Design your stand for your shoppers

Physical barriers can be psychological barriers, too.

The way you build your display space has an impact on how shoppers feel about it and about shopping with you. Some markets impose limitations on the amount of space a member may use, while other markets allow members to use whatever space they can fill. In either case, the way you use your space to display your products is entirely up to you.

Most of the critiques and suggestions which follow are primarily applicable to vegetable and fruit displays which seasonally grow and shrink and are ever changing throughout the season. I recognize that other stands of non-seasonal type products often benefit from compactness and simplicity of design. In any case consider what’s being presented here to see if you might be able to improve the “shopper-friendliness” of your stand.

Quite frequently I see the same pattern repeated in how folks set up their market stands. First they put up their tent, then they build a display counter that they will stand behind, and then a wing on either side which is also under the tent.  This creates a U-shaped stand with the opening of the U facing outward toward the passing shoppers and provides a fairly small area in the center for shoppers to stand.

What is wrong with this U-shaped stand? Although it can be attractive way to display your items and it presents a safe and recognizable format, several difficulties arise when shoppers try to use it.

One problem is that it’s hard to accommodate more than one shopper at a time. As soon as someone is standing within the U, perhaps with a partner or child or in a wheelchair, there is very little room for anyone else to enter without it feeling crowded. This means that shoppers will continue to walk on by when they see that your stand is already “occupied.” Maybe they’ll return and maybe they won’t.

Another problem is that the display sides of the U are facing each other, not the passing shoppers. That means the best view is available only to someone who has already entered the U, someone who has already committed to further investigation of your stand. This effect can, however, be lessened somewhat by turning your individual produce displays outward toward the passing shoppers.

If you are standing behind a “counter” created by the bottom of the U, you have generated a barrier between you and the shopper. Perhaps you think of yourself as the shopkeeper on the “inside” and everyone else is on the “other side” of your counter. And this is reflected in how shoppers see you. You have also created a well-defined “inside” to your stand, so that it requires a commitment for a shopper to enter in order to view your wares.

When a shopper ask a question about your produce, you have to talk to them from where you are standing behind your counter or else walk around your stand to get within speaking distance and to perhaps handle and demonstrate your produce.

As the season progresses and you have more products than will easily fit into your U shape, you either have to alter your design or cram things together in crowded looking displays, perhaps displaying some items very high and others very low.

Is there a better way to design your stand? There are at least two ways to improve your stand design. The simplest way is to add a kiosk in front of your tent that includes items that don’t have to be under cover. This gives your stand a “two-piece” effect and works well as long as your kiosk doesn’t obstruct passing foot traffic. Kiosks can also have tilted displays that show off your produce and can include your farm sign. Best of all, they can be seen from a distance by shoppers who aren’t even near your stand.

However, a far better way to design your stand is to think of your tent as only one small piece of your display, and, if your market allows this, start taking up one and a half or two regular spaces. Make your displays wide with almost everything tilted to face passing shoppers. Use your tent only to protect those items that need protecting: beet greens and lettuce on a sunny day, garlic and onions on a rainy day. Walk away from your stand and approach it as a shopper would, then ask yourself: Are your products plainly visible or do you only see the sides of your display containers?  Shrink and consolidate your display area as items begin to sell out during the day. Eliminate entirely the “counter” you stand behind, you don’t need it. Create a two or three kiosks near your scale for shoppers to put down their purchases so they can continue their shopping at your stand with both hands free. Place bags in multiple locations near your produce so that at most a shopper only has to make a step or two to reach your bags. Orient your scale so that you only have to turn sideways to use it rather than having to turn your back on your customers. Leave your cash box at home; put your bills and change in your pockets or in a nailing apron. (See handling your money at market.) This allows you to make a sale anywhere in your stand for items that don’t need weighing, and you no longer need to stand behind your counter to guard your cash box.

There are many variations on the “open format” and the U-shaped “box format” for setting up market stands. The important thing is to consider how the type of display stand you are setting up affects passing shoppers and therefore how it affects your sales. Observe how others are setting up their stands and experiment with new types of setups. It is never wise to cram all volumes or all product types into one size or one shape of stand when they won’t really fit. Variation in how stands are set up in a market is a good thing, but poorly thought out and inefficient stands are hindrances to sales, regardless of actual quality and price of your products.

About Tom Roberts

When I started attending the Brewer Farmers’ Market back in August of 1983, my sole concern was being able to sell the produce my farm was growing at a good price. After attending market for a year or two, I began to realize that how the market was organized had a great impact on my sales. And how the market was organized also influenced how it made decisions about dues, new members, what could be sold at market, and how it promoted itself—and this, too, had an impact on my sales. So I got involved in the market’s steering committee and began to understand how various market members thought the market should operate. Some wanted a market czar, some wanted everyone to be allowed to do their own thing. But everyone seemed to agree that if the market as a whole did well, then so did they.