Small businesses are constantly looking for means to grow revenue and increase profit. One way a lot of businesses are turning to is local farmer’s markets and festivals, which are popular all over the country. Farmers’ markets are growing in popularity across the nation, so it’s no surprise that farmers, artists, and other local vendors are capitalizing on this money-making opportunity. From small towns to big cities, farmers’ markets are quickly popping up everywhere and are attracting people of all ages.
There are many reasons why people are frequenting farmers’ markets. One of them is that these are places where you can purchase fresh local produce, most of which are organic and isn’t genetically modified. Farmers’ market produce is the freshest, and often the healthiest anyone can find. When we shop at local farmers’ market, we are supporting small businesses, whether it’s a small family farm or a local artist peddling paintings, pottery, or other handmade art that you won’t find in any local department store.
In addition to supporting the local economy, attending a farmers’ market is a great way to meet new people. Farmers’ markets are family-friendly (and sometimes, even pet-friendly) events that lets you meet and socialize with people in your community. Some farmers’ markets even offer live music, classes, and other special events that only add to the fun. Add in local food trucks serving delicious meals and treats, and it’s not hard to see why farmers’ markets are truly the place to be.
Reports have it that over $700 million worth of goods were sold at over 8,000 farmers’ markets around the United States — and the majority of that money is being funneled directly back into local economies. Farmers’ markets can be physically demanding as you need to load and unload your produce. You need to be able to stand for long periods of time (you sell more if you stand, rather than sit behind your booth). Markets require you to be social and outgoing, and to play fairly by the rules. Make sure you can confidently say that these parameters suit you as a person.
20 Tips on How to Sell at a Farmers Market
Farmers markets provide great opportunities for farmers, small businesses and the general community to connect and make sales. But have it in mind that it is never as easy as it sounds. Below are 20 tips to help you succeed when selling at farmers markets.
Start Small and Learn the Rules
Every market has its own set of rules. So you also need to check with organizers to see what types of items, tables and selling methods are allowed before you get started. If you’re a new vendor, it’s advisable you choose a small market without a huge vendor fee or one that doesn’t require you to invest in a lot of equipment for your first market. This allows you to learn the process and make manageable mistakes.
Study Other Vendors
Visit a few markets and check out what the most successful vendors are doing. Grab a spot in the middle of the chaos and just watch. Watch for an extended period of time – not just a couple of minutes. The longer you watch, the more you’ll get a sense of what they’re doing. In almost every case, you’ll find that the most successful vendors are proactive and interactive. They don’t just sit behind their booth and wait for people to come to them. They stand out in front, shake hands, make small talk, and actively sell their products. Take time to study vendors who sell products that are similar to yours. You may even want to approach them and act like a normal customer. Take notes on how they interact with you, what sort of sales pitch they give, what answers they provide to your questions, etc. Even details like packaging and payment processing are worth taking into account.
Choose a Unique Niche and Differentiate Your Products
Note that every farmers market has tons of people selling tomatoes and lettuce. So what makes your products unique? You can niche your products by offering a unique variety or a certain type of produce. Or you could even package your products into kits or bundles to make your booth different. Your actual products should also be unique in some way. Maybe they’re the freshest tomatoes or the largest watermelons. But make sure that differentiation is clear to those walking by your booth.
Always Keep Your Produce Fresh
There is perhaps no bigger marketing mistake than letting your produce wilt in the wind or sun on the table. Obviously, by the end of the day, there might be some rough edges, but overall you should keep your produce looking fresh and bright. Consider keeping coolers with ice handy and swapping out the product as needed. You can also come with a spray bottle with clean, fresh water to spritz applicable products and keep them shining and fresh.
Decorate Your Table and Present Yourself Well
Have it in mind that simply putting out items isn’t enough. Add some decor like table cloths, trays and photos to add some visual interest to your booth. Also know that you’re also a big part of how shoppers perceive your booth. So don’t show up with messy hair and dirty jeans. Be comfortable but clean and professional so people feel good buying food items from you.
Know What Sets You Apart
In booming markets, you’ll find there are a lot of the same booths with people selling identical products. If you’re going to be successful, you have to find a way to differentiate what you’re selling. The key is to know what sets you apart. If your products are the same, what is it that makes you stand out? It could be a lower price, creative packaging, the personality of your staff, or your brand name. If someone approaches you and asks you why they should choose you over the vendor two booths down, you should be able to provide a satisfactory answer. If you can’t, then you’re just going to blend in.
