Retail anthropology for markets

Many years ago, a researcher named William (Holly) Whyte started studying the flow of people in public spaces, leading to the classic books on the subject, The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces (1980) and City: Rediscovering the Center (1988) -which is one of my perennial favorites- just to name a few.

His Street Life Project attracted research assistants including Fred Kent who went on to found  Projects for Public Spaces, which does great work all over the world on public space community design and has an experienced staff which works with shed market or market district markets in need of design assistance in particular.

-Another early follower of Whyte’s work was Paco Underhill. In 1974 he attended what he calls a “transformative” lecture on Whyte at Columbia University. Inspired, Underhill conducted a street-mall study that he later showed to Fred Kent and Robert Cook, who were in the process of forming Project for Public Spaces (PPS). Underhill became one of PPS’s first staff members and in 1979 founded his own company Envirosell which works with retail clients.

This series of posts will center on the retail part of PPS’ and Envirosell’s work as markets need for this research is clearly looming large based on these trends:

Shopper purchasing is changing, especially for place-based and especially for food purchases. Knowing your shoppers and what they want and how they search for it is at the core of market’s primary mission of building economic power for its vendors and community.

More markets are searching for permanent or semi-permanent locations for their flagship markets and need to know how to choose the best from a retail standpoint and how to design it too.

The pressures from chain stores eagerly co-opting the “local” and short-chain language of our movement means markets need to know how to analyze what is happening around them and how to respond.

Lastly, as market vendors diversify into more outlets to sell their items, they will need market leaders who can assist them in selecting those outlets and even in negotiating or “curating” those other transactions as they do with the family table shopper at our markets now.

Studying their work is the easiest way into the retail anthropology sector as it is so closely aligned with Whyte’s “human-centered” framework.

From an interview with Underhill:

How do you conduct your research?
We generally use a combination of three tools. The first is observation. We have a group of approximately 60 people who spend their weekends in stores, watching how people shop. They function like anthropological researchers. We use the same techniques that sociologists might use at the marketplace in Papua, New Guinea, only we’re using it at the local Pick ‘n Pay. Our job is to look at, for example, the number of people who walk past a store in a shopping mall—the number of people who look, how long they look, whether they stop, and whether they enter. We then take a customer as they’re walking in the door and, very discreetly, observe them go through their shopping process.

Do you videotape them?
Yes. The second tool is that we will often install a series of small video cameras. We shoot anywhere from 50 to 70 hours of some of the most profoundly boring tape you’ve ever seen. But what we look at is the following: If someone pulls an item off the shelf, how do they physically handle it? What pieces of the package are being read? Do they put it back in the right place? The third tool we use is some form of interview. We ask a bit of demographic information—“How often do you shop?”—but we’re not collecting phone numbers. Our focus is on tribal issues. I’m not interested in what Mrs. Smith does. I’m focused on what Mrs. Smith does in contrast to what Mrs. Gomez does.

Observation and interview. Sounds a lot like how research is conducted at markets doesn’t it?

Here is a great example of how markets can use the second tool, video. The Athens Farmers Market in Athens Ohio affixed an iPhone to a pole overlooking the market on one fine Saturday morning:

Notice all of the data one can get from this one short video. Set up issues, weather, shopper density, egress issues (entering and exiting), the illustration of the 100% effect*,  shopper activity at anchor vendor tables, the length of time in the market, and market break down among others.

This is also helpful for those markets searching for a new location. If you can find a pole to tape an old iPod or iPhone far up and video the hours that the market would be set up there, think of what you might learn about the best way to design the space or even which direction to orient the market.

This is the kind of sensible and appropriate data collection that we want to include in Farmers Market Metrics, now available to all farmers markets members of Farmer Market Coalition for a small subscription fee to use all of its many features.

So don’t think that every data collection process has to include a team of collectors and a bunch of paper. By using the technology you have in your hand, detailed and visual data is available for your leadership to make better decisions about the market right now.

