Over the last 10 years or so, farmers markets have popped up at a fairly impressive clip, rising 76 percent between 2008 and 2014 alone. One effect of this is that many farmers, new and old, have had to make a hard decision: Do you go with the new market or bank on the established one?
Both have their pros and cons, and everyone’s situation is going to be different. If you rely heavily on your farmers market sales for your farming income, this decision cannot be made lightly.
Location Location Location
Few things are more important in retail business than where your store is located, and this same rule applies to farmers markets. If a new market is starting in an area off the beaten path, be wary. Even if this is the only market in town, give serious thought to how accessible the market will be to customers. There are exceptions to every rule, of course, but if the new market is not in a location visible from a main thoroughfare, people will have to go out of their way to visit and may soon forget about it. A market should attract regular customers as well as the passerby—location has a lot to do with sustaining this. If the new market is convenient and located nearby other businesses and busy roads, it’s worth considering.
If you can get a full list of the vendors involved with the new market, you may be able to determine if there’s a good niche for you to fill and whether there are enough vendors to make the space feel busy. If the market venue is large with only a few vendors, the lack of ambiance could easily turn customers away. Another important factor is the number of CSA farmers. These farmers bring customers to market week after week, rain or shine. Having good hot-food and coffee vendors doesn’t hurt either.
One of the first things a new market will do is establish a manager. It would be in your best interest to call this person and ask to meet with them if possible. Have a coffee and get a feel for what they’re like. A driven manager can make any farmers market in any location good, but a bad manager can drag the experience down. Getting to know the person who will be in charge of your income for the season is never a bad idea.
Farmers Market Fees & Rules
Thoroughly review the rules of the market, which you can usually find attached to the market application. I find that these documents are often exhaustingly blunt, so don’t judge them on language as much as determining whether they meet your standards. If the market allows reselling of produce, that may be a red flag. It will be hard to compete with people who buy cheap, conventional produce and sell it at the booth down the aisle from you. Other red flags can include market fees if exorbitant, the market hours, and the season start and end dates. Sometimes these elements are flexible, but it’s worth considering how they match your farm goals.
Last but definitely not least, you don’t want to be at a market customers can’t get to. Parking, especially in larger cities, can cause many issues for customers. And if you want to maintain loyal customers week after week, there should be plenty of space for them to park. If it’s too much hassle, it will be hard to convince them to keep coming back.