Farmers’ markets are a great way to test a business or product idea and gather consumer feedback. But it can be difficult to be profitable when selling at a farmers’ market, due to the overhead costs.
This article will explain the steps you must take to sell at your first farmers’ market, outline some of the costs, share tips, and answer common questions.
What is a farmers’ market?
A farmers’ market is an indoor or outdoor marketplace where vendors can sell directly to consumers. Although the name suggests it’s a market for farmers, most farmers’ markets allow vendors to sell a variety of homemade and homegrown goods.
At my local farmers’ market, you can find everything from locally produced vegetables and packaged meats, to locally made pottery and jewelry. However, some markets do have a strict “food only” rule, and most do not allow re-selling; meaning, you must be the producer of the products you’re selling.
Do I need a permit to sell at a farmers’ market?
There are many different permits and licenses that may be required when selling at your local farmers’ market. The permits and licenses you require will depend on what you’re selling and where you’re selling it.
You may need a food manufacturer’s license or public health permit if you’re selling food items. Or you may need a business license or seller’s permit.
The laws and regulations vary by state/province, and sometimes even from city to city.
To determine if you require a permit or license, start by asking the organizer of the farmers’ market. They may be able to tell you the types of permits/licenses required and direct you to the correct place to find more information.
Alternatively, you can go straight to your city’s website (Google “city of ______ (your city) website” to find the official website). On your city’s website, you should find a “business” section on the website, or a search bar; enter keywords such as “permit” to help you find the proper documentation.
How To Sell at a Farmers’ Market
Below is a checklist you can go through to ensure you’re properly set up to sell at farmers’ markets.
1. Get proper licenses, permits, and/or insurance
The laws vary from state to state/province to province and depend on what you’re selling. But chances are, you will require some form of a permit and/or license to sell products for profit at a farmers’ market.
You may also need liability insurance. This will be important if you sell items such as bath and body products (that can cause a skin reaction), or children’s products. But it’s also valuable at a farmers’ market in the event someone gets hurt while in your space or if the wind takes your tent for a ride and it ends up damaging something or hurting someone.
You may also need a tax ID if local laws require you to charge and remit sales tax.
Visit your government’s website to research the laws you’re required to follow based on your location and business.
If you’d like a guide for the general steps you must follow when starting a business, check out: Laws for Selling Handmade
2. Know who you’re selling to
Before you start planning stock, you must know who you’re going to be selling to.
This is the best way to build a farmers’ market booth that stands out and makes sales.
Sure, a product such as fresh vegetables can appeal to anyone. But are you targeting a Whole Foods type of customer who doesn’t mind paying more to get the best produce? Or are you targeting a busy mom who may be on a tighter budget?
Here’s how your booth might vary depending on these two types of customers
Whole-Foods type customer:
- Prices may be in the higher range
- Signage must communicate why your veggies are the best (e.g. organic, non-GMO, etc.)
- Whole Foods customers are typically health-conscious, so you may add “health notes” to your signage (e.g. Eggplant $3/each ~ High in Vitamin A & C).
- Top-notch display to increase the perceived value of your products
- Booth may have the feel of a Whole Foods store – you don’t want to break intellectual property laws, but you may use a similar green to Whole Foods for your tablecloth, signage, and props.
Busy mom customer:
- Prices may be on the lower end with discounts for bundled items
- Signage may communicate “Busy weeknight dinner bundles”. Produce may be grouped together to give a busy mom dinner ideas and everything they need to quickly prepare a portion of a meal (e.g. head of lettuce, an apple, a cucumber, and a bundle of basil for a fresh summer salad. Or tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, and fresh herbs with a recipe card to make a pasta sauce).
- The display may be set up for speed so shoppers can quickly find what they need and pay. The checkout area has a dedicated salesperson and is set up to quickly process purchases.
Consider who your specific customer is likely to be, and what might draw them to your booth and encourage them to buy.
If you’re not sure who your target market is, How to Define a Target Market for your Handmade Business will help.
You should have a clear idea of who your target customer is so you can plan products, set prices, create a display, etc. that appeal to them.
3. Research & apply
If you have the luxury of options when it comes to farmers’ markets in your city, you’ll need to choose wisely.
Not every farmers’ market will be the right fit for you and your business. Visit the market if you can, but if you can’t, research it online.
Find out how many vendors the market typically has and the type of vendors to determine your competition.
Also, try to find rough numbers on how many shoppers the market attracts each weekend and the type of shoppers it attracts; this will have an impact on your sales.
