Tapping into a potential goldmine...
January 29, 2009 12:14 PM   Subscribe

Why won't older and wealthier people buy my stuff?

I have a job, but because of the economy and future student loan repayments, I sell some stuff on the side.

I sell hand-made scarves, CDs from local artists, baked cookies, and gourment popcorn (my recipe) in ziplock bags.

Like when me and my buddies sold home-cooked bbq out of our trunk in college, I am running into the same problems right now...only college students and people from run-down areas of town will buy my stuff.

I find many college students too obnoxious to deal with. They're pleasant when they are sober, but it is another story when they are drunk. Many times they are in a drunken state when I sell them things.

As for run-down areas of town, I simply don't feel all that safe trying to sell stuff, some of those areas are pretty rough. I'm scared that one day someone will follow me into some White Castle bathroom with their glock and take all of my money.

Then there's another problem, my biggest one, people from those two groups tend not have that much money. I'm trying to make a semi-living, that's really hard to do when I sell bags of popcorn for $2 and they want me to sell it to them for 50 cents.

Well, at least I can the two groups above to buy stuff from me, even with the hassle. But, I can't get older and wealthier people to buy anything from me, when I go into nicer areas and off college campuses. If these can buy three cars, purchase houses with three bathrooms, and feed/cloth three kids...then why can't they pay three dollars for some baked cookies?

My question is...how do I market my scarves, CDs, and books, so more wealthy people will buy them? This will put a smile on my face and on my pockets.
posted by sixcolors to Work & Money (52 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
You might try selling the handmade items on Etsy.com
posted by ecorrocio at 12:19 PM on January 29, 2009 [4 favorites]

The simplest answer is the packaging doesn't inspire any confidence or make it seem worth the money. I wouldn't buy anything out of a ziplock bag, to be honest.

When my mother and I sell baked goods to people for money, we put them in cello bags and tie them with ribbons. If you make something look nice, people will pay a shload for it. If you don't, they almost never will. Trust me on this.
posted by Nattie at 12:22 PM on January 29, 2009 [19 favorites]

People get wealthy by spending and investing wisely, not frittering away money to people selling stuff they don't need on their doorstep.
posted by fire&wings at 12:22 PM on January 29, 2009 [20 favorites]

Perhaps try selling your items on consignment at some nice local shops.
posted by deepscene at 12:24 PM on January 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

A less condescending attitude?
posted by cmgonzalez at 12:24 PM on January 29, 2009 [23 favorites]

I'm with Nattie on not buying food from someone I don't know in a plastic ziploc bag. See if you can jazz up your packaging to make the food more appealing. And Etsy is a great idea for the scarves. I also think you should put aside the issue of who you want to buy your stuff. Rich people, poor people, some people like popcorn, CDs and scarves, and some don't. Your audience is people who can buy your stuff, not people who have money.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:26 PM on January 29, 2009 [3 favorites]

In my experience, the higher the income of the neighborhood (in an urban area, at least), the less likely residents are to buy something from a street vendor (one in their own neighborhood, I mean - and there aren't necessarily going to be any street vendors in $$$ neighborhoods; it's not like there are hotdog carts or homeless people selling books from a blanket in Presidio Heights). Exceptions seem to be street fairs, where one purchases scarves and CDs from someone at a booth, and where the vendors are Girl Scouts selling cookies.

People selling stuff out the trunk of their car in a moneyed neighborhood are uncommon, and if that's what you're trying to do, you will be viewed with suspicion and avoided.

