Small town market

bigred(z8 Ark.)January 16, 2005

I'm located in a small town and our farmers market is only apx. 4 yrs old and still poorly attend by both vendors and shoppers. I think the most vend ors I have counted at one time was 4(myself and one other being the only two w/ larger displays) sad. I'm racking my brain on what I can do to help it grow and prosper. I deal mainly in container grown perennials and my inventory changes at least by 2 two varieties each time I go. I also started taking homemade soap,birdhouses,fresh eggs from my chickens,veggies,potted herbs and anything I can think of to peek interest. This year I plan on adding my homemade crafts and cut flowers. Due to the lack of customers,I'm going to have to drop down to once a week at my home towm market this year,to attend bigger markets in larger out- lying cities so I can make some money.


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Colorado_west(z5 W Co)

Market here is small. 04 was my first year selling .Twice a week,Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings. Thursdays about 6 show up and all are veggie fruit type. Sat Crafts and more. There were evenings I would have been only one if another had not came so I would not be alone. I am not sure how many years but some it has been going. Lease 4. It is not well attented. They pay fee and city provided some entertaintment. They run ads but don't really I went to the business meeting and they do spend the money on ads. Have ad committee. Fund raising. Sign over on the highway trying to get in tourist. City had sign on the market in town. I am just veggies and very reasonable trying to get started and get steady customers. I am saying the market has to get more customers or I will need a bigger market. I really want to stay here at home town one like you. We can not sell more item, crafts and such, inless we put in and get it okay in spring. Crafts really I don't feel have sold in summer time. Here if there is a festival going on not too far the craft ones don't show up on Sat. I have thought too what can I do to get more customers? I think people go to farmer's markets for veggies and fruit. I grew more than I could sell on half acre. We were all under store prices. This year I think I will run an ad when I get plenty of tomatoes , my prices on them and peppers. Like in the yard sale section. People from big city don't come out here to shop really. But this city is big enough we should get more people in. First years they were high I think. Guys were selling corn 4/$1. I know I needed more stuff to start with and I started late too going. My first year getting started. I will try to grow melons this year. I really do not want to sell at the house. I had steady repeat customers but not enough. I have not come up with anything but the ad to try. If I get more people in that way it will help us all. I am sure open for suggestions too. I want to have a bit more variety too.

    Bookmark   January 16, 2005 at 5:47PM
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huisjen(z5 ME)

Could you try putting a classified ad in whatever VERY local paper(maybe a Pennysaver flyer?) you have, changing it each week to indicate what's new? Maybe offering one item on special? Just enough to get people coming.


    Bookmark   January 16, 2005 at 5:48PM
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I know how frustrating it is for you.
We grow cutflowers for market; and, we don't sell at our local farmers market.
Historically, people in rural areas don't buy flowers. So, we go to other markets in urban areas where the demand is greater.

    Bookmark   January 16, 2005 at 6:37PM
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I believe there is a relationship between how many people live within a 30 minute drive of your location and how many shoppers you will have. And there is also a relationship between how many shoppers there are at your market and how much you will sell. So, you have to realistically look at the numbers. Your situation may not support a big money making market.

Is there anything nearby that has a crowd at it? A mall, a community center, a popular restaurant? If there is any way you could draw some of those people's attention either by a display of your products available at the farmers market, a sign on their bulletin board, and ad in their program. Marketing is the key. Marketing and promotion is more important than the quality of your product (sad to say). Low quality stuff makes big money everyday simply because of talented marketing people. McDonald's and Walmart didn't get to where they are by offering premium products.

In the end you just need to do what you can do. Don't change drastically each month. Be consistant, be true to yourself, eventually everyone that is gonna buy from you will develop into repeat customers. Think of the guy on the side of the road selling produce from the back of his truck - if he moved around every day it would end up hurting his sales. But once people see him parked in the same spot every time they drive by they learn to expect him there and know where to go when they want what he is selling.

Hang in there!

