Feasibility studies for farmers markets

Feasibility studies for farmers markets determine viability and guide decisions for start-ups and expansions.

If you are interested in starting a farmers market or expanding an existing farmers market, the winter is the best time to plan. Michigan State University Extension says that one tool that can help farmers market organizers decide whether to invest in starting or expanding a market is a feasibility study. Iowa State University Outreach and Extension states that “a feasibility study is an analysis of the viability of an idea” and it can help you to make a decision about whether to invest further time or money in an idea.

The Farmers Market Coalition resource library has farmers market resources on a number of categories that are relevant for a feasibility study. If your market organizers have sufficient funding, consider contracting with an outside business and planning consultant firm to help with the feasibility study. An example of such a firm and a highlight of the markets that have assisted - such as the one done for the Grand Rapids, Mich. downtown market – can be a starting point to inspire the direction you will take to start your research.

If you are interested in gathering materials yourself for a feasibility study, start by searching for what kind of information already exists and pull that together for your own market research. A powerpoint summarizing a similar study can be used for ideas as you develop your template, or you can gather materials that would be similar for a business plan but with a focus on the action steps and required to get things started.

Try to answer these questions for your farmers market:

  1. Location: What site characteristics will help to make your market successful (e.g. visibility, access, etc)? Where do you envision your market being located? How does it add to the community? How much additional space are you adding?
  2. Demand Factors: Do you have the customers to support the market year-round? Who are your core customers and who are you hoping to reach? Do you have the vendors to supply the market year-round with the kind of products that are desired? Do you need to recruit additional vendors? Are vendors interested in year-round vending? What are the limiting factors for demand (e.g. additional marketing needed)?
  3. Economics: What would it cost to run the market year-round? What are the costs now? What is the economic impact to the area including multipliers? What will you have to charge vendors to make the space pay for itself (operating costs)?
  4. Local Community Support: Is there a coalition of market champions that will help make this a success? Is there interest from other local businesses in helping you to succeed? Are there opportunities to co-locate the market with other ventures that will off-set some overhead for the market?
  5. Management: Will you have sufficient time to manage the market during all four seasons? Do you have the skills of marketing and promotion, management, human resource management? Will you have the budget/personnel to heat the space, clear snow and other responsibilities that will come up as seasonal costs?

If your answers to these questions point to a market that will be financially viable, stable over time and align with the vision for the project, then you should move ahead with starting or expanding your market.