Successful Farmers Market Tips Part 1: Getting Started
As farmers market season descends upon us, plenty of people are anticipating the vibrant colors of fresh produce, the enticing aromas of homemade goods, and the social atmosphere of a busy market. While people all over the country ponder these romantic notions, if you’re considering becoming a vendor or currently are a vendor there is a thought that probably repeatedly pushes itself to the front lines of your mind: cash. How you can make it, reinvest it into next season’s harvest, and –hopefully – how you can save some for yourself.
Unfortunately, beginner, hobby, and experienced growers can all have trouble making the jump from simply growing produce into the business world of selling produce. Local farmers markets are a great way to get your food in front of potential customers, but often times growers of any experience level can have difficulties getting customers, maintaining customers or turning a profit. For many, a minor tweak to their routine or adjustment in their business model can make all the difference, so let’s take a look at some of the most overlooked, but basic, aspects of having a successful season at the farmers market.
The great thing about selling your goods at a farmers market is that you don’t have to initially invest large sums of money – if ever. Many first time sellers spend money on expensive tents, display units or vehicles, only to find that they need something different or don’t need it at all. You have time to experiment and see what works for you, so take it slow. Take your time, develop a plan and business model that makes sense and works for you, and – above all else – make sure you take the time to harvest the highest-quality produce.
So now that you’ve decided to take it slow, it’s time to start getting to know your local farmers markets. Make a list of the markets around you and figure out which ones would be best for you. Go to these markets to see what they’re like first hand. Markets tend to have different rules and regulations, so ask around and see if any of the other vendors point out a glaring rule or regulation that you’ll have to take into account. After talking to a few vendors you’ll want to seek out the market manager. Specifically, find out if there are any products that aren’t allowed to be sold at the market or if there are any permits or licenses that you’ll need. Also check into any regulations for tents or structures, this way you can purchase the properly sized tent. We’ve found that our Commercial Canopies provide a sturdy structure and protection from the elements, and they’re a great option for a farmers’ market tent. The market manager can break everything down for you and be a really valuable tool. Find out if they have any literature that can get you better acquainted with the market and try to get their contact information.
It’s now time to take a look at what the other vendors have going on and what they’re selling. This will help you decide what you should sell and plan for future growing seasons. If every vendor is selling heirloom tomatoes, you might want to sell a different type of tomato or consider steering clear of tomatoes all together. Taking notice of what others sell will also make it easier for you to develop a niche market.
Finding a niche market is a great way to have a successful farmers market season. If you’re using one of our hydroponic systems, you have an unfair advantage. Using a controlled environment, you can grow crops that are hard to grow or aren’t native to the region that you’re in, which will lead to customers flocking to your fresh, exotic produce. You may also separate yourself from other vendors by selling varieties of one crop, which will essentially make you an expert in the eyes of your customers. Vendors that become known as the “lettuce guy” or the “garlic lady” create a following and tend to have many repeat customers. Combine this reputation with some information and delicious recipes, and you will establish yourself as the market’s specialist that customers look for every week.
Alright, so we’ve covered some of the preliminary aspects of having a successful farmers market season, and most of them have to do with gathering and analyzing information. Once you’ve done this introductory footwork it’s time to actually start thinking about how you can actively sell your produce. Next week we’ll go over how to set up your stand to maximize sales.