    Bookmark   January 17, 2005 at 10:33AM
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Colorado_west(z5 W Co)

Here I think 50 to 60 thousand with in 30 min drive. My city is 5 or 6 thousand and big city people do not come out here. There is market there. Some here say they do not want to drive to big city to buy. Some did not know we have one. Big sign up on the main street where it is. Local paper has done write and their ad. Nothing lists prices. My own ad would be at my expense on top of state and local license and market fee. There is a paper that is free and it is all over this town and big city too and such. Lot don't take the local paper. I figure maybe the free one. I think $l5 will do a small 3 day classified ad. Local paper is once a week this free one 5 days . week. Bulletboards here I only know one I could post on . High gas over $2 a gallon there for awhile not much under $2 now. Certain percent have little garden. Here if they take a paper it is the big city paper. I get my fair share of the sales I feel. Bit just lack of people coming to it. I am licesed in the big city okay if I wanted to go but that market I was told was $400. It would cost be like $4 each trip in and back. People here lot know me and I started building up stead people week after week but just not enough of them. I was hoping word of mouth would help. The day the church across street from market had some woman's meeting and they used the parking lot at market and cut around I was about swamped selling to them. But people can only use so many tomatoes and peppers a week. I understand that. Local people some were buying at a fruit and veggie stand uo by the big store. He was higher than store. Least was when I had checked years back. He has quit. I guess we are two blocks from the store and he was open 6 days a week. Farmer's market was only place to get stuff besides the one store here. Wal-mart down the highway almost in to city main part. Another one over on the other side of big city. My DIL as said put up signs on my booth no sprays, heebicides and local grown and so on. You need people to come read the signs. I would get asked if I grew all the stuff and where at and I told them. Very few asked if I sprayed. I told people I did not and my cats patroled the garden but they did not get all the bugs but did a good job. They do not want a spot of any kind on stuff. Gas in too high really for that pickup to make trips out of town to where no markets. I will try this year and if not better it will end it for me, I think. I am going to give it a good try this year.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2005 at 12:18PM
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Interesting that a graphic artist and illustrator is giving advice to a market farmer. But, hey. I assume with your background you are a visual person. I don't necessarily believe visual is what Bigred or Colorado west were looking to get. They pretty much want to know why they are not getting enough interest from the local folk after four years at market. I happen to think the answer is simple: you have to go where the people are. Colorado west also mentioned Walmart was near the market. This always hurts a market especially those markets in smaller communities.
That said. Walmart and McDonald's filled a niche. It wasn't that Walmart had great product. They advertised they had good product reasonably priced. And, they promoted the, "made in the USA" slogan.
McDonald's, which came on the scene in the early 60s, promoted good food, fast. As a teenager during that time, this was great.
Something else you mentioned about it not being necessary to have top quality product at the market. Marketing was the number one issue according to you. Sorry Bucko. That is so off the mark. It is ESSENTIAL to have the very best product at the farmers market.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2005 at 5:25PM
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Colorado_west(z5 W Co)

I know one needs good qualty and fresh. I get told how bad the store tomatoes are. Lots I guess is all they ever have eaten. So many just do one stop shopping. I have more than tomatoes. In this day and age with both having to work how many do a lot of cooking?? The people that come I think do buy and I think I get my fair share of the business. Last year my first try. To start with I had a bit of problem trying to figure a steady price, then I did. Just the extra efford to get to the market is bother. The other larger market gardener, Largest that come regular, his wife would come tell me what beautifull produce I had. If fact she bought canning tomatoes from me as their tomatoes was quiting. Mine was going great and she would ask what kind I had. I am really not large that is for sure. More variety I guess might help. I have been told prices were too high at market so they quit. Some those early years were high at least for this area. Maybe back east or other places can get more. They all seems to be under store price on veggies. I got repeat sale but just not enough come to market and a city this size one would think be more. The population here is growing good. DIL says I am too cheap and people do have money to buy. I did go steady once my stuff start. I started ever Sat and then added Thrusday after two weeks and I was there each time and all. I had people come early even before I could get set up and I was setting up on time. I believe in being there. Assn is trying to get more in, they are open to ideas. They will have meeting again in spring to collect the money for this summer. I was giving a list of members and not many. This year I will know better how to do it.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2005 at 6:28PM
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(((hugs))) It's not easy being a member of a new market. All I can say is hang in there and get the most publicity that you can. Get a local paper to do a story..they love human interest stuff. Let them know that you have people trying to make a living off of "Mother Earth!" People love it! If you can get across the point that the money that your customers spend at your market stays in the community you will have one heck of a market. The money that goes to the larger stores goes outside of the where near your town! Your product is fresher, and you can even talk to the person who grew it...that's amazing in today's global market.

