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

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

Posted: Thu 21st Mar 2013

Cold mornings, heavy equipment, masses of stock - is selling at farmers' markets really worth the bother? Definitely, says Enterprise Nation reader Jennifer Sutton of Jen's Cupcakery. Here's her breakdown of the pros and cons - and why you should definitely consider doing it if you're a small food producer.

A freezing cold morning, up at 6am, carting 28kg gazebo, 250 cupcakes, various tables, signs and containers to a shopping centre after an all-nighter at the oven, writes Jen (pictured above). I would rather be in bed"¦ wouldn't I? 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  in 2009 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. However, 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 pros of farmers' markets

1. Initially, a fantastic chance to road test your product and find out whether it does actually sell, gain valuable feedback on your offerings and get a gauge on price point. 2. 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.

"When it's blowing a gale and your gazebo is taking off like Mary Poppins' umbrella, you'll always find a fellow market trader willing to help."

Farmers' markets | Jen's Cupcakery at Walton Market

3. Setting up a business on your own can be lonely at times but here's a chance to meet fellow entrepreneurs and swap ideas and issues. You soon find everyone has been or is going through similar. 4. 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. 5. Market 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. 6. 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 cons

1. If you're a fresh food producer like me, then 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 - or rather, in my case, the engine on my Kenwood - 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.

Farmer's market | Cake pops from Jen's Cupcakery

"You don't have to be channelling the traditional fruit and veg man, but those who sit reading a book don't tend to survive."

2. Putting your back into it (literally!). This is 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.

In summary...

You can see that the pros definitely outweigh the cons. So, if you have a product to sell and you have a local farmers' market with openings then I would say go for it: you will gain much and lose little (apart from sleep and a few finger nails). Only"¦ if you're a cupcake or cake business, don't come to mine please! Jen's Cupcakery is a boutique cupcake (and cake, cake pop, cookie) business in Esher, Surrey.  Jen can be found at Walton Farmers' Market  on the 1st Saturday of each month and Cobham Farmers' Market on the last. A finalist in two national market and baking competitions, Jen's recently been asked to bake a birthday cake for Michelin-starred chef Jean-Christophe Novelli. No pressure, Jen!

Running a food business from home? Check out the foodie business Bible!

Cook Wrap Sell by Bruce McMichael has everything you need to know to run a successful small food business from your kitchen. It's available as a downloadable ebook for £5 or a print book for £12.99 from the Enterprise Nation shop. Click on the link below to find out more. [product id="56584"]

Enterprise Nation
Enterprise NationEnterprise Nation
Enterprise Nation has helped thousands of people start and grow their businesses. Led by founder, Emma Jones CBE, Enterprise Nation connects you to the resources and expertise to help you succeed.

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