It sounds easy: make something pretty and that smells good, wrap it in a sleeve and colorful ribbons, put it in a nice basket next to its companion products, smile a lot, and make money fast. Don’t be fooled by the casual atmosphere of your local farmers’ market; if success was easy everyone would be doing it.
If you’re new to the farmers’ market scene, or if you want to improve your sales, I’ve done a bit of research to help you out. Avoid costly mistakes and disappointment when you follow these 10 tips for a successful farmers’ market experience for you and your customers.
1. Do your research.
Farmers’ markets vary in demographic, culture, and rules and regulations. Some markets allow only produce; some require that you sell only items you have grown or made yourself; there are geographical requirements, and different guidelines for participation and attendance. Contact the market manager (ideally one year in advance) and ask for demographics and their rules and regulations information.
2. Test the waters.
Before you invest in expensive tents and fancy displays look around for markets that will allow you to sell as a daily vendor. Space may or may not be available but it’s worth the try—better to step in slowly rather than take the plunge into unknown waters.
3. Have a strategy for booth design.
Color sells products. It is a powerful marketing tool that accounts for 85% of the reason why a consumer decides to purchase a product. Have you ever wondered why leading fast food chains and eateries use the color yellow in branding? It is because this color makes you travel fast and take action. Yellow is the “happiest, most optimistic” color in the spectrum. Green is a color that is associated with purity and naturalness. Do a little research to discover what colors elicit the response you are looking for from consumers. Also consider placing your products on different levels and display units that match the visual presentation of your brand. Avoid scripted fonts and busy backgrounds in signage: make your signs easy to read and eye-catching. Design a consistent look throughout.
4. Get organized and practice your set up.
Your organizational skills will be tested at the market. There is a designated window of time to set up and break down and you don’t want to go into the day exhausted because you are unprepared or tardy. Pack your products, gear, and supplies in marked and numbered containers and put them in your vehicle in an order that will make it easy to set up. Make sure your table and display stands are at the rear of the vehicle and your wares are packed in the order you’ll want to display them. Drive to the market’s location a couple of times before it opens for the season to make sure there aren’t unexpected delays, like construction. Keep checklists! Even the most experienced vendors forget things like weights for the tents, extra clothing for climate changes and bags to place purchased items in.
5. Make it easy to pay.
Customers who are asked if they have smaller bills or even change will leave your booth with a negative impression. Bring more singles than you think you’ll need, circulating singles supports your fellow vendors because they are easy to spend. Avoid a negative attitude toward paying charge card fees; fewer people are carrying cash nowadays. Those fees are a part of doing business and should be reflected in your pricing—they are also tax deductible. If you don’t have a credit card reader like Square or PayPal, get one. They are free devices that easily connect to your smartphone and make accepting charge and debits easy.
6. Avoid discounting products.
Vendors often tend to offer end-of-the-day discounts because they don’t want to carry their products back home, or they believe it will make their farmers’ market business more profitable. If everyone did this people would wait until the final minutes of the market to shop, thus driving profits for everyone down. This strategy (or lack of) will also dilute the value of your product in the consumer’s eye. And don’t forget the goodwill that you are obliged to demonstrate to your loyal customers. How will they feel when they’ve paid full price only to learn that their neighbor got a bargain?
7. Take pictures throughout the day.
You’ll want to build an online audience to promote these weekend outings. The power of Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter is astounding. Your beautiful display gives you a leg up on social media because posts with images attract a whopping 87% interaction rate from fans! Posts without images typically receive no more than a 4% interaction rate. If you don’t have time to post throughout the day (and I hope you don’t), it’s fine to do it at the end of the day. Use your images a day or two before your next farmers’ market to invite people online to visit you there.
8. Be personally prepared.
You may have a difficult time adjusting your sleep pattern for an early rise on the weekends, but do your best. Going into a day at the market feeling exhausted will certainly impact sales. Eat a protein-packed breakfast and take healthy snacks and lots of water with you. If you’re not accustomed to being on your feet a change of shoes may be in order, just in case you get blisters or lack arch support. Good shoes are a must! Take rain gear, breathe mints or gum, and sunscreen as well.
9. Build relationships.
A farmers’ market has a very high customer return rate so a savvy vendor engages attendees. Get your charisma on! Ask questions about them and avoid talking too much about yourself. Do give them information about your product and how it’s made—you might even give away a recipe or “DIY” instructions for one product. If possible, avoid sunglasses since eye contact is critical in communication and trust building. Have you ever been to a table and sensed that the vendor is desperate for a sale? Don’t be that person! It’s about the people first and the sale second. Great relationships lead to great sales.
10. Document customer questions, requests and responses.
We all think we are going to remember everything we see, hear and do throughout the day, but we don’t. You’ll meet a ton of people at the market, and each of them will have an opinion. If two people ask if you have a lemongrass-scented product, document that. If people are drawn to a particular item and other items get no attention at all, note that as well. These metrics are important to your marketing research and will drive product development and marketing strategy in upcoming seasons. Don't get caught up in what you like and think, instead learn exactly what your customer wants.