Promote, promote,'s the key to a new market.

I'm wishing you the best and please hang in there.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2005 at 9:47PM
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Hugs??? Next thing you know we'll all be joining hands singing, "Kumbaya. I'm thinking that you may have to take one giant step back into reality.
No amount of advertising is going to bring more people if there is nothing there. And, all that fluff about human interest stories in the small town paper.
You said, "The money that goes to the larger stores goes outside of the U.S." What? Are they importing workers at these stores?? And, what about meat, bread products, and other items. Are these people not local. Or, at least operating in the states? That comment was so blatantly nieve.
Large towns have a problem promoting their markets. We don't rely on city run markets to do the promoting for us. This is our business. We advertise ourselves; and, if other vendors reap the benefit, that's great. I get so sick of bleeding hearts who think other people need to do the work for them.
And, I don't believe there is such an animal as small town loyalty anymore.
I might consider a small town market during the week; and, I would have to be honest with myself about the expected income from a weekday market. But, I sure wouldn't participate in a small town market on Saturday. Those people have gone to the city to shop. That's just a fact. If you want to waste your money on advertising, and, sit around crying because nobody supports your market, then, you're a bigger fool than I already thought you were.
Colorado west has already stated he is going to give it another try this season. If it doesn't work, he will try to figure out something else. I give the man credit for growing anything in Colorado. The man certainly has fortitude.
I haven't a clue what happened to Bigred who started this post. If he's smart, I hope he isn't reading any of your wacko advice.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2005 at 8:08AM
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I'm happy to say that my advice has worked for our took a few years but we are now flourishing. Customers shop with us before they go to the "big" stores in the city. The more cutomers we had the more farmers that came to sell. It does work and persistance paid off for us.

Keeping us down on the farms type of advertising has worked! Our customers like knowing that the produce they buy from us was locally grown and that the monies reaped from it continue to allow farmers to live. I guess I am lucky to live in an area that appreciates our hard work.

(((hugs))) is my way of showing cyber support for a fellow farmer. Sorry if you took it the wrong way.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2005 at 8:45AM
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Where I live and work (and I do more than work as an artist) the folks coming to the farmers market are there for different reasons. Yes, some of them want farm fresh, high-quality produce, but only SOME of them. A few want organic but only a few. The bulk of the customers have only a few dollars in their pockets and they want a deal, they want produce for less than the grocery store no matter the quality, they want to haggle over the price. If your market is in this sort of community you won't be able to win over any new customers by proclaiming how superior your product is - they are looking for cheap.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2005 at 10:51AM
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ohiorganic(5/6 SW Ohio)

Some questions:

How is the market organized?
Do you have a market manager either volunteer or paid (but not a farmer at the market)?
What is your budget for advertising?
What kind of free advertising do you use?
How is the community involved?
Do you have a board of directors?
How do you recruit new vendors?
What are the written rules of the market?
What do you charge per space per week/or per season?

I have been involved in styarting a new market and rehabbing an existing market and sit on the board of these markets now. This all started with a public meeting to see who was interested in starting a new market. out of that got a steering committee of around 20 people both farmers and community members. This committee crafted market rules, fees, found a place to have the market, it was a big job and a month before the season opened the steering committe was disbanded and a farmers' market council was formed (which I am now on). The council makes the executive decisions and because we are still new and poor the council takes on manager duties on a rotating basis. We have 3 farmers and two community members on the council.

