Best sellers?

jpc57April 30, 2007

I am trying to learn all that I can about selling at a farmers market. I hope to sell at our local market next year.

Is there anything that is traditionally a best seller, or just sells well and is always in demand? Certain produce, craft, canned or baked good, etc. I think that it probably varies by region, but maybe there is something that sells well at most all markets. I am good at a good number of crafts and can bake, can, and of course, grow vegies/herbs/flowers.

I am crocheting some bags out of neutral colored cotton to use instead of plastic bags. I plan on giving away a certain amount when I do start selling, and then if they are a "hit," I'll begin selling them, too. A lot to think about, but it is fun to plan!


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kydaylilylady(z6 KY)

Baked goods make up a large portion of my sales. People don't have the time or inclination to bake anymore. Concentrate on small loaves 3X4 inch and lesser amounts of the larger loaves. Smaller appeals to individuals or people who would "eat the whole thing."

Tomaotes, yellow squash, zucchini, green onions, peas, lettuces and spinach, potatoes, cucumbers, cabbage, broccoli, butternuts, spagetti squash, cushaws, strawberries and other small fruits all sell well. Just go to your grocery and look at your produce department. If it sells there it will sell in your market booth.


    Bookmark   May 1, 2007 at 8:29AM
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I sell at a small Farmers Market this year, in the past I sold at a gigantic flea market. There is a big difference in the "style" of customers. No poor, homeless, or immigrants at the FM which takes some of the flavor out of the experience but in the end it does make me more money in a shorter amount of time. I sell bedding plants, garden plants, herbs (potted and fresh cut), tropical patio plants and birdhouses.

I've been doing this for three years now and still cannot find the magic item. Things that sell well one year won't move the next. What sold well one weekend, barely moves the next weekend. No rhyme or reason. So I bring whatever I have that looks nice and do my best to promote it. I make about a hundred dollars every Saturday. Our market is only open from 8am til noon and the first customers appear at my display around 10 so I don't have to hurry in the morning to get everything in place and my crunch time is only for a few hours. All highly do-able since I have a full time job and another part time job in addition to growing all these plants for market.

At my market we have a few bakers. They seem to do ok and have some regular customers. Baked goods did much better at the large flea market but needed to be priced very low. I've heard that baked goods do better at the larger Farmers Market in the city.

We also have some craftsmen offering cement items and pottery. They don't sell a lot but are very happy with what they get. They've told me that when they rented studio/gallery space they could go weeks without a single customer so they get much better exposure at the market. All it takes is letting customers know where you are and what you have to offer. When they want something, they'll know where to go to get it. I've heard that in the past there were gourd artists that sold at this market but they didn't make enough money to come back this year. I have yet to sell a birdhouse at this market but they are something I really promote in the summer when the plant buying frenzy subsides.

The people selling out each weekend at my market are the folks who only show up during their season and only offer one type of item - like strawberries or asparagus. They don't bring a ton of berries so they seem to understand just how many customers they might have on a Saturday.

We take a survey of the customers each weekend and they always claim that word of mouth is what brings them to the market and that fresh produce is what they come to buy (even though the fresh produce season hasn't started yet). By mid May the produce vendors should be stocked and I will know how that stuff sells. Right now I see folks selling salad greens and cool season stuff, but I don't see a lot of customers buying it. Most of the produce vendors seem to have regular customers which evidentally makes a big difference. You have to show up every market day and offer the best product you can produce in order to train the customers. When they want what you offer - they will know where to go to get it.

I have hardly ever sold an entire flat of anything. I usually sell a third of what I take so I cram my small Toyota truck as full as possible knowing that the more I take to market the more money I will make. This year my prices are on the low side which is something I am doing intentionally. I am new. I don't have any regular customers and most gardeners around here quit buying plants when it gets hot and buggy in the summer so I have to push product out the door in order to make room for my next crop. I grow in small amounts which also helps. Also, I've heard that there is a large greenhouse operation that normally sells at this market but they don't show up til after May because they are selling at the much larger FM in the big city. So, I am trying to compete with them even though they aren't here. Trying to win over their customers with healthy plants priced just below what I see at the other market (I don't know their name, but the large FM in the city has over 30 plant vendors at it - way too much competition).

One thing that sets this area apart from others is that the city is ringed with bedding plant nurseries. Ornamental plants are available at gas stations and grocery stores at rock bottom prices. It's easy to compete on quality but the public sees all those cheap prices and it has an influence on what plants are valued in this area.

