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

Increase Sales at Your Roadside Market

by Vern Grubinger
Vegetable and Berry Specialist
University of Vermont Extension

If you run a seasonal roadside market, winter is a good time to consider the following question: how can I make more money?  To get a good answer, there are several areas you’ll need to consider, including your production costs, labor efficiency, and of course, marketing. Here are some specific marketing questions that you should answer about your retail operation. As a result, I bet you’ll figure out where a few improvements could be made, leading to increased sales and profits.

The front line: your sales force. Customers want to be appreciated. Do you provide training to each and every one of your market’s employees about the importance of customer service, and how to deliver it?

Sales behaviors to emphasize to employees include: a courteous, cheerful and professional attitude; being well-informed about the products offered for sale; being helpful but not overbearing; maintaining a clean, well-groomed personal appearance; being willing and prepared to help customers get their purchases out to their cars, and knowing the procedure for handling complaints--cheerfully.

The bread basket: your customers. How well do you know the reasons why people shop at your establishment, and what they like or don’t like about it? There are several ways to get this information. One is to use in-store questionnaires, another is to collect postal or e-mail addresses from customers so you can send out announcements of special sales or seasonal product availability; then send these folks a short survey at the end of the year. It’s a good idea to provide some incentive for customers to respond to any kind of inquiry, such as a raffle, a gift, or a coupon for a discount on certain products.

Another way to look at what your customers want is simply to use your sales records to see what they buy, how much, and when. That’s pretty important if you want to match your inventory to your customer’s needs.

What’s your strategy for increasing sales by reaching new customers, or by increasing volume during off-peak days or seasons?  Advertising, promotions, special events are all actions to consider.

Make it easy to shop. Are you doing all you can to enhance the experience of shopping at your store? Don’t make customers work unnecessarily to spend money!

Make sure that products can easily be reached, and that the individual items can be easily seen. Inclined sales benches with good overhead lighting can help. And don’t make people guess what things cost: have all products clearly marked with prices. If you sell any products by weight, provide scales so shoppers can easily determine the cost of their purchase before they get to the cash register.

Are there plenty of bags or boxes available to the customer where they might be needed? How about carts, shopping baskets, wagons or other means of carrying large quantities of product?  With unusual products, it can help customers make a decision to buy if you provide preparation instructions, recipes, or samples for tasting.

Packaging makes sense for some products, if it enhances customer convenience, protects product quality, or helps utilize display space more efficiently. Be sure that any packaging is not excessive, and that all containers are neat and clean. Use container colors that enhance the attractiveness of the product.

Perception matters: what’s your market image?  Remember the Saturday Night Live routine “it’s not how you feel -- it’s how you look!” Well, I wouldn’t go that far, but the appearance of your market can have a big impact on sales. Take a fresh look at all aspects of how your market looks, from a customer point of view.  On the outside, the grounds of your market as well as the building should look clean, tidy, and inviting. Everything from the landscaping to the signage to the waste receptacles should look well-maintained.

Do everything you can to distinguish your establishment from competing chain stores and supermarkets by emphasizing your local, agricultural identity. This can be done with displays of restored antique farm equipment, crops and flowers growing near the stand, and signs that explain the products and history of your farm operation.

Time to rearrange the furniture?   It’s easy to get used to the way “we’ve always done things around here.”  But it’s just possible that the layout of your market, inside and out, could be improved.

Consider these outdoor issues: would better directional signage or driveway layout make it easier for customers to enter, park their cars, and exit your market?  Do you have enough parking spaces during your busiest times?  Maybe you need to make more parking space, or improve utilization of existing space by marking individual parking spots. Do parked vehicles reduce the visibility of your signs or displays from the road?

Inside, take a look at efficiency, display of products, convenience, and safety. Make sure the aisles and the doorways are wide enough to accommodate foot traffic during your peak sales periods. Is it easy to move products in and out of the sales area without customer interference?  Displays should be positioned for maximum visibility, and lettering should be large with good contrast so people can ‘see ahead’. Make sure that short customers can still see over the displays. Have the cash register located in a convenient location.

Take every step possible to make shopping at your store a non-hazardous experience. The floors should be level and smooth. Exterior doors should open outward. Exits must be clearly marked, with emergency lights nearby. Steps need to have handrails. Exterior lighting should be strong enough to be helpful even in rain or fog.

A checklist for roadside stands aimed at improving marketing has been developed by Cooperative Extension experts at the University of New Hampshire and Penn State University. It’s available on-line at: www.hort.uconn.edu/agmarketing/critique.html.

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