For example, if the event is in a hip up-and-coming area with bars and restaurants, and the market has food trucks and a beer garden, it may attract younger shoppers. A vendor selling products for children may not do as well as someone selling beard oil, trendy home decor items, or craft beer.
On the other hand, if the event is in a small school community and has several attractions for kids, it will likely attract parents and families. A vendor selling products for children has the opportunity to do well.
Research the market and determine if your products will be a fit for it.
When you apply, be sure to follow the application instructions closely. Meaning, if they ask you to attach photos of your products and booth display to the email, don’t share a link to your Facebook page and ask them to view your photos there.
Organizers are busy and they want to accept vendors that will help them make the event successful.
When vendors don’t follow simple application instructions, it’s a red flag and you may not get accepted (here are other reasons your application may be rejected).
Also, be sure to sell yourself in your application.
Let organizers know why accepting you is a good decision.
You might point out how your products are different and will help attract new shoppers or share photos of your stunning display that’s sure to attract people walking by.
Once you’ve been accepted, it’s time to get to work!
4. Plan your products
Depending on what type of product you plan to sell, you could have a lot of competition. My city’s downtown farmers’ market can have over 100 vendors during its busiest season.
If you’re selling typical farmers’ market products (e.g. fresh produce, meats, baked goods, jewelry, potter, etc.) you’re going to be competing with more than one vendor.
Here is a unique list of items to sell at farmers’ markets: What to Sell at a Farmers’ Market (17 unique ideas)
To stand out and make sales, you must offer a unique product or position.
Why will shoppers feel compelled to buy veggies from you over the 10 other stalls selling veggies? Or instead of buying from the grocery store?
Give shoppers a reason to buy from you (and resist the urge to browse the rest of the market first).
This is important no matter what you sell.
It’s also important to appeal to different budgets with product variation.
- bundle products together for higher price points
- offer upsell and add-on products for higher price points
- create entry-level products to offer lower price points
Don’t bring different products than you apply with. If the event organizer is expecting you to show up with produce, you must bring produce.
It’s also important to build a cohesive booth; don’t fill it will too many types of products.
For example, a vendor selling art, knitted goods, jewelry, and candles comes across as someone who likes to craft, not a professional business owner. Which makes it harder to charge top dollar and make sales.
You’re a small business; not a department store. You should be serving one specific shopping need, not 10.
5. Price for profit
Once you determine the product line you’ll offer, it’s time to work your numbers.
If you don’t price your products properly, you can end up losing money at farmers’ markets.
Determine all costs associated with producing your product, as well as your overhead costs.
If you’re selling a handmade product, check out this guide to properly price your products for profit: The Right Way to Price a Handmade Product (Step-by-Step Formula)
Don’t price your products low in an attempt to win the sale from competitors.
That’s frowned upon in the farmers’ market community because it makes other vendors’ products seem overpriced. It’s also not a sustainable business model for a small handmade/homegrown business.
Once you have your prices properly set, you’ll also want to plan for how you’ll communicate those prices to customers (they don’t want to ask “how much?”).
You may group products together and use signs, or tag individual products.
6. Plan your display
A display can hurt or harm your sales, so don’t leave it as an afterthought.
If it’s an outdoor market, you’ll likely need to buy a tent. You may even be required to bring your own table. Be sure to thoroughly read the market’s guidelines when it comes to what will and will not be provided, and if there are any rules that must be followed when it comes to tent size, color, weights, etc.
Here’s a guide to help you choose the right vendor tent: 10 Tips for Buying a Vendor Tent for Outdoor Markets
Your display should be thoughtfully planned to:
- grab attention
- attract your target market
- look professional
- be easy to shop
- encourage sales
You may need:
- a tent
- a table
- a chair
- display fixtures
If you’re not sure where to start with your market display, sign up for my free 5-day email challenge: 5 DAYS TO A STANDOUT CRAFT SHOW DISPLAY (the lessons apply to a farmers’ market booth too).
7. Plan your production schedule
Determine how much product you’ll need, based on average conversion rates, how long the farmers’ market is, and your goals.
Here’s a guide to roughly calculating how much stock you’ll need: How Much Stock to Bring; Calculations & Formulas
Once you have that number, you can work backward from the market’s date and determine how many products you must make per week. Or, how much time you’ll need right before the market to prepare the food.
Be sure to leave yourself a day or two before the event to tag products and place them in bins, and finalize display details.
8. Prepare to make sales
Many people will stumble upon the farmers’ market and won’t have cash on them. So it’s a good idea to have a credit card reader and cash.
