by Michael Wren
At a recent conference, farmers gathered to attend classes and get an insight into the future of the industry, and learn the new practices and techniques in an ever-changing industry. Laura Biasillo, Agricultural Economic Development Specialist for Broome County, NY Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE), gave a lecture explaining new studies and better techniques for selling more produce more consistently at farmers markets.
Biasillo suggests being creative and whimsical in your display. Include putting odd and imperfectly shaped fruits and vegetables in your display. “This is the type of thing people at a farmers market want to see,” says Biasallo, indicating a photo of bulbous potatoes. Bringing in a display of what you do or how to use the product is a good way to generate buzz about your stand. Biasallo points out that “Activities and demonstrations are crowd pleasers” and nothing draws a crowd like already having one. It is also key to keep your produce clean and looking good. Always put your best product forward and keep it clean and fresh.
It is best to bring more than you hope to sell. People like to see a large selection and have a choice of which to pick. “Pile it high and watch it fly” is a good description of how to optimize your market experience. “Always make it look bountiful,” recommends Biasallo, “Nobody wants to take the last one.” It is also a good idea to keep in mind your customers in relation to sizing and product. For instance not many people go to a farmers market looking to buy a bushel of peaches, instead sell pints or quarts.
Table coverings
A bare table is a boring table. Your selling area should always be kept clean, organized and uncluttered. A simple tablecloth will help to accent your display and if it is long enough it will allow you storage under the table where it is hidden from public view. If you have limited table space you should also consider layering your product. This allows customers to access more items and also can create the illusion of abundance. The signs on your table must also be kept clean and organized. Also keep in mind that the best selling space is between the knees and elbows, you don’t want customers on the ground or reaching high to get your goods.
People won’t buy your product if they don’t know what it is or how much it costs. Therefore it is important to make signs legible and large enough to read from a distance. Every product needs to be clearly labeled and priced so that customers have no question about what they are getting and what price they are getting it for. It is also important to have your farm name prominently displayed. If people know your farm and they know you then they will come back each week and buy your product. Repeat customers are the goal of every business and farmers markets are no different. If is also a good idea to display your farm’s story so that customers feel like they are a part of your farm and know from where and how the food makes its way to their table. Another way to boost sales, especially if you are selling specialty produce, is to display photos and recipes of how to use the fruits and vegetables. Biasillo recommends not using white signs because it takes attention away from your products. She also points out that laminated signs last longer and can be changed with a grease pencil as needed. Another key to remember is to never be negative in your sign making and keep in mind that all farmers at the market are in the same boat and should never disparage each other.
A study done by Cornell Cooperative Extension Broome County and the Farmers’ Market Federation of New York shows that your pricing strategy directly impacts your sales. This study shows average income based on pricing strategy. Those on the low end of pricing averaged $406, the high end averaged $677, and those that modeled their prices along with others at the market averaged $732. The highest income was attained using a pricing strategy based on analysis of costs and generated an average income of $1,088. The study also indicated those that lowered their prices to move a particular item that they have too much of. This strategy can significantly increase sales but it is important to remember that the price cut may undermine your pricing strategy. Meaning that you need to understand how much more you would need to sell of that item to make it worthwhile. Another way to move more product of something you have a lot of is to look at alternate market channels such as a roadside stand, direct to retail, wholesale, or a community supported agriculture program (CSA).
Customer service
Even if you have the best product around, if potential customers feel you don’t want them there then they won’t be. Even if you’re the boss, especially if you’re the boss because you need to set an example, do not talk on the phone, play games, smoke, or eat at the booth while you are working a farm stand. If you treat your selling space as a retail store then people will respond to it. Be friendly and informative to all potential customers, this will help to ensure customers coming back every week and buying from you. Always remember that at a farmers market you are the face of your farm and all of your actions speak of you as a farm.
Farmers markets are a tried and tested way to bring your hard earned produce to the public and will always have a place in the agricultural world. Implementing some or all of these strategies will help give you an edge in selling and retaining customers to your farm. If possible holding events on your farm for the public will also increase your public visibility and thereby make your customers feel attuned to, and a part of your farm.