Farmers markets aren’t just for farmers anymore, and if you’ve been to one lately, you know they offer more than fresh, local produce. These days, farmers markets feature everything from artisan foods, to tacos, to massages, to bouncy houses! For small businesses, this means that setting up a table at a local farmers market is a potential-packed opportunity.
No matter what kind of small business you own, there are many benefits to farmers market presence. And people who attend farmers markets love seeing something unexpected, so you’re guaranteed a willing and eager audience.
Getting Started When You Don’t Have a Location
Before taking on the expenses of a physical location, the farmers market is the perfect springboard for a new business. It’s the perfect place to build a customer following, get your brand out there, and develop your message in the early stages in a low-pressure environment.
Farmers markets are great buzz-builders. The Los Angeles Times highlighted what ideal “testing grounds” they make for new businesses: “For many start-up food or craft businesses, landing a spot at a farmers market can be a way to test the waters for their products and try out their business skills without committing the resources needed to open a traditional store or sell to a distributor.”
The LA Times featured Paola Cresti, a chocolatier who got started at farmers markets: “It seemed like a good place to have a location before having to get a store — the first thing people ask you is, ‘Do you have a location?'”
Broaden Your Customer Horizons When You DO Have a Location
Even if you’ve been in business for years, a well-chosen farmers market is a venue for growth. You have a loyal, established base of customers? Great! You can always have more, especially if you choose markets outside of your usual stomping grounds. In response to those customers who asked Paola Cresti “Do you have a location?”, you would say, “Yes I do! Here’s a coupon with the information. Drop by and check out more of what we offer.”
Feedback and Momentum for New Products
The farmers market allows business owners direct contact with customers. What better way to ask for, incorporate, and improve upon suggestions from real, local consumers? LA Times interviewee and business owner, Cynthia Bronte, wouldn’t be where she is today without the influence she received from her customers at the farmers market. Bronte started out selling homegrown basil at a farmers market in Encinitas: “Customers told her they wanted pesto, and today, Basiltops, which is being turned over to her nephew, sells an array of award-winning pestos in a dozen farmers markets and specialty grocery stores.”
If you’re willing to listen, the farmers market crowd is happy to help you hone your product and determine the ideal price before you bring it to your (current or future) store. The owners of Blue Bowl Superfoods tested out their products at farmers markets all over Southern California for years before opening their new location.
Tips to Keep in Mind
Markets fill up fast, sometimes up to a year in advance, so taking this leap can’t be a last minute decision. Some markets also limit what kind of products can be sold there, so make sure you concentrate on the right market for your offerings. According to the LA Times, “vendors are more likely to be accepted if they offer a unique item that is a fit for the neighborhood”. So just like any form of advertising, take the time to visit lots of markets and make sure you’re placing your resources in the right place.