Farmers’ Market Management: Your Digital Success Manual

Find out how the right digital tools can readily accelerate managing your farmers’ market income into greater profits

Managing a farmers’ market profitably in 21st century needs a digital outlook.

How is your farmers’ market digital strategy performing?

I suppose a good question to respond with is “…against which benchmark?

As a niche, farmers’ markets seem to be off the pace digitally in comparison with other small business industry niches.

This leaves what is by definition what otherwise would be a colourful, diverse and productive industry, relatively bland and off colour, when it comes to spicing things up digitally.

But I thought having a website, writing a few blog posts & having a Facebook account, is all you needed?

Does this sounds like you?

If so, then keep reading

…because with just a few simple steps you could totally revolutionise your farmers’ market’s profit making ability…

…not to mention cut costs and improve management considerably!

The traditional purpose of farmers’ markets

Most farmers’ markets push the agenda of connecting local agricultural producers & artisans, with informed community membersbusiness owner customers.

Conceptually they are pitched by organisers as being hives of commercial cross pollination for creative ideas, agricultural innovation & culinary, artistic expression.

A farmers’ market done well is more of an event than a retail thoroughfare.

A reason for leaving your house and engaging in your community, rather than a point of necessity.

They are places where personal contribution should be greatly encouraged and good quality standards the norm.

A farmers’ market is a collaborative effort.

Where everyone’s addition counts.

Take the triple bottom line of the Farmers’ Market Coalition in the USA for a succinct summary of what a successful farmers’ market ought to be:

  1. Farmers earn fair prices for the fruits of their labor by selling directly to consumers.
  2. Consumers gain access to fresh, nutritious, local produce.
  3. Communities regain a figurative “town square,” experiencing the many positive outcomes of foot traffic and animated public space.”

Farmers’ Market Coalition (triple bottom line)

The challenges of running a successful farmers’ market

Farmers’ markets must be financially stewarded.

Their books have got to balance. Money coming in (however that may happen by management-style) has got to be sufficient to account for monies going out.

They have very real costs/overheads (…ground rent, staff wages, licenses, maintenance, equipment hire charges, electricity surcharges etc.)

Therefore, market management requires an ample measure of financial prudence to keep them afloat…so to speak.

Currently we operate at a deficit,” says Robert LaValva, director of the non-profit New Amsterdam Market in Manhattan. “To meet our costs we hold fundraisers and seek donations, and rely on volunteers and a minimally paid staff.” – Robert LaValva, Director, New Amsterdam Market – Manhattan 

Farmers get good profit margins because they deliver directly to the consumers…but they don’t see a lot of profits overall because of the small scale they sell at. They need $600 a day to make it viable. That’s not easy.” – Pat Conroy, Vice Chairman, Deloitte

A successful market requires good foot traffic, decent weather and an abundance of available products…it can be a challenge to find areas that are equipped with this perfect combination.” – Mackey Almy, Founder, Fresh Produce Organization

– Farmers Markets: Harvesting Dollars Is Not So Easy [CNBC Markets]

Whilst many markets never achieve operational profitability (…being heavily by funded by donors), we think becoming financially self-sustaining is actually a very real possibility for many.

Profitability is not an imagination for farmers’ market management.

It’s very achievable a reality…

…if you set the right goals and are bold in investing for success.

With a plentiful audience of local customers coupled with motivated & talented producers,  there is no reason why your market should settle for anything less than a profitable performance.

But how is this really achievable?

The A-Z of how a digital upgrade, could be your solution to running a profitable farmers’ market

Here at Smallholdings For Sale, we are persuaded that affordable, readily accessible digital marketing tools can effectively bridge the profit gap for farmers’ markets.

And the best part?…

All it takes is the know-how, plus a little effort.

A quick lesson in digital profit making for farmers’ market managers

The key benefits offered by this digital management solution for farmers’ markets are as follows:

  1. Generate more footfall (virtual and physical)
  2. Grow a more comprehensive subscriber list of producers, cooks and artisans
  3. Harnessing more frequent, relevant and profitable customer contact
  4. Offer retail everyday
  5. Secure event bookings & product sales in advance of any market day
  6. Integrate and automate stakeholder communications
  7. Easily take & track payments both made and received
  8. Publication of high quality market collateral to facilitate more profitable trade

What This Digital System Will Do For Your Market Customers…

A. One-stop shop & online marketplace

Arrange with vendors for reserved product stock to be ring-fenced and made available only to market visitors who would like to order online, exclusively at your market’s website.

Lifting the restriction of sales from ‘market day’ and ‘in person only’, to free flowing eCommerce online (with strict stock control in line with vendors allocated volume) could stimulate a significant increase in trade.

A daily, local delivery round could be started to arrange local distribution of internet purchased stock, direct to the door of customers.

