A recent challenge to the Lexington Farmers Market has been pressure to admit more farmers who are diversifying from tobacco. The market gained the physical ability to do so by the addition of another block of city sidewalk to the popular Saturday market. Vendors were concerned about the effect these new farmers would have on their profitability.
Employing methods for reaching more possible customers and bringing them every week to the market became vital. The purpose of our research was to determine what promotional activities worked. We built much of our new activities around fun and educational events at the market to increase present customer attendance and draw in new customers from previously untapped populations. Events also gave news value to the market day and partnerships with the local media could be built on providing news events.
The Lexington Farmers’ Market hired an Events Coordinator to help the vendors who had previously arranged events. And even though space is a premium at the Saturday market, the membership voted to reserve a space with a tent and a table at the market for events and community groups. Monthly chef demonstrations were scheduled as well as regular visits from community groups, such as the Fayette County Master Gardeners. Open dates were filled with everything from a book sale to benefit a literacy organization by a popular local bookstore to a trail development group to health awareness organizations. A group of local citizens interested in establishing a permanent indoor market in the downtown area who call themselves the Friends of the Farmers’ Market also used the space to sell items to promote their organization.
Due to a change in local ordinance, street musicians and artists were allowed to work the crowds on Lexington sidewalks. It wasn’t long until they came to the farmers’ market on Saturday. Since space was a premium, the market only asked that they setup where they wouldn’t be in the way of vendors or customers. The musicians and a balloon man were a huge success.
The coordinator also conducted a customer survey to determine their perception of the events and the market in general. Over 230 surveys were completed and compiled. The surveys were conducted during two Saturday market days. Under the direction of the events coordinator, surveys were administered by local college students who asked the prescribed questions and recorded the answers. The students were instructed to stop the survey if the customer indicated that this trip was their first to the market in the first question as the survey was designed to gather information from customers who had come over time.
Over 15 percent of those approached were visiting the market for the first time. Sixty-five percent reported coming to the market on a regular basis. People reported music and entertainment to be one of their favorite events. The street musicians worked for tips from the crowd. They were highly interactive and personable or they quickly failed at generating income. Therefore, less successful musicians tended to weed themselves out. Data were not gathered on musicians.
Customers overwhelming reported that they do not come to the market for a specific event. We concluded that events add to the market but they do not make a successful market. People came to the market for the produce. The most successful event was the local chef preparing food from locally grown produce. We concluded that a market is made or broken on the quality of its produce.