For baked goods, no, I'm not going to buy a ziploc bag of cookies from a random person on the street. Not happening.
posted by rtha at 12:28 PM on January 29, 2009 [3 favorites]

In one word: marketing. You lack it. Starbucks sells shit coffee in nice stores. You sell (presumably) nice stuff out of the trunk of your car. You can complain how unjust the world is or you can figure out what Starbucks is doing that you're not.
posted by GuyZero at 12:32 PM on January 29, 2009 [4 favorites]

I think you may also want to focus your efforts. I'm more like to shop with a street vendor selling one thing laid out really nicely, then 3 or 4 random things. Do you really need to sell scarves and CDs and food all at the same time? You might want to split out your selling opportunities- sell scarves on Etsy and food in the lunchroom. More entrepreneur, less yard sale.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:35 PM on January 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yeah, you need Etsy for the scarves, a table in the student union for CDs, and some sort of craft fair or neighborhood event for extra scarves, CDs, popcorn, and cookies. Etsy isn't going to look too hard at your business setup, but the colleges you go to and the craft fairs may require you to have some official proof that you are an honest-to-God licensed business before they permit you to vend on their property.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 12:36 PM on January 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Is there some sort farmers market or local market you could get a booth in? It will make you look more legit and in my expereince, attracts the crowd you're looking for.
posted by cestmoi15 at 12:37 PM on January 29, 2009 [4 favorites]

How are you trying to sell your stuff? The only thing you've given us is that you used to sell BBQ out of your trunk.

Are you trying to sell your stuff where other people are selling stuff? Are any of them attracting the cliente that you are after? What are they doing differently from you?
posted by Good Brain at 12:41 PM on January 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Why aren't wealthy folks buying? Probably because your 'business' sounds really shady. If you're selling popcorn packed in ziploc bags, and barbecue out of your trunk, I'm going to make a wild leap and guess that you don't have vending permits, or a health inspection/approval to sell homemade foods. That's the reason you're only getting the drunk college students -- the sober ones have enough energy and attention span to figure out they can get something 'safer' or 'better' if they walk a block or two to the caf.

So get permits, package nicely, and consign your awesome popcorn and fabulous cookies for sale by the cute bag in local coffee shops. Put a business name and number on the food packaging and see if you can actually market it. See if local boutiques will consign your scarves and cds -- preferably somewhere near the register.
posted by amelioration at 12:45 PM on January 29, 2009 [14 favorites]

Oh, BTW, you might want to try charging more.

As but one example, Shiner Bock was a cheap regional Texas beer. They tried to expand their distribution while keeping their old price point without much luck. Then they tried roughly doubling their price, which put it in the range of the burgeoning microbrews. Suddenly they were selling more of the same beer in the same packaging at the same price.
posted by Good Brain at 12:47 PM on January 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Consider your competition. When your older, wealthier customers want cookies, they will go to that trendy new bakery they read about in the paper, which has parking and air conditioning and posts nutrition information for all its products, and will sell them gourmet lemon-lavender sugar cookies in cute bags suitable for giving to friends. Your cookies may be the most fabulous home-made just-like-mom-used-to-make cookies ever, but your customers have no way of knowing that, and they don't want to gamble three dollars to find out when they can go elsewhere. Plus, as others have said, they may not trust the safety of goods being sold on the street.

Since you don't have the parking or the air conditioning or the write-ups in the local paper, you have to make your products extra eye-catching to make up for all that. Improve the presentation. Offer free samples of the food and music. Make scarves with unique designs and special popcorn flavors (wasabi! chili-garlic! thai!) they can't find elsewhere. You might want to concentrate on just one type of product, so that you can focus on making that really stand out. See if you can associate yourself with a company or association that people trust--maybe sell your cookies through a local store, or give part of your proceeds to a popular charity.

Good luck!
posted by fermion at 12:49 PM on January 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

You lost me at ziplock bag.
posted by neblina_matinal at 12:55 PM on January 29, 2009 [8 favorites]

Best answer: If these can buy three cars, purchase houses with three bathrooms, and feed/cloth three kids...then why can't they pay three dollars for some baked cookies?

Because these things are not remotely alike?

Cars are status symbols. Most likely people who are well off and own more than one car don't own beaters and didn't buy cars off people on the side of the street. Same for everything else they buy. They are selective, and buying cookies in ziploc bags is just not something I would imagine anyone doing, let alone people who can afford to get the good stuff. And by good stuff, I mean the stuff that's marketed to them, that appeals to them, that reflects their values.

It doesn't matter if your cookies are the best in the world, if you sell them on the street and package them in ziploc bags, the people that will buy them are people who don't mind giving money to street people (who aren't licensed in any way) for things in a baggie. If that's not the clientele you're going for, well your strategy is all wrong.