TIP: Like so many business’s offering stock which could also be purchased via alternative channels, why not offer incentives, such as discounted prices by voucher via the online market.

B. Order products ahead for collection on market day

Ordering food or market products for collection on the day becomes easy and seamless with a quality eCommerce engine (like the one above) behind the scenes.

Products can be purchased by customers online via the market website (in retail or wholesale quantities) and either collected at the stall on trading day, or delivered to door by the market’s own delivery round.

TIP: Run a simple collection service on the day of trade with this slick little pick and pack routine made possible by this SMS Printer.

Orders coming in on the day via your market website can be routed to the corresponding vendor, producing a thermal printed receipt at the vendor’s stall, real-time.

Products are then picked, packed with the receipt stuck on & prepared for collection on the day. 

Stock levels can be controlled at two points in the system.

Firstly in the eCommerce engine within the farmers’ market website.

But also at the printer terminal.

Should a vendor not have sufficient to fulfil the order, they have the ability to refuse the order at the push of a button.

If refused the customer also gets a polite communication from the vendor! 

C. Booking admission to popular local events online (e-reservations)

Allow market visitors to electronically reserve their attendance of market-based events ahead of the date (…or even, encourage your management to broker arrangements with other local event managers to distribute tickets for their events also).

Front load the cash flow expectation of organisers and vendors alike, by utilising your online marketplace as an electronic avenue for ticket sales.

Collected ticket revenues can be forwarded very easily to the relevant event organisers along with reports and analytics of sales activity.

Tickets are distributed to customers instantly and redeemed on the day via QR code on mobile phone or printed receipt.

TIP: Want customers to be able to purchase and plan their exact seats for their event?

Use the seating plan functionality within the booking system, leaving no disappointing surprises on the day and also impressing urgency at the virtual point of sale.

D. Share expertise or skills 

Set up an ideas and skills exchange within your market website where visitors can contribute their know-how constructively.

A well marshalled and relevantly indexed online digital forum can become a useful conduit for users of your website sharing valuable tips and information regarding products, vendors or just anything local.

TIP: easily moderate the content of your online forum by email and administrative access via the content management system.

Whilst users of your market website are encouraged to contribute, they are appraised of the various policies of use.

Any discovery of reported misuse, can be swiftly dealt with via an authoritative admin log-in who can even be a ‘gatekeeper’ for approval prior to any user-based content being published publicly.

E. Receive useful product updates and alerts from vendors

Ensure customers who are watching out for up-to-date news on product availability, for example, are not out of the loop on communications from the vendor.

Producers can deliver regular and relevant news updates on their stock levels, availability and price promotions, let’s say, to ensure market visitor have the most rewarding retail experience.

TIP: produce newsletters with relative ease including voucher codes that will offer your subscribers monetary reward on their next farmers’ market purchase.

F. Put them in direct contact with producers & artisans

Customers can be put in direct contact with vendors and kept up to date with product related issues.

This feedback loop can be maintained by your market staff, without any interference, interception or involvement and keenly bridge the communication gap between vendors and market visitors.

TIP: Use personalised auto-response messages (written and signed by each vendor) to courteously greet your enquiring website users promptly following a web form submission

G. Home delivery of local produce & merchandise

Offer home deliveries of your locally produced food and merchandise as sold by the vendors of your farmers’ market.

Establish a cut off time on the day prior to delivery for your website visitors to submit online orders, ready to be dispatched the following morning via your local courier.

TIP: shipment tracking via your online farmers’ market is reassuring way to ensure that a customer who has paid for a product via your website has satisfactorily received their delivery. 

H. Make local product related enquiries

Allow your website visitors to enquire ahead of purchases about products or services offered by vendors.

Confidence of the value offered in any particular product offering is greatly increased when customers get the opportunity to talk directly with the vendor.

An online marketplace is an idea venue for exploring such conversations and building trust.

TIP: use instant LIVE chat within your online farmers’ market for enquirers to get immediate help with their buying enquiry – vendors can have the app open on their mobile phone, therefore making it simple for them to respond on the go to online customers.

LIVE online chat is a commonly recognised method of increasing online eCommerce sales.

I. Enhance visitor experience with relevant information

Encourage your vendors to compliment their product information with relevant user-friendly soundbites and advice.

This might be the difference between a casual prospect being roused to make a considered enquiry.

Online lead generation is undoubtedly encouraged by the use of well considered, customer-centric user content.

TIP: run a blog via your farmers’ market website and encourage vendors to regularly post supporting collateral for products they sell through the site.

A blog is the standard method for increasing your market’s online footprint for a wide range of product specific searches.

This is more likely to generate ‘buyer ready’ enquiries and actual sales.

What This Digital Solution Could Do For Your Producers…

J. Enable direct sales via internet

Direct sales offers great advantage to your vendors.