I found organising with both vendors and community members and really thinking out how you want a market to run will vastly improve it. A market manager is very important to have and a paid manager will work better than volunteer manager. getting community member involved means you will get more customers from the local area through a lot of word of mouth (funny how people will push something when they get personally involved) Work with your city. you can start by contacting a city council member and ask who runs the city. In my town it seems to be the woman who runs the vistor and convention bureau. You will probably find you have support from someone who works in city/villiage gov't.

start now and carefully plan out the market season, when you will open and close. Plan out a festival or two celebrating things that are in season, for example. Write up several news releases to send out to the local papers telling about your market(s) beginning a couple of weeks before the market opens. Also send these to all churches, civic groups and anyone else you can think of who has a newsletter. If you have the money put in a 1/2 page ad in the best read paper in the area a few days before opening day.

markets do not just happen they take a lot of work and it is best to have a group to get all that work done.

Get the book "The New Farmers' Market" By Corwin, Gibson and Rosenweig

Good Luck


    Bookmark   January 18, 2005 at 12:03PM
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Colorado_west(z5 W Co)

Saturday morning is best of the two days and Thursday evening got to where it was okay, I admitt first year I did not know what the heck I was really doing. This year I have better idea how to do things and I bought a canopy in Nov so this year I should look more professional. Maybe one can have too many types of items on the tables.??? I have only veggies and that is what they stop for if looking for them. I put my prices right out there where they can see than in big numbers. I think Tanglejohn is right too price has a lot of it. My prices were okay . Bad stuff is not good at any price. DIL thinks I should go for upper income people. She says people do have money. But I think like the rest of us they want reasonable prices. If you give them good produce and reasonable prices. You bet they will go to store or Wal-mart. Good variety on table of veggies helps. I think I only had one guy try to get me to give him extra. I did get few tips too. Really. This year I have been working on a garden plan to try and have stuff come on from first week of market to last. This in its self will increase the income some. Last Sat in June is first market day. No rain got us from the time I started going. I lucked out there. It would come on afterwards. A bad wind did hit after closing time once and guy got his canopy broke. He never did come back. It is on lawn and one can stick in the stakes. I got told after 25th of Sept if I came I would be only one there. I asked few others and some did come. The craft people quit and I had it paid for till last of Oct as they say that is the season. I quit mid-Oct to go hunting. Yeah, put a deer in the freezer. It was frosting by then and tomatoes were getting it. June 25th first market day this year. I need to have something to start selling then. ???? There is nothing wrong with gardening in Colorado. You irrigate here or don't grow anything. I know it is shorter season here. Last frost should be over by May l5th. Market assn ran ads, but I think I will sure budget some ad money of my own . Try it once or twice to see and if doesn't help. My son says just grow less and sell that. I do not think be worth it. One told me she thought I had done real good for the first year. I know I will not get rich at this. I don't have a way to grow tomatoes real early, but I will try to have as early as I can. I have a list made out when to plant as early on somethings as can and other stuff to be ready say June 25th. Trying to spread the work out so all will get done. I kind of think lot don't come to the market as think the prices will be too high. I have had several in the past years that said the market was too high.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2005 at 1:01PM
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Colorado_west(z5 W Co)

The one I go to is organized> City furnishes the space and some money for entertainters. Assn Pres, Sec/treas and board. No one gets paid. Money members pay for goes for costs. $l800 for ads, most went there. Committees for ads, fund raising, and so on. They are trying to get in more people. They kick off in spring and all that. Set fee for the whole season or pay by drop in. Guess they have two meetings a year. Nov and May. Signs up for the market. Paper has does it up. They suggested we should each donate some of what we sell to the entertainters . They do not get paid enough. City does not run it but on the board. I know there is no way they can advertise prices. I am beganing to think people think the market is too high priced to buy at. I guess all veggies sellers they would like more and they limit how many craft people. I am not real sure on that. You have to be okayed . I just turned in my form and money and as veggies only I was in. What one out of town person said was not enough veggetable/fruit sellers and too many craft sellers to be good. Times I have gone years back to market in big city there were no craft sellers. I really don't care one way or the other on craft sellers, does make it look like more there and that is fine. ( I have sold crafts in the past at shows.) I think the assn is doing all they can to promote the market. I will have to ad my own prices and see if that helps. I really don't know how many market gardeners around here. So much land has gone to houses around here. And it is a lot of hard work.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2005 at 2:16PM
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garliclady(z7 NC)