Customers want you to know all about what you are selling. They want to buy from the person that is passionate about the product NOT from a salesman. Be reliable. Be honest. Offer your best. How much money you make doing this will change as you build up a customer base and gain skills at marketing and pricing. You can't step in, brand new and start off at the same point that people who have been doing it for years are at. Have fun and try not to stress out.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2007 at 11:27AM
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I started out selling produce from my farm, but found most people really wanted the baked goods. I grow all sorts of good veggies, but people still go for sugar, salt, and fat. I sell more pies and sweet rolls than I do bread, and no longer make whole wheat anything. How quickly our notions of good and healthy deteriorate when it comes to actually making a living.

I was in CA this past winter and went to a "Farmers Market" where the bakers out numbered the farmers 3-to-1. Including the guy dressed like a monk, calling himself a monk, labeling his products "made by monks", then selling huge $4.00 cinnamon rolls with his wife(??) taking the money. His get-up and ruse worked, his stall was the busiest of all. So I am wondering if I donned a habit and called myself the Baking Nun no, not in 90° heatÂ

    Bookmark   May 2, 2007 at 7:10AM
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Julie, if you plan on selling next year, you have tons of time. Go to different markets, see what sells and at what price. Think of different things you could do. Can you do it cheap enough or better then the others? Know you strength/weakness, have a great business plan, have a good market plan, buy a easy-up with tables this year (next year you will be buying seeds/product etc..), go to as many FMs as possible, read/research/learn as much as possible.

At the FMs I go to: Produce is #1 (some cool greens, but mainly summer/fall stuff)(You could maybe do a CSA); Flowers are great (I almost always sell out); Crafts (Jewerly, etc.. is OK); Lemonade always has a line; Food seems to do OK depending on how many vendors there are; Plants do good early on in May.

Good luck.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2007 at 3:00PM
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I started asking what people wanted to see more of. What others were selling. What I could reasonably do. I have been selling for 10 years in Montana - tomatoes, cukes, beets, string beans, carrots and squash and fruit on the years they don't freeze out. They do sell a lot of salad greens and spinach in the spring. But working another job full time did not feel it was worth tying up all spring and summer. So I sell in August and September with what is ripe then. Baked goods that are fresh sell well if it can easily be eaten out of hand here. A lot of people come to market to stroll and visit and eat.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2007 at 5:44PM
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Thanks everyone for the great idea and tips! I visited out local farmers market this past Saturday and had a great time! I talked to the manager of the market and she told me to sell this year! Apparently there isn't a waiting list to be a vendor as there is in some places. But I'll see how my garden does first. It has been so cool, and lately cool and windy, that the plants don't seem to be growing very fast. But I am patient, and I'll see how it goes!

I ordereed and have been reading Eliot Coleman's The New Organic Gardener, and recently subscribed to Growing for Market. I think I will enjoy doing this, as I love gardening and growing things, and I love meeting and helping people.

This forum is great, and I appreicate everyone's thoughtful replies and time! My garden blog has some photos from our farmers market. I'm going to try to hit a couple more this Saturday.


    Bookmark   May 7, 2007 at 8:27AM
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You'll find that farmer's markets or "open air markets" as I prefer to call them (since so few vendors are real farmers at the ones around here) attract a certain type of customer and that different customers come at different times of the year. There are the die hard loyal customers that come every weekend and spend money and know most of the vendors - they are a blessing to the market but they tend to only shop at a few stalls. There are the semi-regulars who shop a couple of times a month. They come for something special but also shop most of the stalls. And then there are the occassional shoppers who only show up a couple times a season, often with out of town guests, they seldom buy anything large or involving work (like taking home and planting) but they buy something to snack on while the walk around the market. And of course there are all the other people that never go to the market. Some people like this kind of experience and other people would rather shop at the mall. You can't please everyone.

Some vendors sell items that are a one time deal - things like hanging baskets of ferns. People buy them one time at the beginning of the year and don't need more until next year. These are good items to offer unless you live in a greenhouse heavy area like I do where large full hanging baskets go for $10 or less. Same with trees and bushes, shoppers like to see them available but they don't buy a bunch of yard work each weekend. Its more of a seasonal thing.

Produce and baked goods are good items to offer because people will buy them every visit - as long as they know what they are and how to prepare them and they enjoy the taste. It is very hard to sell at a premium price if all the other vendors are also growing and offering the same product that you are. If more than two vendors offer cut basil - it pretty much guarantees that basil won't be a high ticket item at your market. Unless you grow in a greenhouse it is too much work to produce crops out of season (and most greenhouse crops lack the fresh picked flavor).