It puts them directly face-to-face with customers, which is where things really happen in the sales process.

There is simply no substitute for the sales magnetised, natural enthusiasm plus product knowledge of a vendor for their own product.

Not to mention when selling directly, a vendor keeps their gross profit in hand without a commission split with a 3rd party sales rep.

Although online payment gateways do charge for processing eCommerce payments, the fee is often much, much less (relatively negligible) in comparison with a sales channel partner, like a retailer.

TIP: think through the whole process properly before choosing a payment gateway to channel your online eCommerce sales revenue. Consider fees and stipulations on withdrawal etc. 

K. Engage wider local/regional audiences

The prospect of attracting virtual footfall nowadays is irresistible for small businesses.

Whilst market day visitors is, of course, bread and butter trade for farmers’ markets – the commercial reach of an online farmers’ market could easily eclipse the expected numbers of the big day.

TIP: use Google My Business Maps results for a wider and more prominent search engine based reach to bring in more vendor sales.

L. Encourage more repeat custom

Repeat custom is a key aspect of growing a profitable farmers’ market enterprise.

Vendors love regulars too.

It gives them more confidence in their offerings and a spring in their step, so to speak.

Repeatedly satisfying customers, is known to have a knock on effect of unearthing more customer referrals and recommendations too.

When this activity is all flowing through a farmers’ market website, primed for keeping vendors and market managers on the front foot in audience engagement and driving sales – the recurring trade benefits can be huge.

TIP: an online CRM within the eCommerce engine of your online farmers’ market website makes it as simple as pushing a button for management or vendors to speak to any particular customer group.

M. Increase volume of market related sales

Volume of sales seems to be the common downfall to feasibility of farmers’ market involvement for many a vendor.

Whilst margins are better through the direct selling approach, albeit with the cost of the stall etc…the volume of sales, or rather lack of, prohibits many vendors from making it a long term commitment.

Going digital and attracting a larger local or regional audience of market customers online via the website offers a vast increase in custom for vendors.

TIP: Google Analytics and Webmasters are useful tools for examining the traffic throughput of website visitors through your farmers’ market website.

N. Drive more promotional based sales

Timely promotional broadcasts to known customers in advance of key commercial periods, such as market day or public holidays is good sales preparation.

This allows vendors to maintain important pre-sales dialogue with market visitors from afar. Such communication is critical to maximising sales conversion at the point of sale, whether digital, or in-person.

TIP: use a bulk SMS broadcast supplier as the lauchpad for reaching market visitors in their pocket, so to speak, helping them to make more beneficial buying decisions.

O. Establish a continual, relevant dialogue with customers

Giving market customers the advantage of being able to buy when it is convenient to them is a great sales aid.

Being open for trade continually online gives customers the choice of receiving sales support at their fingertips, at their convenience.

Questions which otherwise would have been asked in advance of market day via a farmers’ market website, are left to the day itself making the sales process less efficient.

Worse still, customers forget to ask their purchase related questions amidst the busy-ness of trading day and potential opportunity for profit is lost.

TIP: use Adobe’s open source phone app solution, Phonegap, for producing a smart phone application to keep your farmer’s market continually connected to your diverse customer audiences.

P. Improve cash flows and predictable income

Cash flow predictability for vendors and markets is improved by online farmers’ market websites.

Such a solution offers customers the convenience of making considered purchase decisions in the comfort of their own environment and make direct ‘product related’ vendor enquiries.

This typically leads to more informed customer decision making and therefore better prepared, more fruitful (profitable & frequent), sales interactions.

TIP: plug your online accounting software into the eCommerce engine of your online farmers’ market website and keep a tally of all sales, direct from source alongside all your other important financial business metrics.

Q. Trial new product offer interest before launch

Trial market sentiment about new products prior to launch commitment to save on costly ‘failed campaigns’.

Use digital avenues of communication, anchored into your market website, to run pre-launch campaigns and surveys trialling potential customer interest in new entrant product lines.

TIP: set up a customer survey at the end of your online farmers’ market website checkout procedure, asking customers product related questions as a means of eliciting valuable ‘improvement feedback’.

R. Generate customer reviews of products

Customer generated business reviews as type of web content has been effectively harnessed profitably by businesses now synonymous with delivering this niche digital service.

Companies like Trustpilot and TripAdvisor are magnets for customer experience stories which are riveting reads for prospective customers and industry commentators alike.

Customer reviews have a well documented, positive correlation to better sales outcome in online marketplaces.

Using them properly within the context of your online farmers’ market website could assist new users in getting involved more readily.

TIP: effortlessly build an internal reservoir of valuable customer reviews on your farmers’ market website to pull in crowds of prospective customers who seek some gentle persuasion before committing financially with your vendors.

