| Branding, Startups

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I’m thrilled there is a new winter Farmer’s Market here in Portland, Maine. The summer markets on Wednesdays and Saturdays allow me to keep fresh, locally-grown, organic food on my table meal after meal. So when I found out there was a new indoor, winter market I couldn’t be happier.

Unfortunately, the mistakes that I see the winter market making are common for many small business owners. You need the basics of branding and marketing to survive. You are kidding yourself if you think you can do without them.

Some background

For those of you who are not local, let me give you some background information. Portland has two successful farmers markets that run spring through fall. They are dedicated to farmers only, meaning that bakers or fish mongers are not allowed under the current rules. Every winter, many of the farmers take time off from selling, others have started some small-scale direct-to-consumer sales where you can be emailed a list of what’s for sale and pick up at a predetermined location and time. Many of the surrounding communities have also started successful indoor winter farmers market and there was demand in Portland for something similar.

Without a lot of time for planning a group got together and found a vacant store front, worked out licensing agreements with the city and put together a group of vendors for the new farmers market. Kudos to them for getting it off the ground!

Obstacles and opportunities

Let’s outline some of the marketing obstacles and opportunities they have:

  • The unknown: It’s new, there’s never been a winter market before. However, there is demand, and a loyal clientele for the summer market
  • What food is available in Maine in the winter? Many of us realize that the winter vegetable choices are going to be slim, but with storage vegetables, green houses and non-farm types of vendors there is a lot to offer.
  • When: This is not a regular retail operation with standard operating hours. Visitors need to know the limited hours of operation.
  • Where: The location (unlike the summer markets) is new. It’s also just a vacant storefront, so there is a lot of confusion about where it is.
  • Not much time or money: The market is only running til April (then it will change over to the outdoor regular market), and so they need to act quickly to promote themselves. Also, the fees charged to the participants is low, so there is not much of a budget for branding or marketing.

The answer here is low-cost, quick-turnaround items that will quickly promote the market. They need to focus on the storefront itself and a very simple online presence.


Like many others, I wasn’t familiar with the address (85 Free Street). So when I was in the area I made a special effort to drive by and figure out where it was. Here is what the storefront looks like when you past mid-week:

Portland Winter Farmers Market storefront
The current storefront. Is this place in business?

There is nothing indicating that a farmers market takes place here on Saturdays. They need signs! Many of the vendors have their own signs, maybe those could get moved to the windows? At minimum They need to put a sign that shows pedestrians and drivers that they should remember to come back.

Sample signs for farmers market window
A quick sketch to show how signs could help identify their location and offerings

I put this quick sketch together to show how color and key words describing the time and offerings of the market would go a long way to attract potential shoppers.

On the day of the event, sandwich boards should be placed on the sidewalk. I realize there is neither time nor money to invest in a hanging sign. While I would recommend it for long term usage, it doesn’t make sense here.

Web site

Web sites can be very complex, but they don’t have to be. These guys should grab a URL and do a one-page web site that lists the time, location and vendor names. BTW, I just checked and portlandwinterfarmersmarket.com is available. Go grab it before a cyber-squatter does.

The reason the market needs a web site is that people who use the internet nearly always search online for answers. People in Portland are asking about the market. They are going to Google and look for the when, where and who. A simple site will answer these questions. Then you can refer people to your Facebook fan page for more up-to-date content.

Branding identity

Building a branded identity would be valuable to this group, but it not possible given the time frame. Instead, use your vendors brands to promote your own. [Full disclosure I designed the logo and web site for Cream & Sugar Bakery]. Use the logos and signage from the vendors to attract shoppers, by placing them prominently in the storefront windows and on your new web site.

Will work for food

I’m trying to connect with the management of the winter market. I want this to flourish and be successful for the vendors and for the city. How can I help? Maybe a barter is possible.

See you at the market!
Saturdays, 10:00 am – 1:00 pm
85 Free Street, Portland, Maine

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