Continuing the subject that I began in a previous post, if you’re a housewife looking to use your skills to make a little extra income, you should consider selling at a farmer’s market. If you’ve come to the conclusion that it might be a good fit for you, I’m offering a handful of tips.
I don’t pretend to be the last word on farmer’s markets, but I’ve spent many days as a vendor. I’ve also been a market manager and have served on a farmer’s market board, both as vice president and an advisor. All that to say, I’ve seen a lot and have a lot to say on the topic.
1. Be consistent. If you’ve made the commitment to sell at a market, show up consistently. I’ve observed vendors show up for the first time on a “bad” day–the day of a surprise monsoon, the weekend of the county fair, or maybe there wasn’t a clear reason. But after one day or a few of less than stellar sales, they give up. Do you always buy something the first time you see it? I don’t. It’s only after seeing something several times that my curiosity will be piqued enough to investigate. The market season can get long–mine was twice a week for 6 months. Everyone understands occasional absences, but customers will expect to see you regularly. Soon they’ll be bringing their shopping lists and referring their friends.
2. Be prepared. Selling at a farmer’s market is a gamble. Many days selling is pure joy–a sunny day with poofy clouds, not too hot, a nice shady tent, and your JOB is to enjoy it all, chat with passersby, and of course, make some money. Best gig ever.
But then, there are the days you’re setting up, and the sky suddenly looks like this:
Some days will just be miserable, that’s the only way to say it. Tornado warnings, pouring rain, 100+ degree days with no breeze, and yes, even snow. Sales are sparse and spirits are low.
Keep a stash in your vehicle with the same things you would use to go camping or on a picnic–bug repellent, sunscreen, jacket, bandages, a tarp, a water bottle, and a poncho, plus market stuff, like tape, pens, extra change, and scissors. Market vendors are great about sharing and helping each other out, but you don’t want to be one of the perpetually needy ones.
On a related note: If you have a tent, make sure you have weights. Many markets require them for good reason. I’ve seen the damage caused by a tent blown into the side of a car by a freak wind and have watched as an overturned tent sailed over other tents in slow motions, exhilarated by its first taste of freedom. You can buy weights specifically for tents or cobble something together yourself.
3. Remember the kids. This one took me a long time to learn. Most children nowadays have raised exceptionally well-behaved, submissive parents. It’s remarkable, really. Anyway, I made a few batches of small soaps, molded in animal shapes with bright colors and fun scents. Every kid walking by seemed to notice these inexpensive little soaps and most parents were only too glad to buy their children something that wasn’t filled with sugar, or difficult to carry, like a giant pumpkin. I have to say there’s something endearing about a little fellow pleading passionately a green hippo soap that smells like bananas. Maybe it’s a sales gimmick, but it also helps with morale families a more pleasant experience for everyone. Samples of food, products geared for children, and giveaways like coloring book pages and stickers make the day more memorable for families.
4. Get to know the other vendors. Vendors who keep to themselves are missing out on a valuable part of the market experience. These growers/producers really know their stuff, and they are more than happy to share their advice and experience. And they may even help you with your business. When a customer asked about my ingredients I liked to be able to tell him that my beeswax came from Mr. Z, the honey vendor 5 tents down. Market customers appreciated it and for me, I could support someone who participates in my local economy, and I didn’t have to question the quality, and I saved shipping costs. (Actually, the idea for kid soaps came from my neighboring vendor, who sold baked goods. I’d treat myself to one of her brownies every market and direct customers to her stand for a brownie of their own while she kept a lookout for soap molds at garage sales for me. Score.)
5. Consider your customers and be prepared to modify your products. Farmer’s market patrons are typically health conscious; that’s usually why they’re there, after all. They want to know about the products they put in and on their bodies. It’s a general rule that simpler, more “natural” products sell better, although every market has a different tone. Likewise, some vendors find customers want plain ol’ tomatoes and bell peppers, while others clamor for specialty, unusual varieties. You’ll soon figure out your customers. Chances are, they’ll be quick to tell you.