Despite the picturesque nature of farmers’ markets in the early fall (pumpkins!!), October can be a finicky month for farmers’ market sales.
The summer months reliably bring in a tide of tourists and vacationers with money to spend. And of course, mid-November through the end of the year can a very busy time for holiday shopping. But once summer ends, vendors may see a dip in sales. The weather is less inviting for outdoor activities, parents are reeling from the expenses of back to school shopping, and customers are starting to save money for the holidays.
It’s in times like these that farmers’ market vendors rely on their regular customers to help get them through the doldrums between summer and the holidays. And for that reason it’s important to consider why these shoppers come back week after week.
Chances are, your regular customers continue to buy from you because of the quality of your products, your charming personality, and your knowledge. So, when sales are a bit slow, focus on offering your customers something they can’t get a the grocery store: you!
In order to develop a solid group of regular customers, you need to have a quality product. But your product also needs to be consistently quality. Vendors face competition from grocery stores as well as other market vendors, so reliability is key.
If you’re a baker who’s known for the flakiness of your croissants or chewiness of your cookies, don’t show up to the market with overdone baked goods. Your regulars will be the first to notice if you’ve missed the mark one week. Sure, occasional mistakes happen, but you should make sure you’re consistently delivering those quality products your customers expect.
Not only does your product have to be reliable, your attendance should be also. If you aren’t going to be at the market one week, let them know ahead of time. Posting on your social media page, sending out an email, or texting your super regulars is a good idea. Vendors who have spotty attendance (or who open late and close early) will develop a reputation for being undependable.
Deepen the connection
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: most people shop the market because of the social interaction it provides. This means that your customers are showing up and buying your product partly because they like interacting with you! This is flattering, but it also requires you to work harder. Yes, interacting with other humans is hard work.
Simple things like saying hello, smiling, asking questions, and giving compliments make a big difference in the way shoppers perceive their farmers’ market experience. Even if it is early, or the weather is bad, or you’re just not in the mood, strive to connect with your customers. You probably didn’t get into farming or food-making because you’re an extrovert, but this is pretty much Customer Service 101.
Being an outgoing salesperson may not be your forte, but it gets easier once you gain some regulars. Continue to foster that relationship by recognizing returning customers, learning their names, and noticing their purchasing habits. Once you’re familiar with them, you can give suggestions for other items they may like and expand the amount of items they purchase from you.
Share your knowledge
Your regular customers not only value your product, they also value the knowledge that you have about the product you’re selling. There is something really special about the opportunity to purchase food directly from the person who grew or produced it. Farmers’ markets offer a transparency and give shoppers the chance to ask questions about where their food is coming from.
In your interactions with customers, make an effort to drop some knowledge about what you’re selling. You don’t have to dive deep into complex agricultural theory or culinary technique. Just provide tidbits of info here and there.
Food makers can share recipes, preparation techniques, or information about where they source ingredients. Farmers can share information about what’s currently in season or how to store and preserve produce. Or, regale your regulars with a funny story about what happened on your farm that week.
When sales are in a slump, instead of getting discouraged, take time to connect with your most loyal customers. Put your energy into deepening relationships with the people that support you week after week. Don’t take your regular customers for granted, because they don’t take you for granted!