Do’s and Don’ts: Marketing at Farmers Markets
The tables are up, the harvest is out, everything looks great and it’s the best year yet for your primary crop. You hold one perfect peach and grasp the stewardship and hard work in one juicy bite. Yet when you put it on display, customers walk by with only a cursory glance. Blaming customer refusal on ignorance is convenient but misses the mark. Peaches can’t talk. You can.
Marketing marries the value of a product with the needs of the customer. It is an art form that requires intimacy with the customer and an understanding of your customer’s community. We’re not talking complicated communications plans or fancy analyses of your farmers market table (although that couldn’t hurt). There is, however, some great low hanging fruit that can significantly enhance your profile and sales.
DO Make your farm name a centerpiece. To paraphrase Dale Carnegie, to a farmer, his or her farm’s name is the sweetest sound. So remember say it often and make sure your farm’s name is on display. Make a bold, professional banner or paint a giant sheet of burlap (hey, it’s rustic!). Just hang it high.
DO Clearly label your produce with the crop’s name and price. Terri Kashima of K and K Ranch in Orosi, CA manages her booth at the Hollywood Farmers Market every Sunday. She rises well before dawn, packs the farm truck, arrives early, yet rarely has time to create display signage.So, nephew Zach Kano took over visual duties. He stripped old signs and replaced them with easy-to-read script. He paid attention to variety names and descriptions and angled the signage to get more eyes. Changes were simple, painless, and perhaps most importantly, nearly free. Within a week, Kashima saw a 10 percent increase in sales.
DO Break up similarly colored produce with contrasting crops. Contrast is a core principle in art that arranges opposite elements — light versus dark, rough versus smooth, large versus small, et cetera — to create interest and drama. Contrast incites pause and draws you in, unaware the most primal elements of your mind have been manipulated.
DO Evoke a sense of place. Pop-up tents are high on expedience and low on ambiance, and crates-on-tables bring to mind forklifts more than fields and orchards. Suggest the bucolic by mimicking the field: Place row crops in lines or cover tent legs with orchard trim. Soften the edges of industrial fruit crates with burlap or fabric. Display fruits and vegetables with leaves, stems and branches still attached. This can also be useful niche marketing: Hoshigaki, the traditional dried persimmon, requires fruit with at least an inch or more of stem attached in order to facilitate hanging.
DON’T Use multi-colored pop-up tents. Photographers love soft lighting. It diffuses shadows and transforms them into subtle tones that envelope the subject. A white pop-up tent is like a giant softbox, softening harsh midday sunlight into camera-ready lighting. Red, green or dark tents change the mood completely, although not always for the worse: Peaches, strawberries and tomatoes may benefit from a red glow.
DON’T Skimp on staff (or self) training. Know the difference between a Black Beauty and a Black Ruby, and when favorite varieties are due. “I don’t know” closes doors. If you aren’t sure, find out, and learn how to let your customer know.
DON’T Forget a regular customer’s name. Build community and leverage it for customer loyalty. It’s easy to do, but only if you demonstrate genuine care. Learn, use and remember customers’ names — it’s practically expected. Keep track in a client book their favorite crops and special requests. This valuable market data engenders devotion. Dr. Maya Angelou touched on a sweet spot in the human experience with the phrase, “People will never forget how you made them feel.” This works in both directions, so stay on the right path.
Felicia Friesema has written about Los Angeles farmers markets for the LA Weekly and Edible Westside. When she’s not wandering the stalls, she’s usually teaching, photographing local agriculture, or geeking out on marketing strategy.
(Photo Credit: All photos by Felicia Friesema)