Courtesy Suzie's Farm/Flickr
You love to farm and get your hands in the soil of your growing fields. Your heirloom tomatoes look spectacular with flavors to savor, but you regularly return home from the local farmers’ market with heaps of unsold vegetables. Don’t despair. It’s time to give your market booth a professional makeover to help increase your sales volume.
"Marketing” is an elusive term many farmers don’t like to talk about. We love growing things, but selling side can be a challenge. Instead of thinking in terms of pushy salespeople, use your farmers’ market booth as a vehicle for telling your farm’s story. How can you best do this so customers both get an authentic impression of your farm and trade their green dollars for your green kale?
Upping your professionalism at the farmers’ market includes being conscious of how others perceive you, often resulting in simple, cost-effective changes that can directly increase your bottom line. Here are five tips to get you started.
1. Choose Clothing Wisely
Granted, farmers typically don’t side on the cutting edge of fashion, but taking a moment on the morning of a farmers’ market to strategically decide what to wear will go a long way in sales. Leave the old field clothes at home, and void any T-shirts with controversial imprints or statements.
"Investing in some quality T-shirts with your farm name and logo really adds a serious tone of professionalism to your stand,” says Brett Olson, creative director at Renewing the Countryside, a Minnesota-based nonprofit that works on rural-revitalization issues. "These shirts will also help increase sales because potential customers immediately know who is with the farm and who to pay or ask questions to.”
Also, avoid wearing sunglasses, as they create a barrier between you and customers.
"Looking directly into your customers’ eyes adds authenticity and a direct connection between you (the farmer) and your customer,” says Beth Osmund, of Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm in Ottawa, Ill. "Even if your booth looks right into the sun, wear a hat and skip the sunglasses.”
2. Inspect Your Booth’s Front View
You spend most of the market hours behind your booth selling, but make sure to regularly walk to the front and objectively view how you look to potential customers.
"It’s important that our stand appears clean, modern and professional, no matter which crops we are selling on a particular day,” says Pam Walgren, farmer-owner of Perennial Journey LLC, who sells regularly at the Monroe Farmer’s Market in Wisconsin. "We do that with tablecloths that match our tent canopy and a clear sign providing our name and location. Our home-sewn tablecloths go all the way to the ground on the outside that faces the customer but are cut short on the inside, allowing us space underneath the tables to store bins of additional produce out of sight.”
All the customers see is a tidy tablecloth and stand.
3. Clearly Communicate Pricing
It’s hard to make a sale when customers don’t know how much to pay.
"Make sure your pricing is clear and that the information is right where your customers are already looking: at your vegetables,” says Chris Blanchard, of Flying Rutabaga Works, a consulting service for farmers and based in Decorah, Iowa. "Forcing customers to look through a list on a chalkboard works well in a coffee shop because the chalkboard is a menu, but at a market, the price should be right next to each item, directly where the customer will be looking.”
Before you get to market, create easy-to-read signs that identify the item, price and pricing unit.
4. Eat Before Market
While your booth is all about food, watching you as a vendor eat at the booth is really a turn-off for customers. It’s best to eat a solid meal before the market starts, or at least be sure to turn away from your table if you need a small snack or drink.
5. Stand Up and Smile
Above all, it’s the personal connection you make with your customers that will win you their trust and their business.
"Yes, you got up at 3:30 in the morning to pick the sweet corn and drive to market and you’re starting to feel tired when the market starts, but remember you’re living the farm dream and people come to market to buy a piece of that dream,” Blanchard says.
If a customer sees you sitting when they approach your stand, they might feel like they’re inconveniencing you and move on to the next vendor. Instead, remain standing, which allows you to greet customers as they browse your table.
These little details can make all the difference in your final sales at the end of the market day. They key remains to always be attentive, looking at your booth objectively, observing other stands, and continually tweaking and improving your set-up.
Get more farm marketing and sales tips from HobbyFarms.com:
About the Author: Lisa Kivirist farms, writes and runs a diversified operation from Inn Serendipity, her family’s farm and bed-and-breakfast in Wisconsin. She is co-author of Farmstead Chef (New Society Publishers, 2011), ECOpreneuring (New Society Publishers, 2008) and Rural Renaissance (New Society Publishers, 2009).