A Market Manager is responsible for regulation compliance, the customer, and the farmer. Here are 12 tips to help you stay in good graces.
What a Market Manager deals with throughout a season.
To your first year or tunnel-visioned farmer, a Market Manager might seem like just another hoop to go through. Let’s take a look at some of the hats a great Market Manager must wear.
- Regulations from State, County, Municipal, & Federal regulations. USDA, State Dept. of Ag, Dept. of Weights and Measures, and Health Agencies.
- Publicity, media relations, press interviews, promotions, email lists, and social media.
- Sanitation, including hand washing stations, trash removal, restroom facilities, recycling bins, and drainage.
- Payments from vendors.
- Admitting and vetting vendors.
- Event coordination, sponsors, and calendars.
- Safety for the public and vendors.
- Literature, maps, and information.
- Complaints from vendors and the public.
- Rule reminders.
- Calling weather events.
- Staffing the market (if your market is fortunate to have a staff).
- Representing the market’s needs to city council and fundraising.
With all of these considerations, how can you be helpful to your market manager? Like most of my philosophy, put yourself in their shoes. Market Managers are working side by side with you in the same hot and cold weather. They also deal with regulations, are underfunded, and have to uphold rules everyone may not agree with.
At the end of the day, they are there to make the entire market both profitable for vendors, and enjoyable for the public. You know, the public who are always full of helpful suggestions. Let’s just all collectively acknowledge there is a lot to do. Each farmer is busy up to their eyeballs. Imagine dealing with many farmers who all have their desires and agendas.
Public Space+tired vendors+the public+ all of the points mentioned above=a very busy person with a lot of dynamics to juggle. Perspective can go a long way to a healthy working relationship.
Twelve Tips to make your Market Manager love your farm.
1. Fill out the application in full.
Busy markets are full. Sometimes there are not enough spots available. Put your farm in good standing by completely filling out all fields. All questions are there for a reason. If the application requires certifications, licenses, or insurance; go a step beyond and attach a copy of the full document. Yes, this should be done both on paper and electronic applications.
Add photos of past or current displays and farm operations. Help verify you are in fact in the local food business, and you pay attention to detail. Show a perspective Market Manager you can set up a visually appealing booth.
Treat this as you would any other job application or client you have to wow. Hopefully, this is the start of a long and prosperous relationship. Let the people who choose vendors know they have someone who can perform from the beginning. I can assure you incomplete applications will not be given the same thought as a complete and over delivered form.
2. Earn your spot.
Top spots are earned. Sometimes it takes years of consistent quality. Oher times a farm so well ran and abundantly filled that they receive prime real estate. As a new vendor, you may have to work your way into the better spots; it’s competitive. It is also business and comes down to clientele. Be patient and don’t whine, the cream always rises to the top.
3. Take care of your clients.
If a Market Manager hears or sees obnoxious vendor behavior toward clients, expect consequences. Be friendly. Know your product and be ready to educate your clients. Understand you will answer many questions over and over again. If that is the case, it’s time to make a Q&A pamphlet.
Know you will have gawkers, tire kickers, unappreciative grandmaws, yelling kids, and creepers. You will also have people who are there to support you and your booth neighbors. You have people who will choose to make extra stops in their day to shop local, know their farmer, and eat fresher.
It is part of farm sales to take care of all of these people. As a market vendor, you are the face of all of us at that moment. Be an ambassador to agriculture and local food by bringing your goods to all people in a positive manner.
Taking care of your clients also means taking care of yourself. Stay clean, dress for business, and keep food safety paramount in all of your activities.
4. Be a good neighbor.
Have you ever tried to fit an entire farm into a 10’x10′ square? That is what happens every market. When space are allocated by the square inch, it is important to stay in your space. Noise pollution, inefficient checkout, constant price checks due to poor signage all can lead to unintentional hard feelings. Respect your space, your neighbor’s area, and public access.
Watch out for your fellow vendors. Bathroom breaks, rescue from the occasional time suck and help tieing up in a freak storm all help build strong bonds that make a great market and community.
5. Stay Consistent.
Staple products that you are known for go a long way. It literally can put you on the market map. If you are THE pickle guy, own that title. You can always expand product lines, but keep people happy with what converted them. Bring your best products to market.
Come to market knowing there will be sell out days and unfortunately days you freeze unused goods. Community events, weather, holidays, and just odd random events can hamper some days. Take the good with the bad and be there for the customers who did come out. They depend on you.
