How to Start a Business at the Farmers Market
Where you can test and develop
a business plan.
Congratulations on picking up this copy of my short book! Not because this booklet is going to change your life; trust me nothing in here is groundbreaking information. This is just basic information to help you streamline the process of getting your farmers market-based business up and running. Congratulations on taking action. It doesn’t matter if your intention is to have one vegetable stand at your local farmers market or to create the next coffee empire the farmers market is a great place to test and develop a business plan.
This is my official disclosure that this is all my own opinion. I am not a professional adviser nor do I have the legal authorization to practice in form of law or accounting. I want to help you, but I strongly suggest you surround yourself with a team including a real lawyer and accountant who can help you with your specific business.
Part 1: Pre-Market
Okay so you have an idea and a business name, but do you have a logo? My suggestion here is to run a google search for “free logo creators”. There are tons of websites that will happily help you “create” a logo for free, and then charge you for the rights to use it. Either way, it’s normally a fair price; You get what you pay for. A cheaper option is to take your logo design the free creator program made you, and download a free trial of Adobe Illustrator to make it yourself. This obviously involves some level of skill and time. A step above these two options would be to use a website called fiverr.com. There you will find tons of talented individuals who charge you per task.
Next, you should create a professional email address to start running your business on. My choice is always Gmail.com here. Don’t worry about having Joe@joescoffee.com for an email address yet. The time will come, but for now stay lean where possible.
After you have a logo and email address it is time to create a Facebook business page. This will be the hub for your business’s online presence as of 2017. Go ahead and create an Instagram and Twitter account while you’re at it. You might think a customer buying your asparagus doesn’t care about your online presence, but it is 2017 and you’re reading a e-book written on an iPhone. So…
*Tip* Apps like Buffer allow you to post to all of your social media sites simultaneously.
Lastly, it is important to understand the legal ramifications associated with your startup. As stated in this books preface I strongly suggest you reaching out to a professional. I will however provide a little bit of insight into my experiences with these subjects.
Legalzoom.com is a website built to streamline basic legal paperwork. It is the cheapest refutable option for creating a business entity. Your best bet if you have the money however is to work with a lawyer. Legalzoom.com will ask you questions about your business to determine how to help, but I personally feel more comfortable with a lawyer after taking both routes. Use your gut, and obviously every situation will be different.
My first business was a food product. When deal with food there is a likely chance you will have extra hoops to jump through. Different states and cities will have their own rules and regulations. Asking other market vendors would be a good idea. Inspectors and government officials want to help. It's easy for them to say no, and it's normally pleasant when you're approaching them. Your local city hall and your states department of agriculture are good starting points.
*Tip* if you need approval for food consider using a community kitchen. These establishments are already approved and offer you space to work for rent instead of having to invest the money to build a kitchen yourself.
Part 2: Choosing the Right Market
Make sure you do your research. Do not just sign up for the cheapest or closest farmers market. Ask friends and family members if they know of any reputable markets. Go to markets and start conversations with a few vendors to gain insight on where they would suggest you open your first farmers market stand. Most of the time, these guys will be in multiple markets already. From my experience, it's pretty well-known by the vendor community which markets are the best. You should consider things like parking, total addressable market, demographics, your commute time, and cost.
*Tip* I would be sure to ask the vendors if the market lets businesses show up on a day to day basis. No matter how many days a week the market is open. Staying efficient with your time could be your ticket to success from the start. In general, I've found 1-day markets on Saturday or Sunday offer the largest total addressable market. An every other week single day "pop up vendor" program has given me the most bang for my buck. You can then work out the same deal on your off week with another market. The goal here is to train your customers to buy from you the week you are there doubling your potential customers.
Part 3: Market Master
Once you have decided what market you would like to attend, you should ask one of the vendors for suggestions on what the best way to get involved would be. Most of the time, this will be as easy as an introduction to a market master. The market master is the person who runs the day-to-day operations for the market. They will be your go-to source for their specific market. This is who you will want to talk to about your interest in a “popup vendor program”. You will also want to confirm who you will need to talk to about a health inspection (if needed) or any other paperwork. Be sure to find out if there are specific requirements for signage, and what size your space will be. Remember, they are there to help you succeed.
Part 4: After You Have Committed
If you have not already, this is the time when I would suggest ordering your business cards. I have always used Vistaprint.com. They have a very smooth process for getting a professional card made. For the first round of business cards, I would suggest following their template. I suggest limiting how many business cards you order to 250 until you have perfected this.
*Tip* Vistaprint.com always has promo codes running. Try “TV250” for a discount of business cards.
If you can ship your product now is the time to invest in a website, or at least start selling your product on Amazon.com. My preferred website provider is Shopify.com. Shopify is easy to use, and their templates really set you up for success. Shopify also has thousands of third-party apps that are perfect for helping you grow your business. We use their third-party apps to track the clicks on our websites, giving customers the option to subscribe, and streamlining the shipping process.