I've found, as a micro business operating out of a large inner city backyard garden, that the middle ground is a good place to be. Grow whatever I like to eat. Experiment with new varieties and old standbys. I keep the best of the crop for myself and sell the rest - but I'm not feeding a family so I have plenty to haul to market. Too many times I hear vendors saying they have to stop at McDonald's on their way home because all the 'farm fresh veggies' got sold and there is nothing left at home to eat. This is not the reason I'm doing this. This is how I make extra money, it is not my primary source of $$$. Most of my non-gardening friends think I am crazy to work so hard for so little money but there are some real benefits to this. I have cash on hand pretty much at all times. I don't have to use a credit card or even write a check during the week. This part time effort really helps me pay off old debts and live my life the way I like to. The hardest part is the weekly decision on what to toss into the compost pile. All the plants I grow don't sell well - after a few trips to the market, if no one wants them they get tossed. I need their space for the next batch of seedlings.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2007 at 10:05AM
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jiggreen(zone 6b, carlisle PA)

Wow, what a timely posting! Last week was my first time selling baked goods at our local flea market and it really went over well! I had my doubts (this was hubby's idea), but I figured I'd bake my heart out the week preceeding and give him a bunch of yummies to take with him. I figured he'd bring back most of the stuff and we'd have to eat ourselves sick to get rid of it all. I SOLD OUT of the brownies (4x4 squares, priced at $1.25 each), the rice krispie treats dipped in chocolate (on a stick, priced at $1.25 each) and almost sold out of the biscotti (1.25 per piece). The only thing I had lots of leftovers of were the blackbottoms and that was because most people didn't know what they were. This coming Sunday, I will not be sending DH with anymore blackbottoms....I am concentrating on the brownies, rice krispies and biscotti's. Additionally, this week I am going to see how well popcorn balls sell as well as coffee cake squares and muffins (to appeal to the early morning crowds). If we had a generator or access to an electrical outlet I'd do fresh coffee...still working on that idea. I'm still trying to figure out costs and time involved in all of it, in order to justify the time required to do all of the baking, but I think it's going to work out well for me. (I only work part-time at my "real" job) We made enough our first week that I was able to go out and buy a nice chest style freezer so I can bake all week long and freeze as I go. DH was able to purchase an ez up canopy for $20.00 so this week we should have a nice setup. I really like the idea of using the canopy because I can hang signs all around it and catch the people's eyes as they approach. This week we will also be taking coolers filled with soft drinks and bottled water. It's a learning process, I figure as we go along we'll tweak our product line and prices. I'd like to charge more like $1.50 for most items, but for now I'm happy to have people buying the stuff.

Well, my break is over...back to baking!!

:) jiggreen

    Bookmark   May 8, 2007 at 1:13PM
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moonblooms(z8 AL)

Ok, I just have to say to everyone...Please don't sell yourself or your products short. You work hard. It costs money to transport these things to the market. You have expenses, supplies, not to mention your time. Your prices should compensate for all of these things and return a profit. Be proud of what you bring to the market and by all means do not give them away. If things are not selling well at your prices, then you can always lower them. But, I think that you will find people will pay what you ask for quality, home made items and produce.

So go ahead yummy bakery goods lady, raise those brownie prices to $1.50, and please crochet bag lady, don't give them away because chances are the people who get them won't really appreciate them as much as someone who will pay a fair and reasonable price for them.

Farmer's Markets are "hot" right now. Have fun and make money too. You'll be glad you did.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2007 at 2:05PM
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kydaylilylady(z6 KY)

I agree with Moonblooms. I bake my quick breads in 9X5 and 3X5 pans. The large ones sell for $8-9 and the small $3-4. Large muffins for $2. People have problems giving $30 for an entire cake (which is what it's worth) but they will spend more for smaller sizes.

$2 isn't too much for a 4X4 square of brownie. I'd be able to get that at our market for something like that.


    Bookmark   May 9, 2007 at 9:04AM
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I have been thinking about expanding into some value-added products to complement my vegetables this summer. However, I continually come up against the problem of needing a commercial kitchen. All you bakers out there - what do you do about health department regulations, commercial kitchens, etc? Is New Jersey just more stringent than other states?

    Bookmark   May 9, 2007 at 12:59PM
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Each state has different laws. Minnesota allows what they call "food crafts" stuff made at home to sell at farmers markets. If you sell ready-to-eat stuff, it must be individually wrapped - no serving unwrapped food from a common tray, unless you have running hot water from your stall. It allows you to sell home canned pickles, jams & jellies, and salsa. You cant make and sell anything that must be refrigerated like cream pies. Of course, if you have a commercial kitchen you can make and sell anything.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2007 at 7:30AM
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I guess I'll put my value-added plans on hold for now.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2007 at 1:05PM
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kydaylilylady(z6 KY)

Kentucky has something similar. We have home processing permits that allow you to make things that include fruits, veggies or nuts that you have grown. The Micro-processing permit allows you to sell canned veggies, salsa and the like. If we want to sell things outside of those restrictions then we need a commercial kitchen.


    Bookmark   May 10, 2007 at 2:45PM
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