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The farmers’ market: a small business boon?

Posted by Jason Keith  September 13, 2011 06:00 AM

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In my last post I talked about customer loyalty and how important it is, specifically in a down economy.  For local business owners, creating and fostering one-on-one relationships with customers is paramount to success.  Ironically, what I stumbled upon in Chelmsford last week is a perfect illustration of what customer interaction is all about. In the center of town is a local farmers’ market, which convenes every Thursday afternoon. It gives local vendors an opportunity to showcase their products, services and personality to those who pass by.  

Farmers' Market

Offerings include produce grown on local area farms, fresh pasta, prepared foods, gluten-free baked goods, and even home grown soap. All of the business owners are friendly and engaging, walking the fine line between chatting and selling.  

Traditional farmers’ markets have existed for centuries, but in the United States they have steadily grown in popularity since tracing their roots back to California in the late 1970s, when one of the first farmers’ markets in the state opened in Gardena. In 2009, the USDA recorded more than 5,000 farmers’ markets, a 13 percent increase compared to 2008. In Massachusetts alone, there are 246 such markets.  

Chelmsford market vendor Stephen Deffley, who  personal chef who sells prepared foods, said that the market is a great place to sell his products and that he has picked up a lot of business by participating.  He also said the market was well attended and typically has a lot of great vendors. For him it was clearly well worth the time, even on a day when the weather was threatening.  The question is, it worth your time to participate in a local market? Here are three reasons why it might make sense for you:

Customers come to you:

These markets are almost always well attended because they’re in public places, supported by the local government and people talk about them.  Local events always benefit from word-of-mouth marketing and good experiences are passed along with neighbors.  Typically you have to pay for your “spot” at the market, but the long term payoff can far outweigh the week-to-week costs of having to pay for a booth.  Usually all it takes is a small tent, a few folding tables, some signage and your products and personality.   

Make a connection:

This is the biggest benefit of taking part in a market like this.  Not only do the customers come to you looking to browse, they’re looking to find out more about you and your business.  As a small business owner, you have a chance to interact with them in a personal way, find out where they’re from, why they’re there and what they are looking for.  If you make a sale and get a happy customer, they’re going to come back.  You can start converting your own “regulars” to the market, who make the trip just for you. 

Face to face vs. traditional marketing

You have a chance to really make a good impression in person.  People are more likely to buy from someone they know and like, so this is a great opportunity. Instead of a general email, postcard, search ad or printed coupon, you can take a few minutes to welcome people in and encourage them to make an impulse buy.  Time is always a marketer’s best friend - more time to sell. Traditional marketing methods only allow for a few seconds, but at a market you could have several minutes.    

What do you think of farmers’ markets as a local business/marketing opportunity?  Have you attended any as a business or consumer and found them to be worth the trip? 

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About this blog

Jason Keith has been working for and with small businesses in the New England area for more than 10 years, specifically small, micro businesses. Born and raised in Massachusetts and a former journalist, he provides a unique perspective on the issues facing small businesses locally and nationally.To reach him directly email

This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed here are the author's alone.

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