Start your baking business at the farmers market. By Mary Rosewood
‘Even people who don’t stop at the booth tell the observant Trish something about what to sell.’ “I watch their eyes”.
The Crust and Crumb is a popular bakery and lunch spot in Livingston, Montana. It began as a small home-baking business at the local farmers market.
Trish Kirk, co-owner with her husband of the bakery, initially helped her young daughter sell homemade cookies through a program sponsored by the farmers market to help young people learn about selling to the public.
With her love of baking, Trish set up her own table at the market. Soon she was selling at three farmers markets in the area, filling special orders, and catering desserts. As demand grew for her baked products, Trish built a commercial kitchen separate from her home kitchen and began selling wholesale to local restaurants and grocery stores to increase her sales when farmers markets were closed for the season. One year ago, Trish and her husband opened the bakery.
But Trish still shows up at the farmers markets, which she said are “a natural extension of our business. I’ve got people already helping, and if I don’t sell something, I can sell it at the store, so that makes it a little less risky.”
This is Trish’s fourteenth year at the Livingston farmers market, a place where she has learned many lessons about selling her cakes and pies to the public.
Basically, she learned “just by watching people.”
Trish explained: “I’d put a whole bunch of stuff out, and if nobody even looked at this one particular item, I wouldn’t sell it any more. So it wasn’t necessarily people coming up and saying ‘I would like you to make this,’ it was just watching their responses to things. They might say, ‘Wow, my grandma used to make that,’ and that’s just wonderful, but they might not buy it. So I was reading their responses rather than just what they asked for.”
Even people who don’t stop at the booth tell the observant Trish something about what to sell. “I watch their eyes. I’m watching what they look at, and where their eyes stop,” she said. “I read their responses while they’re walking by. They might be responding to something they aren’t buying today, but if they give a positive response, even if they don’t buy it, I can learn from that.”
Trish figured out how to price things by asking people what would be the most they’d pay for the item they were purchasing. “Sometimes it is also how people respond,” Trish added. “If they say ‘How much is this?’ and they buy it, then that’s a fair price to them. But if they say ‘How much is this?’ and they don’t buy it, and they’re obviously interested in buying it, then I know it’s too much.”
Trish also keeps meticulous records of what happens on each market day to avoid taking home leftovers.
“I write down what the weather was like and what is sold every week, and then the following year it’s very similar. I’ll sell a similar product that I did the year before on that same day. Keeping track really helps because it’s amazing how everybody wants the same product, the same flavor, next year on the same day. One week everybody wants peach pie, and the next week, nobody wants peach pie, and I have to know which week that is.”
But despite careful calculations, leftovers happen. Her top advice to someone new at the market: “Don’t bake anything that your husband doesn’t like, because you’re going to bring stuff home and he’s going to eat it.”
Trish believes the farmers market is a good place to start a baking business, to see what customer demand is for a product. “You can go on social media, you can do wholesale, or whatever, but unless you’re actually meeting people, you don’t get as good a feel for what people want to buy.”
Mary Rosewood began her career as a journalist in London. When she moved to Montana, she became fascinated by farmers markets and now writes magazine and newspaper articles about the people who work at these markets and the things they sell.