Vendor Selling Tips
Woodlawn Farmers Market and the East Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District
Woodlawn Farmers Market
Vendor Selling Tips
A partnership between the Woodlawn Farmers market and the East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District
Selling at the farmers market is a unique vending experience. Customers visit the market for a multitude of reasons, including: to support local growers, engage with community, access exceptionally fresh and delicious produce, and to find crops and varieties that might not be available at the grocery store. As a vendor, your job to create a physical and social environment that is inviting to a wide rage of customers.
Below are some tips to help you get started on the rewarding path of vending at the farmers market.
Your product is the hook and must be appealing. Grocery stores have perfected the produce aesthetic with nearly floor to ceiling displays of picture-perfect vegetables. Many customers will expect that same shopping experience. Here are some ways to achieve that:
- Customer's Perspective -- How does your display look from the outside looking in? The customer’s field of view should be filled with the items that will draw them in. Let them see dazzling colors and shapes, a clean tablecloth, antique or artisan baskets, boxes, and crates, and plentiful bunches and bouquets. Don’t let them see the sides of your boxes, through to the back of your tent, your plastic bins of extra produce in the back, or anything else that could take away from their romantic vision of farms.
- Use Vertical Space -- Clamp signs to tent posts, tilt and stack display boxes, hang your bags from the tent. Some vendors build custom frames that can hold 3-4 produce harvest boxes at a steep angle.
- Abundance Sells -- When a box looks more than half empty customers buy less. If you have sold half your onions, move the rest to a smaller box so it still looks full. Use a big box but put a smaller box inside as a false bottom so it looks overflowing even though there may only be two layers of produce in it. Keep extra produce under your tables and refill displays as items sell. Remove tables if you begin to sell out of product while consolidating remaining produce into a central area.
- Keep it Fresh -- Keep a spray bottle in your cooler with cold water and frequently spray produce that is prone to wilt. Glistening water also increases the visual appeal. Rotate produce back into your cooler to freshen up so it doesn’t sit out too long on a hot day. Use ice or ice packs to keep things cool. Wet clean towels and place under produce. Keep sensitive crops out of direct sunlight. If you have a sunny spot in your booth, put things there like potatoes, onions, garlic, or value added goods that won’t be damaged by sun.
An effective way to keep greens fresh in ice water. To improve the visual appeal, a clean tablecloth could be placed inside of the tote to conceal the plastic but keep the bunches in contact with water.
Many market shoppers are there to support farmers. Help them achieve that experience by sharing your story and knowledge with them. Be Friendly. Smile. Stand up. Put your phone away. Give them your full attention when they are at your booth. Ask them questions like what are they making for dinner tonight. Acknowledge regulars and try and learn names.
Offer recipes and suggest ways to cook different vegetables you are selling. Promoting a recipe or dish that uses several of your products is a good way to sell more.
A well set up booth creates a sense of abundance but also ample space for customers to navigate. Flow is critically important to sales. If the booth is cramped and a customer is already filling the space, other potential customers will walk by. When product is very scant, you may want to consider bringing your table to the front of your tent so customers don’t even enter. Seek to move to two tents or more as soon as you have the product to fill the space.
Food Safety is Paramount
If customers are getting sick from your product, your farm business won’t last long. However, just the perception of unsanitary conditions will cost you customers. Here are some tips for keeping your products safe:
If you provide samples to your customers, you must have a handwashing station at your booth. The Oregon Department of Agriculture provides details of handwashing station requirements here:
- Provide a minimum water-holding capacity of five gallons in an enclosed container.
- Utilize a spigot that can be opened to provide a constant flow of water.
- Provide soap; Gel sanitizer may be used in addition to handwashing but not in place of it
- Provide paper towels.
- Maintain a wastewater collection container with a minimum capacity equal to or greater than the freshwater containerʼs capacity.
- Provide a receptacle for used paper towels.
- Maintain handwashing equipment in a clean and sanitary manner (rinsing with 50 ppm chlorine/water is suggested).
- Use only potable water for hand washing (free of fecal coliform bacteria).
Always wash your hands at the market provided wash station after using the restroom. Don’t use your stall’s handwashing station for that.
Don’t have produce bins or boxes with holes in the bottom. They will leak water everywhere and track mud between stacked bins and eventually onto your produce or tablecloths.
Even at dog-friendly markets vendors should never bring pets. Politely encourage your customers to keep their pets away from the produce you have on and above your tables.
Final Words of Wisdom
Some additional thoughts on how to become a successful vendor:
- Look around at successful veteran farmers market vendors and you will see many creative ways they have built their booths.
- Get to know your fellow vendors. Don’t be shy about referring a customer to another seller if they carry the desired product. That favor will likely be reciprocated.
- Read the market’s Vendor Handbook and follow the guidelines. Ask the Market Manager if something is unclear.
- Invest in a large sign. This will help draw customers in while enclosing the booth and giving an appearance of a self-contained area.
- Customers like pre-packaged items. For example, bags of carrots or lettuce mix, pints or peas or berries, mesh bags of garlic or potatoes. It’s important that the product can be viewed within the bag, so pre-packaging in paper sacks could defeat the purpose.
- Offer deals on crops you have lots of. Two for $5 or “specials of the week” are a fun way to engage customers. However, understand the economics of these deals and make sure you’re not undercharging for your product.