Put yourself in the shoes of a rich person. You're lazing around, nothing to do, and you have a craving for cookies. What do you do? Run down the street and holler at the lady selling things out of her trunk? No. Never going to happen. Buy the cookies off someone knocking at the door? Er, no. Going to a specialty store and buying whatever's more expensive is more likely what they'll do, or else searching on the internet for the best, select, premium cookies money can buy.
posted by splice at 12:56 PM on January 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Why won't older and wealthier people buy my stuff?

This is the simplest answer and most basic premise in all of commerce: Because the consumer you want to attract, doesn't want to buy what you are selling.

How can you get any particular target customer to buy what you're selling? There are two ways.

1. Have a product they need. Wealthy people don't need food or scarves or CDs (they already own a ton of it, and plus already have myriad ways to acquire those staples).

2. Have a product they want. Wealthy people don't want handmade food or clothes being sold by strangers on the street.

If these can buy three cars, purchase houses with three bathrooms, and feed/cloth three kids...then why can't they pay three dollars for some baked cookies?

This is not the right attitude to have. You don't get to decide whether or not your product offering is of value; only your customer can.

That your ideal customer doesn't want your product doesn't create a justification to pass judgment on how and where they spend money. As has been suggested upthread, this idea that you know better than other people how they should be spending their cash, and therefore they are in the wrong, could really hamper your ability to ever be a successful merchant. The customer is the customer; you don't do them a favor by selling them food out of the trunk of your car. They do you the favor by buying it.
posted by pineapple at 12:56 PM on January 29, 2009 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Ok, how much money will it cost to get a permit? Aren't they really expensive? And how much money will it cost to rent a booth?

Are you trying to sell your stuff where other people are selling stuff?

It depends....

-Street corners
-Mall entrances
-Parking Garages
-Greek Row on weekend nights (where I have a lot of success)
-When church lets out (where I also have a lot of success)
-Other random places
posted by sixcolors at 12:56 PM on January 29, 2009

Simply put, they either don't know about your wares, or they know about them but don't think they want them. Marketing can help solve both problems, but only to an extent.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 1:02 PM on January 29, 2009

The variety of stuff you're selling, and the going-around-town aspect of it, seems a little "Bubble's Depo" to me, a little guy on the subway selling crap he found laying around. I'd suggest sticking to one or two products that are related to each other, for starters. Sell baked goods or CDs, not both out of the same basket.

Are the scarves you sell knit/crocheted/woven? I'm asking because I knit and crochet, and it's very difficult to sell fiber crafts at a profit. Strangers regularly comment on one of my handmade scarves and suggest that I sell my work, but they don't realize that the yarn alone for the scarf cost $45; that doesn't take into account the hours I spent making it. And, unfortunately, the cheap craft-store yarns that would allow you to sell a scarf for $20 and still come out ahead often look and feel cheap. If you are selling handicrafts, in general, they should be very good quality and very quick for you to make, and the materials should not cost much relative to your selling price. Regardless of disposable income, people often don't pay a premium for handmade things when they can buy similar things for cheaper at the mall.

Look around Etsy and get some ideas for how you can brand yourself and package things more nicely. I'd also consider maybe asking around coffee shops or social groups you know and seeing if you can find yourself a location to sell your things from, or perhaps establish some positive word-of-mouth so you're not just someone on the street. Print out some business cards and when you sell something, give your customers a couple so you they can spread the word in case someone asks where they got that scarf.

