Want to spend less time worrying about market prep and vending logistics, and more time focusing on quality products and customer interactions? This year will be my fourth season attending farmers markets and weekend events. It has taken some time to figure out the right balance of how many events and markets I can handle each week, and for each vendor this looks completely different based on the kind of product you sell.
Through my experience I've learned a number of helpful tricks and ideas that will help you if you are looking to sell your products as a vendor this year. These tips will save you time each week as you prepare to attend an event so you have more time to prepare top-notch products and have meaningful interactions with customers. I've broken them down into three categories: pre-season prep, during the market season, and customer service tips.
It is extra work, but do a demo run. One thing I did before I ever attended an event was set up my tables and display at home and I was so glad I did! Figure out the number of tables you need under your tent and their configuration. Then find the best way to display your products - remember height is important! Get some different height levels and get your product up at eye-level with the customer.
This is also when you should figure out your signage. Make sure to have a large sign with your business name and even a product list. While signs at your table are very important, don't go overboard because you can lose important information with too many signs. Also, use signs to answer questions customers ask over and over again. For example, I have a big pink sign that says "Payment with Card or Cash Accepted" because people always ask if I accept cards. I put this sign flat on the table at the checkout area.
Speaking of a checkout area - I definitely recommend leaving room on your table for people to make a pile of items they want to buy. This also gives you plenty of room to add up what they are purchasing and bag their products. This is a great way to make the customer feel catered to and welcomed at your table.
Ok, this next fun tip I actually invented myself! When looking for ways to display and transport my products I really liked the idea of using wooden crates. I found a bunch of old crates for very cheap at a local barn sale, painted them all the same color with chalk paint, and bam! Insta-display and insta-storage! I fill these crates with my products for transportation, and then at the market empty them, flip them over, and use them to display my products! They are durable enough to handle the heavy syrup jugs, and the chalk paint wears nicely so when I ding up and scrape paint off the boxes it just adds to the rustic look. Come on - isn't that a great idea? :)
During the Market Season
If I had to give my number one tip for attending markets and events - something that applies to everyone and almost any product - it is, do the same thing every week. It might take a few weeks to figure out the best layout of products on your table, but once you found what works, do that every week. Not only will your customers find it helpful so they aren't searching around on your table for where you hid the jam and jellies this week, but it will also benefit yourself. By the third week you won't even need to think about it and will be arranging your products by muscle-memory. I am a BIG fan of not reinventing the wheel every event! While we are talking about not reinventing the wheel - you know those small items you need to bring every week, such as a pen, a notepad for writing down sales, and your SQUARE READER? A huge thing I do to for my sanity's sake is to keep all of these items in a backpack that is dedicated for markets and events. I pack it once at the beginning of the market season in May and hardly have to touch it again when I am at home until October. No more pulling the car over to dig through a random box when you are halfway there to see if you brought your square reader!
Another big time and sanity saver is this - keep your tent canopy on your tent frame for the whole season, and don't try to stuff it into the tent bag. You are welcome! Seriously - I know it will wear out the canopy faster this way but honestly it is worth the $50-100 every two years for me to replace the tent canopy. When I am ready to set up my tent at the beginning of the market I just open up the frame of the tent and the canopy is already on and ready to go. At the end of a market I just pop the buttons, fold up the tent, and stuff it into my car!
Speaking of stuffing into my car - the last tip in this category I have for you is to leave as much in your car as you can from week to week. If you have the space and it won't suck up your gas too much, keep it there. I leave my tables, chair, and tent in my car all summer long, and only take them out when I need the space. That way I just have to put my boxes of product in my car the morning of the market and have less to unload when I am tired at the end of the market.
Customer Service Tips
After you attend a few markets and events you'll soon find customers asking you the same questions about your products and business. With some practice, work on answering these questions briefly but sufficiently. People aren't there to hear your whole life story, but giving them the short-version (one or two sentences) of your business story is a wonderful way to connect people to the who and why behind your products. Then it is up to them whether or not they keep browsing or ask you more questions.
Take note of things people ask you about that could be answered with a simple adjustment to your product setup. Fore example, for the longest time I just had a sign with the price for each size of syrup jug on it, but people still held up a jug to me and asked the price. To avoid this I started stickering every jug of syrup. It is more work on my end but saves my sanity and allows me to use my interactions with the customer in a more productive way.
I know this was a long one but I hope many of you found this helpful as you start to prepare for another season of farmers markets and events! Get out there and show off your business and products and enjoy interacting with customers, now that you can spend less time preparing for each one!