Let’s get started with the basics. How to find your first farmer’s market.

You probably know about every farmer’s market within a 50 ­mile radius of your house. Just in case you don’t, there’s a database to look all of them up called LocalHarvest.org. But, your best resource is going to be other food truck owners already selling at farmer’s markets.

They know which ones you’ll do well at ­­ and hopefully they won’t convince you to do a market you won’t do well at! If you know a food producer (how could you not these days?), send them a quick email to ask the about markets. They’ll not only let you know about the ones they do, but they’ll probably connect you with the Market Manager, too.

How to find the best festivals

Wish every festival you sold your products at was this packed? Read on to discover how to find the best fairs and festivals.

I just returned from a festival in southern Vermont this past weekend. I got hosed. A whopping $230 in sales. Which really means I lost about $250 for the weekend after hotel, gas, and food were taken out of the equation.

So, what went wrong?

Simply put, vendors were misinformed. The event organizer expected 20,000 people. The actual attendance? Probably 5,000. And the worst part? They were sampling like crazy and not buying.

I brought 17 cases of product and sold less than 4.

Isn’t there a lesson learned for every experience? If you’re going to lose money you want to know before hand so you can save your hard-earned cash.

So what did I learn?

I was simply filling the calendar – not investigating whether this was going to be a good show for us or not. For example, we typically don’t do 4th of July parades, events with a small amount of vendors, and shows doing the first quarter of the year. But, those are our criteria (see tip #4 below).

For the bigger picture, I wanted to write down a  list of five things to do when you’re selecting a show – so you end up making some money – not losing it.

How to find the best fairs and festivals:

1. Ask other vendors

This is the best kept secret many food business don’t talk about – their best shows. While many keep their show schedule a secret, you can often find an entire year’s worth of shows on producer’s Facebook pages, and company websites. Or, if you meet them at a networking event or other fair, just ask. We’re all a big community willing to share information.

Bonus tip: Avoid simply copying another producer’s show schedule. Pick a handful of shows and see if they work for you. Then, add more in as cash becomes available.

2. Ask your customers

You want to go where your customers are, so why not ask them where they shop? What events do they attend? It’s likely they’ve been going for years and would have a good grasp on whether your product would be a good fit or not. Plus, you know you’ll have at least one sale!

3. Join festival newsletters

There are several festivals newsletters to make sure you’re on-top of your game getting applications in. A few good ones are FestivalNet and SunshineArtist. With shows listed across the country, there’s something for everyone.

4. Develop show criteria

There are thousands of shows to choose from. There are art festivals, music performances, food festivals, and parades (personally, not my favorite). How do you narrow them down? With a list of criteria. How many people attend? How far away is it? How many days is the event? Do I need to hire help? Answering these questions helps you decided what shows are the best fit for your company – which makes the decision process easier.

5. Keep your budget in mind

Remember, it’s not just the show fee you’re paying. You’ve got gas, hotel, labor (if you need to hire a team),  eating out, parking, etc. That adds up. A show with a $495 booth fee quickly becomes a $1,000 weekend. The more expensive the show, the more product you need to sell.

Often times in your first few years of selling, you’ll trying anything. There will be hits and misses. Finding the right shows takes time.

With these tips, you are now better equipped to make a decision about your next show being a cash cow or a total dud.

What criteria do you use to select your shows? Let me know by leaving a comment below.

Once you find your market, it’s time for research.

All markets aren’t equal. Here’s a list of what to look at when you’re identifying a market to apply to:

How many vendors are there?

Number of vendors is a sure sign of economic health for the farmer’s market. For example, I’ve done a farmer’s market with 10 vendors. We didn’t make a lot of money each weekend. Now, our only market is 92 vendors. It generates over $2 million a summer. Big markets have lots of vendors ­ at least 25. Of course, there are drawbacks when the market is huge.

Are there vendors with similar products to yours?

I’m a fan of competition because it makes you work harder to make a better product, sell harder, and build a loyal following. But, some markets don’t allow for direct competition (mainly the smaller ones). Look around the market. Are other vendors selling honey, cookies, or drinks? That may mean you don’t have great chance of getting in, but nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

Is the Market Manager present?

Some Market Managers run the market and don’t play an active role in growing the market ­­ more vendors, revenue, and diversity. I look for Market Managers constantly on the move, building relationships with vendors (regardless of seniority), and running the show like it’s their full­time job. This provides you with an opportunity to inquire about applying to be a day vendor or seasonal vendor for next year.

Who is walking around?

Demographics! I know you think only marketing majors care about demographics, but you should, too. Farmer’s Markets pop up in affluent towns, poor neighborhoods, and large urban parks, all bring a diverse population to the market each week. Use tools like ZipSkinny.com to discover household income, education, children, and more. Generally, you want one of two things ­­ an affluent area whose residents support the vendors and/or tourist heaven.

Would your products compliment the market?

Does another vendor sell something your product would go great with? For example, our mustards are perfect for any grilled item. Several times throughout the market, we’ll partner up to do some cross­ selling. What’s this mean for you? If the committee who selects vendors notices your product goes with other vendor’s products, you’re likely going to get in more easily than someone with competing products.

Are Vendors Friendly?

With 92 vendors at the Burlington Farmer’s Market, I don’t know everyone, but we’re all like family. Everyone is approachable and willing to bend over backwards to help. Talk with a couple vendors, ask some questions, and make a friend. Friendly, happy vendors = a successful farmer’s market.

What’s the weather like? (Seriously)

You probably think this is a stupid question, but our farmer’s market runs 25 weeks out of the year ­ and it can be cold, windy, and rainy at the beginning and end of the market. If you’re in a coastal town, it can be worse. Take your area’s weather into account when evaluating which farmer’s market to apply to first.

These questions are important to ask because you need to spend your time at markets that make you money. If you’ve found a couple worth checking out ­­ I’d limit yourself to 4 a week (it’s a lot more tiring than you may think), then it’s time to apply.