Finally, people are more likely to buy things from random people at booths "for a cause," so you may run into some resistance when potential customers learn you're just in it to make a few bucks for yourself, no matter how bad your financial situation is. People pay $5 for Girl Scout cookies because it benefits the Girl Scouts, but not too many people will pay $5 for a box of I Just Want A New Cellphone Cookies.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:04 PM on January 29, 2009 [3 favorites]

Because they're smart and sober enough to not buy food in Ziplock bags being sold out of a trunk. Life is not like the parking lot of a Phish concert.
posted by bondcliff at 1:08 PM on January 29, 2009 [37 favorites]

Here, people successfully sell those sort of items in farmer's markets and put some effort into presentation & packaging
posted by canoehead at 1:08 PM on January 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

-Street corners
-Mall entrances
-Parking Garages
-Greek Row on weekend nights (where I have a lot of success)
-When church lets out (where I also have a lot of success)
-Other random places

Dude, no offense, but you need to realize this - you're begging. You're a beggar who hands out cookies. That's why church is working so well. You may think you're just being efficient but the only difference between you and a crack dealer is what's in the bag. You need some sembalance of a business plan and a legitimate outlet to sell from.
posted by GuyZero at 1:12 PM on January 29, 2009 [39 favorites]

then why can't they pay three dollars for some baked cookies?
Because they don't want to purchase your product mix under the conditions available. The most basic rule of marketing is that you are not the target market. Stop thinking about why you buy and start thinking about your target.

Maybe I've got the wrong picture, but it sounds sort of like a swap meet table you've got there. Your target market is not going to purchase in that situation. Also, I don't think you've got a good product mix for your target. You like local bands; what evidence do you have that older and wealthier people share that interest? Do you see them at shows? Probably not. The other thing is your going after a conservative market - I'm not sure how comfortable that market is going to be purchasing food of unknown cleanliness/safety.

It sounds as though your scarves might be the best product for this market. Do you have a logo or hang tag? You need one. Why not try placing the scarves in some upscale stores on commission. It's prohibitively expensive for you to build an environment where your target customer will purchase. Leverage the environment and customer base that someone else has established.

You can continue your product mix and presentation where it works. Consider the upscale scarves an additional sales channel.
posted by 26.2 at 1:17 PM on January 29, 2009

I'm with the crowd on this one; there's no way I'm buying a cookie or a bag of popcorn from somebody sitting behind a card table in a parking garage. In fact, I'm not going to buy anything in parking garages besides a parking space. I would say that the #1 thing your business model is lacking is a store, online or otherwise, since that's where people go to buy things. They go to stores.

I think Etsy would be a good outlet for you, especially for the handmade items. As for the other stuff, I think you're going about putting together a business model backwards. It sounds like you're not selling bags of popcorn because you've looked around and seen people clamoring for popcorn; you're selling it because you think you're pretty good at making it. While that's fine and all, it doesn't magically create a market for what you're selling, especially when considering where and how you're selling it.
posted by craven_morhead at 1:17 PM on January 29, 2009

Ok, how much money will it cost to get a permit? Aren't they really expensive? And how much money will it cost to rent a booth?

Depends so wildly on your jurisdiction and the type of license you'd need, not to mention the individual particulars of street fairs, farmers markets, etc, that it's virtually unanswerable. I'd start at the website of your local government (town/city hall) and look for information about business permits and licenses.
posted by rtha at 1:25 PM on January 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Then there's another problem, my biggest one, people from those two groups tend not have that much money. I'm trying to make a semi-living, that's really hard to do when I sell bags of popcorn for $2 and they want me to sell it to them for 50 cents.
If people are going to pay $2 for "gourmet" popcorn, they're going to want something in a professionally sealed and labeled container, not a Ziploc bag.

My friend's husband, on the other hand, works in a GM factory but makes a buttload of money on the side by buying microwave popcorn in bulk at CostCo, popping it at home and portioning it into brown lunch bags. He takes the bags to work and sells them to guys on the assembly line (who don't have the time to walk all the way to a vending machine while on duty) for 50 cents a pop. If you lower your prices, you might have more luck selling your cookies and popcorn outside of a large factory or office building.
posted by Oriole Adams at 1:31 PM on January 29, 2009

Nthing Etsy and the notion of not buying food from a stranger on the sidewalk.

also then why can't they pay three dollars for some baked cookies?