A cheaper alternative would be Godaddy.com. They have their own version of a website builder that can get the job done. We also use Godaddy.com for purchasing extra domain names and for custom email addresses. You will want to keep Godaddy.com in mind when growing your online presence.
Once you have a website it is important that you collect email addresses. Using a service like MailChimp, which is free, will allow you to leverage these email addresses to contact your customers directly on demand. These are some of your best customers, and if used wisely their email addresses will be a very useful tool.
Part 5: Your Spot
Is your farmers market indoors or outdoors? If you do not know the answer to this question please be careful with your purchases that I discuss here.
Your first question when working on your space is will you need to provide a table. Most indoor farmers markets provide tables for you, but it is important to ask if you’re not sure. Either way, you will want something to cover your table. Tablecloths are a simple solution to this, but there are several options here depending on your creativity and the products you sell. Keep in mind that some level of health inspections will need your table to be easily cleanable.
Does your stand offer free electricity or are you already paying for it? If so, use it! You don't have to get out of control here. A simple light on your products can do a lot in a dimly lit farmers market.
As previously mentioned in part 3 your market manager might have a suggestion for your sign. I would not suggest going cheap here. We have a go-to foamcore material sign with our logo and website printed on the sign. Vistaprint.com can do this for you as well.
For an outdoor market, you should consider everything from above and more. Most outdoor farmers markets are during the day, but if you do find yourself selling at a farmers market in the darker hours of the day (I have run into this issue with evening markets in the fall) consider a small Honda generator. If it's a seasonal issue offering a few bucks to use a neighboring food trucks generator might be your best bet in the short-term.
When participating in outdoor farmers markets it is a good idea if not mandatory to have a tent. There are two different, but both legitimate options for tent styles for your day-to-day farmers market needs as a startup. Even if you can afford the E-Z up brand of tent or a custom branded tent I would suggest you wait until your first experience with a storm during market hours to see what that is all about. (See the tip below)
Option 1 (I buy mine at Dicks Sporting Goods) the Quest 10 FT. x 10 FT. Slant Leg Instant Up Canopy was my first tent it is lighter, cheaper, and more compact being only 53” long when folded up. This tent only takes one person to put it up. The second tent option is easier for me to set up. However, this tent has several advantages as stated before.
*Tip* I still own one of each these tents. Option 2 is the tent I would prefer to use on a day when the weather isn’t as nice. I have seen way too many tents be blown over by the wind, and they almost always break in that situation.
Option 2 (also purchased at Dicks Sporting Goods) the Quest 10 FT x 10 FT Commercial Canopy is a heavier, stronger, and more expensive version of Option 1. Information on the length of this tent, when folded up, is unavailable at the time of my writing, but it is somewhere in the ballpark of 70 inches long when folded. This tent comes with extra support that meets in the middle of the tent where you can push from to unfold your tent. This one extra feature makes the ease of opening this tent worth the $130 price tag for me.
*Tip* make sure to buy a tent after you know the size of space that you have. Almost always this is a 10'x10' space, but I can think of a few locations where the allotted space was 8'x8'
For setups that include tents, it is more common to have a banner hanging from the back of your tent than having a sign. These are easily designed on Vistaprint.com with their templates. I prefer the 2.5’ by 6’ banner anything bigger than that seems to catch in the wind.
Another good practice, and in most situations mandatory is investing in weights to help hold your tent down. I carry two sets because they are easily stackable. You will almost always need to provide your own tables when participating in outdoor farmers markets.
Part 6: At the Market
Running your business well and efficiently is, at the end of the day, the name of the game. Every business is different, but here are a few things you may want to consider trying.
1) Say hi! This is not the time to be shy. I have found that when you go to a new market a lot of local customers will have their list of weekly stops. In that case, you will literally need to interrupt that process if you want to be noticed. Having a great farmers market stand display is a very good start, but being vocal should double your interactions at least. I suggest just being yourself, but if you’re having trouble consider sayings like “Good morning, how are you?”, “Good afternoon”, and “Can I help you?” It is simple. Interrupt them, but be pleasant about it!
2) If at all possible you will want to sample. Our numbers show us that we will do almost 4 times the amount of sales on days where we have samples available. Most customers will like free samples, and it gives you another option when being vocal. “Would you like a sample?”
3) Be inviting when possible. If you’re on your phone or reading a book the customer now has to interrupt you!
4) Remember every customer matters. You will meet so many great people at farmers markets, some of which may become good friends. Treat them right and they will do the same.
5) Are you on Amazon, Etsy, or do you have a website? Make sure to drive traffic there. The end goal is to acquire long-term customers. Make it easy to buy from you.
I hope you’re able to use this guide to start, and build a successful business. I invite you to share the title of this book with others. Please contact me directly with updates via my website DakotahMoses.com