Farmer’s markets are a great place to get out in your community, get noticed and test your product. Becoming a vendor isn’t very difficult or expensive, and a regular appearance at your local farmer’s market is a wonderful way to build your reputation and your brand. It’s a low- risk way of testing and growing your business without making a commitment to a permanent commercial or retail space. Here are some tips to help you show your product to it’s best advantage, bring in and keep new customers.
The first step to becoming a vendor in your local market is to do your homework. Rules vary between states and counties, and many states have associations you must join in order to sell. For example, The California Farmer’s Market Association requires that you become a “certified producer” in order to sell agricultural products at CA markets. Non- ag food producers have to follow the association guidelines that require vendors join the association, have or use a certified kitchen, have proper health and safety permits, and follow other strict guidelines before they can be accepted into a market space.
Depending upon your state, you may only have to contact the local governing office that manages the farmer’s market to join. A good place to start is with the local Visitor’s Bureau or Chamber of Commerce. You can use the Internet to find the list of markets in your state and county, and go from there.
Your Vendor Space
Vendor space is limited in most markets, especially in urban areas. You may think the standard space is too small, and want to rent a double space. Take into consideration whether you plan to have tables in front of the booth or have your merchandise hanging or on shelves in the back where people will be walking through. You want your products to be seen as customers pass by, but you may not want them to have access to touch or pick them up. If you’re serving food, for example, you will most likely have a table in front and your supplies behind you. You want your space to look fun and inviting and to draw people in and allow them to get a good luck at what you’re selling. You want to have enough people serving customers that people don’t have to wait long. If they must wait, make sure that there is something to keep their attention. You may want to place a couple of items up front for people to handle and look at up close.
It’s a smart idea to visit the market before you join, look at the busy vendors and how they have their booths set up. Observe the booths that have few people and are not doing so well. Are walkways too narrow, or is the merchandise too far away? Not enough people working the booth or are they rude or abrupt with the public? Good planning and manning of your space can make the difference between good or poor sales at the market.
You want your booth to stand out and be seen by customers at the market. There are always a lot of people milling around, bright colors, music, etc. A large sign or banner is a great way to get noticed by passers by. Make sure your sign states clearly what you’re selling, and can be placed in a location either in front of your table, or across the back of the space. You don’t want it hidden behind merchandise or covered up by people standing in front of the booth.
Sales and Information
Not everyone who comes to a farmer’s market goes there prepared to buy something. It’s a good idea to have a business card with your information and a website address, brochures or flyers available as takeaways. A free sample or low ticket item is a great way to entice customers. Send them off with the takeaway and information to purchase more in the bag with each sale you make. Refrigerator magnets are a fun and inexpensive advertising tool that will keep your brand in front of the customer daily.
Be prepared to talk about your product or service. Greet people warmly, thank them even if they don’t buy this time. Let them know that you’ll be back again, or where your next market appearance will be. Start conversations and get to know your customers. They might not buy this time, but they’ll remember a friendly smile or handshake. It doesn’t cost you anything to be nice. Remember that you’re building goodwill with the public, and that is a priceless commodity.
Dress for Success
You’re at the market to build your brand, so make sure you wear it. Buttons, hats, t-shirts and the like with your name and brand should be worn by anyone selling at your booth. Hat and t-shirt sales can also be a part of your sales and marketing strategy. Your product is the next big thing. If you believe it, others will too. You are at the market to create a buzz, so it’s worth the investment in some hats and t-shirts to get that buzz going.
Above all, have a good time! Get out there and enjoy the joyful atmosphere of the open market, be prepared to meet and greet interesting people and show everyone what you’ve worked so hard to bring to the public.
Use the experience you’ve had at the local farmer’s market to adjust your marketing and sales plan for the next step in your journey with your new small business.