John Paul Smajda joins me this week to discuss how he increased sales at their farmers’ market by three-fold over the last year. He details how he accomplished this from customer interactions, to pricing, to his display. This is a great practical how-to guide with tons of detail for anyone looking to up their farmers’ market game.
Give us some background on the farm your working at now. (16:15)
I work at The Old School Farm. It’s a non-profit farm with the mission of providing people with intellectual disabilities a means of employment, job skills, and we use all organic practices for production. It’s run market garden style. We have season extension and grow greens all summer long – so, as much as we never forget the mission of the non-profit, we run as much as a for-profit business as possible. I heard Mark Shepard say once, “a non-profit without a professional business model is going to have to become a professional begging organization.”
As you’ve worked with individuals with mental disabilities have you developed stream-lined techniques that have not only helped them but the farm as well? (19:40)
The task-ticket has been a god-send. When someone is going to do a task they have a checklist. Our supportive staff loves checking off a checklist. I developed a list of how to pack the van for the market. With their job coach, they went down the list and the packing went from 35 minutes down to 20. And since they were now doing it correctly it cut my time unloading it back at the farm as well.
Can you talk about how the farm was doing sales at the market before you started? (22:40)
When I first started I kept going to the farm manager to ask about changes and eventually, he told me to stop bugging him, he said; “It’s your booth now.” I know the first thing I did was get rid of the stool. I can’t imagine sitting now at the market. I even got rid of the stool at the back of the stand where we have CSA pick-up.
Have you played around with the orientation of the stall? (30:30)
We have two canopy tents and we keep the tables upfront. I don’t like the inside u-shape or inside-L, it can create a claustrophobic environment. People set their tables even back a few feet and I make comments to them, joking with them about “why are your tables all the way back there?” You’re trying to grab the passers-bys.
If you make your stall into a U-shape only 3-4 single people can fit in there, and they’re going to bump into each other. With the tables upfront people can crowd around and even have nothing above their head so their not closed in. The other thing about those other shapes you can’t create a flow. Where is your cash box and your check-out? It needs to be at one end of the booth. People can also navigate with large assistive devices like wheel-chairs, walkers, strollers and so on instead of getting stuck inside. Putting a table in front of you when you are trying to make a sale or describe a product is also beneficial since you can make a clear presentation and keep a reasonable distance from people so they don’t feel overwhelmed.
What would you say to someone who claims they wouldn’t have enough room to put out their product on a single table instead of the three tables you can put in a u-shape table arrangement, and can’t afford another booth? (42:30)
If you can’t afford another booth then you’re not selling enough product anyway and would benefit from moving to a single table. Our market does not charge much for each additional space. You should consider how you are putting out your product, too. You should be stacking it high to watch it fly. We stack our crates three high – go vertical before you go horizontal. You can get great crates from hobby lobby for about $8.
How do you engage new customers and offer samples? (48:15)
I sample the thing I really want to move. If you come within 8’ of my booth you are getting offered a sample, whether you give me eye-contact or not. A line I use is “Have you had your greens yet this morning? They go great with coffee.” Or “Would you like to try this baby carrot?” I like to give people a little bit of a hard time and have fun with them by making good-natured jabs at them.
How well do you feel samples translate into sales? (52:20)
It’s key. It gets people in so I can do the most important thing. That way I can give them the story, which is the most important part. Yes, people are looking for fresh, organic, local produce – but what they really want is a relationship with their farmer and a story they can connect with.
When people come in for the sample I ask “Have you shopped with us before?” If they have I ask them if they remember how our pricing works. If not then I say, “Well then I have to give you the speech.” The speech is “Old School Farm is a non-profit farm with the mission of providing people with intellectual disabilities a means of employment, job skills, and we use all organic practices for production.” I am reading body language as I get this out and will shorten it if needed. At the end of that, I’ll let them know about the pricing.
Do you use signage to answer questions before they’re asked? (57:40)
I believe if you’ve heard a question three times you need a sign. The pricing needs to go with the product. People ask where we are and so I made a map to show them. I feel like it helps a bit but sometimes people don’t read it either. On each 3×5 sign, I made the font as big as I could for the names of the crops so people can see them from far away. I don’t want to put too much on a sign so I can interact with someone so they can connect with the farm. And I’ll project too so that the next person over can hear me and get the story as well.
Where are you in the pricing hierarchy at the market? (1:14:30)
We are not the cheapest people at the market. I feel like we are successful with our pricing scheme as well. We are usually the number one booth at the market. We don’t reduce our prices even though it has upset some people who I’ll have honest conversations with. I encourage others to raise their prices.
Can you talk about how you’ve leaned out your market operation? (1:20:00)
We’ve tried to apply lean principals to the farmer’s market interaction. We pre-package our vegetables so the customer can select them quickly. We also have done away with the scale so people don’t have to spend time waiting to have their product weighed. That’s not valuable for either one of us. I’d rather have that time to interact with the customer. I put plastic bags out front so people can fill them up and we don’t have to. We don’t take coins that simplifies sales. We have a model where we sell 4 for $10. This also eliminates choice anxiety. We don’t track our sales with Square, only credit card transactions.
I hope these tips have helped as they can be implemented on any farm selling at a market. If you’d like to hear more episodes like this, or just have some questions or input I can be reached on Instagram @DiegoFooter. You can reach John at his email; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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