I just got an email for our market committee meeting this week and we are to talk about how our attendance is down.
2010 240 per week average
2011 300 per week average
2012 only 187!
Any ideas you guys have before I head to the meeting?
How many community gardens have popped up in your area?
How is your economy doing, alot of people in my area have been out of work for so long, they are not spending at all.
One of our Saturday markets is suffering a pretty steep downturn in attendence this year. It started off strong but then stepped off a cliff. It's sponsered by and located at a local community college which has done an excellent job of promoting it but the number of people attending is maybe 1/3 what it was in early July. The market manager is pretty perplexed. They have in the last couple of weeks started a pretty aggressive series of local radio adds and press releases and this week attendence was up some. My gut feeling is that there are two causes - the economy and the weather. All summer the news here has been pretty hot on the heat and drought (no pun intended) and the effect on both the quality and the quanity of crops (granted mostly focused on field corn and soybeans). Hear that message several times and it's easy to transpose that to other crops. That scares off some people. To some degree that is correct - the amount of some crops has been seriously limited this year and the price is accordingly higher. That scares off some more people. There are a lot of people cutting back on what they are buying - I see a lot of people getting just a few items this year (a pound of green beans instead of two or three and the like). Many of the familiar faces we usually see weekly now are there every other week. Just fewer dollars out there chasing the produce. Take those things with the fact that there were a lot of people here that planted their own gardens for the first time in years (almost perfect spring for doing it along with the thoughts on growing their own to conserve money) and it's caused the reduction.
The only good news is that the thinking amongst us is that this is probably cyclic. Being farmers we have to beleive that the weather will always be better next year, that the economy will turn around and the people return. We have seen this before and that's always happened. It will weed out some of the vendors (especially the new and the small ones) but in the end the markets will survive and thrive. I know this is small comfort but it's the nature of the beast.
Even though we've had some recent rain, we had an unusually tough drought this year compounded by one of the hottest summers since the Dust Bowl days with temperatures at or above 100Ã¯Â¿Â½F for much of the summer. Our market ended a month early because people's fields were burned out. People didn't buy as much this year either. Some people grew their own stuff and there have been more community gardens. I agree that this sort of thing is cyclical and I see things getting better. The economy has improved somewhat in our area and I think construction at our site may have caused some folks to think we were shut down. It is sometimes difficult to tell if the market is there with all the equipment in the way.
Once School starts or Labor day weekend comes our saturday market drops off. cool weather and a later sunrise tend to keep people in bed longer, kids school activities start and just the newness of the market tends to wear off. I dont think its this year because this is my 11th year and I see it every year.
I think the cost of gas is keeping people home.
I think every market have their 'back to school' slump, it's a normal part of marketing. Everyone goes to the big department stores to buy school supplies and then gets their produce at the same time OR they can't afford to buy anything except school supplies.
Over the past 13 years, I have noticed that there is definitely a cycle with farmers markets, just like any other business. The more people that get into the business, the money is divided into more pockets and everyone (except newbies) make less per season. This cycle started about 2008 for our area. Each year, more and more people started their own market business, thinking us 'old-timers' were making LOTS of money for little work. I hope they realized that the amount of money that we made, didn't average out to much per hour.
Maybe you need some more vendors or a better product mix for your market. I don't know what kind of things are being sold, but we have a pretty diverse mix here at Minnetrista where I sell, so there is something to keep people coming in. There are bakers, veggies, fruit (not so much this year because of a late frost), and people who sell coffee there. So maybe if every one is just selling veggies, maybe it's time for someone to branch out a little bit.
We had our steering committee meeting tonight for those on the board. Some think the market will continue to tank until gas prices go down (oops no pun intended). We don't have any good, interesting new vendors so that is disappointing! I suggested fishing at the upcoming craft shows and maybe contacting some other markets.
Also one of the vendors on our committee brought the state ag regulations to the meeting and wants us to completely conform. She is a master gardener (nice older lady) so i think she likes that kind of state rules crap. Our market has previously been super loose on what we allow. We have a salsa contest every year where entrants' salsas are tasted and voted on by giving money to the food shelf jars. We all sample everything. One vendor makes fresh salsa type stuff so I started going back to selling certain freshly made items too since she was.
Now I had recently decided not to sell anything questionable anymore except pumpkin pie, but as for samples, well none of us would sell much without samples. Especially for canned stuff like different kinds of jams or pickles. I cannot sell granola unless I sample it. So now we are looking into what needs to be done to allow samples.
My 2c is what the guy next to me has done for years. He sells only produce but likes to let people taste the orange watermelon or whatever. He will not use the word sample but if a customer is looking at the item he will ask ' do you want to try it?' Then he will cut off a piece. See, he found a loophole. The rest of us put out pieces of baked goods or chips and a small salsa bowl or whatever. So if that is going to be nixed now I say we still let someone try something but have it behind us and only give a 'taste' if they are looking. It is extremely hard to sell food items (not produce) without letting people try it. Especially since people around here are so tight fisted anyway.
