PHOTO: Austin Valley/Flickr
Jesse Frost
November 4, 2016

Go into nearly any supermarket and you may notice some trends: There’s a different exit than entrance. Milk is in the back. There’s a whole selection of goodies surrounding the checkout line. Am I wrong? Probably not, because this is all very common and very intentional. If you’re a supermarket, the goal is to get the customer to linger as long as possible and spend money.

Although we don’t tend to think of our farmers markets in the same light as supermarkets—because they often comprise so many different businesses and generally intended to be the anti-supermarket—what I’m about to argue is that maybe we could learn a few things from them. By crafting our markets to better resemble grocery stores, perhaps everyone’s sales can go up and all the vendors, not just those who get the best spots, can benefit.

1. Place Meat, Dairy & CSA Vendors In The Back

Obviously, not every farmers market has a “back” per se, as many are outside, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be made to have backs or that the middle cannot be utilized as the back. Wherever the deepest point in the market is, that is where the booths with loyal, regular customers should reside. In a supermarket, this means placing milk, meat and dairy in the back; for a farmers market, CSAs, cheese, meat and dairy could fill that role. CSAs in particular are farms whose customers are going to be there rain or shine, week after week, and by drawing them across as much of the market as possible, you open up the greatest number of sales from those customers to other vendors. And it’s not a bad idea to have a separate entrance and exit if you can manage it—this forces the customer to pass nearly every vendor before leaving.

2. Set Baked Goods & Prepared Foods At The Entrance

Retailers and restaurants have known for years that aroma draws in customers. The smell of coffee or fresh baked bread will bring the customer into the market and, once there, hopefully inspire them to shop. Also, baked goods can act as the closest thing a market has to “suggestive selling”—those stacks of candy bars and magazines at the checkout line.

3. Put Market Gardeners Beside Bakers

Humans are naturally drawn to the site of bountiful tables of fresh food. If you want to get a customer walking through the market, placing your market gardeners near the center of the market may be the best way to do start them walking and ensure those vendors, who rely on weekly sales, get passed by the greatest number of possible consumers. Perhaps the piles of fresh produce will inspire a bacon customer to make some BLTs that night with those good, local tomatoes they spied on his or her way through.

4. Play Music At Farmers Markets

Studies have shown that music is wildly beneficial to business. A lack of music makes an environment feel sterile and doesn’t invite the customer to linger or spend money. Music should, obviously, not be offensive or loud, but it should be present. Live bands are nice but not necessary—a phone and an amplifier can do the trick nicely. Music, especially slower music, creates ambiance and keeps the customer comfortable while they’re shopping.

5. Provide Kids Activities

Go to grocery stores on weekends and they will often have kids activities in full swing. Parents are always looking for places to take kids, so why shouldn’t the farmers market be that place? Face painting, book readings—anything you can think of to get parents there and keep them around can help boost overall sales.

Obviously, how to design your market like a grocery store is up to interpretation and depends on your space. Certainly to some this may sound manipulative of the lovely people supporting these vendors, but maybe think of it this way: Customers like supermarkets because they make the customer feel comfortable, even excited, to be there—they’re designed to—and making our markets feel that way is a great way to stay competitive, give the customers what they want and to put more money in the pockets of farmers. Everybody wins.


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