbers here, but I’ll report back. Wish me luck.