More than 8,000 farmers markets are now listed in the USDA’s National Farmers Market Directory. That number is up from just 5,000 in 2008. In small towns and large communities, markets directly connect producers with consumers, providing the local linkages foodies and families crave. As many communities and the nation, celebrate farmers markets this summer, vendors seek the successful sales points, which keep them coming back and markets busy with a variety of goods and services.
Each market has its own “vibe,” the central operating structure and customer base which give it a unique twist — it’s the heart of the market, the purpose of its being and what keeps customers coming back.
Be it a festival atmosphere with entertainment and activities, or a vendor-only market with food booths, identifying and tagging the heart of a market helps you better prepare for and enjoy the entire market season.
Fully understanding the operating structure of the farmers market gives you the ability to tailor your sales approach and goods to both the resulting consumer base and the market’s philosophical reason for being. Some markets are sponsored or backed by local economic development or government agencies with the purpose of spring -boarding market customers to other nearby businesses. Some markets runs by farm agencies or vendor cooperatives are more structured to serve individual producers within in a cooperative setting. Over the past few years, other operational structures have also evolved including markets run by community service groups, health organizations and corporations.
If you are asked to join a market, or you seek out multiple market opportunities, you will probably get a packet of membership material that should provide you with the expectations, rules and regulations.   Some information may be included about the underlying market structure, but if not, be sure to ask who is actually funding or sponsoring the market and what the group’s goals and objectives are. Are vendors asked to serve on the operating board? What input does each individual vendor have?
Markets run in cooperation with housing authorities, corporations and businesses often rely on farmer groups or vendor cooperatives to operate the markets within local, state and federal regulations while they do not get involved with day to day operational concerns. In some circumstances, vendors are responsible for market development and expansion within a set of corporate goals and objectives.
By understanding the heart of the market, you can best judge what products, and services surrounding the products, will meet the target customer base. Market managers and other vendors will have tips about customer buying trends, typical money spent per visit, and special services important to the buying public. Also ask about how the market is promoted and what role, you as an individual vendor, can play in promotions and advertising.
Farmer’s markets play an important role in food distribution in today’s economy. Understanding each market’s structure and how you can adapt your marketing to these unique situations will pay dividends in the best return on your investment.
The above information is provided for educational purposes and should not be substituted for professional legal and business counseling.