The Toledo Thursday Market has been serving their local community for nearly 5 years. Recently, they doubled in size and now have a strong following in their community.
Looking for alternative ways to grow their market, they started with Local Line in early 2020. When COVID-19 hit Washington in March, they pivoted 100% to online sales because they weren't able to open. Because they were quick to move online, they were the only open market in their county for two and a half months!
A year later in March 2021, the Toledo Thursday Market team is finding success selling both online and in-person. We sat down with Market Manager Carol Berch to understand more about their switch to selling online, and learn how balancing both works for them and their vendors!
Here's a quick view of each question we asked Carol (we've starred our favourite ones!):
We are going into our 5th season. We are based out of a very rural town in southwest Washington called Toledo. There are about 800 people in the town.
We started with half a dozen farmers; now on-site, we have about 18! Things have been slowly but steadily growing into a very successful market.
Our market manager at the time had heard about Local Line. She had started working with Jordan probably a year and a half ago. It was still a small operation, and we were thinking of ways to grow the market. Local Line came up, and she pursued it single-handedly. When COVID-19 hit and shut everything down, we pivoted to it immediately and started getting traction right away. People still wanted the market, but they couldn’t shop in person.
Washington was one of the first states to get hit with COVID. Schools shut down; restaurants shut down; everything shut down. We were considered essential as a food source, and fortunately, we had a building in town, so we didn’t have to worry about the winter weather. With Local Line, we were the only market in Louis County for 2.5 months. Everyone else had to delay while they dealt with logistics and social distancing. We pivoted to online only and not having vendors or customers on-site. It was very successful from the start.
I am also a baker at the market, so it takes a lot of time management!
And then it just repeats like that every week. It does get a little bit crazy on Tuesday and Wednesday because I have stuff in the oven for about 8 hours a day! I put bread in the oven that will take an hour or so, run back inside and download a pick list.
It’s pretty busy, but most of all it’s a lot of fun!
It works great! We have several vendors that are Local Line only and don’t set up at the market. Many small farmers don’t have time to sit at a market for the day. They need to be in their field doing stuff. At our market, we have a lot of those vendors and realized that it works very well for them. They love it!
Also, our vendor fees are very low. As a market, we wanted to focus on the small vendors. If some of them need to take a month off from the market but still want to sell online, they can do that. We can give them a lot of flexibility because we want them to bring their best product to market. The easier we can make it for the producer, the better the market ultimately is.
Take pictures of everything! When people look at a page, they don’t want to see a bunch of blank boxes. I think pictures are the most critical thing to make something look nice. Also, put up an interesting description of what the product is.
As vendors are responsible for uploading their products, we have a rule that all product names cannot start with numbers, i.e. 5lb package of flour. When you have 700 products listed, it becomes hard for customers to find what they’re looking for. You want all similar products clumped together.
The community loves it! They think it’s fabulous. Having an online store allows us to reach a variety of customers. We have a lot of seniors in the area. When covid first hit, we wanted to continue to serve them, so we offered delivery.
We also have many folks in the area working or going to school, and they like the convenience of ordering all of their stuff. Some other customers realize that popular products sell out quickly. If you want them, you better reserve them. Other customers routinely order an excess of $100 a week. They get all of their produce, eggs, and big stuff from us.
Right now, I’d say 60% of our sales are online. We are still in the early phase of opening up the market for the season. Our growing season starts producing around April. We don’t have a lot of foot traffic in the market yet.
As the season progresses and our COVID restrictions start to ease, I expect to see more in-person sales and about 30% online sales. However, in May, when the gardening season starts, we have 4-5 vendors that provide plant and bare-root starts. That number will probably increase to 70% in that time frame. People ordered tons and tons of starts last year - there are some dedicated gardeners out here!
On any given week, this is usually how it goes:
We also hand out flyers about our online store at the market. We noticed there are still lots of shoppers that didn’t know about it! 20% of those people end up looking at the catalog and put in orders.
Local Line has allowed us to bring in a much broader range of vendors because we don’t require them to all be at the market, and that variety brings in more customers. We have an excellent group of growers. But when you go to order from a market, you also want to see if there are craftspeople or other types of vendors. We have a custom coffee roaster (online and at the market) and a grower that does the most amazing mushrooms you’ve ever seen (online) - they are bringing in customers. The diversity of vendors and products is what I think drives the market. We have something for everybody.
Out of our 18 vendors we have right now, 50-60% are online only!
As a vendor, I like that I can quickly go in, edit my products, upload a picture, look at my inventory—it’s easy to use. It only takes me 5-10 minutes a week. You set it up and don’t have to worry about anything!
As a market manager, I like how Local Line allows me to look ahead and make some projections about how many orders are coming in and how much space I need to allocate when setting up the market up for the day. It makes it very easy to plan the market ahead of time, so I know what I’m doing when I go in.
Be prepared to help your vendors get themselves set up, so there is consistency in the way they list products (ie. pictures, descriptions, product names). Put the time in ahead of time so that they know exactly how to use things.
Local Line kept us alive for most of 2020 when everything shut down. It helped the vendors tremendously.
Having Local Line helps vendors to plan things better. It allows them to go back and see what’s being ordered, what sold, what didn’t sell - what can they do to better their business. If you’re only doing in-person sales and don’t have meticulous records, you can’t necessarily go back and see where to improve. Local Line is a tool that lets them manage things better.
Used by all types of local food suppliers, Local Line helps you accept online orders, communicate with customers, and manage your business all in one place.