A year ago I showed up at the Proctor Farmers’ Market on opening day, a bright and eager newbie vendor. The bed of the truck was loaded with the contents of my booth, including three folding tables, two chairs, three wooden crates, two mailboxes, three wooden hand-painted signs that said “Little Dipper Confections” and “Handmade Chocolates,” six glass apothecary jars, a gazillion wicker baskets, and three large plastic storage tubs packed with boxes of chocolates.
Today I arrived at the same Proctor Farmers’ Market, also on opening day, still bright and eager, but no longer a newbie vendor. As I headed into my second year of selling at markets, I felt a little wiser and a little more seasoned. I’d learned such things like where to find good parking for the day, when to expect sales to peak which really translates to how to strategize my restroom breaks, and about how much inventory to bring (much less than three large storage tubs full). But most importantly, I’d learned the art of packing a 20-minute booth. That’s a booth that I can set up and take down in under 20 minutes solo. In essence, I’d learned how to keep it simple. It was a hard lesson to grasp because it meant getting rid of all the decorations, knick-knacks, and décor that I love so much.
Gone are the wooden crates and wicker baskets with different colors of paper grass filling for every season. No more pretty but bulky jars or cumbersome wooden signs. And as much as I loved the idea of displaying my boxes of chocolates inside cute little mailboxes, gone, too, are the clunky metal contraptions. Other than a platter for samples, one shadow box with a picture of an open box of chocolates inside, and a couple of small signs and cards to explain my product, it’s pretty much just the chocolates now. Okay, and maybe one fun seasonal decoration when appropriate.
Do I miss having a booth that resembled a mini boutique shop? Yes. Do I miss people remarking how lovely my display was? Of course. But when it’s 30-something degrees outside or when the rain starts coming into your booth sideways, a quick pack-up trumps all.
As a nice bonus, once I started eliminating more and more of the non-essentials in my booth, I found that sales increased correspondingly. I’d like to say that I was savvy enough to pick up on this relationship early on, but I’m not going to lie—it took me half a year to realize that all the extra touches were actually causing a lot of confusion as to what I was selling. A couple of people thought I was selling wooden blocks at the farmers’ markets. One person thought I was selling rubber stamps. Another asked me how much my mailboxes were. I don’t miss these awkward situations.
It seems obvious, but my lesson at the end of a year of farmers’ markets is this: keep it simple. Make it as easy as possible for people to get what your product is. If you absolutely have to have a clever way of displaying your products and someone asks you how much your mailbox is, offer to sell it for $10. Just kidding.