We getting close to that time when Summer farmers’ market applications are due. For some small food businesses the farmers’ market circuit is the mainstay of your business but for others they may feel like they’ve ‘outgrown’ this retail venue. If you’re in the latter group perhaps you ought to reconsider. Read more
Posts from the ‘Farmers Market’ Category
Perhaps not quite an app, but a new software company has a website that is focused on helping farmers’ market managers, farmers, and food producers lives easier while simultaneously helping customers learn about and stay in contact with their favorite local foods markets. Read more
Rumor has it that parts of the US are experiencing a really mild Winter so this may already be on your mind but for the rest of us who are still chilled, it may seem hard to believe that farmers’ markets in most parts of the country are currently accepting applications for their Summer season. So just in case you, like me, are sipping hot cocoa in front of a roaring fire, let this be your reminder that Summer will be here soon (I so hope!) and you should contact your local farmers’ markets now to see what their application procedures are if you’re interested in participating in one or more this Summer. Read more
One of the joys of strolling through a farmers’ market as a customer is how bucolic and simple the market seems. It can be a calming start to your weekend or the perfect way to end a weekday far from the stress of your job and shrill of your Blackberry (the phone – not the fruit). All of that simplicity and calm doesn’t come easy though which is why farmers’ market managers work hard day-in and day-out to create a market customers and vendors will enjoy. I had the pleasure of speaking with Erin Kauffman of the Durham Farmers’ Market in North Carolina who shared a peek into her life during farmers’ market season.
First and foremost, it’s important to note that Erin Kauffman is one of only two paid staff for the Durham Farmers’ Market. Kauffman’s position as Market Manager means that she’s paid for 25-30 hours/weekly which includes time at the two markets Durham Farmers’ Market puts on each week. Kauffman also has an assistant who is paid for approximately 5 hours/week. The market is overseen by a Board of Directors who, with Kauffman’s help, decides which new applicants should be part of the market, and there are a handful of volunteers without whom Kauffman says her job would be near impossible.
Kauffman’s responsibilities differ depending on whether it’s a market day or not. “It definitely is a little bit crazy and unpredictable,” Kauffman says. “When I’m at the market I have a whole slew of jobs to take care of. From making sure all the vendors are following the rules to setting up and coordinating events, cleaning up before and after the event. I clean the bathrooms because that’s not a task you want to give to volunteers otherwise they’ll never come back and volunteer again! I also use a lot of market time to communicate with the vendors. They are not sitting around waiting for emails and it can be hard to keep them up to date with various things they need to know so I use that time to answer questions and talk with them to keep them informed.”
During the week Kauffman’s time is filled up with promoting the market. In addition to trying to keep the market’s website up-to-date, she sends out weekly emails every Friday about what’s going on at the market to keep people coming back every week and keeps the market’s facebook and twitter (@DurhamFarmerMkt) pages going as best as possible. Kauffman also visits health fairs and garden clubs and other group events to talk about the market and get people excited about visiting. Another huge piece of her marketing is trying to make sure that all the market’s listings in various internet and print publications are correct.
When not marketing the market, Kauffman works on scheduling and coordinating events for the market. Like many farmers’ markets around the country, the Durham Farmers’ Market has special events on market days such as chef demonstrations or book signings. These unique events keep people coming back to the market every week so that they can see and learn something new. “I spend a lot of time communicating with chefs who come and do demonstrations, working on our chef challenge for the year, and coordinating with the Master Gardeners who help out with a lot of our events,” Kauffman says. “All of these events add to the market experience for visitors but take time to get set up.”
On top of that there are numerous administrative tasks Kauffman has to perform each week from making sure that money is deposited each week, ensuring that attendance records are in order and other documents are updated as necessary, to ordering market tshirts and bags. Kauffman is also responsible for coordinating inspections of vendors and products. “I am pretty familiar with what people bring to the market,” she says, “all of the vendors they get inspected when they apply.” Oftentimes this means Kauffman must go to people’s kitchen or studio and ask questions. “It’s a good process to communicate with them outside of a phone call or series of emails and get an idea of what they’re planning on making and how they’re planning to grow their business over the years and how they will fit into the market over the years. Prepared foods and crafters do get inspected so that we’re all on the same page of what’s going on.”
As a customer this will surely make you appreciate all the hard work that goes into putting a marketing together every week and as a vendor (or hopeful vendor) this may remind you to jump in and help out at your local market as much as you can!
Continuing the conversation with Winter Caplanson of the Coventry Regional Farmers’ Market, today we’ll take a look at some tips on how to make your farmers’ market business more successful. Securing a spot at one or more farmers’ markets is one huge step towards getting your product in front of customers, but now how do you make them buy?
1. Display and Presentation: Caplanson often tells new farmers’ market vendors that simply because they’re selling at a farmers’ market doesn’t mean their booth should look slapped together. “Even though we’re grassroots,” she says, “I often tell people to go to Whole Foods or pick up a copy of Real Simple. See what they’re doing and how they showcase merchandise and then figure out how you can take that idea and scale it down to your booth.” Caplanson also encourages her vendors to have lots and lots of professional-quality high-resolution pictures in their booths. “A picture of your farm or your beehive in action can help tell the backstory of your product and it will help catch peoples’ eyes.”
