Selecting A Farmer’s Market – Part 5

This article will wrap up the series on Farmer’s Markets which has covered the Market Master, location, timing of the market and how you can research a market before taking the plunge.  Today I’ll focus on how you know it’s time to pull the plug as well as some additional thoughts on markets in general.

Lets face it:  Not every market is going to work out. That has been the case for us and the reasons for leaving have been various.  If all you hear is price, price, price, price….you are at the wrong market and need to make a change.  We were once recruited to a mid size market of about 35 vendors on the Northwestside of Indy and it appeared to be a perfect fit for us.

There were two things in particular that really drew my attention to this market: 

First they did not have a steady meat vendor, which meant that while this was a smaller pond, we would be the only fish in that pond.  Second, this particular suburb has the highest income per capita in the state of Indiana!  And to polish it all off, we had a few customers on that edge of town that wanted us there as well. What could go wrong?  Well, as it turned out there was plenty to go wrong.

The first issue we ran into were the sales hours, as the market was only open for three hours each Saturday.  If you spend all that time to pack, drive, setup, tear down, drive home and unpack you want as much time under that tent each week as possible.  Three hours cut our sales by potential by 25% right from the get go.  We knew going in that this could be an issue but we proceeded on anyhow.

Also, the market didn’t start until mid May and wrapped up at the end of September.  Most Saturday markets in our area run from the first week of May thru the end of October, giving you a full six months of sales at that market.  This compliments our winter market time frame nicely and keeps us in front of customers 50 out of 52 Saturday’s per year.  But this scheduling structure cut the length of the sales season by 25%!

Next, the city owned the lot that the market operated out of and shut down the market about 10:00 a.m. once per month for a festival, carnival, parade, etc so that they could have the additional parking required for said event.  Every time we turned around, our potential sales hours were nibbled away until there was so little left that it simply didn’t make the effort worthwhile.

Lastly, and we could have never seen this coming, all we heard up there was how we were more expensive than Kroger and Marsh Supermarkets.  Seriously, this city is loaded with wealthy business people who easily have the means to support local food but just chose not too.  And in addition to this curve-ball, what we witnessed once there was that this was a social gathering and not a shopping excursion.  Ladies dressed to the nines came out and bought cut flowers, a bag of pasta, and a couple tomatoes while drinking a cup of coffee and eating a danish.  They weren’t there for real food, that simply wasn’t the culture and I wasn’t about to stick around to try and change that.

It was blatantly obvious that the market leadership had no desire to move the location, change the hours or fix any of the other issues we discovered.  Even though we did our due diligence in research, or so we thought, sometimes you just hit a dud.  If you find this to be the case, don’t be afraid to finish up your commitment and simply find a new market to do the following year.  If it is really terrible, then consider pulling out immediately if you can get into another market mid season.  You just never now until you try and again, if you don’t fail here and there then you probably aren’t trying hard enough.

You may also find yourself wondering if a once good farmers market is worth continuing to attend if you see a major drop in sales due to mismanagement, a change of venue, over crowding of similar products you are selling, etc.  Just about the time you get things figured out, things change and this can happen for the worse.  You’ll need to continually reassess your options and how your existing markets are doing in order to remain profitable and viable.  Marketing is a fluid and moving target and you have change with the times to stay ahead of the curve.

Some additional considerations:

Only you will be able to decide for yourself what the allowable travel time is to a farmers market to make it worth your while to attend.  But it is my opinion that even if you have to drive one and a half hours each way (or more) you can probably justify the time spent for a good farmers market.  You will also want to find out what insurance requirements you need to meet in order to sell at a particular market, and what permits might be required by the city or county in which it is located in.  Know that at many markets in our litigation happy society you can’t sell if you don’t have liability insurance for not only yourself, but for the market entity as well.  The market master should be able to easily answer all of these questions for you.

Also, ask what the fees are for a booth space on a weekly and seasonal basis and don’t let a bigger number scare you.  Often times, you get what you pay for!  If a market only charges $50 for an entire season, expect $50 worth of management and marketing in return!  If they charge $350-$500 for the season, then ask how those funds are allocated.  The markets we attend use those funds to hire a part time market master that does a great job of managing the market and all of its functions which in the end benefit our business and bottom line greatly.  They also use a lot of those funds for advertising and marketing efforts.  $500 to attend a top-notch market is a drip in the bucket from my perspective, that investment will pay itself back ten fold if it is well run.  It also helps to dissuade the re-sellers and hobbyists from attending, and what you end up with are a solid core of full-time farmers and unique artisan products that draw customers in.

While farmers markets are not for everyone it is absolutely the fastest way for you to come into contact with a great number of consumers who are looking for the type of product you have for sale. This is the best format I’m aware of to build a large customer base that you can market all of your products to through the use of a free email list and a top-notch website.  While farmers markets are not the only means to sell thru, you should give them ample consideration before deciding to pass.  If you want to capture every possible dollar of profit, this is a great way to do just that.

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