Got something to sell? Catt White, co-founder of the San Diego Public Market, might be able to help.
First, give me the scoop on the San Diego market scene.
The number of farmers’ markets in San Diego has increased exponentially in the last few years with increased consumer interest in food choices and shopping local. A resurgence in family farming has helped that expansion, and it probably hasn’t hurt that the economy has pushed people out of the job market and into entrepreneurship. There are currently almost 60 weekly markets operating in the county, each with their own personality. Some have just a handful of vendors; the largest, like the Little Italy Mercato on Saturdays, host 150 booths each week.
What’s your role?
My company, San Diego Weekly Markets, develops and manages farmers’ markets, often in partnership with local business improvement districts. We handle the paperwork, permitting, farmer and vendor selection and screening, scheduling vendors and musicians, on-site logistics and marketing. It’s a full time job for a whole team of people to make those markets look so easy and inviting.
I’m also a co-founder of the San Diego Public Market, where we currently host almost 60 farmers and vendors each day at two weekly farmers’ markets on Wednesday and Sunday mornings [in Barrio Logan], as the first phase of a larger plan.
What kind of job opportunities are available through the markets?
Our market management group employs administrative staff, event managers, writers, marketing staff and advertising salespeople, social media, and graphic design talent, and maintenance staff. The farmers and vendors look for outgoing, motivated retail staff. Generally, that job description also includes the ability to lift and erect a pop up tent and create an attractive display.
Tell me more about the kind of vendors you’re looking for.
Producers and sellers of grocery items are always in highest demand. Right now we’re specifically on the hunt for more great fishmongers and granola makers, a producer of high quality charcuterie, people offering healthy grains, flours and spices, pickles, fruit butters, vinegars and jams, and a yogurt vendor. Someone making great handcrafted yogurt would be in like Flynn.
And what’s the process for getting a booth in one of the farmers’ markets?
Farmers and vendors have to meet a wide range of criteria from regulatory agencies. This is California, after all. Permits and requirements vary depending on what you’re selling. At San Diego Weekly Markets, we actually teach a Vendor 101 class every month to get potential vendors up to speed on what’s required, how to make it through the application process, and how to be successful once you’re accepted.
There is an abundance of people in San Diego selling baked goods and jewelry, so it may take a while to get into a market with those items. Long established markets stay full, and the vendors that start a market tend to stay put as it grows and develops a customer base, so it may be years before markets have an opening in a busy category. The easiest way to get started, then, is to pick a new market with potential and grow with it.
Having a really different product that’s in high demand helps, too. The aforementioned yogurt maker could be in business at markets within a week or two once they have their permit requirement ducks in a row.
I’m hearing rumors about the potential for the San Diego Public Market to become permanent. What’s the scoop?
Like Pike Place Market in Seattle, Redding Terminal in Pennsylvania and La Boqueria in Barcelona, the San Diego Public Market will be a hub for local farmers, micro businesses, shoppers and visitors. The weekly markets there now on Wednesdays and Sundays will continue, and permanent full-time shop spaces will be added next year. It’s a big, exciting project that my partner Dale Steele and I, and a whole lot of other folks (thank you, Kickstarters!) believe will be a huge asset for all of San Diego.
Are the process and criteria different for getting a permanent booth there?
We’re getting ready to release a Request for Proposal for those spaces. The criteria and process are somewhat similar; we’re looking for locally produced, high quality food. We’ll have a small amount of non-food space. In the case of the permanent shop spaces farmers and vendors will need to have the ability to create their space and to provide staffing and inventory 6 days a week, from 9 am to 7 pm. So it’s a somewhat larger commitment and vendors will generally have more fully developed businesses. Some of our tent-market vendors will be expanding their businesses that way, and some local chefs, restaurateurs, cheese makers, winemakers and more will be developing niche dining locations there.
Any particular challenges that first-time potential vendors might not be aware of?
Starting a business at a farmers’ market is generally less expensive than starting a brick and mortar location, and the marketing costs are far lower since we deliver shoppers to your door, er, tent. But there are still equipment, inventory and staffing costs involved, as with any new business. Permitting can be confusing. (See Vendor 101, above.) And it’s a lot of work schlepping tents and product to a market every week, or in most folks’ case, to several markets a week. But the rewards are great too.
Do you have any words of wisdom for newbies, either during the application process or once they’ve secured a booth?
In terms of the application process, remember that vendors at busy markets often started there when those markets were new and evolving. It takes good management and committed vendors to grow a great market.
At the market, realize that this is a relationship business. People shop at farmers’ markets because they want to know who they’re buying from, and how and where things are produced. If you don’t enjoy talking with people, this is not the environment for you. If you do, it’s a terrific way to follow your dream and make a good living.