Best Market Practices-Be Friendly!
Hello!! For those of you who are not locals you may not know that we take part in a local Farmer’s Market! We love it and have participated for several years now and have even added a second one to our Thursday night routine! I am hoping to build our blog up with some relevant and insightful topics both for our customers and fellow business owners can appreciate. While I am no expert, I do feel I have a great foundation when it comes to sharing what I know about the farmer’s market. With this in mind, thought I would work on a blog series and create a list of best practices to help you thrive and conquer your Farmer’s Market!
The first topic I am choosing to tackle may see like an odd one to top my list, but it is the best possible piece of advice I can give someone looking into joining a market. “But Jessi,” you may say, “what about pricing, products, and fees? Those are HUGELY important, why aren’t you talking about them? What about displays, payments, and location?! I’m freaking out!!”
First off, just breathe! It will be ok! Now, let me explain. The advice to be friendly may seem like a no brainer, but it can actually be a lot harder than you imagine. When I say be friendly, I don’t just mean to the customers. It is ABSOLUTELY key to be friendly, cordial and polite to other vendors. Market settings can be very cliquey. It happens. Some of these people have shown up week in and week out for years (at our established market that means almost 2 decades) and look at new vendors as potential lost sales which can result in getting defensive. Not everyone will be that way, but it can and does happen.
My advice (and personal plan of action) is to kill people with kindness. I laugh with them, show genuine interest in their goods or processes, ask questions about how they feel about their market and if they seem personable, I ask their advice about traffic flow, buying habits, and so on. They are the experts at their markets and hopefully won’t mind sharing their knowledge once they see you aren’t a raging mean human.
Be sure to be mindful of other vendors when they may need help. I’m not saying to ignore your booth or anything, but if you notice someone who needs a hand, offer it. Trust me, saving someone from spilling their inventory all over the ground or helping to keep something dry can go a LONG way in helping your rep at the market. Not only is it the decent, human thing to do, helping others is a great way to break through a defensive barrier that may have gone up as soon they saw a new face (plus good karma is never a bad thing)!
Now, even if you have done all of these things and have tried to be friendly, helpful and polite, sometimes it doesn’t work. Some vendors are so focused on making money that they see everyone as a roadblock to the almighty dollar. Don’t get me wrong, we go to the market to make money, but we also want to provide excellent customer service and build up a reputation. That reputation is what it is all about. We want our customers to KNOW what to expect when they stop by to see us and almost as importantly, we want referrals from other vendors. Many of our customers have been coming to our markets long before we were there. They take their cues from other vendors, even openly asking about the new shops. It makes a difference. If a vendor had a good interaction with you, the customer is going to know even if the vendor doesn’t specifically say. Body language and non-verbal cues are everything. Take this real life example (names changed). I bought from one of them plus ordered more online. Can you guess which one?
Sammy and Rachel both sell soap. They have similar pricing, quality, and overall grade of product as well as similar attitudes, outlooks and local following. Sammy took time out of her unloading to help Mary, the older jewelry maker between her and Rachel. Mary was about to drop a box of jewelry and Sammy lightened her load. They had some good small talk and some laughs. Sammy even asked for Mary’s advice on which way the traffic moves and was able to adjust her setup accordingly. Meanwhile, Rachel is complaining about the walk to her car and pondering out loud that this market sucks. She says nothing to the other vendors directly and trudges along, keeping her head down. Sammy finishes setting up a bit later than Rachel but both displays are open and have roughly the same level of pulled together look. As the customers come by, both are friendly, polite and focus on customer service, but then something a bit odd begins to happen. Sammy’s booth is staying busier and getting more traffic, even though they are just a booth apart.
So, why is this? Well, half of the vendors who were setting up saw how Sammy helped Mary and was being very friendly. She was smiling and laughing and over all being very pleasant (good impression). Those same vendors then saw Rachel. Rachel’s attitude and negativity before the customers arrived put a bad taste for her products and booth in their mouths (bad impression). So, even though Rachel makes items on par with Sammy, Sammy’s kindness and friendliness won over the other vendors. These vendors are then responding in kind, sometimes unintentionally when regular customers are asking about the two. The fellow vendors are sending subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) positive feelings toward Sammy and negative ones toward Rachel. This can happen unconsciously and is often a response from what they witnessed. The vendors may also wander over to each booth and have their initial thoughts confirmed. Sammy will be friendly and outgoing, as she has been all day to everyone. Rachel, while the same level of friendly and outgoing now, may be seen as fake or even worse because of her attitude and demeanor before. Her perceived fakeness can be a hard hill to get over for other vendors and will often color their thoughts of Rachel negatively.
If you guessed that I bought Sammy’s soap, you would be right. Sammy now continues to thrive at our market and comes back just about every week. Her initial friendliness won over most of the vendors (there are just some curmudgeonly ones that even I am only luke warm with) and the customers took note. Rachel has been back a few times and while still great with customers, she continues to have a negative outlook in the mornings and it shows with her non-busy booth.
So, the takeaway of this post is to be friendly, helpful and polite to your fellow vendors. They can truly make or break your experience at a market. Remember the golden rule and that it never hurts to be friendly, even if you think no one is watching.