Farmers markets are mushrooming nationwide, in the tiniest hamlets, large cities and everywhere in between. And shoppers are patronizing them in droves. Before venturing into this fascinating business, gather these stock-in-trade tools, items and equipment.

Find The Right Vehicle

First, calculate how big a car, van or truck will be needed to fit the major space robbers: merchandise, a canopy tent, and tables and signs. Many cars are big enough to haul light compact items like jewelry and trinkets. Flowers, produce and baked goods are bulkier and/or heavy, and may require a minivan, SUV, pickup, panel or even straight truck.

Tent and tables can be lashed to a roof- or trunktop rack–think Thule. Never overload the vehicle: check the weight limit usually located on a sticker on the driver’s door. Think twice before pulling a trailer: some markets have tight quarters and clearances.

Find A Solid Canopy, Gazebo or Shelter Tent

Permanent vending pavilions with roofs are a luxury dedicated farmers marketeers can’t always rely on. Plan to sell under a tent. Don’t skimp here. If it’s so lightweight a child can easily lift it, don’t buy it. A strong blast of wind will destroy a cheap tent in seconds. Look for a one-person-setup popup model with a 10′ L x 10′ W footprint and a 6.5′ H (minimum) opening, with strong tubular metal legs. Vents in the canopy fabric’s peak are a great feature: they help dissipate summer heat and gale-force winds.

Sidewall curtains are an optional two-edge sword: they shield sunlight and prevent wind and driving rain from damaging merchandise, but they can turn the entire tent into an airborne missile in high wind conditions. Expect to pay at least $200 for a durable shelter.

Display Tables for Farmers Markets

Basic folding steel leg plastic top market tables, available at home improvement stores, are 4′ to 8′ long x 30″ W and about 30″ H. Most come in straight and space-saving fold-in-half versions. Smaller card tables are an option when merchandise weight is not an issue.

Quick-setup tables are convenient, but inexpensive models can collapse under a load of watermelons or several pecks of peaches. They’re real cargo space hogs, and often don’t fit neatly in trunk or hatchback.

A strong, compact, versatile DIY alternative: make a 10′ L x 3′ W take-apart table from a 4′ x 8′ sheet of 1/2″ plywood. Layout and cut the panel in this pattern: four 4′ x 3′ main sections; and two 1′ x 3 end pieces. assemble all six sections on 2 x 2s or 2 x 4s horizontally spanning three saw-horses, which can be pricey and somewhat bulky foldups or cheap compact homemade units using 2x4s and metal brackets with teeth that bite into crosspieces. This table’s many small components can be stuffed in a vehicle’s nooks and crannies.

Must-Have Farmers Market Tools, Supplies and Odds and Ends

Outdoor markets are as unpredictable as the weather and the people who patronize them. Prepare for the unexpected. Never leave home without:

Signs

–for products and prices. These can be simple or ornate, large or small, hanging or standup. Hint: protect, seal or laminate them or they’ll be ruined the first time it rains.

Tent stakes and/or weights

–stake tents that are set up on grass using strong ropes connected to dog tie-up screws, not drive-in stakes that may fail on a windy day. Tents resting on pavement sometimes can be secured to adjacent vehicles, buildings and poles, but they usually require hold-down dead weights, such as water-filled vessels, hunks of steel or cinder blocks. Some venues have strict rules on securing tents, so check with the market master.

Tools

–a basic tool set (hammer, screwdriver, pliers, wire cutter, scissors, wrench, box cutter, etc.); a tarp large enough to cover merchandise in a downpour, along with dry towels, a fresh change of clothes and alternate apparel when the weather suddenly turns ugly; a roll of duct tape; at least a a dozen assorted spring loaded metal clips and clothes pins to hang and secure items as needed; extra rope; a foldup chair; umbrella; lunch and drinks

Miscellaneous Items

–a cash box and a starting “bank” of at least $75 in ones and fives, and rolls of coins; table cloths; rubber bands; necessary licenses, permits and proof of insurance to satisfy any inspector, who will show up at the most inconvenient times; at least one hundred shopping bags, paper or plastic; a dozen assorted bungee cords; trash receptacle; counterfeit bill detector pen; business cards, pamphlets and brochures; and a portable wireless credit card point-of-sale scanner at markets where cash isn’t king.

The Most Important (and Priceless) Thing To Bring To a Farmers or Flea Market

A great attitude! Unlike many “ordinary” retail venues, open air markets are real people places, where banter, kidding, joking and repartee are part of the experience. Customers want to be schmoozed, cajoled, informed and treated to a respectful “Lady! Lady! Look what I got!” sales spiel. Vendors who work hard to engage customers thrive. Those who take an over-relaxed attitude may not do so well.

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