Ever since we decided to start the Newark Valley Farmer's Market, we have had numerous vendors or people interested in becoming a vendor ask us for advice in becoming a successful vendor.
I am going to first start off by saying that we are no experts by any means. We have been doing this for 6 years now and have learned from our mistakes and the advice I will be writing about is all from our experience.
As with any product that you are going to sell, whether it is cheap or expensive it better be good quality. If a customer comes and buys your product and it is spoiled or the plant dies because your plant was not healthy enough they are not going to be happy and are probably not going to come back to buy anything from you.
This is one thing we pride ourselves on and have always stood behind our products in that they are the highest quality and flavor.
For example, our herb plants and vegetable plants. A lot of times you can go to a greenhouse/nursery center and get these tomatoes that are tall and skinny but "big." You will find Basil that is tall and a lighter green. We generally will have smaller stockier plants because of the fact that we would rather sell you something that we would plant. And truth is, those plants you get that are tall and lanky, yeah they will probably produce fine but your quality of plant will not be that great. You would more likely get more produce from a strong sturdy plant than a lanky skinny one.
Basil does not necessarily have to be tall. You really want to make your basil into more of a bush by cutting back pieces that make it bush out. Taller is not necessarily better. Taller means that your going to have to cut it down at least a 1/4 if you want to make it bushier. A bushier basil will produce more than a skinny tall basil. When it bushes out it makes 1 branch become 2. Staying stronger and healthier.
As a vendor you obviously always want to make sure that you are making money on your product. Believe me we have struggled with pricing and figuring out what is making us money and what is not. I am not going to give too much advice on this because we still are figuring out the best way to price and justify which is selling better. We have documented everything and that is something you have to go through and figure out where most of your time is spent and how much you are loosing. A lot of paperwork and calculations. And make sure you don't do what is not making you money. If it is not making you money whether you try to stick it out or not you don't want to loose money.
As a customer, remember that cheaper is not always better. Also expensive is not always better either. My advice on this is to get to know your farmer/producer, try to understand their process of where how it gets to the market to you. Learn the ingredients, ask questions and test. Buy a small amount and then decide if it is something you like. You will find that right one for you.
For example, there are many different egg vendors at Otsiningo Farmers Market. When we first started bringing eggs to the market there were already people there that were bringing them for a while before us. We weren't necessarily the cheapest either. We didn't sell very many the first few times. But that market tends to sell out of eggs quickly so it started becoming that we would be the last one with eggs. People bought it because they had no other choice. Then slowly those customers that bought because they originally had no choice started reserving eggs and buying our eggs because they had the "Best" flavor.
So once again that being said it is not always about price and how high or low your price is.
Another major thing with us is knowing your customer. Teaching them and sharing your knowledge with them. We know almost 90% of our customers by name. We congratulate them when they have a baby, we keep our fingers crossed that they get that house that they are hoping for. When they ask for help or advice on raising chickens or growing herbs, we make sure we give them the best advice possible from what we know and have learned. If we do not know we try to figure it out for them and let them know the next week.
We treat them like family. A lot of our customers have followed us since we first started at the downtown Binghamton market. They saw us when we were both single and just starting out with the farm. They then followed us when we stopped going to Downtown Binghamton and moved to Otsiningo Park Farmers Market. When we got married, when we got pregnant and had Eric Jr, then Julianna. With this blog I have tried to give them an inside look into our lives and farming, sharing how we do things and where their product comes from.
For us this is an extremely important part to our business. The more our customers feel comfortable with us and our farming practices the more likely they are going to purchase your product because they know who is behind it and where it comes from.
I personally feel these go hand in hand. By knowledge I mean trying to make your customer understand that Corn is not available in May. Tomatoes are not available year round. We try to make sure we explain that there are seasons for different things.
Another one for us is Paw-Paws and Kiwis we get from Cornell Orchards. They are something different something that people are not used to seeing grown in this area. So we go in depth explaining what a Paw-Paw is and what the flavor is like and how it came to be.
With marketing we are always looking for new ways to market our product. Facebook, website, blog, flyers, email lists and more.
I have had a few people ask me why I have changed the packaging on the herbal teas and dried herbs. We started out with our dried herbs in little ziploc bags and then have now officially put them in herb shaker containers like what you would get your herbs in in the store. We have found that people like "normal." They like to purchase something that is packaged the same as it would be in a supermarket or store.
Our teas we had in tea bags in a little basket and now they are in 2 packs in a sealed ziploc type bag. With this we learned that it was a little too costly in the baskets and they were more willing to pay the price of the 2 packs rather than the basket full. That also is because they would like to try them rather than buying a large quantity and not liking it.
And my final advice is:
Remember to stick it out. Eventually something falls into place at just the right time or you will just love doing it and you may not be making millions but you will be happy living the way you are and be ok with where you are. There are rough times in any business situation and farming is no different. Sometimes it may even be tougher. There are long hours and back breaking work.
But for us, this is what we love doing and what we feel we should be doing.