Thursday, January 30, 2014

Developing a Roadside Farm Market

by Michelle Kowalewski, Extension Educator, Susquehanna Co.

Thinking of growing and selling your own product?  A roadside farm market can be a great outlet to sell products directly to consumers.  Retailing directly to consumers can be a viable alternative marketing strategy and means of increasing profits for any small-scale ventures.  However, marketing through a roadside market needs careful planning and thorough examination of a wide range of topics.

First, as with any business venture, it's important to research! Explore potential competition, customers, and products.  What will make your roadside market different from another and what will entice people to stop and buy your products?  The increasing trend to buy local products is certainly in your favor if you can make a great first impression and encourage customers to stop again.  What products will you grow to sell at your market?  What is your expertise and how does it match up with what your target customers want?  Remember, quality is important to consumers and will be one of the main reasons that they continue to shop at your stand.  Develop a plan, including production schedule of what items might be in season, when, and for how long.  An option if you cannot produce all the items you wish to sell, is to consider supplementing your market with offerings from other local growers.

It's always important to check on regulations.  There are many regulations to operating a small business and a roadside stand is no exception.  Check with local municipalities or officials to check on zoning in your area or township.  Location is a key consideration for a roadside market.  Spend time observing traffic flows in the vicinity of your potential site.  And remember, signage is important.  No matter how nice your market looks, people must be able to find it, so use directional signs to help customers locate your business.  Signs must be eye-catching and easy to read from a distance.  It's less important to list all the products available on the sign than to direct customers to the market.  When people arrive at your market it's important for parking to be easily accessible and safe.  See this past blog on signage for more.

Now that you have customers to your market, remember to keep your displays attractive.  Shoppers like to see displays of fresh vegetables in a high quality, clean environment.  Remember, a positive first impression will keep shoppers coming back for the next visit!  Roadside markets are often selling an image and experience as well as physical products.  Help your customers think about traditions and warm thoughts - old crates, tools, scales, or simply photos can help create a "moment" for the shopper that makes them feel connected.  It's all about selling your story and your products!
A simple, yet attractive, display on something like this old time sleigh,
can trigger warm, nostalgic feelings in customers, bringing them back.

Customer service is important - be sure to listen to your customers as well as educate them about the products that you are producing.  Be friendly and courteous and always handle complaints in a professional manner.

There are a lot of other key factors to consider when developing a roadside market:
  • Size - are you building a new structure or remodeling an existing structure? Do you ever envision expanding?
  • How will you price your products?  
  • Do you need to consider advertising?  
  • How will you staff your market?  
  • What type of records should you keep?  
To learn more about developing a roadside market, read Penn State Extension's Ag Alternatives fact sheet on Developing a Roadside Farm Market.

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