Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Our own market stall

Our own market stall

We have got own market stall. Although we have done a couple of days on a market before, and although I have worked a few hours at a time on a stall for someone else for a few months, and even though we have joined in the local country market held in the church hall in the past, this feels like a big deal.

A couple of 1 off craft market days and 3 hours per week on a small, low key country market, is one thing but the step up to a full market stall each Tuesday seems to be a much bigger proposition. Every thing is now down to us, and a 10ft stall to fill and look professional enough, even though it's a bit early in the year for us is posing problems not previously thought of.

For a start, we don't have many things to sell yet. We are selling home made crafts, home grown fruit and veg, some grown or made by us, some crafts by other similar people, but exactly what we are selling is a loose idea at present and it will evolve. All we know is that we have to try and sell something to do with our lifestyle and something we can keep going.

Week 1
We started by offering some cards and gift tags made by a local artist, some home made cloth zipped bags made from recycled clothes, a decorate your own bag kit on the craft side, some bags of Chard, Spinach, Rocket, Lettuce and Kale of the leaf fresh veg side, with some Globe Artichokes and also some vegetable plants in large pots, such as Tomatoes, Courgette, Cape Gooseberry and Celery.  Also eggs from the garden chickens. The idea is not to compete directly with anyone so the veg side was the Chard and Spinach that you can't buy anywhere else and the potted plants are in large pots so that all the hard work is done for people. Many people like the idea of growing their own food but don't want or don't have the time to do it. The tomatoes for example have canes in and are already tied to the cane by a piece of cloth. Perfect to place in a sunny location, perhaps by the back door. This also made good use of about 50 large pots that I had been given. The eggs are priced at the higher end so not to compete with the very cheap eggs around which allows people to buy into the idea that garden raised chickens are better, not mass produced etc.

The first week saw about 7 or 8 customers and sold 14 items. Something from each section.

I made a decision to listen to what anyone said so that when some one asked if I had a Cucumber plant for example I wrote it down and said I'd bring one next week. People always seem to ask you for things that you haven't got :) Four people asked about Cucumbers, several about Runner beans, one regarding Leeks and I got the general feeling that people liked the idea of growing veg in large pots.

The next most common question that people asked was "are you here next week, or every week?" - it became clear that what people really get annoyed about is turning up on another week to get something only to find the stall isn't there. I see it all the time, the forecast is for rain so one or two stalls don't turn up because they know it'll be a very slow day. People seemed to be impressed when I said that we'd be here come rain or shine every week. One lady commented that she parks, walks past the market on the way to the newsagents and it'd be handy to pick up some eggs once in a while. If I wasn't there, or was unreliable, she'd have to take a different route that she knew would have eggs on that odd occasion. People like that aren't price sensitive, they want convenience. The second week would prove this point.

I also picked up on 2 other points that appeared important. A lot of people either commented directly or I over heard them commenting as they walked past, that they were impressed with the look of the plants. The other point was that a few people will spend a while looking through the water colour painted cards, although they weren't buying. They would quite happily spend 3 or 4 minutes flicking through them without buying. Perhaps there wasn't enough choice. We rectified this for week 2. The point about the plants looking good reminded me that Outside many shops you get shelving of loads of flowers or veg in small pots. There are so many that they don't sell quick enough which leads to the plants becoming too big for the pots, they dry out too quickly and then look shabby. I even saw this outside Tesco the other day. The more you look you'll see that these plants start to look poor. I realised that there is no point just bringing any old plant with a few bad leaves in the hope of selling it. That just leads to us looking like everyone else. Only display the perfect plants. A plant with a slug nibbled leaf can be left at home until it grows more good leaves. Keeping up the quality seems obvious.

Week 2
We contacted another local artist that we new who had many different designs of water colour painted cards, all were pictures of the local area. Landscapes, buildings and cartoons based upon the area. More choice and more people stopped to look through them. We also sold some. It was clear that when people recognised things in the pictures, such as a local landmark they were far more excited.

I had learnt that no one was interested in Globe Artichokes, they are too niche, too different. They have been dropped. No point trying to sell something just because you have them - they take up room that could be better used. Apart from that we stayed consistent - same produce, but added the Cucumbers, Runner beans and Leeks.

Even though the forecast was for rain and I knew the market would be much quieter and had expect to sell less, the opposite happened. The Runner beans in modules sold, the Leeks in modules sold, as did the Cucumber in a large pot as well as the two large pots of Runner beans growing up the canes. All the plants were bigger, with an extra weeks growth. Not only were there more customers, some were repeat customers from the previous week and the number of items sold was up to 30. Money taken was also doubled. And this was on a bad weather day.

There were several customers who clearly wanted veg in large pots but didn't know how they could get them home, but because we pass their houses on our daily routine it made sense to offer them a free delivery service in the Dutch Cargo Bicycle.

I even saw the example of convenience buying when someone parked nearby and was on the way to a shop, uninterested in the market, but caught site of the eggs and quickly bought some.

Speaking with a couple of other traders they made the point that as long as you keep turning up your business will grow. Markets are well down on their hay day so when a new stall arrives local people talk about it.Word spreads rapidly and people will seek you out.

So far so good
It's obviously very early days but selling the fresh items like Chard that people simply can't buy anywhere else and providing a grow your own veg in large containers service looks like a nice little niche market and I can see that as the plants get bigger and the tomato plants get tomatoes on them then they will attract a higher price and sell even better.

A nice surprise
I have often been told, when I worked on a fruit and veg stall, that Celery doesn't sell, not enough people want it. I took down 10 pots of Celery and sold 8. Again you can't buy young celery plants anywhere that I have seen, but clearly there is a market for them.

We're feeling very positive and all the hours spent in the garden growing our own food is now starting to earn money. We even have a plan that when the plants stop selling they will still be in the garden producing fruit and veg, which can be harvested and sold as fresh veg. 


  1. Sounds impressive, well done!

  2. Is the stall seasonal or all year round? Winter is going to be a challenge I guess - maybe homemade conserves and evergreen herbs? You could also see fruit bushes - currants, gooseberries, blackberries and raspberries are so easy you just put a stick in a pot and wait a few months.

  3. Yes, all year round. I will try it for a whole year before deciding if it is worth it or not. Give it a proper go.

    Ditto everything you suggest.

    I have a fruit garden, which will have to be moved this winter to make room for an house extension, or more correctly the garden / lawn / patio directly next to it and I will take as many cuttings from the bushes (black, redcurrants, gooseberry and raspberry) as I possibly can just in case the main plants don't transfer to new site. Out of the cuttings I took last Autumn as a test, only 1 failed, and that started to root then died when I took it from poly tunnel to outside. Some of the cuttings even fruited.

    The Tuesday market has an auction stall which attracts a lot of people so we are hoping we can also sell hot soup.

  4. Really interesting to read your experience as I'd always wondered what it would be like to have a stall like this. And I love the fact you have a cargo bike!

    1. Hi Matt,

      I had worked a bit on a market stall selling fruit and veg and in a little shed outside a garden centre selling fruit and veg. Both for other people and very different compared to doing it yourself.

      When I am on my own stall there is no stress and it doesn't feel like work. I am the boss and I can talk freely about the products. When selling for someone else there is always pressure.

      The cargo bike is another nice little touch. Everyone around town has seen my wife in it, transporting kids etc, and it has helped sell a few plants in big pots and also keeps in with the idea of using as little fuel as possible for food miles.