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Selling at Farmers' Markets :- A Guide for Potential Stallholders

Selling at a farmers' market can make for a good business and be great fun. It can be really satisfying to meet the people who eat your products and to get their feedback. We want to encourage you to develop your ideas, but also to make sure they are realistic. There are over 450 stallholders already selling at Kent's farmers' markets. If you are going to develop a successful business, you need to think through how you will fit in, and whether your can make money from your ideas and skills.

What can you offer that's going to sell, and where will you sell it?
One of the most common problems we've found is people who decide on a product before considering where they are going to sell it. Please don't assume that all that's required is a phone call to a couple of market managers and you'll be off and running. Getting into a farmers' market is competitive, and you will often need to add something new since managers will be reluctant to have multiple stalls selling very similar products, which just makes it harder for the existing stallholder to make a decent return on attending the market. Remember, no one just goes to Tesco and expects them to stock their product, and farmers' markets are retail outlets.

What will make your product and its story special?
Shoppers want value for money, so you need a good product and sell it at a fair price. But many come to farmers' markets because they are
interested in food and want to meet the person producing it. Your recipe, ingredients and personal story can all contribute to making your product distinctive and sellable.

Where to start ?
We suggest you look on the Kent Farmers' Markets' website to see
a) where and when the markets are,
b) what stallholders already attend and
c) what they sell.

However, the best advice we can give is to visit several farmers' markets before you invest any money in your ideas. See what stallholders are already attending, and whether you would be duplicating. See how many shoppers there are, and what sort of things they are interested in buying. Chat to the manager, and ask if there is a waiting list, or if they have any ideas for gaps. You should also ask about the criteria or standards the markets applies to stallholders. These will vary so you will need to find out if you are eligible.

If the market is weekly, you could ask if the manager allows some stallholders to attend only every fortnight or even once a month. Some products, like vegetables, meat and bread, sell well every week, but others are rarely bought every week, and so you might consider attending less frequently, saving yourself time and money, but not reducing total sales. Visiting markets will also give you ideas for what makes stalls and products attractive, and how stallholders deal with shoppers.

Business Planning
If you come away excited by the opportunities, then you need to work up a business plan. This does not have to be complicated, but it pays - literally - to work through the finances before you invest to make sure that, however great your product is, you can make a profit.

Costs, Income and Cashflow

How much will it cost to set-up and to run your business? How much can you reasonably charge for the product, and so how much do you have to sell each month to make a profit? Most critically, can you manage the cashflow - the time between paying start-up costs and running costs (like ingredients and packaging), and getting income from sales. Remember, it will take time to get pitches at markets, and then establish loyal customers who will buy your product repeatedly. How will you cover your costs and manage your stock of ingredients, packaging and products while you wait for income from sales?

Start- up costs
- Before you even start to sell at a farmers' market, you will need:

  1. Public liability insurance for 5m cover. This is likely to cost around 75-90/year
  2. Food hygiene qualification. One day courses are run by some local authorities and other organisations, and you will need to complete one before you start production, and keep up to date with occasional refresher courses. A course usually costs less than 100.
  3. Often a table and, for most outside markets, a gazebo. These need to be sturdy, yet easily transportable. These are likely to cost 150-250 pounds depending the quality you want. Better ones last longer - think of windy January markets - but obviously cost more up front.
  4. Equipment for production
  5. Merchandising equipment to make your stall attractive (see advice on our website here and here)
  6. Marketing literature, such as brochures, business cards, a banner for your stall, a name tag (farmers' markets are about making personal contact with shoppers, and letting them know your name is a great start); maybe polo shirts and aprons displaying your business' name.

Running costs: depending on your product, you might need to price up

  1. Ingredients
  2. Costs of production (gas, electricity etc)
  3. Packaging and labelling
  4. How much stock are you likely to need at any one time? Fresh products, like cakes, have to be sold quickly, but if you make a variety of jams or chutneys, you need to be able to afford to have dozens of jars of each variety in stock. Alternatively, if you are selling a fresh product, how will you deal with unsold products before their sell-by dates, and what loss of income could this involve?
  5. Cost of pitches at markets, and the transport costs of getting to them
  6. Tasting samples - for some products these are pretty much essential, and will certainly make a big difference to sales because shoppers will be keener to approach your stall and then buy your product if there's a chance to taste it. If you think giving samples just reduces your
  7. profits, you don't understand sales!
  8. Your time. This has a very important value, don't forget it !!

Income - That's a lot of costs, so you'll need a lot of income. Unless your product is unique, you should be able to work out a price from finding similar products. Our research shows that shoppers will not pay more just because a product is local. Yes, localness helps attract people to farmers' markets, but what shoppers pay for is quality - taste, freshness, ingredients. The overwhelming majority of spending at farmers' markets comes from the regular shoppers - not occasional ones or tourists - and so you will need to earn their loyalty, for which you must offer a product that's worth buying repeatedly at a price that offers good value. Farmers' market shoppers are interested in food and very savvy. They will pay for quality, but they will spot over-pricing.

Product Price Once you have worked out a price, determine how much you need to sell to cover your costs and to make rewarding profit. Do you have enough time available both to make that amount and then to attend enough markets to sell it!

Commitment Shoppers and managers expect commitment. Finding a stallholder missing is equivalent to finding a supermarket shelf empty, so you need to be able to commit to regular attendance at markets. Occasional absences, for example for holidays, are understood, but you need to be willing to give the business priority. Unless your product is seasonal, you can't cherry pick to attend only the popular summer or Christmas markets, and expect others to keep the market going during quieter times in January and February, so make sure you are happy to commit all year round.

Regulations You need to know about food hygiene, including if you are preparing food at home, selling meat from a farm or giving away tasters, and trading standards regulations, such as labelling. Please note, all advice on the website is only for guidance. The Association accepts no responsibility or liability for its accuracy.

Finally, will you enjoy making and selling

Some people consider selling at farmers' markets because their friends say how delicious their jam, chutney, cakes etc are and that they should selling them. Yes, you need a good product, but will you be happy selling it too? Farmers' markets are fun places to be - the shoppers, managers and other stallholders are all there because they love good food and care about where it comes from. You'll find everyone is supportive and friendly. But being a great farmer or a talented cook doesn't mean you will necessarily enjoy, or be good at selling. Are you happy talking to strangers, and bragging (nicely) about how good your product is? Can you remain enthusiastic about telling a shopper about your product for the thirtieth time that morning? Can you encourage people to buy without making them feel uncomfortably pressured? Can you be cheerful at 9am on a cold and wet January morning?

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