So, I’ve sold at the Century City Farmers Market twice so far, and it’s very thought-provoking… probably b/c you spend so many hours standing in your tent and looking out at people, pretty much all you can do is think and observe…
Here are my musings so far:
It reminds me a little of camping. You only have what you bring, and if you forget something, you do without, fashion something, or ask others. There is, of course, a mall across the walkway, but it’s far for me to run and grab something. This week, I remembered to bring twine to tie my tent to the fence to prevent it from flying away, but I forgot scissors. I ended up tying up my tent with my plastic bags-as-rope instead.
I’ve taken to calling out some variation of “Handmade Candy Bars, Caramels, and Marshmallows!” when people go by (the market is in a pretty big plaza, so there’s a wide distance btw the vendor across the path and me; people aren’t forced against your booth like at some other markets). I didn’t have a banner the first time, so it was really necessary b/c my products aren’t exactly prominent enough to speak for themselves. If I see that they’re already looking at my booth, I say “free samples!” but I don’t generally look directly at them.
People expect to sample anything they might buy, or just expect samples in general. My marshmallows aren’t selling all that much so far, and I think it’s in part b/c I haven’t brought samples of them yet. The Health Dept permit dictates that I pre-wrap all of my samples. I usually cut marshmallows into 4 pieces for samples, so I’ve just been putting off the process of individually wrapping such tiny marshmallows pieces for the market (but I’m going to try it this upcoming week). People don’t really seem to be influenced by my Gourmet clip that I put next to them. Only a couple have actually read it, but anyone who glances at the marshmallows is innocently informed that “Gourmet magazine said that they’re the most fabulous marshmallows they’ve ever tasted.” The usual response is just a nod.
The market is really like a race, and this one is especially short — only 3 hours at most to get rid of your products. Hence, my calling out to anyone within earshot.
To display my bars, I ended up printing photo-quality sheets with their cross-section pic and description to put in frames, and I use leftovers from previous weeks as my display bars, so it’s ok if they’re damaged from the heat as long as they don’t look too melty. I had them propped up the first week, but one fell from the wind and the glass shattered. This week, I took off all the glass, and taped the pic’s into the frames as neatly as I could and put them flat. I have to look around harded for those clear acrylic frames in 8×10 so that they will stand up and it’s ok if they fall (I could only find them in smaller sizes last week)
The best feeling so far is when you can tell that someone is walking straight to your booth and they already know what they want to buy. I also liked it when someone came up to the booth on her cell phone excitedly saying “…she has a flavor she didn’t have last time…” And of course, when someone comes back with friends/colleagues to show off the products.
I get thirsty from the heat and calling out, but I don’t want to drink too much b/c going to the bathroom is a pain (far from my booth) and kind of gross (johnny on the spot).
Just like with my online sales, I wholeheartedly worship repeat customers, and feel a little weak-kneed when I’m around them.
The scale of purchases is very different from online. My most popular items online are boxes of 6 candy bars, which is $30. Most people at the market by one to three bars, and if they buy more (or even not that much sometimes), they almost always ask for a discount. I don’t really know what to do about that. I’m sorry, but a 4-bar sale is not a rare or huge sale for me, no matter how appreciative I am of it. The best I can think of is to throw in a couple extra caramel samples. I’m going to bring extra gift boxes so that I can put them together on the spot for people, but I hope they don’t expect a discount on them… That’s just not the scale of my business. I use less packaging at the market, but I still have to pay set fees every week that I have to cover and factor in.
People attempt to bargain more than I thought they would, or sometimes pick a price out of thin air. “I’ll take one of these candy bars… It’s a dollar….” as the customer opened her bag. “Um, no… it’s five dollars…” She scoffed and walked away. A few people have been scared off by the price, which I’m sure happens online, but it’s something to see their faces and hear their voices in person. If they’re nice about it and regretful that they can’t afford it, I practically force them to take an extra sample or two with them, because I genuinely want people to eat good candy. But if they’re rude about it, I let them go. I also try to explain why they’re so spendy.
It’s come to a point where I get completely giddy when people give me exact change. My candy bars are $5, but my marshmallows are $6 and my caramels $7 so I have needs for singles. I always leave with fewer bills than I brought — few ones, many twenties. Vendors generally help each other out if you need to break a $20. I dread the day I forget to go to the bank for $1s and $5s if I’m low…. though the market is surrounded by banks, so it shouldn’t be huge deal. But I hate to leave my booth/things alone, even if the other vendors will watch out for it.
I am between a hummus stand called BabaFoods and the ThinKrisps stand (which sells crunchy baked discs of parmesan and cheddar cheeses in different flavors), and all of their vendors are friendly and helpful. I’ve become addicted to both of their products, and especially with the hummus people, I’m hoping that our trading system keeps up (they especially like my cinnamon almond caramels) — I will not rest until I have had a container of all of their flavors, and will then choose what I want based on my mood. This week, Pesto Hummus… Yum! I even dipped some lemon-pepper parmesan crisps in it… Yum!
I admire the Hummus people, btw, for how much setup their booth requires that they go through. They bring lots of coolers with ice b/c the hummus is in a sort of indented table on ice for the whole market. It melts and gets wet, but they pack and unpack so cleanly. They get there maybe 2.5 hours before the market officially starts.
I bring two coolers, and one is a medium max-cold and one is only a mini. It was 70F my first time and 80F my second time. I put extra ice packs in my cooler the second time, but I think it got too cold — I saw a kid kind of gnaw at the orange bar sample that she had. I use my handy laser thermometer to monitor the temp, but it is a little uneven in the cooler.
I bought my tent used for $40, but it’s old and heavy. Another vendor guessed it was made in roughly 1964. They’re much lighter, and cleaner now. I don’t have a dolly, so I bring everything piece by piece across the plaza (though I’d probably be able to borrow a dolly if I inquired around, but part of me likes the exercise). I also have to move my car from where we unload… to a lot that charges $9 to park!
One customer suggested that I ask for people’s business cards so that I can add them to my mailing list for corporate holiday sales (which by the way, is a major reason for my selling at this market), which I think is a fantastic idea. Maybe I should offer a once a month drawing for a free box of 6 candy bars (or something??) as an incentive to give their business card? I could get a little jar for them.
A lot of people take my business card even if they don’t buy anything, which is great.