The Chocolate Life

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The market runs April - October. I'm hoping to go about 2x a month because this is a side job. 

Any pointers for newcomers selling at a farmer's market? 

Tags: farmer's, market

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What's the setup like?  Are you going to have something like a 10x10 space, outdoors, in a parking lot?

It's a 10x10 space, we  are required to provide a tent, it is in a parking lot. No power or electricity. I still need to get my tent, I have a couple folding tables though. Also plan to get a vinyl sign made, and maybe some kind of sandwich board sign.

I can prepay for specific dates or come and take leftover spaces which would have me in a different location each time. 

No electric, and if I'm offering samples I need a handwash station (which sounds like it's not too much of a pain, a couple buckets and a 5gal water cooler with a spigot. 

Do you know anybody else who sells there?  Someone who has an idea of the kind of crowd that usually shows up, the peak traffic times, the little quirks of the location?

 

I did a lot of farmer's markets and craft fairs when I first started out.  I was surprised at how exhausting it was--getting everything made, packing the car like a Tetris board, driving out there, unloading, interacting with everyone for hours, dealing with the math (handling cash is not my strong suit), then packing it all up and driving home again.  If you can have someone go with you, that helps, so you can take breaks, but sometimes the organizers or their staff will have people available who can keep an eye on your tent, or one of the other vendors will offer.  I generally found organizers and vendors to be a very welcoming bunch.  I found tent weights very useful on some weekends, and a waste of precious car space on others!  Same with tent walls.  Having nice, rounded pricing helps when doing math and making change...my husband wanted everything rounded to the dollar or fifty cents, but I insisted on 25 and 75 sometimes...it's possible he might have been right.  Hm...not sure what else to tell you.

Samples!  Lots and lots of them... 

My experience was that they'd usually be accepted (yes, some people refused!), but led to sales less than 10% of the time.  I definitely didn't make back in profit what I spent on samples in the first year.

I was thinking of having a limited amount of samples. I don't want to give away all my product! I'll cut up and sample the ugly ones :P

People love samples! Giving away the uglies in the chocolate biz can also mislead our customers that we make an inferior product.

Instead ask people to like you on facebook or give you an email contact for a free sample. Make a nice molded globe or a mini bar of your best as a Thank You, Customers make or break us so let us give them our best customer service and product at every opportunity!

Best of luck!

If you are going to be manning your table on your own, most of the time, keep it simple. I would not put up a handwash station or anything that would distract from my chocolates / display. 

I feel, your table display should reflect your product. I am trying to position my chocolates at the high end, so I took white tablecloths for my tables, silver trays for the display - multiple levels always look good, make sure you have prices written out on little cards. Display your packaging options. I even keep a couple of vases with flowers. Sell individual pieces, if that is what people would like. Keep small paper napkins or a box of tissue, and you can hand out samples on those. Make sure you hand out the sample - don't just keep them for people to help themselves. When someone takes a sample, you have to talk to them about it. I use hand gloves when picking up or handling the chocolate (that way, you don't need water). 

Hope that helps. I would be happy to share pictures etc, if you are interested.

Good luck,

Anjali

The handwash station is for behind the table, required by Oregon Health Code if I'm offering samples, so that has to stay, but it will be in the back of the setup! Even if I wear gloves, I have to have it.

Tableclothes and the setting are good points, I need to do some thinking on how to do that and get tableclothes (and bins for hauling and storing this stuff!).

Thanks!

Get a hand truck!  I have one that folds down flat so it doesn't take up as much room in the car.

Ooo good call! It'll probably just be me most weekend (though a few friends and my boyfriend have offer to/ have gotten their food handler cards in order to help me, I can't expect that they will stay the whole time without getting paid!)

I got my start at our local Farmer's Market.  I'm here to tell you, it can be a BEAR.  Packing, hauling, setting up, unpacking, dismantling, hauling again.... WHEW!  So here are the lessons I learned the hard way once I left the market and opened my shop:

1.  Do not undercut yourself.  People at farmer's markets want a cheap price, but think about the cost of your time as much as the cost of your product and ingredients.  Price yourself worthy and people will respect it.  There is not much worse than giving up every summer Saturday for months at a time to come home with $50 at the end of the day.  Decide how much you feel your time is worth -- how much should you make per hour as an "employee" and price your product accordingly.  Don't think just because you're not paying rent and utilities that you're not a business!  Price based on fairness to the customer, and fairness to you -- not just the lowest price you think people will pay.  VALUE YOUR PRODUCT!

2.  Be able to accept credit cards.  People only come to the market with so much cash, they can't blow it all in one place.  Check out squareup.com - it was the greatest thing I did.  They even give you a sign to put up showing you accept credit.  It's CHEAP and worth every cent.  People won't think twice about whether or not to buy from you 'instead of' someone else if they know they can use a card.  Paypal and other places offer the same service.  All you need is a smartphone.

3.  Summer sun and chocolate do not mix- at all.  Go larger on your tent size than you think you need, because you will need shade.  Lots of shade.  It's easy to underestimate where the sun will hit, and you will likely have to move your table around some within the tent to be out of it.  Ask your coordinator to put you in a shady location.  

4.  In my personal experience, samples were a no-no (this is just my personal opinion!).  Truffles and chocolates are small delicacies.  They are meant to be enjoyed in tiny portions.  They come to your table, see something lovely and think oooh I want to taste that.  Once they've tasted it, they are satisfied and move on.  It's not like potato chips.  A sample can be enough of a fix to actually ward off a sale.  I've seen a lot of people make this move and I think it's a mistake (again, my personal opinion!).  I am the only one at my markets that did not give samples... and I am the only one to have opened my own shop.  I truly believe the fact that I did not undervalue my product in addition to not giving it away for free really helped me get there.  And many of my market customers followed me to the shop even though the shop is a half hour away from the market location.  Give them a good product at a fair price and people will be willing to pay and to come back.  People do love free stuff but that does not equate to a good loyal customer either.  The people you WANT are the people who will have no problem paying you up front for a taste.  

5.  Make good friends with your fellow market vendors.  Trade and be willing to cross promote.  A good, large market will have a long line of vendor tents with probably half a dozen "goodies" vendors of some type.  You want to be the one every other tent says "GO THERE!!".  My store has been open nearly 3 years and many of my fellow marketers have successful and thriving businesses and we share opportunities like crazy.  It never hurts to be in good with other business persons and market vendors are usually an amazing group of people willing to help each other out!

6.  Keep your selection short and sweet.  You may be tempted to have every product you make available every week.  That will prove to be painful for you.  Instead, consider having 4-5 selections each week, and changing them up.  It will encourage 2 things: A) people remember you and want to see what you have each time, so they will always stop at your table.  B) People will develop a "favorite" and will place orders outside of the market (you can always offer accept a minimum order and bring that person's order to the market the next week -- ALWAYS take payment in advance!!!!)

I wish you the best of luck!  It's a hard road to hoe, but it's fun and you will make lifelong friends and customers that will help your grow your business if you do it well!

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