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How to sell more at farmers’ markets
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Farmers markets are a great way to get your products in front of a lot of people at one time. In order to take advantage of the number of people, you need to capture their attention immediately.
Here are some tricks we have learned over the years. My family sold at farmers markets since 1832. Yes, that’s right, 1832. And we are still farming and still selling directly to the public.
1. Stand up.
Never, ever sit at a market. Ever. Sitting sends a signal that you are taking a break. People don’t want to interrupt you. Your job is to be available to the customers, and you indicate that by standing up. Do not bring a stool or a chair; they take up valuable space that should be given to sales items.
2. Show your face.
That means no sunglasses. Regular glasses are fine.
Hiding your eyes means you cannot make eye contact with people. Set up your tent so that you are in the shade. It’s best not to wear a brimmed cap, either. You want to project the attitude of “open for business, I’m here to help.” Sunglasses and caps do not send that message.
3. Wear solid color clothing.
If you do not have a shirt or sweatshirt with your farm name on it, wear a plain shirt and make a name tag with your first name and the farm name on it. That shows that you are with the farmstand and that you are available to answer questions.
Do not wear a shirt with a slogan.
Why no slogans or your favorite band? You don’t really want to spend time talking about the merits of Band A vs Band B, you want to spend time talking about the merits of Brandywine tomatoes vs Cherokee Purple tomatoes. If it’s a busy market, you can miss out on the people who want to give you dollars while someone is saying why they like or don’t like a particular slogan.
An apron – with or without – you logo is a good option. That way you don’t have to decide what shirts are ok to wear and which aren’t.
Whatever you wear, you want to look like a farmer. You want people to look at what you have for sale, not at your clothes.
4. Say hello and smile!
As people stroll around, you want to stop the stroll with a “Hello, how are you?” or Hello, have you ever tried …” if you have something different from the usual fare. Speaking nearly always gets people to stop and look, even for a few seconds. You need that to capture their interest.
Smile! Always look pleasant, and smile when you talk with people. You want to be approachable, which means you have to talk first.
5. Have your 10-second farm pitch ready
“We grow fabulous tomatoes—have you tried Sun Gold?—and specialty greens—we have fresh mizuna today—on our family farm about 15 miles away.” Or words to that effect. This gets them looking at two different items on your tables and gives you a chance to keep them there. In that introduction, tell them what is good for them.
If they have kids, say “Kids love our cherry tomatoes—would you like to try one?” If they have a dog, ask about the pet. You want the conversation to be about them and what they want.
If they are looking up and down and over, ask “Have you seen our fresh basil?”
6. No texting or phone calls or social media searches while you are at the market
If the phone is in your hand, even if you are not on it, people feel like you are not paying attention to them. You want them to think that they have made your day by talking with you and buying from you. That happens when you put your focus on the customer.
If you have to take a message or call, do so only if someone else is there to talk with customers. This is a time to concentrate on sales. Turn your phone off, unless you are using it to process credit card sales.
7. Have beautiful displays on a solid color background
You do not want your displays to take away from your fruits, vegetables, or other products. Use a solid color table or table cloth as the backdrop. Interestingly, black or dark green is an excellent background for fruits and vegetables.
Use vertical space to your advantage. You can stack wood crates on top of each other to have an eye-catching sales spot that can be seen from a distance.
8. Be prepared to make sales
People come to a farmers market prepared to spend money. Have cash and change ready for cash sales. Have bags as needed. If you take credit cards, be ready with the card reader, a charged unit, and a way to charge if needed during the market hours. When we started taking credit cards at the farmers market, we increased our total sales by over 25%. Eventually, as more people realized they could use a card, we more than doubled our sales. It more than paid for the credit card processing fees.
9. Have prices posted somewhere.
Ideally, have signs next to the products. Use clothes pins, staples, tape, whatever can get your prices posted.
KNOW YOUR PRICES. The sign will get lost or covered up or people just won’t see it. You need to be able to answer any “How much” questions without looking for the sign. If two of you are going to market, you can drill each other on the ride up.
10. Have a spot where people can make a stack of what they want to buy.
This encourages people to nab their first priority item and then keep shopping to see what else they might want.
11. Have a speedy check out system
If it is a busy market, you do not want people to stand in line to check out. There are other booths they can go to. Have pricing that you can add quickly and easily. Instead of a cash box, I used market aprons. Coins were kept in a small container, easily accessed by any staff member. Each person wore a market apron with dollar bills and made change from there. Ones on the left, and twenties would go behind the ones. Fives on the right, in front, with tens behind the fives. Your hands learn where to go to make change, it keeps anyone from making off with the cash box, and you can make change no matter where you are standing in the booth.
We use Square for mobile charging, as well as a back up system for our farm market at home when the internet is out. It is easy to accept all cards. PayPal and clover are other options.
12. Have something that no one else does
Cut flowers, oyster mushrooms, bamboo plants, microgreens, raspberries.… You want to have at least one thing that no one else does. This makes people come to your stand first to make sure they get that special item. Then they buy something else while they are there.
13. Have a spot where people can sign up for your email list.
Email people the day before the market, with a “Here’s what’s coming your way” reminder. That way they are looking for you. Be sure to collect their names as well, so that you can personalize the email with “Hi, Shannon, are you looking for heirloom tomatoes? We will have them and more at tomorrow’s market!”
14. Keep your displays looking good
As people buy, you have fewer of each item. Customers move things around, look at the back of jars and set them down backwards. Tidy the display. If you have no customers, walk around front and tweak the display. Prettiest side front facing. Re-arrange to find the best location.
Consolidate and move items closer together as products sell. Keep each display looking pretty and full. Use a smaller display basket if necessary. Take a table down if needed.
Have a spray bottle with water if you need to mist root crops or greens to freshen them up. Keep greens in a cooler in hot weather and bring out a few at a time, to keep them looking good.
15. Have a banner with the farm name and location
This seems kind of basic, but it helps locate your farm. Hang the banner where people can see it from a distance. It’s why we always put up our market tents, even on gorgeous days when it was not needed. People could see the tents from a distance and know we were there.
A photo album of your farm is also helpful. Although people can google your farm website or your social media pages, they won’t do it right then and they will forget about it later. Having pictures right there shows people you have a real farm growing real crops.
16. Stand out from the crowd
If everyone has a white tent, have a gold canopy. If everyone has a chalk board, have hand written signs. If everyone has lettuce, have red leaf lettuce. If everyone has cabbage, have baby bok choy. If everyone has eggs, have duck eggs. Have some flowers for sale. People are automatically attracted to flowers, and flowers make people feel good.
17. Thank you, thank you, thank you
When you conclude your sale, always say thank you. Not “there you go” or “have a great day.” You can say “have a great day” AFTER you say “Thank you!” We appreciate people spending their money with us, that’s how we can stay in business. Thus, we always say, “Thank you!”
Customer service is at a low state currently. Rarely do I hear “thank you” from a cashier. You elevate your customer service and make your farm stand out with these two simple words. Mean it when you say it, and people will appreciate that you made the effort.
Farmers markets are an excellent way to sell your produce. The people who come are already interested in farm fresh, great tasting produce, and they want to support small farms. These are your kind of people. Make the most of this opportunity and focus on your customers.
If this has been helpful, check out our courses. Growing something in the garden is good for you! We share how we grow on the farm in these courses.
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Happy growing and happy eating!