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Nudging in on the Farmer's Market

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 
I'm moving to a new city in a couple of weeks (well, not new... since I've been there before) and I was wondering if anybody had experience with regards to being a vendor at a local farmer's market. I am considering opening a stall that sells sweet and savoury items based on some sort of dough (so think pies, scones, specialty breads, perhaps even pastas, etc.) that is focused on using good local produce and exacting technique, and most importantly a whole lot of love and care.

What I'm particularly interested in are the details involved with respect to finances, primarily expected sales figures (this will of course depend on the amount of traffic flowing through the place and other things I will need to pry from the market coordinators). The business itself will be exceptionally small scale, involving only myself (so that will simplify things a lot), will employ a rented commercial kitchen to make my product (I will not be owning or operating a commercial kitchen myself), and I will register a business name, other permits and get the appropriate insurance for this sort of venture. This will hopefully form the basis of a short business plan I can use to guide the business in the right direction.

I've done some research on a few markets in the area and found some initial figures on the cost of the stalls and some of the criteria they go through to judge the acceptability and conditions involved with regards to operating the stall... all of which are reasonable and very enlightening as a person who hasn't actually operated a business before. For example, one non-profit market approximately 30 minutes outside of town offer a $30/day stall rate (outdoors) on top of which a $35 membership fee which lasts the entire year (approximately 17 potential market days). Is that a good price? Of course, that price can only be evaluated given the amount of potential traffic that flows through it. If 10 people go there every week then obviously it's a bad price... but I'm not entirely sure how much prices can vary.

By the way, I will be moving to the Ottawa area, Ontario, Canada... and although some conditions wouldn't be valid there compared to some other place your opinion is also appreciated.

Thanks in advance for any advice you may have and hope to get some interesting answers.
"If it's chicken, chicken a la king. If it's fish, fish a la king. If it's turkey, fish a la king." -Bender
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"If it's chicken, chicken a la king. If it's fish, fish a la king. If it's turkey, fish a la king." -Bender
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post #2 of 14
things to look for:

1) location location location, each market is different.....there may be traffic but do they have money? High end area markets are more likely to have people that spend alot of money.


2) Can you sell coffee? tea?cocoa?

3) How many bakeries will be allowed on the market? Which ones have participated in the past and are they going to this year? what were they selling?


4) Will you have the same stall each week? How is stall selection made?

5) Booths need: at least 2 tables, table cloths, signage.....goood signage, baskets or whatever you are putting product in, cash box, etc.....most booths in a decent market need 2 people.

Lots more questions come to mind, but winter pantry is opening in 5 minutes and I don't want to miss our farmer's market.
cooking with all your senses.....
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cooking with all your senses.....
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post #3 of 14
more to think about:

5) is there a reason or space for people to hangout and talk/eat.

6)what other restaurants/bakeries are in the immediate area?

7) what PR does the market do? Events, blogs, newsletters, crossmarketing...., generally season participants that have committed for the season would get the bulk of media.

8)what would you do with leftover product?

9)*again, volume of people is important but more important is the demographic.....do they just come to look or are they buying.

Lots more but that starts getting into consulting.....
cooking with all your senses.....
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cooking with all your senses.....
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post #4 of 14
Flea/farmers market can be difficult to navigate in the beginning. The up scale markets customer are looking for niche items something they can't buy locally or local product not very good or as an impulse item or items that are high in quality and great taste with great visual impact. Problem is most of the high end markets have less public.
The lower end market seem to attract more customers and are receptive to inferior products sold cheaply and readily consumed. But a problem to most is that if say for example bake a new kind of pie and you succeed very nicely. In no time there will be 10 other vendors producing the same pie. Once that happen then the price wars begin But one saving grace is that with food there are many hacks who think they can cook/bake but can't so you can win with taste and visual impact.
The best way to go about it is to survey the market. Make a list of item you might be interesting in selling and the cost of product to produce and the selling price .Go to the market and find a vendor who has similar items and watch him to see how many items he is selling. Ex. I was going to sell artisan bread and bake goods found out it would not be worth the time and effort because of low spending habits of public who attended market. If you find that the endeavor is worth while pursuing then survey the products that you want to produce. Ex. let say you want sell pies. survey market customers as to what is their favorite pie. Your survey customers don't realy like pie but cake. The beauty of surveys it saves you lot of wasted effort and lets you target the wants of customers. Also location at market important if they put you up in the back where few travel it will cost you. Also there are many markets which to work so you may want to work more then one. The secret of success is know before you go. survey.
post #5 of 14
We have a market here in Winter Park and my wife had almost purchased a business (bagels and baked goods) similar to what you are looking after. At the time, the asking price of the business was $110,000 and the made a profit each week of $8000; all of it cash.

