Listening at the Cooperstown Farmers’ Market

 Be Thankful for Your Customers (Listening at the Cooperstown Farmers’ Market)

Twenty years is a long time for a farmers’ market, especially a true local market like Cooperstown Farmers’ Market, which sources all of its amazing meats, cheeses, produce, baked goods, and other products from within 50 miles.  When I asked Lyn Weir, Market Manager, what the secret of such longevity was, she said,

“It’s a restless desire to serve our customers.  We ask, listen, and change to make sure we are doing our best for our customers and vendors every year.  We have an amazingly supportive community.”

This isn’t just words, this Fall there have been goldenrod-colored customer surveys and a box for collecting responses at the market every Saturday.  Sometimes, they have even had someone shilling for feedback and trying to get people to pause and fill out surveys.  You can imagine that in the bustle of the market it can be challenging to convince people to put down the emu eggs, take a break from piling up produce, and stop sampling the organic cheese for a minute to check some boxes and write a little feedback.

The survey officially wrapped up in October and the results are in.  People were uniformly happy with the market’s “Festive Community Atmosphere”, which I do regard a great aspect of the market.  Product quality, selection, helpfulness of vendors, helpfulness of market manager, and overall shopping experience also fared very well.  With the exception of just two categories, very satisfied beat out satisfied about 3-to-1, with no one checking the dissatisfied box.

The couple of areas that respondents were less satisfied with and a few downright unsatisfied with were range of prices and parking.  The range of prices was largely split between satisfied and very satisfied, but with a handful of unsatisfied responses.  Presumably, the unsatisfied folks were hoping for some lower cost options, but compared to other farmers’ markets, the vendors at Cooperstown do a nice job of keeping prices reasonable.  I honestly don’t know how much can be done to improve this.

The worst category was parking, with a number of written in comments supporting people’s frustration with the parking situation.  Obviously, this isn’t a farmers’ market issue nearly as much as an ongoing challenge for the Village of Cooperstown.  There simply isn’t enough parking during busy times and the trolley system isn’t all that appealing for toting bags of fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and cheeses home every Saturday.  It’s actually one of the reasons I live in the village, so that I don’t have to drive and park to enjoy the many perks of living here.  The frustration with market parking can certainly be added to the local discussion of the issue, but I don’t think it is a problem Lyn is going to be able to solve.

One of the most interesting parts of any customer survey is the written comments.  It’s unfortunate that more people don’t take the time to write in comments and ideas for improving the market, less than one quarter of respondents gave a written comment.  Most of the written comments were words of praise and encouragement that reflect the overwhelmingly positive survey results.  The Cooperstown Farmers’ Market is doing a lot of things right.  And people seem pretty pleased with the music series.

I thought the most interesting and actionable group of comments was about more prepared foods.  With the social atmosphere and the music, people would enjoy more stuff that can be purchased and enjoyed right there.  Now, the boys and I have made good use of the Shadbush Farm mini-pies, the Amish ice cream folks, Duncraven chocolate milk, and fresh fruit to hang out for a snack, but I can see the appeal of having a few more options.  Several of the existing vendors have items that could be better packaged and positioned as treats for immediate consumption, maybe there could even be a single stall with a selection of snack options from the various vendors.  And I wonder whether any of the meat vendors have considered producing ready-to-eat cold cuts.  Neat ideas.  They may or may not be practical, but it is good food for thought.

I look forward to hearing from Lyn about whether the surveys have inspired any new ideas or changes at the Cooperstown Farmers’ Market.  It can be difficult when you are doing so many things right to continue to find ways to improve.  But just the act of asking and listening to your customers is a great way to say thank you for supporting the market.  The community support really is amazing and something that Lyn, the vendors, and everyone who enjoys the market should be thankful for.

And even though the survey is over, Lyn always welcomes feedback, so feel free to share your thoughts with her at the market or on the Cooperstown Farmers’ Market Facebook page.

About the Author
Devin Morgan is Co-founder and Of Counsel to Knull Group (www.eatdrinklaw.com), a firm for food-obsessed business and intellectual property lawyers in Cooperstown, NY.  He is focused on the growth of the craft food and beverage industry in New York State and is the primary author of the Eat. Drink. Law. blog.  Click here to receive a free report from Devin on growing a distinctive food or beverage business.  He is also a big fan of the Cooperstown Farmers’ Market.

See the results of the Farmers’ Market survey here.