Having a consistent display is key to running a successful farmers’ market stall. Believe it or not, when the look of the display changes or the staff running the stall switches, customers get confused. Some customers may even think it is a different farm! If your farm only attends markets seasonally, or if you have a high turnover rate in market staff, having a consistent, memorable display is even more important.
So, how do you keep your market stall looking consistent to retain your customer base?
Here is what I do to train my staff in market display set up.
Finding the Right Workers
Good market workers possess a diversity of skills. They must be able to drive large vehicles, lift up to 50 pounds, and be self-motivated. Given that they work with large amounts of cash, they must be trustworthy and have stellar math skills. Market staff should also have a good eye for setting up an abundant, aesthetically pleasing display. Finding someone with all these skills can be difficult. When I am looking for a new market worker, I ask people I know for references before resorting to hiring a stranger.
Attend Two to Three Markets with New Staff
Once I’ve hired my new employee, I accompany them at their first two or three markets. This gives me a chance to show them how I like to set up the stall. It also allows time to teach customer service skills, observe how they handle money, and answer any questions they may have.
I’ve also found that there are procedures that seem common sense to me but might not be obvious to a young person with limited work experience. These procedures need to be clearly explained. For example, at my farm we always pour our blueberries into containers to keep from handling the fruit. If I don’t show my workers exactly how this is done, they either use their hands or pour the berries all over the ground. There is technique to everything!
Stall and Display Setup
A gorgeous, abundant display draws in customers and promotes sales. Training new staff in stall setup and produce display design is key to maintaining a consistent look as well as maintaining sales levels. During our first two or three markets together, I show my new staff how I set up the stall. This includes
- The configuration of the tables and the tablecloths
- Where to hang the various signs
- How much real estate to give each product
- How to set up an abundant and attractive display, including
o How to set up the display so that the produce is at eye level, not flat
o How to use the display containers to the best advantage
I also cover things like:
- How to complete the load list and the market sheet that inventories sales and money generated
- How to deal with the sun as it shifts so it does not compromise the produce
- How to price items if they are smaller or larger than usual, or better or worse quality
- When to sell certain items by the piece instead of by the pound
Using Photos for Coaching and Critique
Next, when my new staff are on their own at a market, I use photos to coach them in display set up and provide constructive feedback on their displays.
Before they set up the stall on their own, I send them photos of good displays, as well as additional information on any new produce or products they will be displaying that week.
Then once they arrive at the market, I ask the worker to send me a photo of their initial set up right before market starts. I critique their work and ask for simple changes that would help sales that day. I also mention bigger things that they can work on the next time they set the stall up. The point is to not have them redo the whole display, but to offer some easy fixes that will help customers notice the product or perfect the set up. It is important to give them positive feedback too!
I ask them to send me photos until I feel confident they have figured out how I want the display to look. Then once they are doing it on their own, I will ask randomly for photos. Or, better yet, stop by unannounced right at the beginning of the market to see how the setup looks. At that point I can give more guidance and see how their customer service skills have grown since training.
One Weekend a Month Off
I have learned it is important to give your workers one weekend off a month, so they don’t burn out. On these weekends, I work the market to plug back in, as well as to see how sales compare when I work the market verses my staff. This gives me a baseline for what that market should be making.
Checking in With Market Staff and Vendors for Feedback
I ask the farmers’ market manager about how my worker is doing. I also ask other farmer friends and vendors that might have some insight on how my new employee is conducting themselves. For example, do they arrive on time? Do they leave the stall unattended or walk away from the money box? Are they trading with other vendors appropriately? How do they treat customers?
Oftentimes, customers will give me feedback about my worker, too. This is why, as the farm owner, it is important that you still be involved at the market. I have learned the hard way. It can make a big difference in your income if you are hands on and keep tabs on things. These steps will ensure that your worker is doing what you have asked them to do, and not taking advantage of your business.
Time Invested in Staff Training Positively Impacts the Bottom Line
Since market workers may be the only ones representing your business, it is important to spend the time training them properly, so you get the desired results. Setting up checks and balances to ensure your farm is being represented appropriately, helps to ensure that your staff bring in as much market income as the farm owner. Investing in the training of your market staff goes a long way to maintain consistency both in the look of your stall and market sales.
About the Author: Jamie Collins, owner of CCOF certified Serendipity Farms near Monterey, California, has farmed organically for two decades. She sells produce via farmers’ markets, CSA, and other direct-to-consumer outlets. On the side, she works as an organic inspector, farm and marketing consultant, and writes about food and farming for various publications.
Funding Acknowledgement: Funding for this blog post was made possible by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service through grant AM180100XXXXG055.