5 Tips for Selling at Farmers Markets

With spring in full swing, farmers markets offer food and craft producers an outlet for selling directly to consumers. Thanks to the locavore movement and growing public awareness of sustainable sourcing, farmers markets grew 17 percent between 2010 and 2011. More than 7,100 farmers markets were operating nationwide as of mid-2011, the USDA reports.

Here are five tips to help you sell your wares at your nearest farmers market:

  1. Scope out the market in advance. Before signing up for a booth, Peggy Li, a San Francisco-based jewelry-maker who has sold handmade wares at farmers markets for the past decade, suggests visiting the market first. “Take note of the customer base and what type of vendors are at the market, and think about whether your product is a good fit,” she advises. While you’re there, chat with vendors about their experiences. Check with the market’s manager about what types of vendors are allowed (some markets permit only food sales) and what equipment (table and chairs? tent? power source?) you need to bring.
  2. Offer samples. Tasting edible products can really help convince people to buy. “I always ask, ‘Have you ever tried a coffee-flavored jumbo marshmallow?’” says Mary White-Cornell, who sells her gourmet marshmallows at a farmers market in the Seattle area. For jewelry or other non-food items, Li suggests letting customers touch the products or try them on in front of a mirror. Research shows that once customers handle a product, they’re more likely to buy it.
  3. Bring more merchandise than you need. Create an impression of abundance by keeping your booth well-stocked. “Nobody wants to buy the last of anything, so you have to pile it high to keep it from looking picked over and to get people to buy it,” says Katie Kring, a baker and farmer who sells her goods at farmers markets in the Ozarks. Tony Morales of Desert Smoke BBQ in Scottsdale, Ariz., tracks sales of his BBQ and hot sauce, so he can bring one and a half times that amount to the market the following week.
  4. Create visual appeal. Professional signs and a colorful tablecloth can help to attract customers. “Make your booth inviting: clean and uncluttered, with a look that matches your brand or what you are selling,” Cornell suggests. “Since my target market is mostly women and families, I use lots of white and bright colors.” Her display also includes a 6-foot cardboard cutout of her dressed like Marshmerrie Fairy, her company’s mascot. Creating a multilevel display with crates or shelves help to show off your products and maximize table space.
  5. Chat up potential customers. As a general rule, Morales tries to chat with anyone who comes within 10 feet of his booth. Not everyone is receptive to small talk, but some people are — and you want to draw in those prospects. Once you’ve struck up a conversation, you might encourage people to sign up for your email list. In addition to collecting email addresses, Li says, “I also give out business cards with each sale to ensure they return. The card contains information about their purchase, which often gets shuffled into a bag with their veggies and bread!”

About Susan Johnston

Susan Johnston is a freelance writer and blogger who specializes in writing about business and personal finance. Her articles have appeared in or on The Boston Globe, Dance Retailer News, GetCurrency.com, Mint.com, PARADE Magazine, WomenEntrepreneur.com, and other places.
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