Observations from a Farmers Market…

I understand that as a micro business owner, about 25 to 30 percent of my time needs to be spent marketing and selling my services. I am beginning to suspect that in a business which develops repeat customers, sometimes I can do more than I realize, just by showing up on a schedule.

Saturday morning at 4:00AM, the roads south of Charlottesville were deserted and dark. My destination was the weekly City Market at the corner of First and Water Street in downtown Charlottesville.

By the time I arrived at 4:30, rain was gusting and the prospects for selling craft work was getting dimmer by the minute. A few exhibitors waited for the police and tow trucks to clear the parking lot.

The rain slackened by the time the last car was towed at 5:30AM. A wave of exhibitor vehicles swept into the lot and a frenzy of setup activity began. The rain turned to mist by 7:00 AM when the first customers marched purposefully onto the lot with their umbrellas.

Citymktrain2For about twenty minutes the weather held off and then the rain came pouring down again. Exhibitors scrambled to put tarps over their displays. Some exhibitors put up side panels for their tents while others who were not so well-equipped took refuge in their vehicles or stood morosely under umbrellas.

This is primarily a produce market and the same people come to buy food every week rain or shine. Craft sales are more weather dependent, because most of the sales are impulse sales. Good weather encourages people to browse among the displays once they have purchased their produce. A rainy day discourages browsing and depresses sales.

The rain came and went for the next hour and we conferred with our neighbors on whether to wait it out or to call it a day. The general consensus was that if the weather did not clear by 9:30, we might as well pack it in and call it a day.

By 9;00AM, the rain stopped although the skies remained threatening. Buyers appeared in greater numbers and the craft exhibitors put out their wares again. Traffic got heavier as the hours went by and was nearly normal by noontime, when the market closed.

I had more requests for new design quotes than usual, even though impulse sales were down. I also had four existing customers drop by to discuss work in progress. This would have justified my being there even if I had generated no new business. I also noted that several new people asked if I would be there next week.

That’s when it occurred to me that appearing at the same place week after week creates a feeling of stability in the minds of prospective customers. That may account for the fact that orders for custom work have increased every week, even though impulse sales and book sales vary widely.

The bottom line appears to be that showing up regularly has a beneficial effect on long-term business, even if immediate sales are affected by bad weather. Somehow, I hadn’t expected that.

Has anyone else run into a similar phenomena?

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