We have a great market but what are we doing wrong?

Dear FMNS,

I’m confused! We have a great market which sells a wide selection of high quality fresh produce, meats, cheese, bread and artisanal products. Our Saturday market was doing so well that we tried to add other days. We tried Sunday, then Friday, then Wednesday. We tried different hours on each day. Nothing worked. Our vendors quickly stopped coming and yet our local supermarket is busy all week. What are we doing wrong?




Dear Confused,

Try to put yourself in the position of a customer and not a keen, strong, gung-ho customer, but a customer with a lot on the go, limited time, energy, strength and, in the case of Moms, hands!

All of the following factors will have a huge bearing on whether they come to your market.
1. Do they know, for sure, that it is open? .
2. Do they know what will be there?
3. Do they have far to walk if the weather isn’t perfect?
4. How easy is it for them to get their purchases back to their car (and most people do still drive to the market if they want to buy more than a coffee and a crepe)?
5. Have you made the shopping experience as convenient as you can for them?

Sadly, many customers will opt to buy poor quality, imported foods and pay more for them (even if they know that the products are better at the market) because they KNOW when the supermarket is open. They know what is sold there and where to find it. They can put their shopping in a cart so they can carry more and their hands are free. Those with mobility issues (pregnant and new mums as well as the disabled) can park close to the market.  And at no point do they have to put their shopping on the floor or fumble with their purse.

They may want to go to the market, and they will put up with all kinds on inconvenience up to a point, but when that line is crossed they won’t come.

Or they will come, but only as a statement of solidarity. Because they really care about food security and they want to know their farmers and to vote with their dollars. But the difference between ‘voting with their dollars’ and ‘shopping for groceries’ is about $100 per customer, per week.

So what steps can markets and vendors take to appeal to as wide a customer base as possible?

  • Markets should poll their customers AND the wider community to determine which hours would suit them best and then stick with them. Any amount of confusion about whether the market is open or not will result in customers not taking the risk.
  • Vendors should not leave early or fail to show up – a vendor telling a customer ‘sorry, I sold out!’ will result in a customer coming earlier next time. It will also help the vendor know how much extra to bring. An empty table, with no vendor, results in frustrated customers who may never come back.
  • Markets should have designated parking spaces for customers with mobility issues. Some people don’t want to walk a few more steps; some people can’t.
  • Vendors MUST park in the allocated vendor parking location; every vendor who parks in a customer’s spot takes sales away from ALL vendors.
  • Markets should investigate ways to shuttle customer purchases from the market to customer cars, whether it’s small carts or scouts carrying bags for a fundraiser, the more customers can carry, the more they can spend.
  • Vendors with multiple products should offer shopping baskets for customers to load up with shopping and leave space by the cash for customers to put their purchases, bags and wallets down, again, the more customers can carry, the more they can spend.

I expect that there are a lot of rolling eyes and ‘do you want fries with that?’ faces being pulled, but customers have choices and we should never lose sight of that.

There are also opportunities when we recognise that our customers have needs. What can we sell them to make their lives easier? So that they are more likely to come to the market and spend more.

Supermarkets have a lot to learn from us in terms of quality, variety and community. We have a lot to learn from them in terms of convenience.