A quote from Whyte’s found on PPS’ site: “Up to seven people per foot of walkway a minute is a nice bustle”

* Holly Whyte term took this real-estate term used for the busiest street corner to describe how people move to the busiest area of the walkway when having an impromptu meet up chat or when deciding where to walk: “We were testing hypotheses on-camera, most of which blew up in my face. One of my hypotheses was when people meet on the street and say, “Hi, how are you doing?” “Long time no see,” and that sort of thing, they would move into that foot of space along a building front. Quite the opposite. With very good exceptions they move into the center of traffic, what I call the 100% location. It’s crowded, but it’s also the place of maximum choice. They don’t get off in a corner somewhere; they don’t let themselves get trapped.”

 

Next post: Common layout choices for markets.

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Mythbusting farmers markets

Myth 1: Markets (and by relationship all of community food) is only concerned with cozying up to the converted.

Myth 2: Markets encourage high prices for their items.

Myth 3: Markets are all the same.

But the largest myth about the farmers market movement spread by its detractors is that it is just about selling trendy food. Yet if selling food when trending had been the only aim then availability would artificially be kept limited, possibly even sold only by special invitation only or through bidding.

Instead, the farmers market movement has remained devoted to multi-faceted goals of building community involvement through remaining casually inviting, locally relevant, expanding the offerings and those accessing them each and every decade. The history of our movement makes that clear. And debunks all of those myths.

(•The history of the eras I am referring to has been written up by me many times before, and so not to annoy my long-time readers, I have put it to the bottom of this post.)

 

In the most recent era unfolding now, networks and cities interest in their markets has grown and deepened. Leaders are more comfortable with engaging with their farmers markets in terms of collecting and using data around wealth creation and creative output. Cities such as Pittsburgh PA, Austin TX, Minneapolis MN and Hernando MS, among others, are leading the way in partnering with their markets as both a platform for establishing grassroots metrics and for expanding awareness of the ecological perils of relying only on imports.

The last 45+ years show the intentionality and versatility of the market field and skewers the myths of any single origin. It also shows the effort to reach beyond food to include other assets and assorted civic leaders interested in building a new town square. And that market leaders are firm in the choice that design of the market should remain nimble by keeping most open-air or with easily-managed and low-cost infrastructure. That last point often frustrates city leaders or funders. That begets another myth, one where the market is not a serious mechanism for economic activity because of many markets’ use of secondary space, temporary structures and a refusal to go into storefront mode. The truth we need to share is that for grassroots initiatives expending time and money on infrastructure can solve some problems, but can also create others. So it is up to markets to find ways to show their serious intention to stick around without always resorting to brick and mortar. And when they do, to plan carefully and to allow for changes and other users of the same space.

Of course, there are other myths that need to be addressed in food system work. Scaling up, uniformity, efficiency are some others.

I’ll leave it to our dean of place, Wendell Berry, to take on some of those through a passage from his recent essay, “The Thoughts of Limits in a Prodigal Age” where he talks about capacity, scale, and form in agrarianism. He says: “It is a formidable paradox that in order to achieve the sort of limitless we have begun to call ‘sustainability’… strict limits must be observed. Enduring structures of household and family life, or the life of a community or the life of a country, cannot be formed except within limits. We must not outdistance local knowledge and affection, or the capacities of local persons to pay attention to the details only by which we can do good to one another. Within limits, we can think of rightness of scale. When the scale is right, we can imagine completeness of form.”

That triptych of capacity, scale and form has appeared on this blog before and will again because it so perfectly describes both the problem and the solution. It also encapsulates why the dominant paradigm cannot “see” us or work in tandem with us. It also beautifully describes the localness of organizing that markets know well. Those limits are exactly how our market founders staked a necessary place in their community and now can manage the outcomes of their projects or mission with respect to that place. So remember: Don’t hide the hard work your organization has done that is embedded in the decisions of location, products, procedures, and the goals of your market.  It’ll help bust some of those myths.

 

 

 

(history of market eras)

  • 1970s-1980s: Back-to-land farmers and ecological advocates begin markets. Their organizing principle is “Grow it to sell it” -a provocative statement at the time by the way- asking for a steady commitment up front from both the growers and the buyers to act honorably and collectively. These markets opened in places (interestingly, in a lot of university towns ) such as Madison WI, Carrboro NC, Athens OH, Berkeley CA, Montpelier VT.

