Jul 26, 2018
The do’s and don’ts of selling in public markets

Public markets are great places to sell specialty crops, but they come with their own challenges.

Most have very particular sets of rules. The markets are very busy places and frequently crowded. Even if the vendors do not compete with each other, there’s a certain amount of bumping of elbows that goes on during the course of a day.

A successful debut at a new public market can be tricky, so VGN reached out to farm market managers to gather their advice. Here are some of their tips.

DO make an effort to have an attractive display or setup. “Display is everything,” said Jessica Wolfe, the vendor coordinator and market manager of Midtown Farmers Market in Sacramento, California. “One of our best displays is a farm booth that uses natural yellow tablecloths that match their banner. Another ties in gingham cloth with the red in their banner. They also have very easily accessible booths where it’s easy to get in and out of.”

DON’T forget to put on your happy face. Customer service is vital, Wolfe said. “We understand that the farmers are typically doing all the labor themselves, then coming out to sell after a long, early morning of picking the produce. However, a smile and the phrase, ‘Thank you for coming by! Can I answer any questions for you?’ goes a very long way. Forming relationships is the best way to ensure returning customers.”

Customers line up at a vegetable booth at the Holland Farmers Market.
Photos: Holland Farmers Market

DO take plastic. “Being able to accept credit cards is another good asset,” Wolfe said. “It’s easy to get a simple POS (point of sale) operating system on a smartphone or tablet to make transactions. Some of the patrons of the market spend big money because they have the ability to swipe their cards.”

DON’T skip reading the rules. “A good rule of thumb is to follow the specifications that each market requires,” said Sara Cozolino, the market master of Holland, Michigan’s operation. “Follow the rules, make sure your staff has everything for setup and is well-versed on the needs at the market: how/where to set up, various food assistance programs the vendor may participate in, hours, food safety rules and where to go for check-in, questions, or concerns. Farmers’ markets are a wonderful community space, and if vendors and management can work together, they are vibrant and successful.”

An attractive display or setup can make the difference in attracting customers.

DO know your place. Jessica Wobbekind is executive director of the Logan Square Farmers Market in Chicago. She occasionally has trouble with vendors parking on the wrong street – big trouble for a crowded urban market. Wobbekind said there also can be trouble with vendors introducing new goods that might compete with other vendors. She does her best to be considerate of growers who are experimenting with new crops, and a heads-up call from the grower helps her do that. “We’re flexible,” she said. “Communication is big.”

DON’T go AWOL. In a market where space is at a premium, Wobbekind said, a vendor going absent without leave creates a problem. “Be reliable and dependable,” she said. “Show up when you say you’re going to show up.” Growers are driving from far away and the Midwestern winter weather often hinders travel, but, again, it helps if growers at least call ahead and tell her if they’re late or not coming. “It’s just being considerate,” she said.

DO make friends with your local market manager. “As a market manager, I try my best to cater to each one of the businesses that attend,” Wolfe said. “Without them, there would be no market. A reminder would be that the market manager has their best interest in mind at all points of the planning process. The manager’s objective is to have an efficient and successful market. Having a copacetic relationship with the market manager makes that objective possible.”

– Stephen Kloosterman, VGN Assistant Editor

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P.O. Box 128
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