I used to sell at our small town market and gave it up for a big city market. Yes I have to pay more for gas but I also get to charge a higher price and sell alot more. It is worth the drive!
Alot depends on your small town. Our small town is economically depressed. Most of these folks grew up on farms or grew stuff in there backyards and some still do.
They only want the basic (tomatoes,beans and corn)don't care if you use 7 dust etc and expect it to cost LESS than the grocery store. Most of the Vendors are retired, in there 70's and sell there surplus produce (way under priced). So many people in the small town have there own gardens or there neighbor does and space to put a garden is easy to come by. How can you compete with those factors.
I happily Drive into the big city twice a week and sell to people that are happy to get fresh organic produce and are willing to pay more than the grocery store sells things at. Most vendors also grow things that are more unusual . The population is very diverse in the big city and I am able to sell garlic Garlic scapes and shallots (things I couldn't hardly give away in my small town)

Look closely at your small town if it sounds like mine you might consider the big city market. If you are not ready to give up on it completely Try the Big city market too. Let your loyal local customers know that you are going to the big city market- Some may even be willing to come to the city market to see you if you have to drop the small market. I have some (home town garlic lovers) who either drive to the city market to buy from me or come by the house to buy.
The Garlic Lady

    Bookmark   January 18, 2005 at 3:05PM
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bigred(z8 Ark.)

Sorry,didn't mean to abandon the thread I started. Let me start out by saying....I'm a "she" not a "he" not that it's a big deal.

Our FM was started and is run by the Chamber of Commerce. They came all the way out to my house and asked me to set up a booth.I've never been invited to join the FM board,chamber of commerce or any other organization in this town because,even though I've lived here 29 yrs., I am not an "original founding family decendant"so I guess I'm not worthy. They do the ads/promos.I got a garden club friend to start setting up a table this passed year. She only container grows and has mainly specialty veggies in s mall quanities but sold just about all she brought.

I bring a variety of things because I haven't been doing a garden big enough to bring much produce. Besides,the majority of the time it's just me and another guy(pres.of Chamber)so every little thing makes for a better looking table/booth.I did ok on perennials ,fresh eggs,herbs and fancy leaf begonias but still not enough to be away from my nursery 3 days a week. Since business is slow out here at my nursery,I'll either have to open by appointment only so I can go to bigger markets or fold.

I plan on having a bigger garden this year. Last year was too rainy in June and most everything rotted in the ground. Hoping Mom Nature co-operates better this year.

Our FM is in the middle of the block on Main St. on the sidewalk under an awning. The only drawn back I can see w/ this is the fact that we're block from veiw by parked cars. We're several miles from Wal-Mart("made in America?",check the tags and labels...I did and everyone I picked up said "made in China"). We get some business from vacationers that come to enjoy a large lake about 10 miles outside town. There's also a huge papermill(some claim the largest in the US) but most of the employees are from larger out-lying cities/town.We've already run the "loyalty/keep our sales taxes here"flag up the flag pole and most DID NOT salute it....preferring to take their business to the larger town 20 miles north.


    Bookmark   January 19, 2005 at 10:44AM
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ohiorganic(5/6 SW Ohio)


one way to get on the FM board is to start going to the board meetings which should be open to the public and most certainly anyone involved with the market. you provbably haven't been asked to be on a board because no one knew you werte seriously interested or even somewhat interested.

Start going to meetings and they will put you on the list of people to ask when vacancies come up. believe it or not most boards have a hard tyime filling all their spots and generally welcome new blood.


    Bookmark   January 20, 2005 at 12:11PM
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