By Jennifer Weeber, Northfork Local Food Coordinator
Close your eyes and imagine your ideal farmers market. What do you see? How does that differ from your current market? If one of those differences is more vendors who offer a broader range of products, this blog is for you. While there is not a magic formula for vendor recruitment and it is a challenging task, developing a vendor recruitment plan for your market can increase the likelihood that your efforts will be successful. The following are some tips on creating that plan:
Know your market.
Do you need more vendors? Do you need larger quantities of products that are already sold at your market? Do you need different types of products? Do you need all of the above? What do your customers want? With this information in hand, you can figure out your actual gaps and begin to identify the type of vendors you need. Before going to the work of recruiting, though, talk with your current vendors. Are any of them willing and able to expand the quantity or type of their offerings? If so, you are helping your vendors grow their own businesses while you are growing the market.
Anticipate your customers’ buying habits.
In an ideal scenario, everyone you recruit to your market will make money immediately and never leave ever again! BUT that isn’t how this works, is it? When it comes to actively recruiting, you’re going to need to focus your energy on items you know your customers will buy. Spending your time recruiting a pate vendor for your market, when you know that there are only five or six regulars who might be interested in buying it is not time well spent. Pay attention to what is already there and would be complimentary to that. OR what has long been popular but sells out faster than it can grow!
Why should a vendor sell at your market? Before attempting to recruit new vendors, you should be able to concisely answer this question. Your answer should be unique to your market and flexible enough to be targeted to the type of vendor you are recruiting (e.g. vegetable farmer, baker, meat producer). It may include information about your market’s mission, what benefits are available to market members, gross sales your market generates, and why you are interested in them and their products (e.g. We have a customer demand for yeasted breads that we cannot currently meet and several people have recommended you as excellent baker.).
What sort of informational materials do you need? A one-page flyer or a rack card which promotes your market to potential vendors may be a powerful tool which can be used in your recruiting efforts. This should provide basic information about the market, why vendors would want to sell at your market, and what they should do if they are interested.
A packet of information should be readily available for potential vendors who indicate an interest in your market. This packet should contain information on the market such as days and times of operation and the set-up process, vendor requirements such as permits, training, and insurance, payment methods and programs such as SNAP and Kentucky Double Dollars, vendor fees, and any other relevant information along with a copy of the market rules and a vendor application.
Where in your community do the type of vendors you wish to recruit hang out? Who may have access to them? Some ideas to get you started are listed below:
- Talk with your current vendors
- County Extension offices (http://extension.ca.uky.edu/)
- Farm Service Agencies (https://www.fsa.usda.gov/state-offices/Kentucky/index)
- Kentucky Department of Agriculture (http://www.kyagr.com/)
- Natural Resources and Conservation Service (https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/site/ky/home/)
- Agriculture classes and programs at Big Sandy, Elizabethtown, Henderson, Madisonville, Maysville, Owensboro, and Southcentral Community and Technical Colleges (kctcs.edu)
- Farm supply stores
- Winter agricultural workshops
- High school agriculture and consumer science programs
- Future Farmers of America
- Producer organizations (farmer, baker, arts and crafts)
- Beginning, urban, or refugee farming programs
- Gardening clubs
- Roadside stands and restaurants and retailers selling local foods
- Social media groups
- Community Farm Alliance’s Farm to Table Team
Figure out the messenger.
Who is the right person to ask a potential vendor about joining your market? Think about who you are trying to recruit and in what setting. It may be the market manager. Or, it could be another vendor, a market volunteer, a board member, or someone else. It could be a tag team effort with a volunteer making the initial contact and then introducing the potential vendor to the market manager for additional information.
Support your vendors.
What help do new vendors need to be successful at your market? New vendors may need help with pricing, setting up their booth to be visually appealing, customer service, or some other skill. There may be language barriers between the vendors and customers. Talk with your new vendors about what they need. Observe how they are doing. Your attention to them will help to create regular vendors for the market as well as to help them grow their own businesses.
How can you support your established vendors so that they remain with your market and continue to be successful? Talk with them about what they need. Observe how they are doing. Match established vendors with new vendors to provide mentoring. This can help established vendors to develop their leadership skills and new vendors to integrate into the social network of the market.
It may be that there is no one in your community who is producing the products at the scale you need for your market. In that case, think about how you can grow some vendors. Are there some gardeners who always have a little excess produce? Is there someone who always makes delicious cookies and breads for the school bake sale? Perhaps they would be willing to try out the market a time or two. If things go well for them, to what resources can you connect them to help them produce enough to regularly sell at the market?
You can also start growing the next generation of vendors by encouraging youth to participate in your market. Consider hosting “youth vendor” days or having a “junior vendor” application. Use of a booth or the annual membership is offered at a reduced price or is even free to give the youth the opportunity to try out the market and gain new skills. Be prepared to spend extra time in helping your young vendors figure out pricing, their display, and other marketing aspects. Pairing each youth with an established vendor can reduce the tensions that can come with new sales competition and provide the youth with mentoring which can help them hone their agriculture and marketing skills.
Dig into additional resources.
A variety of resources exist to help you think more about how you can successfully recruit vendors. Here are few to get you started:
- Vendor Recruitment Tip Sheet: http://farmersmarketcoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/FMC_Tipsheet_Recruiting_Producers.pdf
- Recruiting Vendors for a Farmers’ Market: http://farmersmarketcoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/RecruitingMembersforaFarmersMarket_WallaceCenter.pdf
- Recruiting Farmers to Your Market: http://www.wafarmersmarkettoolkit-org.wafarmersmarkets.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Recruiting-Farmers-Sept-2016.pdf
- Farmers Market Coalition Market Manager FAQ: http://farmersmarketcoalition.org/education/market-manager-faq/market-growth-outreach-and-evaluation/
Reach out to CFA.
Please reach out to the CFA Farmers Market Support Team if we can be of further assistance to you. Good luck in your vendor recruiting adventures!