As for our vendors, we had only one approved new vendor so far. Our products include tons of canned food, tons of baked stuff, two bread vendors, produce with a good diversity, BBQ sauce, maple syrup, some textile type crafts, flower bouquets, plants including shrubs and perennials, soaps, chair massage, honey, meat, eggs, small amount of crafts and jewelry and one community table.
I would like to see cheese, cooked food vendor like corn dogs or something that smells enticing, lots more arts and crafts.
Twice a year we have a craft day and let others set up all around with crafts. That way they can taste what the market is like and people love it. You tend to make less that day but it makes the market more exciting which I think is important. I might make more one day with bad weather where other vendors stay home but that isn't good in the long run I think. Well maybe the market will do ok this year! I am hopeful.
Does your market have any way to take credit cards? The market I used to use had a card reader at the market master's stand and the MM would exchange "Market Bucks" for credit card credit. the Market bucks could be spent at any vendors stand. This brought in more business for all vendors. I would say it upped our 10% at that market as it was easy to track how many market bucks you got each market. All you would need is a smart phone and a Square account.
I recently signed up with squareup to be able to take credit cards. It does charge 2.75% per sale, but that's the only charge that I've found. You do need the smart phone that is strong enough to download their app (my first one wouldn't). They will send the reader to you for free, and after playing around with it, it's easy to use.
I had to change my smartphone from Sprint service to Net10 (AT&T) to be able to get service near my markets.
Over the years, I've had several customers ask if I took credit cards. During that time, I didn't, so they had to run to the ATM and then come back. Some did and I'm sure some never returned that day.
Another option is to allow the craft people in once per month, on a certain week, like 1st or 3 rd week.
Once the newness of a market wears off, there a few main things that will determine whether number of customers increase, decrease, or stay the same:
1. Marketing/Advertising (I'm assuming your market advertises heavily in the local paper)
2. The 'Experience Factor', people not only go to the market for fresh food, but also for the experience, and a chance to socialize. For example, if you don't have hot food vendors, get some. If you don't have tables and chairs near the hot food vendors, get some (all of our food vendors are in the same section near the band). If you don't have a band or at least music playing, look into getting it. I've seen it with my very own eyes, once the band starts playing (not too loud, or obnoxious, but more of background music), sales instantly increase. People like to shop in a good mood, and music puts people into a good mood. Go to a clothing store or grocery store...stop and listen...I bet you never noticed it before...did you? Yep, advertising at its finest.
3. Weather-basically is connected to the experience factor.
4. Number of customers growing their own food (solution: ask them what they grow, and then try to offer a unique variety of what they are growing that they can't start themselves. For example if everyone grows basil, grow purple basil or lime basil, and then teach them how and why to use it in addition to what they are currently growing. Another example, is that everyone who shops at my market grows cilantro in their pots at home, and thus my cilantro sales are pitiful, but I keep growing it because when it goes to flower, I sell cilantro flowers to garnish salads and soups.
We have got to stay creative. It is not enough to grow it. If you are in the business of growing and selling food (which we all are)-don't forget the second equally critical part...growing & SELLING food.
gamagarden, I have to disagree with your suggestion about the bands. While they may increase customer count, unfortunately I've found that having bands actually decreases sales for the vendors. This is after over 10 years in the same market.
I do agree that not everyone can grow, just like not everyone that grows can SELL what they grow. You can just have people show up, set up, and then SIT DOWN. People will walk away. If you have more vendors NOT paying attention to possible customers than ones that do, something needs to change.
I have been trying to get a hot food vendor for a few years. Right before I was on the committee last year someone applied with hot food (can't remember what now) but they were just out of our 30 mile radius. So they were turned down but I would have fought for them. To me 35 miles is still local!
30 mile radius might be part of your problem. Could you extend it out some? It might be worth changing a few rules to keep your market going.
At our major local market (going on for over 160 years), they don't have a distance limit. We have vendors from over 50 miles away. This has worked for the market. This market had less than 20 vendors in 1999 and last year had to turn away vendors due to space. Only enough space for 75-80 vendors.
30 miles?! That might be the issue. A 30 mile radius of our market and your are still in the city. I think our limit is 100 or 150 mile radius, which is a really good thing considering 80% of the vendors are 30-60 miles from the market.
@myfamily farm, maybe music doesn't work well at your market since every market is different, but it does double our sales at our market & could be worth trying for other markets who need to increase customer numbers and sales.
Maybe if they would have the music NOT in the middle of the vendors.
The 30 mile rule was set up by the originators of the market which included mostly community center, city people I believe. A market in St Cloud also has 30 miles as their rule (I think many do around here, not the Twin Cities ones though). That puts me less than 5 miles out of the radius. I don't know how they would judge me if I applied.
As I said, I think 35- 40 miles is no big deal if someone has what you want but I didn't get to vote on the vendors last year. I am ready to do some fishing for vendors.