A contributing factor may be for people who work in offices, they are already buying Girl Scout cookies, Cub Scout popcorn, band candy, etc from kids' coworkers and getting their baked goods from a charitable organization's bake sale that has set up shop at the office.
posted by pointystick at 1:32 PM on January 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

The scarves on Etsy, maybe. The rest of it sounds like....well, crap. Why would an older or wealthy person want any of this? Seriously?
posted by meerkatty at 1:35 PM on January 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

The Etsy suggestion is very valid, as will reading up on marketing and branding. For packaging, you may want to check ouat PaperMart. Their stuff is decent, and it's true - packaging makes a big difference in sales.
posted by medea42 at 1:39 PM on January 29, 2009

I couldn't help but notice you gave the best answer to the one that also happens to suit your prejudices about rich people. The fact of the matter is, rich people, and all sorts of other people, spend three dollars for plastic bags of cookies all the time. The people that don't buy them from you specifically are doing so because you are not selling them on your product, and yourself, period. Everyone above who has said you need to evaluate your market and support your product in a way that makes sense for that market are right on. No one buys stuff out of someone's trunk or off a card table in a nice neighborhood because it's weird and out of place, unless you're a little kid raising money for a field trip. People will tend to think you're there just to try to take advantage of what you perceive as a wealthier market, rather than provide a needed service. However, if you make an investment in the neighborhood by renting a little storefront or a cart and getting your permits, then people know you're serious and they will reciprocate in kind. This is how people successfully take advantage of a lucrative situation: they sell the idea that they and their stuff is filling a need and providing a service. A table outside a bar at closing time with cookies and popcorn is a fantastic service- who doesn't want that? A table on the corner in a suburban neighborhood- not much of a service when people can easily pick up stuff on the way home, and frankly don't want anyone setting up shop on the sidewalk. A cart selling cookies and hot chocolate at the park? Oh hell yeah. It fits the situation perfectly.
posted by oneirodynia at 1:48 PM on January 29, 2009 [20 favorites]

For food, I remember seeing something (maybe on Oprah?) about this company. If memory serves, they started out more or less where you are, trying to sell homemade baked goods without a store or commercial kitchen. Now they sell their banana bread at coffee shops and online. I’m not entirely sure how that happened, but if you really want to sell your homemade cookies and popcorn, it might be worth looking into their story.

Scarves and CDs seem like an easier way to go, though, as far as increasing your business without turning it into a full-time thing. If I were you, I’d take the advice upthread to set up shop on Etsy (or similar) or on your own website, but I’d also have business cards printed up with your contact info and a URL for your online store (I’ve had great luck with moo.com cards). You can wear your scarves around town and if someone asks where you got them, you can give them your card.
posted by Meg_Murry at 1:50 PM on January 29, 2009

so you are worried about one of these people (who also buy your popcorn in baggies) will corner you in white castle with a gloc. usually when i see outsiders in my area selling misc items like yours, the first thought that comes to my mind is that this person is a smoker trying to come up with some funds... hardly a target for robbery.

huh. those crazy stereotypes!

but, yes i agree with the earlier posters about packaging and etc. why not just market your items to a local small business who might specialize in local artistry (for the scarves), and smaller cd or used cd traders and vendors (for the cds)? i really don't know what to suggest about the popcorn, since gourmet popcorn can be found anywhere and most people pop it in the microwaves nowadays. how about try selling in wholesale or bulk (packaging would be crucial here) to smaller or local-friendly corporations who order that sort of thing for employee recognition gifts or holidays?
posted by lunachic at 1:52 PM on January 29, 2009

Oh, yeah, my parents are wealthy and live in a rich neighborhood. They're also the most penny-pinching people I know. Put yourself in the shoes of those rich people. You're lazing around, nothing to do, and you have a craving for cookies. What do you do? Run down the street and holler at the lady selling things out of her trunk? No. Never going to happen. Buy the cookies off someone knocking at the door? Er, no. Not unless you're a full-on Girl Scout, but even then... Going to a specialty store and buying whatever's more expensive is definitely not something they'll do, nor searching on the internet for the best, select, premium cookies money can buy precisely because they're older folks who avoid using the computer whenever possible.

They'd make the cookies themselves or just wait until the next grocery run for some run-of-the mill cookies.