The reason she didn't buy it as, I have the passion for food and cooking but not her which meant she would have had to do a lot of baking if the college students hired to do it decided not to show up due to a bad night before.

In essence, the business can be quite profitable IF you fill the niche of having something someone else does not and at a fair price. Our market, different than Ottawa, is that it is open each week, 50 weeks a year. They close when we have our Art Festival here in the Spring. Folks come for miles to this market though there are others in the area.

That being said, as said before, LOCATION. Find the best one and the busiest and go there. Most markets, ours included, has restrictions on what you can sell. For example, a previous poster mentioned selling coffee. We have 3 coffee vendors so when we looked at the bagel/baked business, we could not sell coffee as the vendor directly across from us sold coffee.

Is is profitable, yes but it is also a lot more work than it seems... early set up/ clean up after... baking/cooking/preparing for 2-3 days prior so it's not a one day a week deal.

Do your research first on the markets... pick the busiest and the most affluent!!

Good luck
post #6 of 14
Thread Starter 
I will most likely be operating a stand that consists of a tent-like structure that's about 10 feet x 10 feet, as opposed to a permanent store front I believe you're referring to. I was thinking of also serving freshly squeezed lemonade and other fruit drinks to supplement the baked goods, but of course that depends on who's nearby and what the market organizers will approve of. Thanks for your advice, I'll be looking into it about a couple of weeks from today.

My current repetoire will consist of about two dozen pies/tarts, about eight dozen scones, about 5 dozen single-serving sized cakes (I was thinking of making chocolate fondant/molten cakes and a spiced pear upside down cake at the moment), and another dozen smaller serving pies and tarts and the aforementioned beverages. I'm giving myself about ten hours of hard work to get that done, which may or may not be totally unreasonable. I intend to use butter for all of my products (as opposed to lard or shortening), which bumps up the food cost of some things.
"If it's chicken, chicken a la king. If it's fish, fish a la king. If it's turkey, fish a la king." -Bender
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"If it's chicken, chicken a la king. If it's fish, fish a la king. If it's turkey, fish a la king." -Bender
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post #7 of 14
Blueicus,

I've founded and run a couple of growers markets in the area for numerous years.....
things to think about:

1) incliment weather, this could be rain, wind, heat.......if weather is off so is your crowd. Think about how to protect your product display.

2) There is much more to a booth than just a table, designing your space is as or more important than your product.

3) Sampling is important.....if you can, do it.....but make it personal don't just have sample trays out.

4) lining up sources for dinged product.....I buy 1/2 bushels of local "B" grade Goldrush apples for $7. Typically they would run $30. They taste great, aren't pretty but once you peel and slice, who cares?

5) It takes time to build up a clientel base, people that will search you out at a market....

6) Packaging....what are your cakes, pies, scones going on/in? napkins, labels, plates, containers....

I've seen so many start up bakers come and go.....some having great product but not fiscally ready to do a business startup. They last a season or two but just can't bounce to a level where they make a living wage. One in particular seemed to have it all together....
Herb shortbreads in cute upscale packaging, different price points ie 6 for $5,
then individuals etc. Her booth was well done, with great eye appeal, her location was the front of the market, she got great press, she had corporate offerings for the holidays....super logo, great labels.....rented a kitchen part time and only sold on Sat mornings. Rent was $1000 a season for 24 weeks.
which included: weekly newsletters, emails, multiple events, table/table cloth, tent, sampling, a market manager who knows all the local media;)
Her husband lost his job, she broke a bone in her foot and they just could not continue after the second season.