6. Display proudly.
Your booth is an extension of the care you put into producing your farm goods. If you do not have an eye for design, jump on Instagram, Pinterest, and the search bar for farmers markets on FaceBook. Se what other people are doing to catch you eye.
Think timeless style, well themed and branded ambiance, and fresh produce that are clearly marked. Make it easy to buy from you. Make your space inviting, comfortable, and display on multiple levels.
Notice a central point on the table draws you in and radiates out lead to the right. Signs draw the eye up, and product is stacked with depth. Even the bottom of the table is considered.
The space you are allowed should draw in your clients both physically and visually.
By maintaining a consistent well thought out social media presence with an email list informing your clients of weekly offerings, prices, availability, and news will ensure you have informed people are coming to buy. Your marketing will sell your goods before people show up to pick up what they already know they want from you.
Market Managers are looking for people who can and do promote their farms. Managers want new clientele, steady buyers, and people who run their operation like a business. Be the asset they want. Make it clear in your application you know your marketing, understand your clients and can communicate with an audience with a click on your phone.
8. Promote the Market.
Imagine if each vendor had even basic marketing practices. Instead of hoping for a passer-by, people had people coming to see them. If each vendor could strengthen their market with an active email list how many more people would be at our markets ready to buy?
By promoting fellow vendors, your market as a whole, and your community, you add value to your local economy. Cross promotions, events, and highlighting the benefits local food bring everybody up a notch. If these practices are not the norm at your market, be the leader to initiate these practices.
9. Attend Meetings.
Meetings are called for a reason. We are all adults. Listen to the new policies, be part of the conversation, and add suggestions when you can add value or help. If you don’t attend or participate in these gatherings, you have no right to complain about policy. Again, whether you like it or not, being a farmer means taking responsibility to educate your clients and sometimes the Market Managers. If you are growing something hyper-niched and your needs could be addressed by a simple positive dialogue you owe it to the market, your clients, and yourself to be in attendance when decisions are being made.
10. Communicate efficiently.
Find out how your Market Manager prefers to communicate and respect that. Some people prefer phone, others text, and some email only. If you will be gone a weekend or sending in someone new to run your booth let the managers know. If a safety issue or unethical activity is going on, you owe it to the public to say something. We are in the social and political nonsense that swirls around agriculture. Help protect our profession.
At the same time, try to settle petty disputes on your own. When marketed to and cared for properly there are enough customers for everyone. If someone is “stealing your clients,” get your process and products in line with the right client. Don’t be a squeaky wheel over small things at the wrong time. Email your Market Manager when you know they are not swamped on the weekend.
11. Follow the rules.
Look, rules are there for reasons. Market Managers don’t make up oddball things just to be annoying. Remember, this is a food industry, and there are many regulations to follow. Some rules were put into place to protect you from liability. The City may have insurance reasons to put a rule into place. Don’t give cause for someone to have to correct an error. Mistakes happen, but by staying informed and up to date on both market and Ag, policies can save you a lot of frustration down the road.
12. Make their job easier.
Can you volunteer at the information booth one weekend a year? Can you offer to take photos for promotions? Can you lead a sub-committee? Can you admin their social media? This isn’t ass kissing; this is being helpful to those who are working to ensure a strong micro-economy through a well-run farmer’s market. People who will stand up and take responsibility for even small tasks are sometimes hard to find. I challenge you to just once work outside of your booth for the greater good. You just might like it, and I promise it will be appreciated.
Bonus: Mind the Gap.
This isn’t just for chive farmers* and I’m not talking about Good Agricultural Practices either. Look for gaps in the market. Is there a product not currently for sale at your local market? Is there a bread and jelly booth and no fresh peanut butter? Are there greens for days but no homemade vinaigrette? Are there meat vendors but no spice booths? Visit your market and identify what is not being serviced. This is where value-added products can crush sales and develop a following. Finding untapped opportunities are what market managers dream of when thinking of the perfect vendor.
For many of us, there are not enough hours in the day to add to your to-do list. If you look back at these tips, they are things you should be doing anyway. Marketing, knowing your clients, being friendly and civil to one another, attending meetings that directly impact you, and keeping your clients safe. By looking at the market through the Market Manager’s point of view will not only help you for real estate but will help them make a stronger market.
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*Extra points if you got that joke.