On this week’s episode of Tent Talk, we answered another round of questions we received from our listeners. In this episode you’ll get advice from the Tent Talk hosts on various issues that farmers’ market managers face. Listen along for tips on curating your market, giving prospective vendors constructive criticism, marketing on a budget, and what to do about tardy vendors.

Brijet and Catt doing what they do best: educating farmers’ market vendors!

I keep receiving vendor applications for the same type of products we already have, while our market is desperately lacking in other categories. What should I do?

We feel your pain! When specific food items are trending we tend to see waves of applications come in, and then a few months later there is a new set of applications for a different type of product. One month it’s kale chips and the next month it’s cold brew!

One way to help curb this problem is by telling your potential vendors what you are looking for. If your market really needs pantry items like pickles, condiments, or spices, put a note on your website or vendor application that lists the items you’re seeking out.

Also, market managers in need of a particular type of vendor can do a little recruiting at other farmers’ markets and special events like craft bizarres or county fairs. Just be mindful not to poach other markets’ vendors. If you run a farmers’ market on Tuesdays, go to other farmers’ markets in your area on a different day of the week and look for vendors that sell what you are looking for.

Lastly, we suggest that you avoid rejecting vendor applications just because that category is already saturated. Vendor applications come in in waves, and sometimes vendors leave in waves too! Your market might have a lot of baked-good vendors now, but you never know when they may move away, quit, or open brick & mortars. Keep applications on file just in case!

We receive a lot of samples from potential vendors that aren’t that good. Should I give them honest feedback even if it crushes their dreams? 

As a farmers’ market manager, if you see (or taste) an issue with a potential vendor’s samples, we think you should tell them. Honesty is the best policy. Provide them with constructive criticism and try to be as specific as possible. Instead of saying “your samples weren’t good,” tell them exactly what about them you didn’t enjoy. Were they too salty? Too dry? Too bland? Or was it just the packaging you didn’t like?

If you are receiving a lot of samples that aren’t up to the standards of your market, you may want to rethink your application process. Generally we don’t ask for samples unless we are pretty sure we want the vendor in our market. By the time samples are delivered to the office, we’ve vetted their application throughly and they just have to pass the last taste test.

Also, we use a tasting panel of 6 or 7 people. This way we can get a range of opinions and our decisions aren’t based on one person’s tastebuds. In those instances in which we tell a vendor “no” based on their samples, we’re confident we’ve made the right decision.

The farmers’ market I manage has a core group of devoted shoppers, but we could really use more foot traffic. Is there any way to get more shoppers without a huge outreach budget?

When you don’t have a lot of funds for marketing it forces you to be even more creative and persistent! Email newsletters and social media don’t cost anything but time and effort. Share information with your community in off-hour times. Tell people about your market when you’re at dinner, church, your kid’s school, etc. Get to know the school office manager by bringing them a treat from the farmers’ market! Check out Tent Talk episode 2 with Charlotte Smith of 3 Cow Marketing for more tips on relationship marketing.

We also suggest you do a survey to find out why your devoted customers keep coming back week after week. What about the market do they love? What areas do they think could be improved? It could be that you need more vendors, or more parking, or better music! A survey will allow you to look more critically at your market.

After doing what you can with relationship marketing and surveying your devoted shoppers, sponsorships are a great way to raise funds and attention of the community. When you get a sponsor, you not only have their money, but you also have their hearts and minds. If a sponsor is represented at your market they will likely help promote it as well.

What do I do about chronically late vendors?

Good question! Sometimes vendors are chronically late because they don’t understand why it’s important for them to be on time. In this case, simply explain why the market requires all vendors to be set up and ready to go by the start time of the market. Often having a conversation with tardy vendors can solve the problem.

But sometimes tardiness is a more complex issue… Entrepreneurs are known to be creative folk, free spirits, and may not be the most punctual. If a (stern) conversation hasn’t persuaded the vendor to show up on time, sometimes the answer is that you move them to a part in the market where if they arrive late, they aren’t impacting other vendors as much. After a brief exile period to the outskirts of the market the vendor may reform… and sometimes they don’t.

What other farmers’ market questions do you have?

If you have any farmers’ market questions, please send them our way! We would love to answer them on one of our future podcast episodes. You can email them to us at connect@intentsconference.com, send us a message or leave a comment via Instagram at @intentsbusiness, or just post your question in the comment section below.

We also answer tons of questions and talk in-depth about all sorts of farmers’ market issues in our monthly Vendor-101 course and our annual InTents Conference!

Where can I listen to full episodes of Tent Talk?

There are many ways to listen to Tent Talk. You can stream directly from our website or by clicking the player below. You can also easily listen on a mobile device via iTunesStitcher, YouTube, or wherever you get your podcasts. Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss any episodes!

Do you have a farmers’ market question you’d like us to answer on air? Got an idea for a future episode topic? Is there someone you think we should interview? Please let us know!

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