Work with your manager
Most farmers’ market managers are very passionate about their work. Many put in long hours for low pay in poorly equipped offices with very little support. Managers have to wear many hats. They have to deal with stakeholders who sometimes have competing needs, and be professional communicators, event planners, fundraisers, problem solvers and site managers all while helping you make a living as a vendor. The passion and commitment of your manager is an asset to you as a vendor. These managers are there to help you, and if you need information or guidance, ask your manager. The relationship between vendors and the market manager can contribute to the overall vibe of a farmers’ market.
Create a Consistent System With An Operations Manual
It’s important you set system for things like taking money and packaging sold items. Make sure bags are easily accessible and everyone working at your booth knows the process for accepting payments. That way the experience is consistent for every customer. Also create an operations manual that covers every step of the process, from packing your items for transportation to how you package them when customers buy. This allows you to keep all of your employees or helpers on the same page, making it easier for you and creating a more consistent experience for customers.
Stay on Top of Licensing and Insurance Requirements
Aside from the health inspector, your market’s reputation is on the line too. Make sure you’re carrying the minimum required levels of insurance on a current policy, that your operator license (if necessary) is current, and that you’ve obtained or renewed all necessary food safety certifications. If market management finds you in violation of any market policies or local ordinances, you will be shown the door.
Keep the Line Moving And Create a Flow for Your Booth
If people walking by your booth see a huge line, they might just pass by without stopping. So always try to move through the line quickly without pushing customers away. Part of the way to limit huge lines at your booth is by setting it up in a way that allows people to shop while others are completing purchases. This all depends on the layout of the market, of course, but if you have room, create some signage to make it clear where people should stand while waiting to complete purchases.
Pile Your Ware High And Make Your Products Visible
Customers like bounty and it’s very important you make your table look full and heaped with food. Of course, make sure to do this in a way that does not crush or ruin any produce on the bottom of the pile, but the display should be heaping. Remember, a lot of customers walk through looking for something specific or at least something that inspires them. They probably won’t pop into every booth, so having your food on full display can help draw them in.
Answer Questions While Selling And Create a FAQ Sign
You also need to be able to multitask. Practice accepting payments while answering questions from other customers so you can keep the line moving even while others shop. It also might be helpful for you to create a FAQ sign if lots of customers ask you the same questions over and over again. This can make the process easier for them and save you time so you can complete sales.
Accept as Many Payment Methods as Possible
Selling at markets, festivals, and fairs is beneficial for a number of reasons, but one perk is that it tears down inhibitions and increases the likelihood of purchase. There’s something about being in a unique shopping environment that makes people more likely to purchase things than if they were just walking through the mall or surfing the web. You have to take advantage of this situation. The easier you can make it to purchase your products, the better. There should be as little friction as possible; one way you can smooth things over is by accepting multiple payment methods. Accepting cash is fine, but you’ll do far better if you also accept cards and virtual payment methods.
New vendors need to set realistic targets and understand there is an ebb and flow to the revenue stream. Some weeks you will celebrate your success and other weeks, you will want to cry. At some point, every vendor has looked at the beautiful produce left at the end of market day, wondering how to recover the loss for that week. Vendors need to be focused on revenue trends over time, rather than fixating on weekly sales. Even though you will likely gain skills that help moderate some of this variation, sales will never be predictable or certain.
Create an Eye-Catching Booth
Note that booth design plays a significant role in sales success at these markets. When you analyze the most successful vendors, you’ll notice that their booths are works of art. From signage placement to inventory selection, everything is carefully manipulated. Try not to overload your booth with inventory. Only putting out a select number of products at a time will promote scarcity and encourage customers to purchase now, versus later. Remember to put your brightest colored products at the front of your booth and try to contrast colors as much as possible. The human eye can see blocks of color from far away and will be drawn to them. Always keep your booth clean as nobody wants to walk up and see trash, scraps, and disorganization. A clean booth allows people to see all of your inventory and develop positive associations surrounding your brand. Always label your products well because there’s nothing more frustrating for a customer than to have to ask for a price. Transparency on this front goes a long way towards building trust.
