Just like a kitchen is the heart of a home, people are the heart and soul of a mobile farmers’ market. From happy customers, eager community partners, and passionate volunteers, to your hard-working staff. It’s the people who are the drivers of your success.
Managing relationships well is key to making your mobile farmers’ market sustainable. And if you can do that you’ll be able to serve your community for years to come.
Before shifting to selling and providing support to other mobile markets we had a couple of our own. We understand the struggles that most mobile markets have. And we know the hard work that goes into running a successful mobile farmers’ market.
In this article, we’ll share with you our pro tips for managing your mobile market’s team and partners. We’re just as passionate about food access as you are, so let’s jump right in.
Why Good Time Management Is Your Best Friend
It’s no secret that overwhelming your team with too many tasks or unclear expectations will increase turnover. Given that the cost of replacing an employee is around six to nine months’ salary1 – is it worth the high turnover rate?
Then, there are the administrative costs associated with the hiring process as well. (I’ve got a headache already.)
You know that managing a mobile farmers’ market is tough. So, being conscious of the time and effort that goes into managing is important to keep the team that you worked so hard to build.
Finding someone with the right skills to operate a mobile market can be a challenge. Plus it takes time away from you to get other tasks done. But with a small team and tight budget, managing your time appropriately should be at the top of your to-do list.
There are so many things to accomplish on a daily basis when running a mobile market. From ordering food; product storage; minimizing waste; managing your team & parking locations; and vehicle maintenance. It feels like it never ends.
Then there’s finding and maintaining partners, sponsorships, marking prices, and cleaning. It all adds up. So when planning your stops, be aware of all of the little (and big) things you need to do, on top of selling produce.
But if you have an awesome team supporting you along the way, you’ll stand a much better chance of having a sustainable mobile market. You don’t need to do all of the things by yourself. Your team is there to help you achieve your mission and your goals – so use them wisely.
Finding Your Manager Extraordinaire
Time management is important for retention because it helps create a great working environment. This combined with competitive pay and perks, like time off, can help you find and keep the perfect team.
A successful mobile farmers’ market is clean and organized. So finding a manager that’s organized and connects well with others can help keep a small team on task. Your manager should be able to set realistic expectations that your team will be able to handle.
And any good manager makes volunteers and partners feel like an invaluable part of your mobile market. Remember, as hilarious as Steve Carell is in the TV show “The Office”, nobody wants to work for a Michael Scott in real life.
With the number of tasks it takes to operate your market we suggest looking for someone that enjoys doing administration work. Sharing your organization’s passion for improving food security should go without saying.
Passionate Volunteers Will Keep Your Mobile Market Sustainable
If you work in non-profits you’re likely no stranger to volunteer management.2 Volunteers are a great compliment to paid staff and can lend a helping hand in so many ways.
People love helping out for a good cause. So creating a fun environment where people feel valued in giving back to their community can make volunteer retention a lot easier.
Breaking down possible volunteer roles into smaller tasks can help set expectations and make sure you have the right people for the job. Use your volunteers to do a wide variety of tasks.
After all, they’re there because they believe in your mission and they want to help in any way they can. They can do anything from prepping food, packing, cleaning, setting up, restocking, and providing food tastings.
Maintaining regular volunteer training, and keeping backup volunteers means you’ll have the people and the skills needed for a smooth operation.
Make sure you share the positive impacts that your mobile market is having on the community. And don’t forget to highlight specific individuals so that they’ll be excited to volunteer for you again and again.
Just think: would you be able to run a sustainable mobile farmers’ market without your dedicated volunteers? The answer is most likely no.
Give People a Sense of Purpose With the Proper Training and Clear Expectations
Providing your staff and volunteers with the proper training should top priority. Start with the basics and build their skills and knowledge from there.
Keeping roles for volunteers clear and simple helps keep people coming back. This will ensure that your mobile market can be a sustainable and smart way to help increase food access.
Because, when there’s a lack of training and tasks aren’t well defined, it’s hard for people to identify how their presence is helping the cause.
But, if tasks are well laid out, and volunteers can check boxes, it’s much easier to measure success. This is especially true for market prep and behind-the-scenes setup.
On market days, be clear about how you want your team to communicate with customers. Buying produce from a mobile market is likely a new experience for most customers. Having a well-trained team ready to greet customers creates a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere.
Finding the Perfect Partners
Partnerships can help you solve the challenges that are common with running a mobile market. Finding partners within your community will help your mobile farmers’ market remain sustainable.
For example, local businesses and organizations can help you diversify your market stops and improve your community outreach and impact.
You can reach out to religious groups, health centers, and your local Head Start. This is how the Colorado non-profit GoFarm reaches so many people with their mobile market.
At The Farmers’ Truck, we would hold market events at local business locations to increase our reach and our bottom line. They supported their employees’ healthy habits, while we were able to offset the cost of produce when serving lower-income neighborhoods.
How Commercial Partnerships Can Help
Another great strategy is to find an established grocery store to partner with. They can help you by giving you access to better bulk deals.
And, instead of being stuck with a whole box of beets when you know you only need half, they can take what you don’t need and sell it in-store. This kind of partnership can also help keep you stocked on the staples all year-round.
Commercial refrigeration isn’t cheap and can be hard to find if you’re looking to lease. But you might be surprised to find that many grocery stores will have extra space for your goods. They can also help you with the more complicated part of your operation – sourcing products.
Besides, meeting minimum ordering quantities can be a challenge for most mobile markets. Having a variety of fresh produce is important. But ordering more than you can sell is like throwing money down the drain and it creates more waste.
Speaking of waste, finding a partner to help eliminate your food waste will boost your impact and allow you to support the broader food movement even more.
Food waste is a significant problem these days.3 And a community partner with a kitchen can help you cook, prepare, and preserve food.
For example, you can make soups, dips, and sauces to sell at your mobile market. And here’s a bonus tip for you: make your mobile market more convenient and competitive by pre-cutting veggies and charging a little more. We’d love to hear if you’ve tried this in your mobile market.
People Power: Setting Your Mobile Farmers’ Market up for Success
As far as operating costs go, the number one expense is product purchases, followed by salaries. But if you measure closely and control these two key indicators you’ll be setting yourself up for success.
Solid time management, finding your dream team, and awesome community partners are essential to operating a sustainable mobile farmers’ market. Find a grocery store partner and mix your team with paid and volunteer staff.
If you’re struggling to make your mobile farmers’ market operations sustainable we’d love to help you out.
We’ve worked with a lot of mobile market operators, and we understand that it really does take a village and a lot of hard work. But with the right tools, know-how, and support we know you’ll succeed.
Contact us to learn about our programs and services aimed at helping you train your staff and developing a sound mobile market model to suit your community’s needs.