    1990s: Community leaders, aware of those first growers-only markets, begin to open markets as holders of civic space adding a “learn together”/social cohesion motif to the grow it to sell it mandate. Places including San Francisco, Seattle, New Orleans, Portland, Cleveland, District of Columbia were the recipient of this round of foundings. Interestingly, many of these leaders also became the founders of larger networks, including Farmers Market Coalition.

    1990s-2000s: Main Street markets in smaller towns and in rural communities add markets to their revival initiatives in towns like Ocean Springs MS, Natchitoches LA, and Durham NC. These markets encouraged value-added items and new non-farm vendors, focusing on incubating new businesses and supporting nearby Main Street initiatives.

    2000s: As technology advanced to allow at-risk populations to access markets with their EBT card, public health strategies became useful and the field of practioners and agencies in that field began to partner with and sponsor new markets to expand good food by getting markets in new places and adding public health incentives. One network that must be commended is Kaiser-Permanente’s markets on their own hospital campuses and markets such as Crossroads Farmers Market in Takoma Park MD.

    2000s: Deeply embedded, longtime organizers add food initiatives to their portfolio of activities, utilizing the community assets of residents and responding to their requests for markets. Markets in and around central Brooklyn NY like Brooklyn Rescue Mission, East New York Farm and the ReFresh and Sankofa Markets in New Orleans learn from earlier markets using the market mechanism to offer residents the opportunity to be both the buyers and the vendors.

Posters! Posters!! POSTERS!!!

(title with apologies to Jack Barry  and Snoop Dogg of The Joker’s Wild)

 

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Get those posters ready – FMC has teamed up with Farm Aid to host the 2018 National Farmers Market Poster Contest, April 15th – May 15th! Now in its 4th year, the annual contest celebrates the creativity and diversity of America’s farmers markets by showcasing their posters on a national level.

For contest rules, requirements and FAQs, visit: http://bit.ly/FMCPC

To enter, visit: bit.ly/Enter_PosterContest2018

Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP) Applicant Webinars

Agricultural Marketing Service header

Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP) Applicant Webinars

On March 7, 2018, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) announced the availability of $27 million in grants to strengthen market opportunities for local and regional food producers and businesses through the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program. Read updated information about these grants and register for upcoming webinars to learn more about them.

AMS will host two webinars to help farmers, producer groups and other potential applicants to understand the program requirements.

The Grants.gov webinar on Tuesday, March 27, 2018, at 2 p.m. (ET), will cover how to register in Dun & Bradstreet, track a submitted application, find funding opportunities and apply for those opportunities. The FMLFPP webinar on Wednesday, March 28, 2018, at 2 p.m. (ET), will provide an overview of the program objectives, eligibility and basic information about the application process. Register today:

Grants.gov Webinar


FMLFPP Webinar

Additional information is available on the AMS website:
https://www.ams.usda.gov/services/grants

March 19: St. Joseph’s Day Altars

Below is a link to a post I wrote a few years back about the lovely New Orleans tradition of creating altars on March 19th, St. Joseph, his feast day. This happens in New Orleans because of the large number of Sicilian immigrants that came to New Orleans starting in the 19th century; it was the second largest influx of Sicilian immigration in the 19th century behind New York City.  In Sicily, thanks are given to San Giuseppe for preventing a famine in Sicily during the Middle Ages.

Food is obviously central to life here, but the idea of these altars has always seemed so special to me as it uses food to create homemade art and to feed people as the altars are broken down afterward and given out. Many of the altar societies also offer a meal on the day as well.

2015 post

Farmers markets could drive more overall F&V purchases

  • A study* from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service shows that consumers who buy fruits and vegetables from farmers’ markets spend more than $10 on average per week than consumers who buy fruits and vegetables from supermarkets — $28.36 and $16.53, respectively, according to The Packer.
  • The study also shows that consumers who shop at DTC outlets do not spend less at supermarkets overall, indicating that DTC outlets do not pose a significant threat to grocery retailers.
  • Although DTCs represent less than 0.5 percent of U.S. Agriculture sales, according to the report, consumers who visit DTC’s more frequently could lead to higher levels of fruit and vegetable spending across all outlets as they become exposed to more offerings.

