TO MARKET, to market

Somers’ couple, Joel and Vanessa Johnson are the dynamic duo behind Untold Events. They run the hugely popular Emu Plains Market in Balnarring and its now equally popular younger sister, Little Beauty Market in Frankston. If that weren’t enough, their one-of-a kind Main Street, Mornington shop, Albert and Daphne – a collection of curious goods, is a long-time local favourite. 

Vanessa and Joel also dreamed up Stringybark Cinema on the grounds of Emu Plains Market, Unseen Cinema in George Pentland Botanic Gardens, Frankston and the Australia Day Foreshore Festival in Hastings. As events go, these two have the Midas touch. That said, they have earned their stellar reputation. Good thoughts, good deeds and hard work are the keys to their success. The genius is in careful curation. They find the very best vendors with a firm focus on local and handmade.

Amazingly, neither Joel nor Vanessa studied for careers in events management or retail. Joel got a Bachelor of Physiotherapy at Melbourne University. Vanessa received a Bachelor of Arts at RMIT in Communication (Advertising). He became a physio and ran his own business, she worked for real estate agencies and property development companies in marketing. Running events and markets came later as a part-time enterprise that blossomed into full-time work.

“We couldn’t do it without each other. We have complimentary skills. Ness is great at the creative side. I’m good at administration and operations because I ran my own physio business. The markets are a great jointly run venture,” Joel says. Vanessa has a fabulous eye for beautiful things and wonderful people. She finds great artisans for the market stalls and brilliant products for Albert and Daphne.

Positive feedback from customers is their sweetest reward. “We have to think about the visitor experience. That’s the most important thing,” Joel says. Clearly, they are getting that right. And it’s not just the customers who are happy. The vendors love the markets too. Spots in Emu Plains and Little Beauty are highly sought after.

Photos: Gary Sissons & Supplied.

“People are keen to support local and handmade,” Vanessa says. In fact, it was their own passion for local markets that drew the couple to start Emu Plains. The original market at that site was run by Hastings Western Port Rotary for many years. When Rotary were looking to move out of the market, Vanessa and Joel threw their hat into the ring and rebranded it as Emu Plains in 2012. It was such a success they launched Little Beauty six years later. Albert and Daphne also opened in 2018.

Vanessa’s marketing background proved very helpful. Not only that, but when Vanessa and Joel’s children were in kinder, she volunteered to run the Somers Winter Market at Coolart Wetlands. While it was an enormous amount of work, it was also a lot of fun. She loved the impressive crafting skills of Mums and wanted to give them a platform. Running that market built invaluable skills for the ones to follow.

One of Vanessa’s superpowers is stallholder selection. For Emu Plains and Little Beauty, she vets the applicants meticulously looking at a variety of factors. She takes quite a lot of time with this. “It’s about the feeling and ethos – how we’d get along. Also, I have to research what a stallholder makes and how it will fit in.

I have to pick and choose so carefully,” Vanessa says.

“A market is such a different shopping experience to being at a mall. Our markets are set in really beautiful environments. There might be a musician playing in the background. Customers get to talk to the people who are making the products and hear their passion for what they do. People feel good supporting the stallholders,” Joel says.

Vanessa and Joel have also found that people are happy to pay more for something that is handmade and high quality. Customers would rather buy something that will last longer and perform better.

Many visitors come back time and time again. They know the vendors and many vendors know their regular customers. There is great camaraderie amongst visitors and stallholders alike. Craft markets attract an interesting cross-section of people. Buying or selling, markets are a fun and fascinating experience.

Peninsula Essence – November 2023