You are the reason people choose the farmers’ market
Consumers can almost always buy their produce elsewhere. Grocery stores usually have longer hours and lower pricing than farmers’ markets. So why do people choose the farmers’ market over a grocery store?
This is a question that Kris Pauly from Raining Dreams Ranch asked market-goers at the local farmers’ market over the course of the last three months. He got several answers. Farmers’ markets support local farmers, said some. Others wanted local food, fresher food, and healthier food.
The third major reason is that people at farmers’ markets wanted to know who was growing their food, where it was grown, and how. In other words: they wanted to know their farmer.
As a farmer, Kris and his wife Anna decided to give their farmers’ market customers exactly what they wanted by growing great food and engaging with people at the market.
Engaging with customers can be an overwhelming process to many farmers, who think that it requires intense personal skills and charm. In reality, engaging with customers means having honest conversations about the things you have in common. Kris has broken down the process into clear tips and tricks, which he has helpfully shared with the Upstart U community!
To engage with your farmers’ market, attract people to an appealing stand, engage with visitors through talking points and questions, and don’t be afraid to think outside of the box.
Attract people to your stand
A neat, colorful stand is important to attracting customers at the farmers’ markets. Kris and Anna Pauly give several tips for creating a nice-looking stand. “No one wants to see wilted produce, closed areas or trash everywhere,” says Kris. “Be mindful of what and how you present.”
Make clear signs to label produce and pricing
Boards, cards, and tape labels with large simple labels help customers view your produce offerings at a glance. If they have to squint or get close, the writing is too small. Pricing information should also be displayed as simply as possible.
Bring fresh, crisp, healthy looking produce
Harvest early in the morning and store the produce correctly to keep it fresh for the market. Learn more about postharvest care here.
Create a clean area that is inviting and open
Clutter will make your booth less appealing. Keep a clean, open area that’s easy to walk into from the street. Use tape and ropes to secure fluttering table cloths, keep trash cans and extra boxes out of sight, and don’t block the entrance to your stand with signs or tables.
“Less is more”—simplify your packaging or eliminate it altogether
“A lot of people come to get away from all the plastic in big stores. We sell much more in a bulk self-serve display where people can mix n’ match all the herbs they want for a set price per oz. People love being able to grab exactly how much of what they want. We use ice under the cut produce, we have business cards on hand and offer self-service or we will bag up what they want.”
A smile and thank you goes a long way!
“Be excited about what you are doing. Excitement is contagious!”
Engage customers with talking points
Once the customer is there in your stand or in front of your table, strike up a conversation as a friendly acquaintance. Remember that the customer is already interested in your farm.
Kris gives the customer “a little show”—letting his passion for farming shine through as he describes the farm to the customer.
“We often start by talking a little bit about how we grow
and what aquaponics means,” says Kris.
He uses talking points that make his farm interesting and valuable to the customer, including points like these:
- We use organic processes
- We grow Tilapia as well as fresh produce
- We are local (give them an idea where we are)
- We are new and growing
- How we got started
- What crops we are growing (even if we don’t have any right then)
- How we grow vertically with ZipGrow Towers (these are great to get people asking questions!)
- Ideas on how to use the produce we are offering right then
- We plan on attending the other local farmers’ markets as soon as our production supports it
Engage by asking questions
If your customers aren’t already asking questions, prompt them with a few of your own.
The answers to these questions give you a chance to build a relationship with your customers as well as passively conduct some market research.
- How long have you been going to the farmers’ market?
- Why do/did you come to this and other markets?
- How often do you come?
- Is anything you would like to try or have questions about?
- Do you garden? What do you grow (past and present)?
- What are you looking for? Is there anything else you would like to see?
The result of these conversations with your customers is that you’ve given them what they want—a relationship with their farmer. At the end of the day, market-goers will choose the food that they trust, marked by genuine conversations with the farmers that grew it.
Engaging with market-goers: dinner and a show
Kris calls a good farmers’ market stand “dinner and a show”.
“In essence, the show is a conversation that we and our new customer engage in, making their visit individualized and personal. We care why they are there and want to know what they need or want. We take notes and are truly engaged with them. This is a show they will never forget.
And if we are successful in creating this personalized show, we will have a new customer that comes back time and time again.”
Tips and tricks from the Paulys
Over the first few months selling at the farmers market, the Paulys learned several things. If you’re just starting, maybe these tips and tricks will help you learn faster and sell better!
- Learn everything about what you are selling and how it can be used.
- Don’t be afraid to grow something new or that you don’t use. Nasturtiums for us have been a big hit, yet we had never grown or used them in the past.
- Be flexible—nothing is going to go 100% according to plan.
What are your market tricks?
One of the greatest advantages of modern farmers is your ability to share. What are your tips for selling at farmers markets, restaurants, groceries, or CSAs? Leave a comment to share!