Whether you're looking for local crafts, produce, prepared foods, plants, or other agricultural products, there's plenty to browse and buy at a local farmers market.
If you're a grower or a small business owner, it's a low-cost way of reaching your local audience through personal one-on-one interactions in a community setting. With farmers markets generating at least $1.3 billion in consumer spending each year, it's a great way to generate income.
This article will walk you through the steps you need to take to set up as a farmers market vendor, as well as tips on setting up a successful booth.
Steps to Selling at a Farmers Market
If you're interested in getting started as a farmers market vendor, here are the steps you should take to make that dream a reality.
Determine If Your Products Are Right for a Farmers Market
The first thing you should do is figure out whether or not what you're selling is appropriate for a farmers market. If you're selling produce, prepared foods — think baked goods, salsas, or jam — or any other kind of agricultural product, you're probably good to go. Many farmers markets also draw artisans and crafters, food trucks, and other booths cooking made-to-order food items. Your best bet is to attend the market you're considering and see what other people are selling. Also, check with the rules and regulations of the market. Many of them will have rules about what can and can't be sold there.
Select Your Business Structure
If you're launching a new company, then you need to determine the best legal business structure for your initiative. There are four main types: sole proprietors, partnerships, corporations, and limited liability companies. The entity you choose will impact everything about your business, including how it's taxed and the amount of personal liability you'll shoulder. Think carefully about which structure makes the most sense for your business.
Register Your Business
Once you've selected the type of business structure you want, you'll register your business with your state. Most markets will only want registered legal businesses participating in their events. You'll register your company at the state level and possibly with your local city or county (or wherever you operate) depending on local laws.
Set Up Your Tax ID Number
To accept payment for any services or products, you need to obtain both your state and federal tax ID numbers. These Employer Identification Numbers are necessary for paying your state and federal taxes and handling employee wages.
Obtain Licenses and Permits
Check your state and local laws to see if there are any special business licenses or permits you need to operate as a food vendor. Your state's Department of Agriculture and secretary of state's office are two areas to look for the resources you need.
Understand Food Safety Laws
If you're selling and preparing food items, make sure you fully understand your local health and food safety laws. Food handling and packing both need to be tackled in specific ways. Depending on the type of food, some states or counties might require you to operate out of a commercial kitchen. If you don't comply with these important health regulations, you could be fined or even have your business shut down.
Research Local Farmers Markets
Create a list of farmers markets you might consider becoming a vendor at. Many regions have multiple markets to choose from. While many are on weekends, you'll likely find some markets held on weekdays. It's possible that you could become a regular vendor at multiple markets. Once you make a list of potential markets, there are multiple factors to consider, including the day and time of the event, fees, foot traffic, and how much competition you'll have at that specific market. Then, if you're still not sure which events are best for your business, try a new market every week to narrow it down.
Fill Out Your Application
Next is the application process. Most farmers markets will make you fill out an application before approving you for their events. It's important to fill these forms out completely and accurately so they have all the information they need when deciding whether you can participate. Also, don't forget to pay your application fee. If you have any questions along the way, you can reach out to the farmers market managers.
Prepare for the Event
Once you're accepted, you need to prepare for your first day at the market. This means getting everything you need for your display, including signage and other marketing materials, tents, tablecloths, and tables. You'll need to prepare and package your inventory, and don't forget pricing. Carefully determine the price of your products in advance based on your overhead costs (e.g., market fees, legal and business costs, marketing costs, cost of ingredients if you're preparing food, labor, and more). Also, determine how you plan to accept payments. If you plan to accept credit cards and debit cards, you need to have the means to run those. If you sell food items, you might be able to accept EBT benefits.
Let Your Followers Know You'll Be There
Before your first day at the market, let all your friends, family, and social media followers know where they can find you. As you start to build up a following, you might even find that some people go out of their way to attend a market just because you'll be there selling your goods.
Tips for Successful Selling at a Farmers Market
If you're setting up at a farmers market for the first time, here are some tips and tricks to having a successful vendor experience.
Offer Free Samples
Everybody loves free stuff. If you offer product samples, you're guaranteed to see increased traffic at your booth. This is a great way to introduce new shoppers to your brand and improve your sales.
Be Friendly and Upbeat
One of the best ways to keep customers happy and interested in your products is by being friendly and cheerful. A smile goes a long way in the customer service business. Your demeanor and attitude will affect a shopper's perception of your company.
Visit Markets Beforehand
The best way to prepare for your first time at a new farmers market is to visit the market in advance as a shopper. You'll be able to get a feel for the layout, the shoppers, and the overall vibe, which will make for a smoother first-time vendor experience.
Find a Niche
You might find lots of small farms selling cucumbers and tomatoes at your local farmers market. If you find a unique niche for your business, you'll stand out among the crowd. Instead of zucchinis or broccoli, try mushrooms or exotic fruits.
Don't overdo it as you're just getting started. If you try to launch your business too big, too fast, you'll find yourself losing money and wasting food. Instead, start with a smaller booth and come with less inventory to see how you fare. You can always build and grow your business from there.
Make a Checklist
There's a lot to keep track of at farmers markets — from your inventory to the rules you need to follow. If you keep a list of everything you need to remember to do and bring, you'll stay organized and enjoy a less overwhelming market experience.
Appearance Means Everything
Quality is important, of course, but an attractive display will take you far. Whether you're operating a small farm stand or selling delicious baked goods, put some thought into your display. An eye-catching booth will attract more customers and increase sales.
Grow Your Farmers Market Following With Skynova
Selling food products at your local farmers markets can be a lot of fun — and also a lot of work. Skynova is dedicated to making your life a little easier with its all-in-one small business platform.
Our accounting and invoicing software make it easy for you to manage your finances and track all of your sales and expenses. Simply plug in the information from each transaction to generate the documents you need for accurate bookkeeping.
Notice to the Reader
The content within this article is meant to be used as general guidelines and may not apply to your specific situation. Always consult with state and local laws and health departments for food handling and safety, as well as registering and operating a small food business. Also, check with any farmers market you apply to for their specific vendor requirements.