Catt Fields White describes herself as a serial entrepreneur. “I know how to do a lot of things and so it’s hard for me to come up with a straight arrow kind of career path,” she said. Instead, White, 60, has chosen a path that revolves around food, including work as a food critic, marketing consultant and a one-time restaurateur.
Now as the founder and CEO of San Diego Markets and its subdivision InTents Business (get it, in-tents), White manages and oversees a large portion of the nearly 60 farmers markets that go up in San Diego, Calif. every week. As a CEO, White wears many hats that include dealing with the government and city agencies that regulate farmers markets and street vendors, farmers markets report to seven regulatory agencies, “more than your active nuclear reactor biz,” White said.
She also analyzes neighborhoods and communicates with business improvement districts, develops maps, collects booth rent from vendors and, on occasion, she has even stepped in to haul barricades to block off traffic when the markets are understaffed.
But at the heart of her business model, White is a marketing maven. And while to some it may seem that all a person needs to do to set up a farmers market is put up a tent, design a pretty sign and start selling, White insists that there is far more work involved. Having a great product is only half the battle and successfully marketing that product can help turn a simple stand into a profitable business.
So, how do you successfully market a product? White said marketing is more than just talking up your product and that people who want to promote a product effectively should consider everything — from who their customer is to the shape and proportions of their company’s profile picture on social media. Following these six marketing tips can take your company’s strategy to the next level.
Know how you’re going to approach your business.
I took a real attitude from the beginning that people who were at farmers markets, whether it was small farmers, or people selling jam or the person running the market needed to run those businesses for a profit. So, if it looks like somebody’s struggling we try to help them break down what’s it costing you to produce this [or] could you buy this packaging in a different way so that it’s less expensive so you have more profit margin, and could you change your display up so you can sell more. So I think I approach it as a little bit more entrepreneurial than maybe some people that start farmers markets.
The customer is always right, make sure you know which one you’re selling to.
The way you sell directly to the end-user is somewhat different than the way you would sell to a wholesaler. It’s about getting to know your customer and telling them the whole story of what you’re selling and realizing that customers who are buying direct from the producers do it for a whole bunch of reasons other than just getting the best price. What motivates sales [in farmers markets] is that people more and more want to know where everything they buy is coming from. Because of Food Inc. and all the education that’s actually just gotten out in the last five to 10 years on how badly food can be produced, there’s a lot more consumers now that are more interested in knowing where their food comes from. There’s also, I think all over the country, there is this sense that the economy is out of control and that we don’t have a lot of power in terms of deciding how the big money’s spent. So I think there’s a desire and a need to reclaim our local economies so I think there’s a lot of consciousness now around buying from people that you know and keeping the money in your neighborhood.
Be clear in your visuals.
A lot of people come up with catchy names or logos that are just lovely and artistic and give the shopper absolutely no hint to what it is that you’re selling. So that’s important, be clear. A really simple tip on logos nowadays is to keep the height and width ratio even because so much marketing now is done via social media channels and they all have square profiles. So whether it’s round or hexagonal or square you want to make sure that it’s as high as it is wide so it fits neatly in those little profile boxes.
Don’t get too clever when naming your product.
People aren’t going to talk about your product or business if they think that they may mispronounce it and be judged as somebody not smart enough to pronounce it right. I actually did a coffee bar in Phoenix, Arizona before Starbucks was ubiquitous and we posted the phonetic pronunciation of cappuccino over the bar because otherwise nobody would order one because they’d be embarrassed about not knowing how to pronounce it. So one thing with business names and product names is if you get too clever and people don’t know how to pronounce your name, they’re not going to talk about you because they don’t want to be embarrassed by mispronouncing it.
You don’t have to love your neighbors, but you should work with them.
What we suggest people do on social media is get to know your neighbors and work with them. So if you’ve got great ripe tomatoes in the market and [and someone else is] selling infused sea salts, you two want to work together. Those tomato samples are going to be better with the salt on them and your salts are going to play really bold if you’ve got them on a ripe heirloom tomato. We’ve put bread and jam together on the markets and we encourage them to use each other’s products for sampling.
Never stop changing.
I’m sort of constitutionally incapable of doing the same thing forever. It’s kind of amazing that I’ve been doing this for nine years. The reason I am is that we really keep changing. As a company, we keep looking at the ways we can change up the markets to make them more relevant to the community that they’re in, so adding an art night one night a month at some of our evening markets where we bring in local artists instead of just food preparers or connecting with nutrition oriented people that can come in and do classes and show people how to cook.