Rose St. Artists' Market founder Adam Ferrante. Photo: Supplied
A trip to New York many years sparked the idea for a Fitzroy institution, the Rose St. Artists' Market.
Here, founder Adam Ferrante, tells how he and his brother Christian turned his father's Melbourne junkyard into a successful market still going strong almost 10 years later.
1. Adam, can you tell us a little of your background as a sculptor and how you came up with the idea for the Rose St. Artists' Market?
Stallholder Tamara Watts, of Retro Print Revival homewares. Photo: Supplied
I studied at the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA), graduating as a sculptor. My studies included a stint in the US on scholarship which is where I was exposed to the DUMBO collective, an artist run market under the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City. Being surrounded by creative people and also through my own experiences in the art world, I had a lightbulb moment, thinking this was exactly the type of set-up that was missing in Melbourne.
I travelled throughout the US, Asia and Europe and upon returning home, the artists' market idea had totally cemented itself.
2. I believe it was built in your father's old junkyard. What did he think of the idea?
Dad has always had businesses in Fitzroy and really loves the local neighbourhood so he was excited at the idea of new people embracing this rundown space and quite supportive of the market idea. Of course it helped that we'd be cleaning up all the piled up junk that had collected over the years! It was one of those things, he said give it a go, because the space is not being utilised so you've got nothing to lose.
3. What were the first few markets like – was it difficult to attract good stallholders and customers?
Initially the market showcased around 20 artists and designers - mostly friends from VCA who embraced the idea very early on. The quality of work was amazing and really set the tone for the future of this market. However we realised early on that educating customers about the handmade nature and the quality of product on show was just as important as attracting great stallholders.
I think once word spread that this little market had some very talented people showcasing, the general public started to embrace the concept.
4. What do you look for in a stallholder? Has this changed as you've gone along?
The main aspects we look for in a stallholder is the quality and uniqueness of their product. Lately we also like to see products which are environmentally responsible and items which have a bit of quirk about them. We try not to judge what is going to be a big seller because you can easily write off a stallholder before they have a chance to refine and polish their wares. We understand that we'll only ever be as good as the stallholders we showcase so it's important that visitors to the market get a truly great and individual experience.
5. Do the stallholders make much money, or is it more of a chance to showcase their art?
There's definitely a variety of different people who choose to showcase their product at The Rose St. Artists' Market. There's those who do it as a hobby, those who are starting out and want to gauge customer reactions, then there's a majority for which the market has become an integral income source. It's great that Melbourne has so many independent makers so a place like Rose Street gives them an outlet to sell.
6. Now that markets are a dime a dozen around Melbourne, is it more challenging to sustain your business?
It definitely seems as though of late, there's a new market opening up each weekend in Melbourne. This competition keeps us on our toes and keeps us focused on giving both our stallholders and customers the best experience we can. Being a dedicated market space helps because we're not chopping and changing venues, times and days the market is on. We also try to value add by introducing our online store, updating the website and things like this which are important when trying to remain sustainable.
I think given that we've been around for almost 10 years a lot of people assume we're government funded or supported by the local council, but we're not. We just love doing what we do.
7. What are some of the other challenges in running this kind of market?
There's always challenges when running your own business and the market is no exception. One of the main challenges is maintaining a high quality of stallholder. Given that we're often a stepping stone for other creative small businesses, many products get picked up by retailers, making it difficult for the designer to remain at the market. Also being open all year round, it can get a little cold and dark during the winter months but we have a pretty loyal group of customers and stallholders so it helps keep us motivated!
8. Coming up to the 10-year mark, what sorts of strategies do you have to keep people coming back?
Over the market's life, we've continually tried to evolve and update to make sure that even customers who visit the market on a regular basis are wowed each time the arrive at the front gate. This is particularly true as we approach our 10-year anniversary! We've recently completed a mini market renovation which we used as an opportunity to get the market and our stallholders looking as clean as fresh as if we had just opened yesterday.
The next phase of our renovation includes renovating our old offices at the front of the market and turning it into a larger cafe. The area is the last area of the market which was under utilised and we hope that the new building will integrate into the market and create a more vibrant market place.
9. What would you do differently if you had your time again?
The whole business has been pretty organic in its inception and its growth and given the relative success of the market I can't really think of many things which we could or should have done differently. I would probably have got my finances in order quicker by getting a good bookkeeper (which we've got now).
10. Can you tell us a little bit about your new project, Hell of the North?
Hell of the North is a side project I recently started with business partner Mark Grixti. Aside from the market, I've been involved in hospitality for a long time and Hell of the North is the type of place which I like to hang out. I like to keep myself busy, so during the day it's the market and at night I'm off to Hell!
- Interviewed by Larissa Ham