2. Be your own best advocate: While not every market requires that the producer, farmer, or artisan be available in-person at the booth, Caplanson says that it is always advisable that you – and not someone you hired – be at the market each week. Customers come to farmers’ markets to interact with the person who makes the products they buy and you will always be able to better explain the process and otherwise interact with the customers than hired help. Customers who feel a connection with you and understand the story behind your product are much more willing to buy it and to share your story with others through the most powerful marketing tool of all – word-of-mouth.
3. Offer samples: For food producers it is always helpful to offer samples so that people can see if they like a product before buying. It sounds simple yet many food producers worry that offering samples will cut into the amount of product they have available to sell.
4. Bring something new to the table: Caplanson asks vendors to try and bring new products to the market each week. While it may not be possible every single week, showcasing new products gives customers a reason to check back at your booth every week to see what’s new. When customers come by your booth, telling them new products is a conversation starter that can help create a sale and build a better relationship between vendor and customer. Caplanson also adds that by using seasonal ingredients it helps create a sense of excitment amongst customers as they realize that if they like this product they need to buy it now as it may not be available next week.
5. Social media is for everyone: “More and more vendors are using social media and are doing it well,” Caplanson says. “Eight years ago it simply wasn’t feasible to expect a farmer to build a website and keep it up-to-date but today it takes no time at all, and no money, to set up a FaceBook page and keep it updated with photos or comments about new products or just general goings-on.” As Caplanson explains, farmers’ markets are all about community and connection and social media is an extension of that. “Social media is an extension of the ability to ‘talk’ with customers face-to-face at farmers’ markets and helps strengthen the connection you have with your customers.”
Since farmers’ markets are about community I asked Caplanson about what vendors could do to make market managers lives easier and she gave me a succinct ‘wish list:’
- Follow the rules: It sounds obvious but there are basic rules at every market so please follow them;
- Be a friend to others: If you see another vendor who is struggling to get their booth set up take 5 minutes and help them out;
- Offer up demonstrations: If you have an idea for a demonstration offer up your idea to the market manager. Not only does this help create a more vibrant market but it can also be a great sales tool for you;
- Give stuff away: In addition to samples, be willing to provide product or ingredients for demonstrations being held by others at the market. “I would argue that giving product away for demonstrations is the best marketing tool you can utilize at farmers markets,” Caplanson says, “because during the demonstration the chef will mention that s/he is using product from XYZ vendor and that will create a lot of awareness and interest in your product and company.”
If you are interested in learning more about the Coventry Regional Farmers’ Market you can view their site here or visit their FaceBook page. And if you’re interested in learning more about selling at farmers’ markets as a food producer you should check out Starting A Part-time Food Business.
Yesterday I introduced you to Winter Caplanson and the Coventry Regional Farmers’ Market. As one of the top farmers markets in New England, Caplanson gets emails every day from people asking to be in her market and she shared some of her thoughts and tips on how new food producers should approach farmers’ market managers. Be sure to check back tomorrow too for Caplanson’s tips on how to increase your sales once you’ve been accepted to a farmers’ market.
Steps To Approaching Farmers’ Market Managers:
1. Know your market: Caplanson says that every farmers’ market is different and has a different mission so food producers need to know what that market is focused on before approaching them. First of all, not every farmers’ market allows food producers so there’s no use wasting your time approaching those markets. Other markets, like Coventry Regional Farmers’ Market, only accepts specialty foods that are produced in their state so no matter how good an out-of-stater’s product is, it simply won’t be added to the mix. “Go to the market,” Caplanson says, “so that you know what is already being sold and how it is being marketed.” Being knowledgeable about the market will help you when you get to Tip #5 – crafting a ‘pitch’ to the market manager.
2. Understand what makes you different: After you’ve identified the markets you want to approach, you now need to put your homework to good use and understand what makes your product different from the others already there. Caplanson points out that markets don’t want to saturate their customers with too many vendors of one type but markets are typically willing to bring in similar product vendors if they offer something different to customers. So if you use organic wheat ground by a local mill in your bread and no one else does that it’s something important for you to highlight to market managers.
2.1 Understand what makes you similar: Visiting markets in advance is also important because you can get a sense of what level of packaging and presentation that market looks for. Is the food there packaged in bags with ribbons? Showcased in baskets with checkerboard napkins? Tucked inside eco-friendly boxes with fancy labels? Every market is different and you should know what that market is looking for so that you can match that level of presentation before approaching them.
3. How can you work together: Caplanson says that she and her team, and most other farmers’ market managers she knows, are more willing to bring in new vendors who use ingredients from other farmers’ market vendors. For example, the pizza maker at the Coventry Regional Farmers’ Market shops that day at the farmers’ markets for pizza toppings. By ‘shopping’ with other farmers’ market vendors and incorporating those ingredients into your products not only show market managers that using local ingredients is important to you but that you are also willing to be part of the fabric of the farmers’ market community.
