“If we add another farmers’ market, we can make $_____ more each week!”

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve made this exclamation, I could probably retire early. When you think of adding another farmers’ market to your weekly circuit, it’s easy to only see dollar signs. And sometimes investing early in a new market allows you to secure a place in the Next Big Thing. But I’ve learned the hard way that more markets doesn’t always mean more profit.

Even if the market is busy, in a desirable location, or has shoppers with deep pockets, it doesn’t ensure that sales will live up to your expectations. There are so many variables that impact success at a farmers’ market, and not every product is fit for every market. When considering the idea of adding on another farmers’ market to your circuit, putting in the due diligence beforehand will pay off.

Crunch the numbers

The first thing you need to do is to think deeply about the needs of your business and your personal capacity. Sit down and write a pros and cons list, draw a venn diagram, or answer the following questions.

  • Is another farmers’ market what you need? Or would your time and energy be better spent on developing new products, or another facet of your business?
  • Do you have the capacity to sell more units? Or will you struggle to produce more inventory?
  • Does the time and day of the market work for you and your team? Or will it complicate your workweek schedule?

Next, it’s time to bust out your calculator and figure out the costs and benefits of a new market. As was mentioned in the recent Roundtable: Vendor Questions Answered episode of Tent Talk, it can take a few weeks (or sometimes months) before new vendors hit their stride sales-wise. Be conservative in your forecasting. Don’t assume you’re going to be raking in the dough the first week of a new market. Make sure you can afford covering all the costs of an additional market assuming your sales may be less than ideal while you settle in.

When calculating the cost include the following:

  • Cost of fuel to get to and from the market
  • Labor cost of working (or paying an employee to work) the market – including travel and set-up/break-down time
  • Market booth fee
  • Any additional equipment you may need (cooler, tent, table, display, etc.)
  • Any permits you may need (i.e. if the new market is in another county or has additional vendor requirements)

Scout out the market

Once you’ve analyzed the financials of adding on another farmers’ market, you need to dive deep into some research about the market you hope to join. The best way to do research is to visit the market! Go there on a typical week and walk the market from end to end. Reading about it online or looking at the list of current vendors on the farmers’ market’s website is not a sufficient substitute for an in-person visit. You really need to see it for yourself and feel out the vibe.

Before I started my own hot sauce company, I scouted out the Little Italy Mercato and literally took notes. I counted how many hot sauce and condiment vendors there were and what flavors they sold. I made a list of what products I didn’t see and considered where I might be able to fill in gaps. Sure, it may feel a little creepy, but it’s just prudent research!

As you walk through the prospective market, you may notice that there are already numerous vendors that sell items similar to yours. Or you may see a need that your product is able to fill. Once you’re familiar with what that market currently offers, you should have a clear idea whether or not your product will be a good fit.

Research the community

In addition to scouting out the market and learning about the vendors that work there, it would also be smart to learn about the market location and the community that market serves. Take a stroll or quick drive in the area surrounding the farmers’ market. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is the location like? Urban, rural, residential, commercial?
  • Does the location have ample parking? Or is it accessible by public transportation? Is it a walkable area? Are there bike lanes or areas to park a bike?
  • Are their other stores or restaurants around? If so, will these other establishments help or hinder your business? For example, if you sell prepared foods, will you be competing with too many popular cafes already on the street in your category? If you are cheese vendor, a bakery around the corner known for their French baguettes, that may be a boost to your business.
  • What are the demographics of the people that live in the community? Do they want or need the product you sell?

Win over the market manager

After assessing the unique needs of your business, weighing the costs and benefits, and researching the market and its surrounding location, you’ll know if the market is a good fit for your business. At this point, the last gauntlet you have to conquer is winning over the market manager!

If you’re a veteran farmers’ market vendor you know that just because you want to be in a particular market doesn’t mean that there’s room for you in that market. Some mature farmers’ markets are full, and have long lists of applicants waiting for the next available space. Before you become too invested in the idea of popping your tent in a specific event, talk with the farmers’ market manager about openings.

The best time to talk to a farmers’ market manager is after you’ve followed my suggested steps! Nothing impresses a market manager more than demonstrating you’ve done your research.

This is also where intangibles can come into the decision whether to add a new market. Short term losses may lead to long term profit as a market grows, and help build a relationship with a farmers’ market manager that can provide other opportunities. But you need to calculate whether you have the time and money to invest in that process before you commit.

When it comes to selling at farmers’ markets, sometimes there can be too much of a good thing. More markets doesn’t always mean more profit, and more profit doesn’t necessarily mean a better quality of life.  Before signing up for yet another weekly commitment, weigh your options. You’ll thank yourself later!

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