*Advantages she had, shortbread dough can be frozen, it has a longer shelf life than pies, cakes or scones. It can be sold easily to small stores.
cooking with all your senses.....
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cooking with all your senses.....
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post #8 of 14
Thread Starter 
Great pointers, shroomgirl. You really touch on a few things I've been thinking about but haven't implemented yet (I'll have to wait until I'm actually there). With regards to the display and how the stand will look I have something in mind to boost the appeal of the product and to up the polish of the final product. I was thinking about going the whole "natural/wholesome" angle with a nice rustic but clean display. In line with the natural/wholesome angle I would like to focus on biodegradable packaging made out of mostly recycled materials, for which I'll need to find a local supplier. Boxes for pies, paper bags and other cartons for the other products. As for cups the hotel I work at uses some sort of cup that uses a plastic material made out of corn, apparently pretty good for the environment. I don't know how much it costs so it'll have to be affordable.

I really like the tip about buying blemished products. Certainly you don't need perfectly looking lemons to make lemonade and you don't need perfect apples when you're going to cook them. I only hope there's something similar for butter as well :).

I guess most importantly is the salesmanship angle of the business, being able to strike a note with potential customers and so forth.

Your shortbread lady sure got a lot of perks for her rent. Sounds like she got a great deal.

To be honest, I have very modest monetary aims at the moment... and if I make money it's really just icing on the cake. I'm currently using it as a means to supplement a non-existent income and to gain experience in a side of the business I have little dealing with.
"If it's chicken, chicken a la king. If it's fish, fish a la king. If it's turkey, fish a la king." -Bender
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"If it's chicken, chicken a la king. If it's fish, fish a la king. If it's turkey, fish a la king." -Bender
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post #9 of 14
Not to rain on your parade. My suggestion would be to shop all the various markets in the area you are moving to......hang all day...from setup time prior to market opening to closing time. Pay attentions to how people are shopping. Check out the mid-week markets as well.

It's a pretty expensive undertaking, start up fees alone can be rough.

For many venders at a farmers market the venture is used strictly as a marketing tool for their main business. If you don't have a shop or an ansillary business that would benefit from PR then why start this endeavor?
JMTPC
cooking with all your senses.....
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cooking with all your senses.....
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post #10 of 14
Good advice all around, Blueicious. The only thing I would add is to really think about what you are offering and strive to give it a distinctive flair.
In our market biz, my partner and I see lots and lots of people offering baked goods. The offerings usually consist of breads, rolls, muffins, scones (usually very dry and tasteless) pies and a few cakes. Most of the items are baked the day before and thus, the bloom of freshness is missing. Someone even tried to sell me a "french baguette" that was about 6 inches in diameter and weighed about a pound and a half! I have not once seen anyone walking out of the market holding a cake box.

Make sure your product line has a unifying thread that you can talk up-organic flour, locally grown, baked this morning, etc. work very well.

Shroomgirl is right to advise you to think of this as a marketing tool more than a money maker. The market does not generate a lot of money for us, but it does generate interest in our skills and catering services.
post #11 of 14
Thread Starter 
Interesting enough, I was just reading an article somebody wrote about their Alberta-based farmer's market (a mustard-based business) and the difficulties they faced (including very low profit margins). I'm already going to be staging at a couple of restaurants while I'm there and I had no plans on taking a lousy job to make money anyways so any income (as meager as it is) is welcome (apart from not earning money I'm on solid financial grounds in terms of lack of debt, etc.). As long as I can earn enough money to reimburse on the capital and costs I invest in the business it will be worth it in my twisted equations.

Although I never really thought about it in that way, but I do plan on becoming a business owner (on the scale of a restaurant or bakery) one day; I really welcome any opportunity to build a network in the area and pick up experience along the way beyond what I get in my normal work (although if I lose money it would be a costly lesson... though not as costly as having a sinking restaurant). I would be marketing myself personally as a business that can do custom orders on top of the load I'd do for the market.

I do have friends in the area and are acquainted with their families, who run businesses outside of the city. That will reduce the difficulty of starting this venture up (Should I choose to do so in the end). I also have a pretty decent maple syrup supplier from this group of acquaintances as well.

Most of the markets don't start operating in force until May anyways, so I have plenty of time to do more on-site research and calculate the cost of doing business.

