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Get the business basics right

'Make sure you set up systems, particularly financial systems, in the early stages of operating your business. It’s not worth getting caught out.'
Adam Ferrante, Rose St Artist's Market

Top tips

  • Get systems in place – Make sure you set up systems, particularly financial systems, in the early stages of operating your business.
  • Find a mentor – Find an experienced small business owner to talk to. The more you talk to people, the more you'll understand how business operations work.
  • Be creative – Think outside the square when marketing and advertising your product.

The business: Rose Street Artists’ Market

While on an artist residency in New York, sculpture installation artist Adam Ferrante came across an idea that would change his life. It was a market set up by artists who had taken the initiative to promote their work outside the mainstream art gallery environment. 'The business model intrigued me,' says Adam. 'I liked it because it was self-sustaining. It was up to the artists to keep it going, unlike the government-funded projects I’d worked on where, when the money runs out, the project finishes.'

Back in Melbourne, Adam found an abandoned junk yard in Fitzroy, cleaned it up and started promoting his idea of a Saturday artists’ market among his friends. And so, in 2002, the Rose Street Artists’ Market was born.

The challenge: Transitioning from artist to a business owner

For the first four years Adam ran every aspect of his business, from administration and finance, to advertising and marketing. He took no income from the 10-stall market in the early days, working instead in hospitality to earn a living. 'I almost threw in the towel in the second year, because I thought Melbourne just wasn’t ready for something like this, but then in year three things just took off,' says Adam.

Adam's challenge was to attract patrons to the market and get them to buy the art. He drew on skills he had learned promoting his own art, first running some street-based guerrilla marketing campaigns to attract local patronage, then approaching the local media. 'We’re a street-based project so it made sense to get the local residents interested first. I also approached local newspapers and radio stations to run stories. Free editorial gives you a lot more traction than paid advertising, and since everyone loves a good story about artists and grass-roots projects, we got a lot of interest.'

Adam developed a simple business model, renting stall space to artists at $50 per stall instead of taking commission. The business also has an online store, where he does take a commission from all work sold. 'It’s a simple model, but it works,' says Adam. 'We have also set up an EFTPOS terminal at the market that we take commission from.'

Having now allocated all the available stall space to artists, Adam is channeling energy into growing the onsite cafe. 'We'll still provide great customer service to our artists, but now we’re also focusing on growing the cafe,' he says. 'We’re renovating it in July, turning it into a bigger space with a rooftop bar.'

The advice: Things to be aware of when starting your business

Adam is proud of how his business idea has solidified over the last 10 years. 'These days, running a small business in Australia is really hard, and retail has been especially tough post-GFC.'

This year, for the first time in 10 years, he has had to put up his prices. 'We’ve been operating as one of the cheapest markets in Melbourne for 10 years now; unfortunately we just couldn’t do it any longer.'

There's little about his business that Adam would change. 'The only thing I would have done differently is that I would have had my systems set up better from the beginning, and I would have got a lot more accounting help in the early stages. My dad used to say to me, "everyone needs a good lawyer," but I think these days everyone needs a good accountant.'

Adam would also advise all new business owners to find themselves a small business mentor. 'The more you talk to small business owners, the more you understand how things work. It costs nothing to sit with someone, and it’s the perfect way to educate yourself.'

Part of this education, Adam believes, should be around understanding core operations of your business, including cash-flow forecasts, profit and loss forecasts and legal obligations. 'You need to know where the money is coming from, where you’re going to spend it and how you’re going to keep driving the project,' he says.

The Rose Street Artists’ Market is open every Saturday and Sunday from 11am to 5pm, all year round.

For all inquiries, call 9419 5529 or visit the Rose Street Artists’ Market website.

The result

Today, with over 50 stalls, the market is open every Saturday and Sunday and not only pays for itself, but gives Adam an income too.

The artists are also benefiting from the market’s success. 'Prior to our market, the only avenues for artists to sell their work were through galleries or retail stores,' says Adam. 'Now, many of the businesses involved in our market have gone from being a micro business to setting up their own stores.'