Share Recipes And Give Out Samples
You can also create unique displays or packaging for products that offer recipes and cool ideas for what people can make with your items. If at all possible, try giving out samples of your products. This is obviously slanted towards food businesses, but it can work in other niches, too. Samples work because they’re memorable. When you engage a customer’s senses, they’re much more likely to be moved to action. If nothing else, be sure you have some business cards and marketing materials available to hand out. If you can leave a market with more people recognizing your brand than before, that’s a win.
Consider Extending Your Market Season
You should consider dehydrating and/or freezing some of your leftover produce for sale during fall and winter markets. Provincial food safety specialists will tell you about the food handling requirements. Dehydrated zucchini, cherry tomatoes, basil, mushrooms, eggplant and spinach could be bagged together as a dried soup mix base. Dried herbs can be combined in several wonderful mixes. Tomatoes can be dehydrated and sold as sun-dried tomatoes. Dried apples, berries, and other fruit can be sold individually or mixed. Peas, corn, tomatoes, spinach, stone fruits, beans, and squash: strawberries and other fruits and vegetables can be frozen in bags or see-through plastic containers (some will benefit from blanching first). Besides a freezer at home, you’ll need to invest in a few nice coolers and decent signs. Customers want to buy fresh, local product year-round. Extending your season and your offerings can be as simple as using leftover and extra produce in creative ways such as these.
- Establish Relationships
Note that success at local markets depends on relationships. Sure, your products sell, but most customers will be drawn to (or away) from you because of your personality and the experience you provide them. That is why relationship building is good for business in general, but it’s especially powerful when it comes to local markets. Even if you don’t close a sale today, there’s always a chance that a relationship now could turn into a profitable transaction in the future. Keep this in mind and never consider time talking with customers as “wasted.” If you aren’t a particularly outgoing or social person, it might be better to put one of your more personable employees in your booth. You want someone who represents your brand well and isn’t afraid to engage people.
Advertise Other Sales Channels at Your Stall And Have a Year-Round Plan
Your stall is a weekly billboard for your food business. Treat it like one! Use printed material, such as flyers, to advertise other sales channels: your website, your Amazon or Etsy portal, your pop-up store, your brick-and-mortar store (if you have one). The more sales you close outside weekly market hours, the less you’ll have to rely on your stall. Also try to keep the momentum up, even when the market is down for the season. If you sell shelf-stable or non-edible items, look for winter or holiday markets that operate well into the cold months. Or just use the off-season to develop your non-market sales channels.
You might have success with your first local market or festival, but don’t be surprised if you come away with less than stellar sales numbers. A lack of sales the first few times around isn’t indicative of poor quality products. Instead, it should tell you that you probably aren’t doing a good enough job of being visible and engaging customers. Success at these sorts of events is all about experience. The more experience you have, the more you’ll pick up on little things that positively and negatively impact sales. Eventually, you’ll find your sweet spot and come to understand what your target market likes, how much they’re willing to pay, and what sort of sales tactics work.
Best Selling Items You Can Sell In a Farmers Market
You can sell a variety of items in a well coordinated farmers market. You don’t have to be a farmer to sell at a farmers’ market. There are lots of ways that you can connect with the community while earning a profit. Below are top 10 items you can sell in your neighborhood farmers market;
Fresh Animal Products
It’s quite an easy process to raise chicken, rabbits, and other small livestock at home. With patience and protective equipment, beekeeping is realistic too. The most popular small-farm animal product is the trusty chicken egg. Comfortable fowl should produce one egg per bird, per day, allowing for an off day here and there. Busy as they are, bees take longer to produce usable quantities of honey, but even a modest operation can throw off a few jars to supplement your income. Rabbits are only good for their meat and lawn-mowing abilities. True to form, they reproduce fast enough to keep regular customers happy, though your small backyard operation won’t supply enough meat to support a market stall on its own.
If you enjoy and love baking, there are endless possibilities and a whole lot of money-making potential at your local farmers’ market. Bake your homemade cookies, cakes, pies, scones, and cinnamon rolls and sell them to customers during your free time. Again, you can think outside of the box to boost your profit potential by selling unique items such as dog treats or treats for customers with special dietary needs (i.e. vegan or gluten-free).
Homemade Food Products
Note that licensing requirements vary by state and locality, but you can probably sell reasonable quantities of homemade value-added food products without getting bogged down in red tape. The sky’s the limit here: salsas, hot sauces, mustards, other condiments, pickles, seasonings, juices, teas, other nonalcoholic drinks, and a whole lot more.