You’ll need to purchase a credit card reader ahead of time and learn how to use it.
Square, Stripe, and PayPal are just a few credit card readers on the market. You can order them online, or your local stationery store, such as Office Depot or Staples, may carry them.
Go to the bank and get smaller bills and coins so you’re able to give the correct change back to customers.
Consider other items you’ll need to make a sale. Such as:
- a calculator
- shopping bags
- tissue paper
- business card to place in each shopping bag
- scissors to remove tags
- receipt paper or receipt pad
- cash box and/or apron (don’t leave your money unattended)
Also, be prepared for theft. Hopefully, that doesn’t happen to you but it’s not unheard of.
If you purchase a tent with walls, you can zip them up when you take a bathroom break (if you don’t have a helper). Or, you may bring a large tablecloth or sheet to cover your table while you’re gone.
Don’t rely on a neighbor to watch your space as they can get busy and distracted. And it’s not fair to expect them to sacrifice a sale to watch your space.
Here are some tips to help prevent theft in your space: 10 Tips to Prevent Theft at a Craft Show
You also want to be prepared to sell.
You don’t need to use aggressive sales tactics, but you should be willing to start conversations with shoppers, ask questions to get to know them better, and share a little bit about your business and products.
If you can get shoppers to care about you and your business/products, they’re more likely to buy that day and become loyal customers.
Prepare a few open-ended questions to break the ice with shoppers.
Also, brainstorm key talking points. Put the shopper first and think about what they care about.
Chances are, when you’re buying vegetables, you don’t care about how many acres the farm is, where exactly it’s located, or how long it takes the farmer to grow a vegetable. Acres, location, and growing time aren’t benefits to the customer. Farmers’ market shoppers don’t care about that information either.
Shoppers want product information that relates to their life. How will your products help improve their life?
Is the soil you grow vegetables in enriched? What benefit does that provide for the customer?
Even explore benefits that may seem obvious.
Many people know organic is better when it comes to fruits and vegetables, but not every consumer knows why.
“Organic” does not explain the BENEFIT to the customer. Explaining the risks of eating vegetables exposed to synthetic fertilizers and pesticides paints a clearer picture of why someone should want to buy organic produce.
The event organizer will be doing the majority of the marketing for the farmers’ market. However, if every vendor encourages 10 people to visit the event, that leads to a lot more shoppers and potential customers. So it’s important to do your part.
You also want to be sure your target market is showing up to the event.
Farmers’ market organizers typically cast a large net, to attract a wide variety of shoppers. But you’re targeting a specific customer, so you want to put an effort into encouraging them to find you at the event.
If you don’t have a business set up yet, simply tell friends, family, and coworkers about the event.
In the beginning, friends and family will be your best customers.
When you’re ready for new customers, check out: How to Sell Handmade Beyond Friends & Family
If you have social media accounts, a website, and/or an email list for your business, you can promote an upcoming event several ways. Here’s a list: How to Promote a Craft Show (or farmers’ market)
Repeat customers are the best customers, so try to get as many people who are familiar with your business to show up.
10. Pack for the big day
It will take more time than you think to prepare for a farmers’ market. I was always up late the night before and early the morning of, which can make it easy to forget something.
Make a checklist beforehand with a list of everything you’ll need to get to and from the event, set up, make sales, and be comfortable all day.
>> You can download a Free Printable Farmers’ Market Checklist here
Before you leave the house, go over the list twice.
You’ll be able to relax and enjoy the day knowing you have everything you need and are more prepared than the majority of vendors.
How much does it cost to sell at a farmers’ market?
Each farmers’ market will vary in cost. Smaller markets may keep booth prices affordable and may only charge $10 or $20 for a booth (per week). Bigger markets may charge hundreds of dollars for a day or weekend.
Outside of booth fees, there are other costs to be aware of. These costs will eat into your profits, so it’s best to estimate your costs and how much you think you can sell ahead of time, to determine if a farmers’ market is likely to be worth it for you.
You don’t want to spend more than you make!
There will be reoccurring costs (e.g. you must pay the vendor fee for each event you participate in), as well as startup costs (e.g. you’ll spend money on a tent but can use it over and over for each event without spending more money).
Your costs for selling at a farmers’ market may include:
- vendor fee
- tent and table rental
- transportation to and from the event
- lodging (if the event is out of town)
- food and drink for the day (if you don’t pack your own)
- display elements (tablecloth, signage, fixtures)
- shopping bags
- marketing material (business cards)
- transaction fees (for credit card readers)
And don’t forget about your wages.
