Why leaving attracts customers

I am sure you have noticed. And I am sure you have commented to others in your market. In our market it is a commonplace understanding among those who have attended any length of time. The phenomenon in question is this: No matter how long a lull in customers you have endured, as soon as you start to pick up your display to go home, at least one customer, and more likely several, will immediately show up, asking for whatever it was you just put away. There are endless exaggerated variations to this, such as what they want will be what you put in first and is hardest to get at; that after seeing it, they will not really want it after all, or they will think your price is too high, and so on.

Although there may be some truth to some of these variations on the central theme that “starting to pack up attracts customers”, it is the core phenomenon that I wish to address here. I have heard several theories put forward, some casual and some serious. Some members feel that perhaps customers are waiting just out of our sight for us to reach such a deep level of discouragement in selling our wares that we will give up and start to go home. At this moment, the shoppers-in-waiting will spring into action expecting to get the best possible deals. I do not believe most shoppers plan their purchases with such precision, nor do I feel this would result in the best prices anyway.

Some members believe that Murphy’s Law governs most of what happens in their lives and the phenomenon in question is just one more example of this. I don’t believe this is a helpful view of things. Still others speculate that casual passers-by get hooked by a Now-Or-Never need to stop when they see you breaking camp.

After watching customer flow for eight years at market, I have developed a theory which I believe will explain, completely and scientifically, this phenomenon. My reasoning comes in two parts to fully understand it, so bear with me. First, as all traffic planners know, the movement of people left unregulated will not reach an even flow, but rather develop an ebb and flow, or a “pulse effect.” When things are busy at the market, this is represented in lines at your stand getting variously longer and shorter. When business is slower, the effect can be seen as customers coming in pulses; after a lull, several cars will pull up at once and you’ll be flooded with customers for a few minutes, soon to again be followed by a quiet spell. This is probably familiar to everyone-who’s attended a market, or has even watched an intersection. The second part of my explanation requires applying this knowledge of the “pulse effect” to a sleepy afternoon when you have partly sold out and are debating whether to go home. Soon two cars pull in to buy; before they leave, another pulls in. After ten minutes, they are all gone, and you are left wondering again when to go home. What finally makes up your mind is sitting there awhile with nothing happening (while you think of all you could be doing back at the farm.) So you begin to pack up, when lo and behold, your very actions seem to attract another round of customers! Now you see what really has happened is that you used the pause between “pulses of customers” to make up your mind, and inadvertently timed your picking up just as another pulse was due to begin!

The solution, of course is to decide during one of the lulls that IMMEDIATELY AFTER the next pulse, you will begin to pull up stakes, and not wait out the lull!

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.