The study’s takeaway? Encouraging consumers to shop at farmers’ markets and similar outlets more often could boost overall spending on fruits and vegetables.

*Stewart, H., & Dong, D. (2018). The Relationship Between Patronizing Direct-to-Consumer Outlets and a Household’s Demand for Fruits and Vegetables.

 

 

Indicators (sick of them yet?)

With the announcement of the 2018 FMPP/LFPP RFA this week – tucked into the Specialty Crop Block Grant announcement- I wanted to alert you to this 2017 post below about the indicators that are included in the proposal.

There is also a shorter version on FMC’s website.  Here is the link to it. )

Congratulations to everyone who got their FMPP/LFPP grants in by the deadline yesterday. I talked or emailed with a few of you throughout that process and was impressed by the well-crafted strategies that I read and heard about.

As you can imagine, a lot of the calls I was on focused on the new prescribed indicators (performance/outcome measures) that were included with the RFP for the first time. Those were the same for FMPP as for LFPP projects and were:


 OUTCOME 1: TO INCREASE CONSUMPTION OF AND ACCESS TO LOCALLY AND REGIONALLY PRODUCED AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTS.

Indicators 1. Of the [insert total number of] consumers, farm and ranch operations, or wholesale buyers reached, a. The number that gained knowledge on how to buy or sell local/regional food OR aggregate, store, produce, and/or distribute local/regional food b. The number that reported an intention to buy or sell local/regional food OR aggregate, store, produce, and/or distribute local/regional food c. The number that reported buying, selling, consuming more or supporting the consumption of local/regional food that they aggregate, store, produce, and/or distribute

2. Of the [insert total number of] individuals (culinary professionals, institutional kitchens, entrepreneurs such as kitchen incubators/shared-use kitchens, etc.) reached, a. The number that gained knowledge on how to access, produce, prepare, and/or preserve locally and regionally produced agricultural products b. The number that reported an intention to access, produce, prepare, and/or preserve locally and regionally produced agricultural products c. The number that reported supplementing their diets with locally and regionally produced agricultural products that they produced, prepared, preserved, and/or obtained

OUTCOME 2: INCREASE SALES AND CUSTOMERS OF LOCAL AND REGIONAL AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTS.

Indicator 1. Sales increased from $________ to $_________ and by ______ percent ( n final – n initial/n initial (100) =% change), as result of marketing and/or promotion activities during the project performance period. 14 | Page 2. Customer counts increased from [insert total number of] to [insert total number of] customers and by _____percent ( n final – n initial/n initial (100) =% change) during the project performance period.

OUTCOME 3: DEVELOP NEW MARKET OPPORTUNITIES FOR FARM AND RANCH OPERATIONS SERVING LOCAL MARKETS.

Indicators 1. Number of new and/or existing delivery systems/access points of those reached that expanded and/or improved offerings of: a. ______farmers markets. b. ______roadside stands. c. ______community supported agriculture programs. d. ______agritourism activities. e. ______other direct producer-to-consumer market opportunities. f. ______local and regional Food Business Enterprises that process, aggregate, distribute, or store locally and regionally produced agricultural products. 2. Number of local and regional farmers and ranchers, processors, aggregators, and/or distributors that reported: a. an increase in revenue expressed in dollars: _____ b. a gained knowledge about new market opportunities through technical assistance and education programs: ______

3. Number of: a. new rural/urban careers created (Difference between “jobs” and “careers”: jobs are net gain of paid employment; new businesses created or adopted can indicate new careers): _______ b. jobs maintained/created:_______ c. new beginning farmers who went into local/regional food production: _____ d. socially disadvantaged famers who went into local/regional food production: ______ e. business plans developed:____

OUTCOME 4: IMPROVE THE FOOD SAFETY OF LOCALLY AND REGIONALLY PRODUCED AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTS.

Indicator(s) – Only applicable to projects focused on food safety. 1. Number of individuals who learned about prevention, detection, control, and intervention through food safety practices:_____ 2. Number of those individuals who reported increasing their food safety skills and knowledge:______ 3. Number of growers or producers who obtained on-farm food safety certifications (such as Good Agricultural Practices or Good Handling Practices): _____

The applicant is also required to develop at least one project-specific outcome(s) and indicator(s) in the Project Narrative and must explain how data will be collected to report on each applicable outcome and indicator.



These confounded many,  while others knew exactly how to use these to define their grant’s outcomes. I hope that  USDA calls in some of those who do a bang up job in setting and achieving their numbers to talk with the newbies in future years.

Because of the previous work on the trans•act tools (which include the SEED tool) while at Market Umbrella, and the more recent and engrossing Farmers Market Metrics (FMM) work I have been doing with FMC and their partners these last few years, I have become very familiar with this language and these indicators.  Most are included in the metrics chosen by FMC to be collected starting in 2016 with FMM through their own projects and through offering support to networks that area ready to embed evaluation systems in their projects.

Since I spent some time working with various project leaders on this, I thought I’d give my two cents here as to how I’d approach these if I was the lead.In this post, I’m going to talk about my general theory of data at the grassroots level and the first two outcomes; I’ll tackle #3 and #4 and unique indicators in upcoming posts.

Some may disagree with my assessment of how to handle these indicators which to me is actually a good thing since by tackling this in varying ways,  we are likely to hit on the best  methods of establishing these baseline numbers and for collecting the data.

The first thing that confounded some proposal writers is how every indicator could be met by the varied projects: of course, they cannot and are not expected to. Since some projects are focused only on increasing sales at a market and not on increasing the number of outlets, some indicators are more relevant than others and should be used in more detail. Remember, these indicators are for both FMPP and LFPP projects which covers a wide spectrum and so are meant to support the general outcomes for all. It is my opinion that the unique indicators asked for at the end are likely to be the most useful for reviewers to read closely in order to match to the narrative or budget. I’d expect though that those proposals that could not reasonably answer a majority of the indicators with numbers will suffer in that reviewing process, as did USDA it seems, as they recommended in their webinar that everyone explain those that they couldn’t answer. Or if possible, add a piece to their project to address that indicator. And I think you can assume that USDA was being firm in saying that this pot of money should result in changes of these kinds, so if your project cannot reasonably do any of them, maybe look elsewhere for support.

I think the best way to really make these outcomes accurate is for the project lead to write them with the vision of using them as a banner to fly throughout the term of the project for the team to hit, surpass or to discuss why they cannot be met and what that means. And that the numbers should be slightly lofty-it is better to extend the reach at the outset and urge the team to do their best work to reach or even surpass it. However, don’t just throw some outrageous numbers in there or you will be telling the reviewers and your team that you have no intention of achieving them. So even though I used the word lofty, there is something in being efficient with your project through establishing very precise numbers too.

Here is some real-world experience on setting numbers: in one of my past careers, I was a staff director for a field canvass operation in Ohio and sent out a team of organizers Monday through Friday to seek support for the advocacy work we did on pocketbook and environmental issues that directly affected Ohioans (things like utility rates and knowing what toxins were stored in your neighborhood). My staff was made up of entry-level organizers trained over a few weeks to knock on doors to gather signatures, funds, and letters from those who agreed with our strategy. One of the first things field managers were taught to do at the end of each evening was to check the data that the canvasser marked on the back of their clipboard to see how many actual doors were knocked on, how many people they actually talked to, how many signatures they got, how many of those that signed offered funds or a letter (sometimes a letter is harder to collect!) and so on. As a field manager and as a director, I used to pore over those to try to note patterns and efficiency. Well, surprise surprise; success did not always mean more doors were reached. As a matter of fact, the most successful canvassers were extremely efficient and usually talked to many fewer people (50% fewer than those who had a dispiriting night as a rule) and those they did talk to gave their signature, funds and other assistance at a higher rate. So I realized that higher efficiency in organizing was related to great communication techniques, planning and attitude and so focused my training on those rather than the number of contacts approached.

The other main point to share is that every staff person had to meet a quota (hated that word then and still do) and some nights some or all of them did not meet it. When the canvassers did not meet it, my field managers were trained to ask one question (in varying ways): “At what point did you realize you wouldn’t make it?” We asked that because we knew that it was the point when the canvasser mentally gave up and usually began to talk at people, rather than connecting directly. Or that they had bias or assumptions against a certain group or type of person and that affected their night.

This little story is to say that with market projects, the same thing is probably true: Efficiency is a good plan for our tiny organizations in order to conserve ours and our vendors’ energy for the long haul and to be there for another day. And that how well we plan and how we address our assumptions about those we hope to reach has a lot to do with setting numbers and meeting or achieving them.

Okay let’s look at the first two outcomes now:

Outcome 1: Increase consumption and access.

The indicators that are clustered with this outcome are related, meaning that once you have established the  (a) the number of buyers and or producers that gained knowledge, you can then estimate the number (b) of those that then report an intention and then finally, the number (c) that reported actually buying, selling, aggregating etc. The second part of this outcome is related to those professionals like chefs or incubator-users who, if the project is expecting to reach that audience, then they are also going to be measured for knowledge, intention and actual activity.

I think this one was written out particularly well done as it takes a project step by step through the process of establishing their reach. This should have been relatively easy for most projects, as knowing how many people you plan on reaching is sort of 101 for FMPP or any USDA grant!

USDA’s suggestion was to write them out in a mathematical formula writing a beginning number, then the number you want to hit and then calculating the percentage of increase. It may be helpful to do that in 2 columns and consider both the direct and indirect ways that your project will reach people. Certainly, if you are doing training or workshops you can estimate your attendance, but how about those who just read about your training or workshop and track down the info that way? How about through the media that your project uses to gain attendees? Is it reasonable to think that others will hear about the market or outlet and begin to attend because of it? And never forget the vendors and including them into any project outcome, even if it is a straight up new shopper project; the vendors also can learn about the marketing and use it in their own sales reach if it is shared properly.  And of course, how about the project partners and their reach?

Once you set the number who will gain knowledge (and I think that your project should plan that just about everyone that gets your materials or attends your workshop will gain knowledge) you then think about who will change their behavior because of it. I wonder if I had a group of market managers and a group of vendors in one room and asked them to gauge that if 1,000 people are reached through materials or training, how many they think will actually intend to use it, and then how many will actually use that knowledge to buy, sell aggregate etc what differences we’d see. Because that estimate can vary, based on the perspective and experience of those setting the number.

My feeling would be that the vendors would assume that more people will intend to come but would think that less will actually buy. I say that because they deal with everyone directly and know painfully well how many pass by their table without eye contact or a deep perusal of what is for sale. So they know firsthand how getting people to actually do something is hard. I’d say that managers would be more likely to think more people will be reached but that less would report an intention to come to a market, but that once they are there, that a higher percentage will purchase. My assumption may be entirely wrong and maybe someday I can test it and readjust it. The most important thing is to test your project assumptions by asking everyone for numbers and adjusting them accordingly to their bias and experience and according to your plan.

I also think percentages without numbers can be difficult to be realistic about, so I often suggest that people start on the wrong end: if the project is for increasing shoppers to a single market, how many more shoppers could that market actually handle per week? 100? 200? 1000? Think about the vendors and your space and your Welcome Booth and visualize adding that number every week. Would it overwhelm the market? Do you have enough parking or access to transportation to make it happen? How many added shoppers per hour would that mean to your anchor vendors? Is that worth it?

Remember that the average shopper in most markets spends between 10-30 dollars so using those numbers above, the market would add another $1000 -$30,000 week in sales. Pretty cool huh? Or if you hope to add another market day: Maybe your Saturday market has 45 vendors on average, you might estimate that since your new market is smaller and has less parking, that you hope 25 or so can use this new outlet. In both cases, your initial outreach has to be wider than the final number, as some will not get to your market or have the ability to add market days even when told of the opportunity.

Outcome 2: To increase sales

Couldn’t be simpler as, in most cases,  FMPP projects are still chiefly attempting to increase sales. It may be true that at some later date, sales increases are not the primary indicator of the success of our work, but with the small reach that alternative food outlets currently have with food shoppers, I agree that this should still be the main goal. Even so, this indicator stymied more people (and I would imagine contributed to some not writing a grant at all) and since it is a common metric for FMM, I’m going to attempt to reason why it is necessary and how we can capture this.

Measuring an increase of sales for a project that is going to do marketing or outreach for a single sales outlet is pretty standard.  The issue is that you need a baseline number (starting point) and that is the thing many markets do not have yet. So how do you find the baseline?

Everyone knows that the majority of markets ask for standard stall fees which are not based on vendors’ sales percentages and because of that, many markets have never asked for sales data from their vendors*. What USDA, FMM, Wholesome Wave and others are now saying is that we need to know the impact of our work whether you collect this data for the market’s fee rates or not. So, for those who do already collect it, you are ahead of the curve and probably have a lot to teach the rest of us about how to do it well.

So how do the rest of us do it? Well, the simplest way is to ask vendors directly, either every market day, every month or every season. As you can imagine, the longer you wait to ask this, the more difficult it becomes for the vendor to separate the numbers from your market from the other outlets he/she sells at. However, it also is difficult for multi-tasking vendors to stop at the end of the day to count their money and get that number to you. So what works best? My answer is one that some people hate hearing: whatever works best for your community and your management level is what works best- as long as it gives you accurate data in increments acceptable to those using it.

I’ll talk your ear off about accurate data whenever discussing market evaluation because it is my experience that markets rely too much on anecdotal information and estimates that probably are better described as guesstimates as they have almost no basis in real numbers. I can hear many of you yelling at me through your computer that you are not evaluators and cannot be expected to gather data. My answer to that is as soon as you create projects that use the resources of partners and promise your community some change in behavior because of these efforts, you are both. Meaning as soon as you decided to run a market. (You like how I run the entire argument on my own and that I get the last word?)

However, I am in agreement with many market leaders and vendors that too much data is often asked of markets or vendors that is never used or not shared back with those who offered it. And of course, that collecting the data and the costs associated are almost never added to the cost of any project, and usually, partners just assume that overworked market communities will just throw that added work in their long list and get it to them toot sweet.

Yeah, don’t get me started on data collection challenges here.

Additionally, sales data is at the top of the sensitive information asked presently and I often ask managers or market partners to tell me how much is in their bank account right now as an example of how asking for information without context or reason is alarming to say the least. That is, if you even know a precise number! So I say first be the change you want to see by sharing market data with vendors regularly: token sales for debit are going up but SNAP is steady? What do you think that means? And then ask them what they think it means.

Asking for it in anonymous sales slips is the  way FMM suggests it is collected, but I assume that there are other good methods to test. And that it helps all of those methods when the raw data is shared with the vendors and it is used to advocate for their needs. It must be said that to be able to use it in aggregate means it has to be collected in the same way for the same time period and a lot more data is needed to get to any collective contribution, so we do need to hit upon some common methods sooner rather than later. Here are two more possibilities:

And as many of you know, the SEED tool  asks shoppers to estimate their purchases and then calculates overall sales from those numbers.  Many feel this method of getting sales is better, but it does require more surveying of shoppers more often which means added staff and volunteers.

Another way may come as some markets grow their token systems. Depending on youre market, tt might be possible to estimate how many of your shoppers use that system and whether it is representative of the type of overall shopper you have and use the data to estimate sales.

The main point is we have to agree that we need some data and it should be as precise as possible without violating privacy or exposing weaknesses in one business over another- after all, this is a competitive place. The data you can use for internal analysis as to the market’s impact on its vendors and shoppers can be a lot less and a lot less specific than the data your research partners will need when they start to calculate economic numbers. And that until you have actual data, how you calculated your starting point for these indicators says a lot about your circle of advisors, your experience and your knowledge of the target population.

Whew; enough for now. I’d love to hear how some of you did calculate both of these outcomes and especially sales, both in systems you had baselines and ones that did not. I expect that some of you will disagree with much of my unscientific approach to measurement but hope you know that I welcome your opinions.