Volatility

August 6, 2011

Farmers’ Market

Filed under: Food and Farms, Relocalization — Tags: — Russ @ 1:05 am

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Good news and bad news about the weather.
 
The good news was that we finally had a market day which wasn’t in the 90s.
 
The bad news was that it rained almost the whole time. Off and on at first, steadily (at times heavy) for the latter part of the day.
 
So again the final result was a disappointing turnout (in an absolute sense). We got a great surge for the first hour, which we think may have been people trying to beat the rain. Then the customer flow plummeted.
 
Still, for a crappy weather day, the turnout wasn’t (relatively) bad. Indeed, people who weren’t there were surprised to hear that we did as well as we did.
 
The latest issue is that our anchor produce vendor is complaining about doing poorly. He blames lower turnout and especially the competition from our two new produce vendors.
 
While the depressed turnout is in part on account of the uncooperative weather, it’s also true that the customers love the two new vendors, and they’re almost certainly taking business away from the older one.
 
This vendor probably wasn’t helped by the fact that he had an issue for a few weeks with what some people were calling a poor layout, and an obnoxious employee. He seems to have become aware of that, since his layout and customer service have been improved in the last two weeks.
 
Still, this brings up a question about the market itself. The vendor having issues is an established, larger-scale operation with high overhead. The two new vendors are small, low-overhead, staffed by the farmers themselves. I still think the basic principle of striving for greater variety among multiple vendors, which we all agreed upon during the off-season at least where it came to produce, is the right one. Our admittedly clumsy customer survey had also indicated that people want greater variety. But our having offered this doesn’t seem to have caused the customers to buy much more in the aggregate. Instead, they’re spreading out the buy among the vendors to some extent.
 
It’s possible that for the time being our market has, given the local demographics, the competition, and the state of the economy, reached a customer traffic plateau for the foreseeable future. If that’s true, then maybe smaller operations like those are a better fit than bigger-overhead ones.
 
That’s just a question toward developing a strategy for the future.
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2 Comments

  1. This is really interesting. At once, it’s bad to disadvantage your anchor vendor, at the same time, you’re advantaging businesses who embody more explicitly the values you want to support. I suppose you have to pursue a dual strategy of both expanding your geographical customer base (I don’t know how you do this- here I’d be postering telephone poles in a wider radius, basically), as well as encouraging greater vendor specialisation or diversity. I suppose in the case of your market you’ll probably want to locate population centers in a driveable distance that aren’t reasonably served by analgous operations. If the large-scale vendor is having a difficult time where the self-staffed, more nimble vendors aren’t, I think that speaks to the competitiveness of the latter type of operation. I’d be really interested to hear what kind of farms or operations the various vendors are running- some empirical data as to the size and type of farm that can manage alright during difficult economic times would be quite useful.

    Comment by paper mac — August 6, 2011 @ 1:24 am

    • There’s lots of markets in the general region competing for the same vendors, and in our more immediate vicinity there’s a few competing for the same customers. (So far as I know none directly compete on the same day.)

      I don’t know the exact size of our larger vendor, but they’re relatively bigger. I’d say they’re a mid-size farm. They have three large trucks, one of which brings their produce to our market. (This year they added an aquaculture operation, and there was some talk of their bringing fish to the market, but they haven’t done it so far. I bet that could help their sales, since no one else is selling it.) Ours may be the only small market they sell at. At any rate most of the markets they attend are bigger ones closer to the city areas.

      The two small vendors each farm c. 1 acre, but they evidently coax a lot from such a small parcel. They’re both organic for all intents and purposes but not certified. (I think we discussed their issue with that before.) Each brings the goods in a pickup truck. Their layouts are creative, attractive, and clearly well thought-out.

      We went from one vegetable vendor last year to three this year. (We remain with one fruit vendor, who’s not affected by this issue.) I suppose it’s true that our expansion plan has hurt the larger vendor to some extent, but it also seems true that he hasn’t done all he can to do the best he can. It’s definitely true that the customers last year wanted greater produce variety, but it also seems true that although they now have that variety, they haven’t responded by buying much more in the aggregate. An economic symptom? Probably.

      Comment by Russ — August 6, 2011 @ 2:14 am


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