Boost sales at fall farmers markets

Christine Bourque of Blue Heron Farm. Even in the early part of the season it is important to create a visual sense of abundance in the display. Photo by Mary Peabody

Christine Bourque of Blue Heron Farm. Even in the early part of the season it is important to create a visual sense of abundance in the display. Photo by Mary Peabody, UVM Extension

As days grow shorter and nights grow cooler (maybe), many growers see their largest harvests of the year. Be sure to sell that bountiful harvest at its freshest. UVM Extension’s Mary Peabody, Director of the Women’s Agricultural Network and UVM Extension Specialist in Community Resources and Economic Development offers growers these useful tools to liven up their market booths, draw in customers and boost sales.

  • Wow! Factor – Eye-catching displays – attract customers and customers attract more customers – to see what attracted the first folks.
  • Abundance – Full baskets are more appealing, refill stock throughout the market and switch to smaller baskets when you get close to running out. Use shallow baskets or fill basket bottoms with a shallow box. Displaying a single layer of tender produce will reduce bruising or spoilage. Unless you are trying to sell baskets, focus your display on produce or value added products.
  • Reduce clutter – use simple boxes or baskets and a streamlined booth layout. Take weekly booth photos when you open up. Ask a trusted friend for suggestions.
  • Weatherproof Design – Set your display table beck from the edge of your tent to offer shoppers shade or shelter from sun or rain.
  • Customer-Friendly Space – Place cash register and scale at the side of your booth so that a queue to pay will not block your next group of shoppers. Leave space next to the register for people to put down their purse or write a check.
  • Speedy Checkout – Have a helper to bag purchase to speed check out and shorten queues.
  • 3-D Displays – Keep bestselling items between waist height and eye level. People do not like to bend over or may miss lower items. Simple, durable wooden racks can display multiple product sizes. Be sure upright displays are stable at windy outdoor markets.
  • Clear Labeling – Invest in waterproof name label for every item you plan to sell. Print the produce or product name in a simple, clear font; do not include a price. Use a wipe-off marker for to add prices. Label every basket or container. Signs should be readable from 3 – 5 feet away.
  • Educate – Offer recipes, samples or pairing suggestions. Many people are embarrassed to admit they do not know what some vegetables are or how to use them. Laminate signs with your farm story photos as well as basic product information.
  • Be Friendly – Shoppers go to farmers markets to build relationships with farmers. Stay off the phone and smile.
  • Stand Out – Wear your farm logo on an apron, t-shirt, jacket of hat so customers can identify you and your staff.
  • Great Employees – Train staff with your farm story and generous customer service skills.
  • Complementary Colors – Displays should focus on your products. Select solid muted colors for tablecloths, tent covers, banners and signs to complement your product offerings. Neutral earth tones complement food products. Skip the bright colors or wild prints.
  • Ready-to-Go – Have some bundled, priced packages ready for rushed shoppers. Offer recipe kits with produce and herbs: cut-up veggies for a stir-fry, chopped soup veggies or a salsa package. If you offer flowers, try having a few pre-made bouquets.
  • Packaging – Wrap up purchases so they arrive at customers’ homes in good condition.
  • Keep Things Working – Stock and always bring your spare parts kit with markers, tape, string, scissors, napkins/tissue and register tape.

Other important tips for farmer market vendors include:

  • Calibrate scales regularly
  • Keep a file of fun farm photos for your market displays, emails and social media
  • Keep a folder of great seasonal recipes to share with market customers. Take photos of your delicious creations to post with recipes.
  • Keep a notebook with frequently asked questions. Consider posting the FAQs on your website or a poster at your market booth.
  • Create produce care tips (storage temperatures, preparation tips or cooking times)
  • Check over market displays regularly. Repair any broken items; repaint any chipped areas. Wash or replace stained, damaged or worn banners, signs, tarps, baskets/boxes and storage bins. Wash market vehicles regularly.
  • Learn about local health codes concerning samples at farmers markets. If allowed, offer produce samples to boost sales.
  • Treat every customer graciously, no matter how tired you may be at the end of the day.
  • Review your booth layout to avoid overcrowding with huge harvest come in. customers need ample “personal space” and want to avoid tipping things over.
  • Special scents can draw in customers. Consider growing and offering herbs or selling fresh-baked goods. If you grow apples, consider a steaming crock-pot with mulled cider.
  • Accept credit cards or decide to accept personal checks. Many customers do not carry much cash.
  • Think back over the season so far, what display elements brought in the most sales, and which ones were disappointing. Consider display updates for the rest of the season.

There are many helpful resources available on-line for farmers value added producers:

Learn more about the Women’s Agricultural Network at uvm.edu/wagn. Subscribe to their enews or send a question to wagn@uvm.edu.  Contact Mary Peabody, Director of the Women’s Agricultural Network, as well as the UVM Extension Specialist in Community Resources and Economic Development, via email to mary.peabody@uvm.edu or call to (802) 223-2389 x13.

A similar story ran in the October 19, 2015 New England edition of Country Folks.

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About Sanne Kure-Jensen

Sanne Kure-Jensen is a frequent contributor to Country Folks, Country Folks Grower and Wine & Grape Grower bringing regional and national attention to agriculture in RI and across southern New England. She has also written for newsletters of the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA), Holistic Management International (HMI), RI Beekeepers Association and RI Tree Council. Read Sanne’s work at her Sustainable Living page at examiner.com. Sanne has written successful grant applications for alternative energy projects, staff and board training, products and services. Clients include agricultural businesses, farm stand/markets and non-profit organizations. Recent successful grant projects include a $90,000 USDA Rural Development‘s Rural Energy For America Program (REAP), $10,000 Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Farmer and $20,000 Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG). Sanne is the part-time Administrator for NOFA/RI, a Rhode Island Certified Horticulturist and beekeeper. She is a NOFA Accredited Organic Land Care Professional and has lectured across southern New England on Beekeeping, Native Pollinators and Ecological Landscape Design. Learn more about the NOFA’s Land Care programs or contact Sanne for a garden consultation through the NOFA/RI website.
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