How This Digital Solution Could Improve Management…

S. Increase market sales volume

Use eCommerce to effectively set-up a 24hrs a day, manned, digital farmers’ market.

With the right approach…simply extrapolate your current market day sales by multiplying the operational trading hours to reach the 24/7 profit potential of an online market.

Such an online enterprise calls for full-time monitoring, improvement and maintenance, but the increase in sales should warrant the attention.

TIP: have daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual online sales reports emailed to your farm management team for review.

Such reports enable you to be more decisive in management and handling of vendor relations with regard to marketing.

T. Encourage advanced orders

Advanced orders are an ideal way for farmers’ market vendors to plan cash flow.

In advance, customers might want the security of knowing their visit will not be a disappointment by paying in advance for goods simply to be delivered on the day.

Stock control is clearly the key to success here.

Vendors will be keen to make sure that orders taken digitally either before the day, or on the day prior to collection, will be fulfilled to avoid messy refunds or even complaints.

This is no problem at all with the right eCommerce system backing up your trading patterns.

TIP: communicate with vendors to programme in their own stock quantities which have been allocated for market trades only (outside of their own trades) directly into the farmers’ market eCommerce software.

U. Automated vendor subscriptions

When prospective vendors are keen to apply for retail space, why force them through a cumbersome process of printing off various forms and then scanning in completed documents to be returned by email etc

…when they could simply fill out an online form?

Easily done and routed to the right decision maker for approval by this digital system.

TIP: produce a PDF document on the submission of every vendor application.

Only when the submission is ‘approved’ will the corresponding PDF certificate be relayed by email back to the applicant, complete with courtesy email.

V. Members exclusive access

Exclusive access to members related digital assets and resources helps to separate out premium privileged items from those open to all comers.

Enabling members to gain secure access of such protected areas of your farmers’ market website offers control over the sharing of information between invested stakeholders.

Such an example is developing a Knowledge Base with policy docs etc. for members to access in their own time online.

TIP: customise which items of your farmers’ market website ought only to be accessed by subscribed members – either behind a paid gateway, or a free from completion. Your choice.

W. Keep a close eye on budgetary expense

Ensure all budgetary elements are tied together neatly to your online farmers’ market system.

Keep an accurate tab on what goes out as well as what comes in, side-by-side.

This way you are always on top of accounting instantaneously.

TIP: keep a running tab on the trading profit loss of your farmers’ market to ensure diligence at all times with this online accounting software.

X. Automatically generate managerial documents online

Want to save hours producing well-designed managerial PDF documentation in exchange for building them at the click of a button?

Use the automatic generated PDF capabilities of our digital system to ‘Wow’ your stakeholders with easy as you distribute your routine docs – i.e. meeting agendas/minutes, budget forecasts etc.

TIP: a custom built knowledge base is a great way to keep stakeholders engaged and equally informed.

Such software also comes with analytical reports to give insight to market management personnel as to the topics which are most sought after at any particular time.

Y. Increase visitor numbers

Increasing, recurring visitor numbers is a key topic for any farmers’ market board or management team.

Whilst all sorts of outlandish marketing efforts are riskier by nature, a simple online content marketing effort, centrally coordinated, yet diversely attributed, can draw in a considerable haul of local new visitor encounters.

With a host of content authors with vested interest i.e. vendors, board members, management, contractors, volunteers, customers etc. the breadth, depth and wealth of uniquely produced content is just the substance for attracting a large and varied audience to your farmers’ market.

Making your farmers’ market blog channel a hyperlocal news network of varied topics will bring in some attention from some otherwise unexpected places.

TIP: many hyperlocal blog editors report that current affairs occurring in the locale are among some of the highest grossing traffic (virtual footfall) magnets to their channels from within the local community.

Why not do your homework on which current topics (keywords) within the local news might have enough relevance with your farmers’ market to aim for with a well written article or two?

This way you could draw in some of the buzz toward your vendors’ products and generate some sales.

What This Digital Solution Could Serve Your Local Community

Z. Promote self-sustenance & collaboration

Connecting the dots within the local supply & demand chain for products, services, used goods etc. is a space asking to be filled by your online farmers’ market.

Everyone has something to offer and if only a little, it might just make a lot of difference to the right person.

Self-sustenance is a valuable quality for any community to possess. The foundation of this however is sharing.

If you encourage sharing via your online market, you’ll grow a very committed community of users to add value and gain value from your service.

TIP: produce an online swap shop, or community exchange via your farmers’ market website to encourage community contribution and interaction. 

A content management platform like WordPress is ideal for delegating and managing this type of activity across a large range of contributors.

Looking to upgrade your farmers’ market’s digital online capabilities?

Want to share your experience with going digital with our readership?

Feel free to post your comments below.

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