Flowers, Plants & Seedlings
In every season, people spruce up their homes inside and out with colorful flowers, outdoor plants, and houseplants. From flower baskets that add a touch of color to your front porch to common and unique species of plants, many customers bypass big-box home improvement stores and instead purchase from local growers. In this niche, you don’t even have to wait to have fully grown plants and flowers. Some shoppers may prefer to buy seedlings that they can plant and grow themselves. Succulents and herbs are also popular options to consider. If you grow roses, tulips, lilies, or other beautiful flowers, you can also create unique arrangements that shoppers may snap up for weddings, prom, Valentine’s Day, or even “just because.”
Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
The possibilities here are endless, at least insofar as your tillable square footage and local growing conditions support. Fresh vegetables popular with farmers’ market patrons include cooking greens, salad greens, radishes, carrots, summer squash, cruciferous vegetables, chives, and much more. Popular fruits include blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, apples, pears, peaches, melons, peppers, tomatoes, and rhubarb (technically a vegetable, but it’s really only edible in fruity jams). Climate permitting, citrus fruits, figs, dates, and more exotic produce work too.
Arts & Crafts
Whether you’re a professional or just an amateur artist, locally-made arts and crafts are big sellers at farmers’ markets. No matter what type of art you make, a farmers’ market is the perfect platform for selling your creations. Paintings, drawings, embroidered items, crocheted blankets, hand-painted t-shirts, pottery, wood carvings, sculptures, and homemade greeting cards are just a few of the arts and crafts you can peddle at your local farmers’ market.
As a beekeeper, you can cash in on the benefits of your (and your bees’) hard work by selling your delicious honey at the farmers’ market. Customers can purchase high-quality honey for use as a natural sweetener, but there are also additional benefits of eating local honey. Local raw honey is often marketed as a natural home remedy used to help with seasonal allergies, to soothe sore throats, kill bacteria, or even help you get a good night’s sleep. Do not also overlook the value of pollen granules. These tiny pellets contain a mixture of nectar, saliva, and pollen and are rising in popularity due to their perceived health benefits. Pollen granules are used for treating inflammation, strengthening the immune system, reducing stress, and other ailments.
Preserved or Durable Produce
Preserving fruits and vegetables is way easier than you think (For instance, it’s easier than brewing your own beer at home.) Or, sell durable produce that preserves itself over reasonable time frames: potatoes, gourds, turnips, rutabaga, and other root vegetables. In colder climates, these come in handy at markets that remain open through the winter holidays.
Soap & Skincare Products
With the growing implications of chemicals, more and more people are stepping away from these potentially harmful ingredients and going a more natural route. If you’ve created the perfect recipe for homemade soaps, lotions, or other skincare products, set up a display at your local farmers’ market to peddle your natural concoctions. As more people move to natural products, the farmers’ market in your area gives you the perfect platform for selling your goods. There are lots of opportunities in this space, from creating your own natural (and great smelling!) bug repellent to homemade sugar scrubs and natural deodorants.
Beverages and Prepared Foods
If you make your own local wine or mead, brew your own craft beers, make a mean cup of hot apple cider, or even have access to any of these, selling beverages can help draw in customers. Your booth or display can serve as a showcase for your homemade brews, or you can sell beverages in addition to other products. Many people that frequent farmers’ markets are looking for products that are unique and can’t be found in the local grocery store, so think outside the box.
Flavored lemonades made with freshly squeezed lemons and natural flavorings, kombucha, and other tasty beverages can be sold by the glass, bottle, or jug. Also, spending a long time at the farmers’ market can leave shoppers feeling famished. Why force hungry customers to drive to restaurants when you can bring the food right to them? If you operate a food truck, consider bringing your tasty fare to the farmers’ market. If you have openings in your schedule, a partnership with a local farmers’ market can fill your weekends with customers and the profits they bring with them.
Selling in a farmers’ market might seem very easy, but frankly there is quite a bit of work that goes into planning, prepping, and selling your products. While it may take a lot of hard work and expense to sell your products and make a profit, there are many benefits to peddling your goods at farmers’ markets, including low costs, more personalized interaction with your customers, and creative freedom. For some farmers’ market vendors, running a stall for a few hours per week is a modest income-producing hobby. If you have a knack for turning fresh produce into something more, or enough land to supply a thriving market garden, or any other talent or resources suitable for public consumption, your local farmers’ market could be your ticket to a profitable side business – or a full-time enterprise.