Track the hours you spend preparing for, setting up, selling at, and packing up from the event. These are hours you need to be paid for and that the sale of your products should cover.
If you don’t track these hours and pay yourself for them, you’re not getting a clear picture of whether you have a viable business or not.
Many people who sell at farmers’ markets are actually losing money without knowing it.
You’ll also have to pay taxes on any revenue you earn. And depending on your local laws, you may also need to remit sales tax (so be sure you’re charging accordingly).
Take all costs into account to be sure farmers’ markets are worth it for you.
How to get a booth at a farmers’ market
Farmers’ market organizers are looking for businesses selling a unique product in a professional way that will help them attract more shoppers.
Start with a great product and research the event before applying. Learn about the market’s brand and what they might be looking for in a vendor.
Read the application instructions thoroughly and follow them to a T.
Put thought and effort into each question, include photos of your work and/or display, and be sure to express why you think you’d be a great fit for their market and what you’ll be bringing to the table.
Be sure to get your application in on time and be respectful of the organizer’s time (i.e. don’t bombard them with questions if they have a website full of answers).
If you’re not accepted, be graceful. It may just be that this week’s market is full, but they’d be happy to have you next week or month.
How much money can you make at a farmers’ market?
How much money you’ll make at a farmers’ market will depend on the market’s fees, traffic, your ability to make sales, and your profit margins.
It’s not uncommon for vendors to only make a few sales in a day. On the other hand, some vendors make hundreds of sales in a day. The point being; sales are not guaranteed, even at the biggest and busiest farmers’ markets.
To estimate how much money you can make at your local farmers’ markets, you need to gather some rough numbers.
- approximately how many shoppers the event attracts (organizers may have rough numbers)
- your conversion rate; how many of those shoppers might buy from you (this will depend on what you’re selling, your price points, your sales skills, etc.). Online, average conversion rates are 2 – 3%. Brick-and-mortar stores have a conversion rate around 20 – 30% (source). The conversion rate of a farmers’ market booth likely falls somewhere in between.
- average sale per transaction; how much each customer spends with you on average (e.g. do they tend to buy 3 items at once averaging $30 or 1 item for $10?).
Multiply the estimated number of shoppers the event will have by a conservative conversion rate (especially if this is your first market). This will give you an approximate number of sales you can make at the market.
For example, let’s say my local farmers’ market attracts 1000 people on Saturdays. I’m planning for a 10% conversion rate because I’m selling a popular product at a lower price point, so it will be easier to make sales.
If 10% of shoppers buy from me, I’ll make approximately 100 sales.
If my average sale is $15, I’ll earn $1500 in revenue.
I would then need to subtract all my expenses to determine how much I will profit.
It can be worth it to sell at a farmers’ market if you plan to treat it like a business endeavor.
It may seem simple to set your products on a table and wait for customers to come to you, but those who underestimate the amount of work it requires to prepare for a market and make sales tend to be disappointed by the results.
Whether or not it’s worth it, also depends on the product you plan to sell.
If you’re a farmer bringing produce, dairy, or meats to the market, you may do very well if there aren’t other vendors selling the same products. If there are 5 other vendors selling the same product as you, it will be harder to make sales, unless you find a way to stand out.
It’s best to visit the farmers’ market you’re planning to apply to and check out the selection of products. You may even speak to the organizer before starting the process of applying for a permit and preparing for the event. Ask them what type of vendors are regulars at the market and if they believe your products will sell well.
You’ll find more details on how to estimate how much money you can make here.
What to wear to a farmers market
It’s important for you to be comfortable when selling at a farmers’ market all day, but you must also look professional and represent your brand.
If the market is outside, dress in layers so you can easily add or remove a layer as the weather changes throughout the day.
Also keep the proverb in mind: birds of a feather flock together. You want your attire to attract your ideal customer.
If you’re trying to attract a customer that wants a luxury product and experience, a hoodie, sweats, and uncombed hair likely won’t attract them.
Wear something that will catch your target market’s eye and make them think you’re the type of person they’ll have something in common with.
Make sure your outfit works with your display and brand as well. For example, a vendor selling environmentally friendly products might dress in earth-tone colors.
Here are more details on how to find the perfect outfit for the farmers’ market, one that will actually help you make more sales.
I hope these steps help you feel more prepared to sell at a farmers’ market 🙂
Hey, I’m Erin 🙂 I write about small business and craft show techniques I’ve learned from being a small business owner for almost 2 decades, selling at dozens of craft shows, and earning a diploma in Visual Communication Design. I hope you find my advice helpful!