4. Get Yourself Online: “Having a prescence on the web, even if it’s just a FaceBook page, shows that you are a real business,” Caplanson says. She adds that the first thing she does when receiving a new vendor inquiry is check to see if they vendor is online. If they’re not then they aren’t typically given much additional thought.
5. Craft the perfect pitch (and know your rebuttal): As the popularity of farmers’ markets has grown, market managers are now inundated with requests from small food companies to vend at their market. You have to realize, Caplanson says, that many of these managers and staff are volunteers who have other jobs keeping them busy. “You have to think like a market organizer and realize that approaching us minutes before a market opens may not be the best time.” Caplanson adds that food vendors should at the very least know what is required of them from a health department permitting standpoint. “No matter how successful the venue is, you have to know what hoops to jump through and don’t automatically assume that the market manager will be able to guide you through that process.”
Caplanson does tell one story of a hot sauce vendor who did disobey the ‘don’t approach minutes before the market opens’ rule. He approached Caplanson just as the market was opening one hot summer day and asked if they’d be interested in having a hot sauce vendor. Since there was no such vendor in the market at that time Caplanson was intrigued but started to explain that she wouldn’t be able to accept any food vendors without the proper food licensing. At that point the hot sauce maker pulled out a folder with copies of all the necessary licensing and permitting. Caplanson was a bit surprised but told him that the market didn’t have any extra tables or tents but the hot sauce vendor said that he had all of that in his car. “He had all the paperwork he needed, he knew we didn’t have a hot sauce vendor at the market, and he was 100% prepared so we let him in.”
Although Caplanson is hesitant to mention this as she doesn’t want people thinking that market managers are just in it for free samples, she does say that getting samples in the hands of the market organizers can help get your foot in the door. She recalls a story of a vendor who emailed her wanting to know how to sell cookies at the Coventry Regional Farmers’ Market. The original pitch wasn’t too interesting to Caplanson until the cookie vendor sent in some samples. Turns out that these cookies were made with unique ingredients like roasted leek shortbread cookies. Being able to see the cookies in person, taste what turned out to be delicious flavor combinations, and see the simple, classy packaging convinced Caplanson and her team that this was a cookie vendor the market needed to have!
Lastly, if you don’t get into the first choice markets right of the gate don’t lose hope. She also says that in her mind nothing carries more weight then a recommendation from one of her existing vendors. “Theoretically there is a waiting list a mile long to get into our market but if one of my vendors comes to me and says that they know of another vendor at another market who should be part of ours then I always seriously consider them,” she says.
March certainly came in like a lion in most parts of the country but over the course of the month we all received brief glimpses – those days where the sun was out and there was a hint of warmth in the air – that reminded us that Spring was coming. And, at least in these parts, not far behind Spring is the beginning of farmers’ market season. So I figured there was no better way to kick off the last week of March then by talking with a farmers’ market manager to hear first-hand what managers look for in new food vendors and then, once accepted, what vendors can do to improve their sales and make Market Managers’ lives easier too.
Winter Caplanson, the founder and organizer of Coventry Regional Farmers Market, which is located 30 minutes east of Hartford Connecticut, is no ordinary Market Manager though. She is a woman who exudes passion for farmers’ markets and for the role they play in our community these days. She (a soap artisan) and Carol Miller (an herbalist) started the Coventry Regional Farmers’ Market eight years ago after they had both individually vended at other farmers’ markets and realized that it could be done better and that their area of Connecticut needed a strong farmers’ market. But rather than simply throwing together some farmers, food producers, and crafters, Caplanson, Miller, and a team of volunteers decided that they wanted to create a destination market that would be a gathering place not only for people in the area but also provide people outside the area a reason to travel to it.
That group of committed volunteers have since created the farmers’ market we all dream about. Set on Hale Farm in Coventry, CT and surrounded by 500 acres of gorgeous landscape, the Summer Market has become the largest farmers’ market in the state filled with approximately 50 farmers, food producers, and craft artisans as well as live music, demostrations, and even some farm animals for the kids (and kids-at-heart) to pet. Coventry Regional Farmers’ Market also hosts a Winter Market at the local highschool that hosts 30 farm-fresh vendors and artists. With approximately 65,000 visitors annually, it’s easy to see why New England Travel Magazine calls Coventry Regional Farmers’ Market “Connecticut’s preeminant farmers’ market,” and it’s been picked as one of the top markets in all of New England.
For an area long steeped in the farmers’ market tradition, this is no small honor and it was obvious in talking with Caplanson that the reason behind the markets’ success is the commitment that all of the volunteers have to create a community – a community of vendors who all work together for the betterment of the market which in turn creates a sense of community between the vendors and the patrons. Caplanson generously shared with me so much insightful information that I can’t simply edit it down to fit in one post. So tomorrow’s post will share Caplanson’s views on how new food producers should approach farmers’ market managers if they want to try and get into that market and on Wednesday I’ll include her thoughts on what vendors in farmers’ markets can do to increase their own sales and things to consider to make the lives of the market managers easier.