HappyFood, one of the reasons I thought I stood a chance in the field was by recalling various competition I'd seen in the past... most bakers in the markets sold sub-par products (in my opinion) due to a variety of reasons, though at some places the price point was pretty insane (such as 6 dollar pies... and this is in Canadian money). I feel that the quality of my product will stand heads and shoulders above most, if not all of the competition though the downside will be in the higher cost/price of the product. It was discussed earlier that the type of clientele (bargain-hunters or discerning customers willing to pay more for quality) will be very important in determining which market to sell at and the method in which to sell the product. Having heard from everybody on that point I fully intent to find out what I'm up against in that regard.

If you think my time and money would be better spent going to business school or reading a book, or getting a date I'm more than willing to entertain the idea :).

Thanks everybody for your insight and I welcome any continuing discussion about the topic. I try to take every suggestion to heart.
"If it's chicken, chicken a la king. If it's fish, fish a la king. If it's turkey, fish a la king." -Bender
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"If it's chicken, chicken a la king. If it's fish, fish a la king. If it's turkey, fish a la king." -Bender
Reply
post #12 of 14
shelf stable products are very very very different than 99% of the baked goods out there.....mustard, honey, syrup, spice rubs......etc all have long long lives. Pies, cakes, scones live about 24 hours.

If you are staging in restaurants, Friday and Saturday are their biggest days.

If you are cooking out of a commercial kitchen that is really busy on the weekend you will in all probability be in competition for oven, mixer, fridge space.

Where are you going to store your pans, equipment, paper products, trays, booth setup, dairy products, flour, etc?

You are paying rent for the kitchen, insurance, business license, advertising, booth setup, any special equipment, possibly purchasing a tent, signage, etc.....

*starting out, I'd work for a farmer or baker or the market. Depending on your skill set, there are ways to cook for $ that don't take alot of startup money.

Small Private Dinners
Personal Chef
Cook for people with dietary needs

** what an opportunity you have to not be in the system yet, I'd stage with caterers.....offsite and onsite, stores, bakers, procuitto makers, butchers, etc....anyone willing to answer questions in exchange for a set of hands.
cooking with all your senses.....
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cooking with all your senses.....
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post #13 of 14
Thread Starter 
Well, the main stage I expected to work at has yet to materialize... so I guess I'll have more time on my hands than I thought. Also, I've found that many places don't want stagieres, which I guess they have a reason for. Obviously everybody's holding on to their jobs nowadays due to the economy so it's going to be a long process.

I start the second stage on Friday, let's hope that goes a little better.

I had considered private dinners and personal cheffing, but I figured that I would need a substantial client base or at least list of contacts to get started. My friends aren't generally the type to be procuring those sorts of services anyways.
"If it's chicken, chicken a la king. If it's fish, fish a la king. If it's turkey, fish a la king." -Bender
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"If it's chicken, chicken a la king. If it's fish, fish a la king. If it's turkey, fish a la king." -Bender
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post #14 of 14
nope ads work, but you do need to know what you are doing prior to walking in someone's door asking for their business. I started out private then personal cheffing through ads.....the first private chef gig was defined by the eaters, the first personal chef gig was defined by me.....there's loads of information currently in the threads about start up personal cheffing.

restaurants are not the only place to learn about food.....there are farms, artisan food companies (butchers, bakers, cheese makers), catering, etc...
well and then there are farmers markets. If you want the inside skinny on running a booth at a farmers market the best way to check it out is either to work (volunteer or not) for a booth or the market as a whole. Be willing to show up to setup. I was hitching a truck up to the trailer at 5:15-30am Sat. morning, meeting my crew and putting up 30 easy ups with tables/tablecloths, 15# weights, a cooking demo booth with equipment/supplies, tables/chairs for customers on the sidewalk, all the paper propaganda, any signage including posters for upcoming events......breakdown was always do it in reverse only farmers broke down their tents/tables...we loaded into the trailer. I needed staff or volunteers to man the hospitality welcome booth if there was a VIP, or event that took me away from the front. There was always a runner needed to get shtuff for the farmers that didn't bring an additional person with them....
I learned so much about farms, food and farmers in the past 10 years.
cooking with all your senses.....
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cooking with all your senses.....
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