Rachelle and Chris Duffy launched The Little Big Markets, a Mount Maunganui based artisan market, in 2009 with a vision of bringing communities together. Today their business Little Big Events is a regional institution that’s also gaining national exposure and credit through other initiatives.
When Tauranga couple Rachelle and Chris Duffy initiated The Little Big Markets seven years ago in Mount Maunganui they were responding to a need for a quality monthly artisan market that wasn't being offered in the region at that particular time.
“We already had a background in small to medium scale events and were operating a retail business at the time we launched The Little Big Markets,” recalls Rachelle, “so whilst we initially treated the venture as a hobby we were well placed when the markets grew in popularity.”
The vision has always been to not only create a special place where people can meet, eat good food and hang out, but also provide an incubator environment for small, local businesses to develop their brand, product, and engage with their customers on a human level.
The concept has changed over the years to something that has scalability and can be introduced to other regions or within other events in a collaborative sense, explains Rachelle.
Since day one Little Big Events has been a remarkable ride for the couple.
“We would never have imagined that a hobby would've grown into a viable business that so many people connect with, and that along the way we would've met so many special friends that we'll cherish for a lifetime,” says Rachelle. “That's really the story for us.”
Of course, organising an event as diverse and well accepted within the community as The Little Big Markets, does provide it’s stressful moments.
For example there was the time they were approached by TVNZ's Friday night lifestyle show Kiwi Living in 2015 with an opportunity for Michael Van de Elzen to do a live cooking demonstration at The Little Big Markets.
“It was great; however the short lead-in time had us in a panic,” remembers Rachelle. “We had less than a week to construct a purpose-built kitchen, market the event and ensure we had all requirements for the content of the [show] clip.
“Because we work in a fairly nimble and collaborative environment, we were able to turn a stressful situation into a positive, with a number of stallholders pulling together to help make the event a success.”
The advice from Rachelle and Chris for other people in the boutique events business is to never get complacent. “We've learnt over the years that the wolves are always circling,” says Rachelle. “So your insurance policies are making sure you are innovative with your offering; you're building meaningful relationships with the right people; and you do what you do better than anyone else.”
Of course markets like Rachelle and Chris’s are invaluable for incubating some rather special start-ups, which can often go on to greater things.
Rachelle says there have been a number of vendors that launched their product at The Little Big Markets, or have been involved with The Little Big Markets to gain awareness, to validate their product or service, and they have blossomed.
For example, Spongedrop began selling cupcakes at the markets; developed a strong following through great product and has since gone on to open a café and catering business in the Mount, reports Rachelle. “And that business has been a raging success.”
No3 is another brand that launched a range of natural skincare products at The Little Big Markets. “Their ability to engage with and educate customers at a human level at the markets has allowed them to flourish, develop distribution channels and drive their online presence,” says Rachelle. There have been many other amazing success stories too, she adds.
Reviving Auckland’s Victoria Park Market
In 2015 Rachelle and Chris took on one of their biggest projects yet – reviving the once iconic Victoria Park Market in Auckland.
“Victoria Park was once a jewel in the Auckland crown as far as inner city markets go, so it was certainly a shadow of its previous self when we took on the project last year,” says Rachelle.
“The objective was to revive the complex over the summer months and re-connect it with the people of Auckland.
“We approached Victoria Park Market with the same ethos that we had with The Little Big Markets and, as a result, we had some amazing experiences with past vendors from its historic days congratulating the initiative and retailers in the complex experiencing surges in trade.
“The long-term strategy for the location was to springboard off the increased foot flow from the markets to fill the remaining vacant retail spaces and this has proved to be effective,” she says.
As for Rachelle and Chris’s long-term goals, they very much revolve around the core of the business, which is The Little Big Markets. “We certainly envisage the continuation of them, being a huge component to the social fabric of our local community,” says Rachelle.
“Our long-term goals outside of The Little Big Markets is to further develop Little Big Events in terms of our event portfolio, which will include collaborating with regional councils and other event organisers.”
The couple have added many other events to the region’s community calendar, such as ‘Tauranga’s Christmas in the Park’ – an annual charity event which, over the past four years, has attracted more than 40,000 visitors and raised in excess of $50,000 for local charities.
Other community-focused events that have received the Midas-touch from the Duffys include Dinner in the Domain, Food Truck Friday, Night Owl Cinema, On The Lawn and The Little Big Vintage Markets.
There have been many collaborations that have helped the city of Tauranga “tell better stories about itself”, and events have not just been confined to the Bay. Little Big Events have collaborated on events in other main centres – for example, The Hamilton Garden & Arts Festival, Rhythm & Vines, George in the Park, and The Auckland Coffee Festival.
It seems if you’re planning a special event for your community, there is one couple in Mount Maunganui that’s happy to take your call and would be a good place to start.