Displaying prices: On a blackboard or on the produce?

Determining what price to put on your produce is certainly hard enough, but putting some price on your produce is itself an important aid to selling.

No matter how appealing your display, how luscious looking and tempting, by not displaying a price on it you are losing sales. There are shoppers who may like the looks of what you have, but out of habit will want to know what it is going to cost them before they commit to buying. Forcing shoppers to step over the psychological threshold of asking your price will discourage some of them.

There seems to be two schools of thought on how to display prices. One is to list everything you have for sale along with its price on a blackboard. The other is to place the price of each thing at the point of display. Both methods have good points, and on days when I have enough energy and time, I do both.

By watching and listening to customers, I have learned that some people want to see what you have for sale all listed in one place, and others ignore any written lists and just look for the goods.

On those days when customers anxiously wait to shop as I unload, setting up my written list allows them to mentally shop since they can see what I will be unloading. It gives them something to read and look forward to as I set up my display. This of course means I have to keep my blackboard up to date so it really matches what I have for sale.

Blackboards have the unfortunate habit of washing clean in the rain. You can combat this by using artists oil-based chalk, which only comes off with soap and water. They have brighter colors than ordinary colored chalk, too.

Some people write very small on their blackboards so customers have to be quite close to read it. When shopping, I have asked about a price that was right there on the board, but was in such cramped, busy style that I missed it.

Once each item is set out for display, I grab my basket of tags and clip a pre-made name-and-price tag to each item with a spring type wooden clothes pin. This extra step of putting up prices (and gathering them back into the basket at the end of market) is my preferred and primary method of displaying prices. Not only do I have too many items to list them all on the blackboard, but what I have can change from market to market, so the blackboard is reserved for those items I am pretty sure of having at every market.

The material I use for the tags has changed over time. The best ones were made of stiff plastic and were originally index card file dividers. They were impervious to the rain, but eventually became brittle from being in the sun after five years or so. I have also used the backs of discontinued business cards which are convenient, plentiful and cheap, and I use a red marker to make a border around the edge each card. But they do need re-writing at least once a season after being under the rain and watering can. I am still looking for the ideal material for my price tags.

Instead of blackboards some marketers use erasable whiteboards. These also wash clean in a rain, and I have only rarely seen one done artistically. They always look scrawled. Some blackboards I have seen, on the other hand, are works of art. However, whiteboards are not dusty the way blackboards tend to be.

Some folks, usually those new or otherwise unprepared for market, use pieces of paper held on with masking tape, or even just masking tape with the price written on it. It has always seemed to me that this practice has passed over that fine line between funky and junky. Likewise with prices written on a piece of brown corrugated cardboard. Unless you want your customers to expect distressed produce at distressed prices, that is. I am of the opinion that we should appear to the public as professionals rather than as refugees.

Presentable materials need not cost a lot. The best blackboards I use are made of Masonite painted with two coats of blackboard paint. Around the edges is a inch and a half wood border of a different color held on with drywall screws. This border also helps keep the chalk from being smeared inadvertently when handling.

I have also seen farmers who laminate computer printed color signs complete with pictures, held on with tacks or push pins. On these they use erasable markers to write prices. Generally 8½” x 11″, these are fun in the wind. Also, I shudder to think whose salad that lost push pin might have ended up in.

One Orono Farmers’ Market member would give Martha Stewart a run for her money with the signs she uses in her displays. Lacquered wood stakes with painted signs indicating “carrots” or “celery” help make her display perfectly adorable. I wouldn’t want to have a masking tape display next to her!

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.