A roadside stand is a good entry into direct-marketing your crops. In addition to earning extra income without a middleman taking a cut, it’s a good way to promote your farm and test what sells with consumers in your area.
Besides the bricks and mortar (or more likely wood and nails) of your stand, consider the “intangibles” necessary to pull off a successful farm stand that will keep customers coming back week after week. Smiles and a pleasant personality go a long way. “Your people are your most important asset,” says Kent Halla, owner of Sierra Vista Growers (and a fleet of Massey Ferguson tractors) in La Union, N.M.
Halla’s thriving nursery and organic food business started as a small operation that sold vegetables from his adjacent farm. “When you are knowledgeable, interested, engaged and you like what you do, that energy radiates to the customer,” he says.
With that in mind, here, then, are a few tips to help get your roadside stand up and running.
At the state and local levels, you’ll need to inquire about licenses, health permits, sales taxes, weight and measure requirements, and zoning and right-of-way regulations. Accident and product liability insurance may be required.
The best location for a roadside stand is on or near your farm, and, if possible, 15 minutes or less outside a populated area. Ideally, it will be situated on a straight thoroughfare (so the stand is visible from a distance) and where traffic is relatively slow moving (47 mph or less).
Outfitting and Operating
The stand itself can be a simple post-and-beam structure, a pole shed, a tent, a trailer, or a canopy covering a truck or hay rack; it just needs to protect you, the customers and the produce from weather. Face the stand north or south to avoid the withering effects of the morning and afternoon sun.
You’ll also need a moneybox or cash register, a scale, hand-held shopping baskets or bags, and some sort of display system for your produce—bins, boxes, baskets or tables. Clearly post prices, which can be set according to weight, count or volume. Use competitor prices as guidelines.
Hours of operation should be determined by traffic flow and what you have available to sell. Typically, the highest customer traffic will be on the weekends.
All that’s needed on a road sign is the farm name, distance to the stand, and perhaps a drawing of produce. For highest readability, letters on signs should be 1/5th as wide as they are high. Place road signs at least 1/4 mile from the stand in both directions.
The traditional advertising route is signs, flyers and newspaper ads. Free and effective forms of advertising include Internet forums and social media sites. Open a Twitter or Facebook account and keep followers up to date. Make sure to solicit followers to these sites in ads and on signs and flyers.
The best form of advertising, bar none, is word of mouth from satisfied customers. This will come in time as a result of your high-quality products, pleasant atmosphere, and that energy and enthusiasm you offer your customers.