How to Succeed at the Farmers Market

Spring in the air means summer is coming ‘round the corner, and that means the Yellowknife Farmers Market is gearing up for action, with online applications for vendors going active this Saturday, March 28. The market itself opens June 2nd, and runs every subsequent Tuesday for 16 weeks.

This year, the food stands and artisanal wares will be accompanied by live musical entertainment. “We will have five weeks of an hour or so’s worth of entertainment, likely running end of June through July,” says David Zethof, communications director for the YKFM, although the official call for performers hasn’t gone out yet.

There’s been a cap placed on the number of vendors this year as well: 45 is the maximum number (last year’s peak was 53). “This is to allow us to spread the vendors out more to ease congestion in our trouble spots, and also give the vendors more opportunity to have more time with the shoppers,” Zethof told EDGEYK.com.

A seller’s market

If you’re thinking of being one of those vendors, the market has some fairly particular requirements that are relatively easy to meet:

First, your goods have to be locally made and/or locally harvested. They can include agricultural products, fruits, cheeses, fish, etc., processed things like breads, cakes, dried soups, sausages, food concessions, or handmade arts and crafts.

However, the market only allows one-fifth of vendors to offer arts and crafts, so if that’s what you plan on selling, get your name in quick.

There are different rates depending on how many weeks you want to operate your booth: four weeks will cost you $100; eight weeks, $175; 16, $250 —  but regardless of how long you want to stay, you have to be a member of the Yellowknife Farmers Market first: that’s a $15/year charge.

How to vend well

A number of previous vendors gave EDGEYK.com some tips on operating a successful stall:

Something everyone agreed on was branding. A homespun farmers market may not seem like the place to build a brand, but it’s something that vendors such as 24-year old Kyle Thomas, who runs With Bread, and YKFM marketing manager Colin Dempsey both agree is fundamental to success during, and after, the market.

“You have to make the most of your market experience. Get your brand out there. Also get a name that people can remember. We get about 300 people a week, which is a ton for a market our size,” says Dempsey.

“Cultivate your own consumer base. Don’t just rely on the Farmers Market for marketing your products, do it yourself as well. Start a Facebook page or an email list,” says Thomas.

There’s also agreement on how best to brand yourself, and it’s something that most vendors overlook, according to both Thomas and Dempsey. Signage.

“Clear signage, attractive signing, you can probably do the graphic work yourself, but get professional printing done,” says Dempsey. “Have a big sign so people can find and recognize you.”

“Good signage will help draw in customers that wouldn’t otherwise stop,” says Thomas.

Lorie Crawford, who runs raw food stall Zing!, suggests vendors should be prepared for any kind of weather conditions. “We love the sunny days, but always be ready for the windy days, the cold days, the rainy days, and the smoky days. Our patrons come rain or shine, so have weather-appropriate menu items,” she says.

She’s also one of the vendors who’s made good use of signage. “Patrons can find your booth easily, especially when people are sent to your booth by their friends.”

Find your niche

Amy Lam, vice president of the YKFM’s board of directors, suggests prospective vendors will have better luck if they’ve had a look through the market and seen their competition. “Think about what you can add to the market that is different.”

Here are some niches Lam suggested for prospective vendors:

Right now the market is lacking locally collected herbs, as well as locally harvested meats (except fish; they have two fish vendors already). Produce of all kinds “does very well,” so anyone looking to sell those is in luck as well.

Additionally, the morel craze expected to hit the NWT in the summer is more than welcome at the market.

Food Concession: They’ve already got Indian, Chinese, and Japanese vendors covered, so anyone looking to do street food should go further afield. “Ethnic food tends to do very well,” so bring on your Malaysian, Greek or any other kind of cuisine you can cook.

Processed Products: If you’re looking to bake, breads and pies are your best bet. “Bread tends to be very popular and sells out,” she says. “Surprisingly, no one sold homemade pies at the market in previous years!”

Otherwise, fermented products like pickles or sauerkraut, and drinks to help people cope with the heat are two niches to fill.

Crafts: Bring what you have. “We would love to see traditional arts and crafts at market.” You’ll have less competition than the other vendors as well.

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