Making your mark: The pros and cons of selling at farmers' markets

Making your mark: The pros and cons of selling at farmers' markets

Posted: Wed 4th Mar 2020

Cold mornings, heavy equipment, masses of stock – is selling at farmers' markets really worth the bother? Definitely, says Jennifer Sutton of Jen's Cupcakery.

A freezing cold morning, up at 6am, carting a 28-kilogram gazebo, 250 cupcakes, various tables, signs and containers to a shopping centre after an all-nighter at the oven. You would rather be in bed, wouldn't you?

But then again, where else can you show your creations off to potential customers in a prime locality for a fraction of the cost of advertising? The answer is simple: nowhere. My local farmers' market has been a godsend.

When I started my boutique cupcake business Jen's Cupcakery following redundancy from my career in PR, I went the conventional route of setting up a website, looking for advertising opportunities and local events where I could set up shop.

But it was when someone suggested a local farmers' market, that opportunity really opened its doors. Here are some of the benefits (and, ok, of course, I have to be honest about the downsides – although there really are very few).

Six advantages of farmers' markets

A fantastic chance to road-test your product

This way, you find out whether it does actually sell, gain valuable feedback on your offerings and get a gauge on price point.

Attract new customers

Farmers' markets give you a regular opportunity to source new customers and establish relationships with those who will become your regular customers in the future. Many of the orders I get are from those who are market customers or from referrals from them.

Meet fellow entrepreneurs

Setting up a business on your own can be lonely at times. But here's a chance to meet other business owners and swap ideas and issues. You soon find everyone has been or is going through similar.

Promote your business

It's not only customers you can find, but opportunities to publicise your business too. In my second year, I entered a national Make your Mark in the Markets competition and ended up in the final three, gaining some good PR out of it (if not first prize!).

My cakes and I have also been featured many times in the local press, nearly always connected to the market or businesses local to it, such as an artisan café that spotted my pitch and then started ordering from me.

Revel in the great camaraderie

When it's blowing a gale and your gazebo is taking off like Mary Poppins' umbrella, or the rain is threatening to turn your pitch into a paddling pool, you will always find a fellow market trader willing to help. Once you're part of the market trading community, you will find it a friendly place to be.

It's fun and rewarding

Yes, really. Ok, it's hard work but if you are passionate about your product, it's just great being able to show it off and talk about it – and to lap up the compliments too.

And two downsides to farmers' markets

It takes a lot of time and energy

If you're a fresh food producer like me, you have to accept that once a month or however many times you do a market, you're going to be burning the midnight oil in preparation.

One of my key selling points is the 'just baked' freshness of my cakes, so I can't prepare too long in advance. And, as how it looks is just as important as how it tastes, 'dressing' the cakes needs to be factored in, too.

It's hard physical graft

Lugging heavy gazebos around, lifting boxes and then standing on your feet for five or six hours, always engaging with the public. The former gave me a slipped disc, unfortunately, but I love the latter part – you have to, otherwise you won't do well.

You don't have to be outside the stall channelling the traditional fruit and veg man, but those who sit at the back of their pitch on a stool reading a book don't tend to survive in the market game.

Relevant resources

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