Life cycle of a flea

Blake Adams looks at home in deep thought as he stares intently at his computer amid the mid-afternoon bustle of Five Point’s Purple Door Coffee. Today his mind is consumed with logistics and marketing, business and community – standard fare for the idea-man behind one of Denver’s newest and most popular event series.

Less than 11 months ago, Adams was walking into a similar local coffee shop to meet with PJ Hoberman and Casey Berry of Imbibe to discuss a concept he had been mulling over for months. The idea? In a city where it seems like there is a farmer’s, flea, vintage, craft, or art market practically every weekend, Adams saw a void: lack of diversity and an underrepresentation of Colorado’s small to medium-sized manufacturers and purveyors of fine products.

“Most of the markets in town are heavily focused on crafts, not that we have anything against crafts, there are just a lot of people in Denver making things on small scales and large scales and they don’t all fit,” Adams says.

Adams wanted to take it a step further. “We wanted to showcase all the great companies here, but then couple that with a good time, so bring in beer, music and food trucks to make an event.”

That’s where the folks at Imbibe, the event company behind Sesh Fest and The Grand Coffee Bazaar, come in. The partnership couldn’t be a better fit, Adams says.

Denver Flea’s first and second events at City Park and The Big Wonderful (2601 Lawrence St.) drew roughly 8,000 attendees each. But the real attraction for vendors isn’t just sheer volume, it is the level of engagement.

“From feedback that we’ve gotten from vendors, they’ve said that Denver Flea is the most engaged that people are at markets and they’ve sold more than at any other market.” Adams says.

Finding the vendors for this fledgling event was no small task for Adams, who says they had to beg and plead to get 40 vendors for the first event. Using Instagram was a key sourcing method. Adams found and approached companies like Winter Session, a company that hand-stitches gorgeous leather bags and wallets in the 900-square-foot space next door. The crafted leather goods are wildly popular online and in boutiques where the price tags that reflect the fine craftsmanship don’t seem out of place.

Following the first event, word-of-mouth spread among local companies and the second event grew to 75 vendors. These same merchants voiced their desire for a holiday happening in September, so Adams and his team set to work. Two weeks prior to the event, vendor applications were at an all-time high, forcing them to cap applications after every booth in the holiday space — a 48,000-square-foot warehouse downtown called the Bindery on Blake — was accounted for.

Brad Peterson, co-founder of Astis, a Denver company that makes high-quality leather mittens and gloves with Native American-inspired beading, thinks the space is perfect. Peterson and his company have been waiting for this edition of the event for months after attending the first event and being impressed by the caliber of vendors. Peterson immediately saw the value of a crossover event for outdoor companies like his. “Where else is there one spot that brings these kinds of companies together?” He reached out to his network: Icelantic Skis, MHM, Folsom Skis, Fishpond and other companies, that typically only attend trade-shows, but also saw the value in a consumer-facing event and have gotten on board. 

Undoubtedly, many attend for the local brand exposure, but for Maddy Finn, owner of Sub Rosa Mercantile, Denver Flea presents a rare selling opportunity. Typically, markets shun resellers, preferring to showcase the makers themselves.  Her store carries a curated collection of handmade and locally produced goods, including products from brands that participate in the Flea. She says it is a great place for her to discover new brands for her shop.

For Finn, the Flea also serves as a chance for her to let consumers know where they can buy local at a brick-and-mortar store.  “A majority of the people that come in appreciate seeing something they’re not going to find everywhere else,” she says.

Such sentiments seem to reflect a shift in consumer behavior.  According to a recent survey by Deluxe Corp. on 2014 holiday shopping trends, over a third of consumers plan to shop at small, local businesses this year, up from a quarter in 2012. People are not only increasingly aware that locally-minded purchases are good for their home economies, but there is growing demand for unique, quality products

While many of the makers involved are creating their products in garages or basements, the business side of their craft is crucial, something that Adams and his team respect and take seriously.

“It’s kind of cool, on a very micro level, seeing every aspect of a major company shrunk down. You’re seeing the marketing; you’re seeing the branding; you’re seeing the sales; you’re seeing the product testing. You get to see real people doing big business things on the most intimate levels,” Adams says.

Denver Flea is working through all of these facets of business itself as it matures. Relying heavily on feedback from participants and attendees, the event takes a traditional business and data-driven approach to measure growth. At this point, for Adams, the event is easier to define by what it isn’t, rather than what it is.

“It’s not a craft fair, it’s not a beer festival, it’s not a ski show,” Adams says. “Typically in business, if you try to be everything to everybody, you end up being nothing. But I think that the one thing we are is very high quality.  Other than that, we don’t discriminate whether you pickle vegetables or make leather bags.”

Categories: Consumer, Industry Trends