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  A Publication of UVM Extension's Vermont Vegetable and Berry Program

Do a Farm Market Tune-Up

by Vern Grubinger
Vegetable and Berry Specialist
University of Vermont Extension

As the growing season gets into full swing it’s a good idea to take steps to ‘tune up’ your marketing to help optimize farm profitability now and into the future. Whatever type of marketing you engage in, there’s a wealth of useful information at the Penn State University agricultural marketing web site, agmarketing.extension.psu.edu.

In the retail marketing section, I found some advice that I’ve adapted here to help you ‘remember what you already knew’ about running a top-notch roadside market.

Act nice.  Farmstands sell produce, and if it weren't for the people buying the crops you grow, there would be no need for a farmstand. Simply put, customers keep you in business. People will come back when you give them the service that is so hard to find elsewhere. Remind your employees what customer service means in practice. The customer is never an interruption. Chores can wait, that telephone call can be returned.  Be positive. For example, instead of saying "I don't know." say "That's a good question! Let me see if I can find out for you."

The more that people feel ‘special’ the more their dollars will flow and return shopping visits will be made. Smiling and acting glad to see people is a simple but effective marketing technique. Knowing the names of your regular customers is icing on the cake. Employees who are unable or unwilling to do the above (including you) should not be in the sales area. They’re probably better suited to field work where they can express their grumpiness by attacking weeds with a hoe.

Look good.  Your employees are a reflection on your product, at least in the minds of customers. Salespeople need to look clean and presentable in their dress and be courteous in their demeanor. No smoking, eating, or talking to friends on the cell phone should be allowed where customers can see them.

The way your stand looks also affects how customers perceive your products. If it looks unkempt, or poorly maintained, people will expect lower quality goods – at lower prices. You don’t have to overdo it, trying to look higher-end than you are. Just keep everything tidy, clean, and well-cared for. No peeling paint, no chipped counters, no unswept floors. Outside of the stand, the condition of your landscaping, signage, even trash area also send a message to customers about what to expect inside.

Display with delight. Attractive, well-stocked displays entice customers to buy. Think like an artist, with many tools to choose from - visual: color, contrast, shape, size; smell: herbs, fruits; and touch: soft or firm. If you don’t feel artistic, recruit an employee that does. Make the most of being a farm market. Use displays that look like they came from the farm. Wooden crates or boxes work well, as do baskets. Slant these toward the customer. Use attractive tablecloths. Stair-stepped displays create an array of depth, color and texture; but make sure they are easy for the customer to reach. Utilize vertical space by hanging products from slings or hangers.

Restock displays frequently, and promptly remove damaged, decayed, old, or unsaleable products. Low-quality produce left on your stand not only detracts from sales, but it leaves the customer with a poor perception of your business overall. If you'd buy it, leave it, if you wouldn’t, pull it off the shelf. Tell your employees to do the same.

Let there be light. People eat with their eyes, that’s why you took the time to make all those mouth-watering displays. But customers need to see the products in order to whet their appetites. A common problem inside farm stands I visit is lack of light. Adding windows and skylights is expensive, but track lighting is relatively cheap. Be sure that all your products are fully illuminated for customers, even on a cloudy day.

It’s a sign. Prices should be clearly marked on or near the display. Most shoppers won’t search out the manager to find out how much something costs. Take the time to make attractive, neat signs. I’m always amazed when I visit markets that have beautiful produce that required so much hard work to grow and harvest, only to see it displayed with a price scrawled on a piece of cardboard. Find someone at your farm with neat handwriting and an artistic streak to make your signs. Use high quality paper, perhaps laminated for re-use.

Tell the product’s story.  You know all about the stuff you're selling, but your customers don’t. Help them relate to your offerings, and maybe even try some new foods or flowers. Put up signs for produce, giving variety names, culinary and nutritional characteristics of foods, and horticultural and climactic requirements of ornamentals. If you sell products from other farms, give their names and clearly label what’s local, what’s organic, and what’s your own. People appreciate honesty and full disclosure.

Listening pays.  Tell your employees to be attentive when people offer their opinions, whether good or bad. Maybe the customer wants something you don't have, that you could get. Or maybe they want information about something you sell. Some may have a problem with a small aspect of your operation that can easily be fixed. Come to think of it, that was probably bothering other customers, too. Don’t let complaints get your juices flowing - when people say something critical, they often want to keep shopping at your stand, but they want something to change. In a sense that are trying to help you make your farm market a better place to shop.

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