Sunday, May 30, 2010

Surviving Market Day

Well, we survived our first Farmer's Market, and as you might expect, it was truly a learning experience, complicated, of course, by the fact that A had rehearsal that night at 6:00, and the market ended at 6:00, which meant that R would have to leave early and breaking down the site was up to me and N. Then again, nothing that two real-men (one real-man in training) can't handle.

There were points right beforehand where I was beginning to feel a little stressed, mainly that we weren't going to sell anything, or that people would think our dumplings were no good. While both of these were possibilities, they were unrealized ones, and a good example of how fear of unknown things that haven't happened yet can stop people from ever trying things or taking a chance.

Sure, we were heading into uncharted territory, the idea of which terrified me, but there are a few things to keep in mind. First off, we were together as a family, so that makes a huge difference. Second, the worst that could happen is that we'd learn some big lessons and adapt for the next time around. I believe we have 10 market and by extension, 9 chances to rectify our mistakes. And finally, we still have our day jobs, for now.

We had procured our tent and chafing dishes the day before, so on market day, we were about 95% ready to go. We still needed to get oil for cooking and apple cider (our brilliant last minute/local retail addition), which would entail a trip to the COOP beforehand. Also, we needed more dumpling wrappers, which we would need to order. We needed braces for the tent, and the market people did not want us to use stakes, so I had the Vermonty idea of using pieces of firewood to hold down our tent. How's that for marketing?

The market opened at 3:00, but we were told to get there as early as 1:30. We were shooting for this time, so we could heat the water for the chafing dishes, then get the oil hot and ready. This meant that I would have to leave the house around 12:00, which by extension meant that I would have to start loading the car by late morning. For the record, we could not have done it without that Explorer.

Loading the car was a bit tricky, because there is so much stuff, but the key seemed to be packing the tent first and then placing everything else around it. It would've probably been easier if I was solo, but not nearly as fun. A brought along her guitar because she had rehearsal right afterward and it gave her something to do at the market. I managed to get things in, and like R said, it was like packing for a long camping trip, tent and all. One of the key things was to get ice ASAP to keep the dumpling frozen. R would get ahold of some dry ice and meet us at the Green.

I didn't have time to make the kids lunch, so when we arrived at the COOP to get the cider, we sat down for sushi, and even tried something new. The kids were growing weary of the same rolls, so we went for the eel and the salmon, which they both loved. We may get even crazier next time, but one step at a time. After lunch, we piled into the car and headed to Hanover. I had butterflies in my stomach.

The day was beautiful, perfect for a market, and when we got there, we were on the early side. I think one or two other vendors were there setting up. Being the new kids on the block, I felt a bit wary of being too assertive or overstepping my boundaries, so I kept it low key and tried not to step on anyone's toes. The biggest issues seem to be over space, which I have a hard time keeping mind of.

It took about ten minutes to set up, with the biggest thing being getting that darn tent up. It was our first time, though I'd helped set up tents for other events, and like most things in life, it isn't rocket science. The kids helped out and did a stand-up job. The tent is a key moment. Once it goes up, your market space is no longer an abstract concept and comes to life. Then you begin creating it. A&N pitched in and suggested where things should go. We had so much stuff, and didn't what went where, so we just dumped it onto the ground and worried about it later. Unfortunately, later comes sooner than you think.

Everyone else had the drill down, there tents were up and in running condition within minutes, while we were scrambling to find our footing. Because the clock was ticking, we had to get it together, and fast. We needed hot water and oil, which meant firing up the stove. We worried that the wind would compromise out stove, and sure enough, that came to fruition. Because of this, our water and oil heated up much more slowly, and had adverse consequences, but more on this later.

R showed up a bit late with the dry ice, but that wasn't a huge problem. The market starts officially at 3:00, which worked in our favor, because whenever someone walked by and wanted some dumplings, we had to turn the away, rather than tell them we not only had no clue what were doing, but we no product for sale. As 3:00 neared, however, things were getting a little tense. Because the heating was inefficient, after cooking, it took a few minutes for the oil to re-heat, and when you're in the thick of a market, those lost minutes can kill you.

Also, our stand has a lot of light, moving pieces, so a big wind will hit us hard. Things to consider in the future. By the time the market was in full swing, we were only at about 60% capacity. On a bright note, people were buying the dumplings, but we couldn't cook them fast enough, and the end product was not our ideal dumpling. This all stemmed from the fact that the stove wasn't getting hot enough, and we didn't have the luxury of taking our time to cook them because we were losing customers who realized what a bunch of losers we were. As a general rule of thumb, when you are not ready at that moment to serve your customer, they are gone. Some may come back, but for the most part, you've lost your chance.

We scrambled and learned a lot. There were at times lines of people who either liked our message (local, eco-friendly, Grateful Dead) or liked the dumplings, or both, so it was a good start. We ran out of certain things (sauce), were unprepared for certain situations (to-go bags), and believe it or not, sold out of certain items. The cider was a bit of a bust, but we figured what we didn't sell, we could drink, because we are big cider fans, as long as it's not filled with garbage like pesticides and preservatives, which is how our cider (Champlain Orchards) is. It's local, as well.

One major thing we really screwed up on was planning food and water for the workers, meaning us. We were thirsty the whole time and plowed through all of our water and started in on the cider, since nobody else was drinking it. Next time, we'll also pick up food for ourselves, like a big fat juicy killer Boloco burrito. Live and learn.

By the time 5:30 rolled around, we were winding down, and R&A had to go, leaving the men (one real-man in training) to hold down the fort. All we had left were apple, and I started to just give them away, which may have been a mistake, but it was late, and we were tired and on our own. Besides, it was only about 10 dumplings... I think.

The drag of working a market is that when you break everything down and head home, the work is not over. We had to clean out all the pots and equipment, and because it was covered in grease, I did it outside in the driveway, which made me fodder for the mosquitoes, which were out in full force. We were exhausted and could have waited until morning, but that meant putting off the inevitable suffering, and it was better to do it then and there. It reminded me of parenting, no matter how exhausted you are or how badly you want to whine, you just have to deal with it, because it's there.

Oh, and of course, I had to pick up A from her rehearsal at 8:30. The fun never stops.

So we learned a lot, and will take that knowledge into the next market, I hope. You either learn the hard lessons or perish by them. I think next time we'll be better prepared, but are sure to make more mistakes along the way. The next markets will be easier as the show and t-ball come to a close in the next week or two.

Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to roberto tostes for the pic.

No comments: