The four stages of market management

Spoiler alert: The stages correspond exactly to the  four stages of competence learning model:

  • 1. Unconscious incompetence
    The individual does not understand or know how to do something and does not necessarily recognize the deficit. They may deny the usefulness of the skill. The individual must recognize their own incompetence, and the value of the new skill, before moving on to the next stage. The length of time an individual spends in this stage depends on the strength of the stimulus to learn.
  • 2. Conscious incompetence
    Though the individual does not understand or know how to do something, he or she does recognize the deficit, as well as the value of a new skill in addressing the deficit. The making of mistakes can be integral to the learning process at this stage.
  • 3.Conscious competence
    The individual understands or knows how to do something. However, demonstrating the skill or knowledge requires concentration. It may be broken down into steps, and there is heavy conscious involvement in executing the new skill.
  • 4. Unconscious competence
    The individual has had so much practice with a skill that it has become “second nature” and can be performed easily. As a result, the skill can be performed while executing another task. The individual may be able to teach it to others, depending upon how and when it was learned.

I have been thinking about how the role of market manager can be organized to reduce the learning curve, and to encourage managers to have a team around them, rather than to feel they must do everything on their own. If we do those two things, we may very well lessen the numbers who burn out and leave the job just as they reach unconscious competence phase.

My experience (from my corporate training in human resources, my own management of markets, supervising market managers and observing them for the last 15 years) is that the market job takes about 14 months to 30 months to move through these 4 stages. The length of time it takes has a lot to do with the organization’s structure for training and for providing feedback.

Unlike other entry-level jobs, market managers are asked to master the most difficult work right away: to confidently manage dynamic logistics for a group of small businesses working side-by-side with their direct competition. And in far too many cases, there are no manuals, no detailed history recorded, or clear written process when dealing with risks or crisis.  Few managers are offered performance reviews or even clear, written deliverables or goals so they can correct as they learn. (I feel compelled to point out that I find it startling how few nonprofits understand that their success is based almost entirely on the skill and labor of its people and how rare it is to find supervisors spending any time becoming more adept at that part of their job. )

So those months can be quite stressful and without a clear training plan, a negative feedback loop can be created, especially among watchful vendors who are rightfully expecting high productivity.

Often, the most difficult phase is #2 when the community doesn’t view the manager as new any longer and becomes impatient with every mistake- and yet as you can see from this timeline, mistakes are to be expected in the “conscious incompetence” phase. Mistakes are often caused by someone bravely trying something new or testing a varied way to do a task that needs updating. It is a process of learning but one that does need positive correction from the supervisor to okay the adjustment and to acknowledge the validity of it as a learning process.

So markets can do a better job preparing the community for a new manager by allowing the manager to ease into some of the more difficult tasks, “permission” to make little mistakes and even better, time and space to formalize a system for dealing with risks so there won’t be guesswork:
A copy of every market map should be kept, filed and noted with weather, no-shows or risk issues written so new managers can review past years. These are also helpful in cases of slip and falls or property damage suits, as legal proceedings may come much later and the data from that day may very well help your team defend your market and at least remind you what happened and why. Sets of laminated pictures of the market set up, the storage area, the table layout, a FAQ for market day for new managers to know what is desired during set up can also make it easy to have volunteers to take over those duties so the manager can then move on to new tasks.
THAT is also a vital stage of this process: that the manager moves to creating systems for the routine tasks as soon as they can, allowing others to step into support roles.

On the subject of conflicts, is usually a good idea for markets to have an off-site process for any hot button issue, new manager or not:  Disagreement between vendors or about a rule should not be hashed out on market day. Instead,  a temporary solution for that day is all that should be offered.  Have the manager quietly ask those involved if the discussion can happen that next week by phone, in person or via a video conference call if possible. Not only does this allow everyone to simmer down (including the manager) but it also allows some time for the manager to get some input from senior vendors or board members. Most importantly, it sets a tone for future issues.

Other suggestions:

• The new manager should have an hour of weekly reading from the files and by scanning some of the most important articles and magazines on community food while on the clock.

• They should be introduced in ever widening circles to the members of the community – even if they are local – as the manager by board members, anchor vendors and volunteers.

• If a market hires a new seasonal manager annually, have a market business card with a line for the manager to write in their name, and also allow board members to do the same.

• Asking new managers to keep a journal of the day also helps get them through these early stages. I used to ask my new managers to write me an email on their smart phone even if I had been onsite with them all day. Some of them drafted it all day when they had a minute, and then sent it to me as they got in their vehicle to go home, while others sent it from their laptop first thing on the next work day from their scribbled notes. That email was broken down into logistics, vendors, shoppers, other and helped them analyze their day.








Vending for a day

My regular Saturday market stop two weeks ago ended with my pal and one of my favorite vendors, Norma Jean of Norma Jean’s Cuisine asking me to assist her the next week by managing her table while she handled a demo nearby.
So, this week I packed my bag for a 3-5 hour market trip which meant adding a gallon of water, bandanna, Florida water and my watch.
Since leaving Market Umbrella in 2011, I haven’t spent more than 2 hours behind a table as a manager or a vendor; I do help my pals Rob and Susie sell their baked goods when the line backs up since I often sit behind their table with them anyway, chatting about a million subjects, so stepping up to take the money or to bag items is the least I can do.

When I do consulting work with a market, I am there for a full day sometimes, but it is definitely a different vibe than managing or vending.This day, I was responsible for all of the sales at Norma’s table; no wandering off when I saw something to eat or see. Knowing the products well enough to answer questions easily and not in a rushed manner, keeping money straight, all had to be managed on my own.
I think every market manager and board member should step in and run a vendor table for an hour or two. It is important to watch the traffic, gauge the body language, note the questions of visitors and to get the vibe from that point of view.

Some thoughts from today:

1. It’s fascinating to me how many people were thrown by not seeing Norma.  The products by themselves are not always enough to signal the same vendor. I think that is a great thing- the relationships between the shoppers and the vendors are meaningful and so the person-to-person connections are as important as we assert they are.

2. The number of new people, always: I think vendors and managers forget how many people are at the market for the first time. When I sensed someone new to the market by what they asked or how they moved through the market, I would ask them if they were a regular shopper and so heard from many first-timers. It shows how a market and its vendors need must be prepared to introduce their items and the system over and over and over again and not to assume that everyone knows their stuff or about the market. And this is a rural/suburban market and not an urban market and still has lots of newcomers.

3. Body language: Norma had left me a chair to sit in (I don’t think I’ve ever seen her sit in it actually) but I didn’t dare, having been trained at Market Umbrella that sitting at market for staff or volunteers was a no-no. It’s not that sometimes it isn’t okay; if the market is a tailgate market and right up against the table it can work (and look) well for a moment or two. However, those deep camp chairs that allow someone to sink down, I say no.  But standing in place for so long was difficult for me; as a market manager, I had rarely stood in place for more than 5 minutes at a time and even had a rule to not engage in any conversation for more than 10 minutes. If needed,I would ask that person if I could call them to finish talking on Monday. Today, I found because I had to stand still so long, I had my hands on my hips regularly and so began to put them on the table or in my pockets or add busy work to stop doing it.

4. Even though many shoppers and all of the vendors know me and I am well acquainted with Norma’s products, I am even more of a true believer that employees are never going to equal with having the producer or their family standing there. The confidence in the products and the awareness of every step of the process is not at the same level. Add to that, how unlikely it is that any small feedback offered by shoppers or visitors will translate into action if it is given to an employee. Or, if slow sales of any one item is due to the lack of interest from shoppers or lack of sales technique of the employee. So even if markets allow employees to sell (which is quite necessary for most), I recommend that they add a rule that the producer has to sell at least once every month or two.

5. I love watching and being part of the barter of the market. As many of us know, many vendors barter their goods rather than exchange currency and to see the regular versions of that; Norma gets gluten-free bread for the vegan pesto samples in exchange for her items, and to be “paid” in those goods too helps remind me that we still are not measuring the true number of transactions at a market. Norma also has a barter system with one customer who has a credit slip at her booth-no one else is afforded that system, but I certainly have seen other vendors do that with some of their skilled neighbors as well.

6. How necessary it is for market staff or volunteers to roam the market regularly. So often, vendors get too busy to take a bathroom break or get change or need something and are stuck until someone happens by to assist. Lucky for me, Norma was within eyeshot as needed, and the sister managers Jan and Ann rolled by and connected with me once or twice. Checking in with your vendors can elevate the trust and raise the spirits of a market struggling in other ways.

7. When Norma finished her demo and sales earlier than expected, she cleaned up there and took over at her table, sending me on my way with warm thanks and gifts of food. As I got in my truck, I thought of how I get to finish my day there and then and not continue to sell, to then have to pack up/clean up, count the money to see if any profit has been made, and to make decisions for next week, next month etc. That long day and the added worry when the day is mediocre or bad has to be frightening and/or demoralizing to even the most confident producer. For many of our vendors, they have work for mid-week markets to start by mid-afternoon after market or the next morning or for some, to get a little rest for their other full-time job come Monday morning. My hat is off to those who believe enough in artisanal food or products to spend their life producing them for us.

8. What an enjoyable day.

Vendors walking their items in

Vendors walking their items in

Vendors getting tents up

Vendors getting tents up

The seating before the market opens

The seating before the market opens

Norma Jean's cold area

Norma Jean’s cold area

Norma Jean is all set up and ready for me to sell for her

Norma Jean is all set up and ready for me to sell for her

This is what she was demoing and selling at the other booth. Really nice version of Salad Nicoise, without the tuna.

This is what she was demoing and selling at the other booth. Really nice version of Salad Nicoise, without the tuna.

What the market looks like when the musicians are playing midday

What the market looks like when the musicians are playing midday

Make It, Grow It, Sell It – Whole Green Heart

FYI: this program is being offered by someone who has experience vending at farmers markets

A Home-Study Program for Building a Rewarding, Successful and Profitable Business Selling at Farmers Markets
For vendors, one of the key messages that we have found helps them grow their businesses is that it takes a combination of production expertise and business expertise to really be successful in the farmers’ market sector. I ran an organic herb farm, selling at farmers’ markets, for 18 years. I also managed a farmers’ market for 6 years, and because I come from an adult education background, I’ve been training other vendors and managers in our province since 2011 as the Director of Training for Farmers’ Markets of Nova Scotia. I speak at farmers’ market and organic agriculture conferences around North America and have learned even more from this rich interaction with so many other passionate, thoughtful people in various roles across our sector. For vendors, one of the key messages that we have found helps them grow their businesses is that it takes a combination of production expertise and business expertise to really be successful in the farmers’ market sector. I am launching a new home-study program for farmers’ market vendors.”

check it out here

Farmers Market Metrics Vendor Metrics Released

Farmers Market Impact Metrics Released for First Season of Testing
Research project addresses the need for consistent measurement of farmers market impacts nationwide.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the national nonprofit, the Farmers Market Coalition (FMC) released metrics this week that will allow markets and their partners to gather data on vendor and customer activities. The data will assist market organizers in constructing targeted marketing and advocacy plans and will offer farmers and other producers specific information on building their business goals.
The project is funded by the USDA’s Agriculture, Food, and Research Initiative (AFRI) and will allow nine markets across the U.S. to test data collection and reporting techniques in 2015 and 2016. The project team gathered known metrics used over the last decade in farmers markets and food system research and prioritized those that could be easily gathered by the market community itself. The metrics were grouped into one or more of four types of benefit they provide:
economic (i.e. sales or job creation), ecological (land stewardship), social (new relationships) and human (skills gained or knowledge transferred).
The research project’s principal investigator Alfonso Morales, Assistant Professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison said, “We believe that it is vital that grassroots markets have the tools and embedded skills to gather data on behavior for their own needs, not only on shopper activity but also on the small businesses that depend on these markets for their family’s income.”
From the list of 90 metrics identified, the team focused its initial efforts into refining 38 of those metrics for immediate use by the nine pilot markets chosen for the project. Participating markets selected those metrics that are most useful to their current work and will begin to gather data in late spring 2015. The data will be analyzed by the project team and final reports shared with the markets later in the year. The team will conduct another round of data collection at the same pilot
markets in 2016.
The first round of metrics sent to the markets focus on collecting vendor data through questions embedded into vendor applications or through direct surveys or observation at market of vendors. Later rounds of metrics will allow visitor data to be collected using the same methods, while future metrics are likely to focus on the “placemaking” skills of the market and the internal workings of the organization running the market.
Vendor metrics for this project include acres in production for markets, distance traveled from production to market, sales data, and the number of women-owned businesses. Jen Cheek, Executive Director of Farmers Market Coalition affirmed, “Many markets are not sure what to collect and when; others already collect some of this data but are unsure of how to use it once collected. These measurement projects that FMC is taking on with the University of Wisconsin will offer shared language and common-sense guidelines for reporting, while allowing markets and
their vendors the freedom to define what success means to their market and community.”
Find the vendor metrics here and a template letter for vendors here and a glossary of terms and vendor tree here.
The Farmers Market Coalition (FMC) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to strengthening farmers markets for the benefit of farmers, consumers, and communities. For more information about the Farmers Market Coalition, including Farmers Market Metrics please visit their website at

A bittersweet thanks from a market vendor

One of the great market bakers over the last many years in New Orleans wrote the letter below telling of his decision to leave the Tuesday market in New Orleans to his customers via Facebook and his website. (He remains at their Saturday market still.) This vendor is an extremely creative and dedicated artisan and one with diversified marketing and product ideas. Unfortunately in his estimation, the potential for sales are diminishing, especially at the weekday markets. That view is not his alone; it is shared by some other vendors. This is the first comment after his Facebook post and happened to be from another past market baker: “This is sad to hear for me because this is why I had to stop being a farmer’s market baker full time 5 years ago. I miss my CCFM family and wish everyone the best.”

When markets go through this, it can be a painful and messy break up or it can be a mature parting with lessons learned for all. Everyone has to agree to be careful with their language (spoken, written and body) and to be intentionally fair as the weeks and months go on.

I think this letter does a great job not to assign any blame and offers some good starting points for talking this through with shoppers, other vendors and the staff of the market organization. This is a volatile time for markets in New Orleans and the small businesses contained within feel the brunt of that ebb and flow.  I also well remember the pressure of being a market organizer, remembering every minute that good men and women and their families and employees rely on your estimations of the numbers of happy return shoppers, where to find inquisitive new shoppers, devising events that work and don’t detract from sales, outreach and marketing dollars spent well, locations remaining stable, partnerships adding value and so on while trying to calm fears and add excitement among the vendors while you do it.

As a market advocate and a member of this community, I worry along with all of them and show up at every market and event that I can and share information freely to help everyone move forward. Because our purpose in building a community food system is to offer new opportunities that offer sustained value and multiple types of benefits along every step of the chain, and honor the producers who are building this on their backs and with their many talents, supported by the hard work and talent of market and other food system organizers. Let’s all keep momentum moving forward to reduce the quantity of these type of letters.


25 November 2014

Dear Farmers Market Customers:

It is with a heavy heart that we are announcing our departure from Tuesday’s Crescent City Farmers Market (CCFM). Due to a sustained erosion of sales over the course of the past eights months, and to the unpredictably of future markets, we are forced to withdraw our booth from this cherished market. Our last TUESDAY market will be the 25th of November.

Although Bellegarde Bakery, in its original gestation as “Babcia Kubiak’s Breads”, began at CCFM five years ago, we have found that the current status of public markets in New Orleans is extremely volatile. There is an overwhelming consensus among vendors at CCFM that “business is not what it used to be”: due to the nature of Bellegarde’s craft, and our commitment to quality, we do not have a “product” which we can freeze, store, or transfer once market is over. We make fresh bread, day in and day out, in heat and in cold, on weekends and on holidays, so that our customers can understand the integrity of fresh food.

We are extremely vulnerable—physically and financially—to capricious weather, shopping habits, and other food ‘trends’ that degrade the quality and consistency of farmers markets. Vendors at farmers markets are at the bottom of the proverbial food chain: we do all the sowing and receive little of the harvest. The current food economy of America is such that money, respect, and stability trickle down from celebrity chefs, supermarkets, and restaurants to the bottom of the pool—fishermen, beekeepers, bakers, farmers: the people that actually make food have trouble making a living at their primary venue of sales: the farmers market. Without any institutional or municipal support through grants, press, mentorship, or subsidy, we vendors suffer the modern whims of that most basic human gesture: the eating and sharing food.

By the vendors, for the vendors: it’s a motto we still live by. We have an implacable commitment to rebuilding the edible architecture of New Orleans through grains and breads. We will remain at our SATURDAY booth and you can find us in a litany of retail locations—from Rouses and Whole Foods to St James Cheese and Faubourg Wines. Please follow the “retail” tab on our website,, or call the shop with any questions about where to find our bread. Thank you, sincerely, for your continued support and faith.