We all like to think that we are too smart to be influenced by marketing. So it’s easy to think that when you set up your first farmer’s market table or open your homestead farm stand all you have to do is offer quality products and courteous service, and sales will happen. However, there is a reason advertising and marketing are multi-million dollar industries. It’s because they do work, usually on an unconscious level.
Some things are pretty straightforward. You’ll sell more from a clean, inviting space than a cluttered or dingy one. I like to use cheerful tablecloths on all my tables. I change them with the seasons and although my products might not change significantly, sometimes the new colors or patterns underneath attract more attention. Make sure your prices are clearly marked. Many people will just pass on something rather than ask you how much it costs. It does not have to be fancy- a pack of index cards, some markers and a roll of tape are all you need to make small signs with clear pricing. Use lighting to your advantage as well. Dark corners will get little attention. I drew visual interest to one corner of our farm stand by stapling white icicle-style Christmas lights to the wall. While I don’t know that anyone has said “I love your Christmas lights”or asked why I use them during the summer, after they went up I noticed more interest in the areas underneath. I also got a variety of comments that the place looks nice/cute/inviting, which is exactly the vibe I want. People who are comfortable stay longer and tend to spend more or become repeat customers.
How you display and package your products can affect the sales to a surprising level. I’ve grown Swiss chard for years, and it’s a great example. I used to put it on display by bunching it up, tying the rainbow-colored stalks together with raffeta, and putting it in a large glass container filled with water. It added some height to the table, looked nice, and was as fresh as possible. It had a label with the price taped to the front of the jar. Virtually every time, I sold no Swiss chard. I enjoy eating it, so I continued to grow it, and it helped fill the table when produce was in short supply in the spring. But sales were minimal, ranking it as one of my least-purchased veggies. One day, I decided to throw it in a clear plastic bag and set it down on the table instead. I use the same bags to sell other greens, so I figured it was worth a try. I sold out of chard. It continues to sell well, and although I would prefer not to use plastic packaging, it turns the chard from invisible table filler to regular income.
Having noticed this, I thought that the same thing might be happening with my herbs. I use antique blue Ball jars with water to keep them fresh and minimize packaging. Again, sales are minimal, but it looks nice and I’ll dry the herbs if they do not sell fresh. But I suspect the same thing is happening, people are simply not seeing what I’m offering. This year, I’m still using the jars, but I’ve changed up my display. I no longer scatter the jars along the back of the tables. I asked my husband to build me a little wooden riser for the jars, and have put them all in one place. It’s my suspicion that an herb section will result in more sales. As I’m only a few weeks into the season it’s a bit difficult to judge the impact, but I’ve already noticed an increase in sales and am optimistic that it will continue.
We work with another small farmer to offer prepackaged raw milk cheese, and have offered it in a self-serve fridge for years. At first we used one of the larger mini fridges, elevated on a small end table so it was nearly eye level. I had a nice laminated sign taped to the front with a photo of the cheese and a list of the varieties. Still, it was amazing the number of people who would walk by it without seeing it, or ask about the cheese only when they noticed a plate with free samples. Last year, we replaced it with a similar-sized fridge, set on the exact same table, but sales went up. Why? This one has a glass front where you can clearly see what’s inside. People would walk by the big white box without even seeing it, but the glass front seems to invite them to open it up and take the cheese home. We were able to find it at a big box home improvement store and it paid for itself in increased sales in the first year.
I love using a variety of baskets to display things like bags of teas, soaps, balms, or even bundles of garlic scapes or gourds. They add visual interest to the table and can keep it from looking messy or cluttered. But again, I find looks matter. Items in low, wide-open baskets will always outsell ones with higher sides. Location matters too. There is a reason store counters are crammed with little impulse buys. Use that to your advantage. I began making my own lip balms and was selling enough to make it worth doing, but when I put a second basket on the checkout counter sales took off.
It’s worth examining your displays with a critical eye whether you’re a novice seller or have been doing it for years. Chances are, you have items that would sell better if they had a touch more eye appeal.