G’day fellow marketeers!
Lets talk about starting a farmers market, the benefits and pitfalls of running a farmers market and how you can get a head start on beginning your own farmers market!
Due to some discrepancies in the local market scene and through following the path of least resistance we ended up getting the opportunity to run our own markets onsite at Nature Cycle Farm. What an experience! It was a roller coaster within a whirlwind with the market days being a blur of enjoyment and exhaustion. The main highlight was connecting with the local consumer base on an intimate level and being able to walk and talk among our production beds where they could see the produce that they just bought growing in the ground. The support that grew for our market garden was humbling to say the least!
Running your own market, whether it is on your own land or on public land, has many benefits for the operator, the local community and local businesses. It is a relatively inexpensive and safe avenue for start-ups and established businesses to garner trust within the local community while trialing products before committing them to a larger scale operation. By running our markets onsite and allowing the community members to wander through the farm, we gained credibility and trust within the local community while achieving the golden marketing tool of word of mouth. Without running the onsite markets and having satisfied customers leave and talk about my operation with their family and friends I wouldn’t have met the operators of our local co-ops and moved into the next phase of the business. Some of the benefits I received from starting a farmers market were:
- Business and product awareness in the local community
- Inexpensive avenue to trial products and gauge consumer preferences
- Direct consumer access
- Direct source of income
- Research business marketing ideas from successful stalls
- Research successful aesthetics from premium stalls
- Developing a local consumer network
- Networking with local businesses
5 do’s for starting an onsite market:
- Check with your local council for any laws, restrictions or standards that apply to your operation: It always pays to look into any possible laws or restrictions that may affect your market, you don’t want to go through all the time and labour of starting a market to receive a fine for not adhering to local laws and statutes. Our local council allowed community programs as long as they were held in a registered space, the property and market were suitably insured, there was a traffic management plan in place, there were necessary facilities for patrons (waste, toilets etc).
- Write up a business plan: This should be as thorough as you can possibly make it. When offering a service to the public in the form of community programs you take on a large amount of liability and responsibility for the stall holders and patrons who will be attending your market. A business plan will give the operation its backbone from how it will operate, who will operate it, the finances, marketing, legal requirements, stall holders, risk management and everything in between.
- Write up an operations plan: Fortunately most of this information can be extrapolated from the business plan. Your operations plan is essentially a legal document that you will need to gain access to a registered space and become a registered entity in the eyes of the local council. The plan generally contains a list of Organisation Personnel, the operations specific goals and an expected completion timeline, the actions required to achieve goals and an expected completion timeline, the resources required to run the operation and the budget required to start and run the operation.
- Write up a bump-in info package for stallholders: The bump-in info package plays a dual role in the stallholder scene; it advertises your market to stallholders while giving them the site rules and stallholder requirements needed to be a part of your market. The introduction/welcome is where you place the advertising on why the stallholders should be choosing your market over other local markets. The rest of the document consists of the legal requirements the stallholders need to adhere to such as what can be sold at the market, stallholder requirements, insurance, attendance requirements and operating times. The bump-in package is also required to have a map showing the market location with entrances, exits and directions for finding, accessing and leaving the market.
- Market your market: You wouldn’t want to go to all the trouble of preparing a market day full of delightful wares and fresh produce to have no one turn up for the market. Market attendance is pretty well the sole reason stallholders will turn up and continue to turn up to your market. I have seen numerous stallholders drive into a market during set-up to leave without even hopping out of the car due to their perceived lack of patron attendance. At its base marketing is simply trying to make as large a portion of the public aware of your event/product as your budget can afford. This can take many forms, cardboard signage along the road way, posters on community notice boards, creating an event on social media and pushing it through online community notice boards, an article in the newspaper or through local businesses. We found online marketing in conjunction with eye catching posters throughout the community and local business shopfronts and counter tops to be the most effective for our locale.
As the old saying goes ‘you won’t get anywhere whipping a dead horse’. To me it makes even more sense to avoid whipping the horse to death in the first place and from this perspective I believe it wise to consistently assess your operations, your market footing and allow the market to dictate whether you succeed or fail. Learning to fail fast in these situations can be the difference between being a little shame faced and being bankrupt. There is little point sinking all your equity into a failing venture. After operating on a weekly basis for nearly 6 months I ended up having to make the hard decision of finishing the farms onsite markets.
5 reasons for market failure
- Our farm location was inconvenient for the general public and stall holders
- The foot traffic wasn’t high enough to interest quality stall holders leaving a level of quality that didn’t reflect our business
- Being on private property made patrons uncomfortable
- Stallholder businesses lacking the professionalism required for consistent markets
- Lack of market operating experience
The pitfalls of failure
The feeling of failing ended up taking quite a heavy toll on my mental state and the farm was minimally operating. Here is part of the message I sent out to our community members; “I apologize for becoming quiet and want to take some time to share and give you all some insight into me (Josh). After failing to facilitate community markets I felt like I had let everyone down. I wasn’t proud of my efforts so became anxious and depressed, getting to a point where I didn’t want to go into the front yard should I run into you lovely people and have to try explain myself. Sometimes its much easier to say ‘today is a new day to do better than yesterday’. So if you find yourself having a struggle always feel you can reach out to me, come get your fingers in the dirt and reconnect”. It just goes to show that even when we are living our dreams it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, but as I always say you have to look from the valley to appreciate the peak.
Looking back in hindsight, you can always see the things you would like to have done differently. In this case it was market inexperience that got the best of us and the logical answer would be to not have tried running a market after only being to 5 markets, which to some degree has merit. However by taking the risk and rising up to the opportunity we met many delightful people who have enriched our lives since, we were able to generate a high level of trust within our produce through the local community and it led to many future opportunities that may not have presented themselves had the markets not been operating. So to this end from a business perspective I say that taking the opportunity was worthwhile, even if it seemed illogical, through living the experience I learnt valuable insights into myself and my desired market.
If you have any advice to give to an inspiring future farmers market operator, share your wisdom in the comments below!