Nthing Etsy, farmer's market, and packaging. You need to realize that marketing is the absolute basis of capitalism.
posted by Ky at 2:02 PM on January 29, 2009

I sell hand-made scarves, CDs from local artists, baked cookies, and gourment popcorn (my recipe) in ziplock bags.

This sounds bohemian/hippy. I like bohemian/hippy, but that doesn't mean I'm going to buy your stuff off the street, especially if it's food.

However there are several local farmers markets and/or artists co-ops and I bought cookies from these two women when they were selling them outta their trunk at farmers markets. One of the reasons was that they packaged the cookies attractively and were bright and cheerful at their well designed table. They also left their card in the bags of cookies. In short, they did some actual low tech marketing and it seemed if they were enjoying themselves, rain or shine. You sound miserable and like you're just trying to make a fast buck based solely on what you've written here about the situation. No way I'm going buy food, let anything else from a person behaving like that.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:18 PM on January 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

nthing guyzero and oneirodynia, and also reminding you of your previous question about the physical vibes you give off. i would never ever ever buy food off the street from you because you are pacey and fidgety, and those two things, especially from someone selling very random things on the street, generally signify a pretty bad drug addiction. people in more affluent neighborhoods will not buy from you because they don't want drug addicts on their streets; people in less affluent neighborhoods are probably either resigned to addicts and are giving you charity or are, hey, college students.
posted by lia at 2:25 PM on January 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

This is my friend who sells cookies (website is a little out of date). She has a decent gimmick -- hey it's a nice girl on a cookie delivery cart! -- and she has a range of prices and options including vegan stuff. She has a regular spot outside of the food coop on whatever their farmer's market days are and she has been building up her business to sell packages of cookies to businesses [think catering stuff]. She has a website, business cards, a dynamite set of standard recipes and she's incredibly nice and outgoing. When you come to her cart she has samples and all the cookies are laid out on little funky plates. People like spending money there because they feel they have an ongoing personal relationship with her, they feel they're getting a good value, and she's sort of plugged in to the community so she's a known quantity. She's also set up where people are already buying so they've got their wallets out so to speak.

As far as scarves, yeah I'd look at Etsy but seems like they're less of an impulse purchase unless you're already at a crafts fair. And almost no one I know buys music from local artists unless they're at a music show. In fact in my peer group pretty much no one is buying music on CD anymore anyhow.

So to the question of "how do I get more people with money to buy my stuff?" I'd suggest making one of your businesses more like a business and go all out in that direction. Small snacky foods are decent as a side business, but you want to be less hippie parking lot about it and a lot more "sixcolors six cookies!" and have like six cookie types you sell every month on a rotating basis or something.

Plus, I hate to be pedantic about this, but it takes money to make money. Sure a booth at a craft fair will cost you something but it also gives you legitimacy and access to a bunch of people in a buying mood. Wanting to make money with only time/materials investments is a little rinky-dink [it CAN work, but it's not the way to "grow your business"] and, as you've found, sort of self limiting.
posted by jessamyn at 2:30 PM on January 29, 2009 [3 favorites]

Nthing nice packaging (even brown paper bags can look cute with a rubber stamp or label on them. And as Martha Stewart taught us, never underestimate the power of grosgrain ribbon!) , farmers market etc...

Just in terms of entrepreneurship: You mention that drunken college students are some of your best customers. This may actually be an underdeveloped niche. In most cities, there are ample pastry shops competing for affluent customers, but it seems that inebriated greeks in your area are dying for something yummy to soak up the booze. Is there a way that you could play this up? Offer heartier higher cost items? Stock the vending machines in their dorms (bonus: limited direct contact)? Start a snack delivery service? Sell directly to the social council of the frats? Cater their BBQs?
posted by abirae at 2:35 PM on January 29, 2009

To be vagely more positive, there was a health food store in my old 'hood that sold homemade cookies. I think they were vegan. But my point is that you could look for a sales channel as opposed to engaging in direct sales (on the street). Look for funky, bohemian kind of stores that would want to add something fresh to their existing offerings. Think carefully about pricing as the store is going to want to mark the cookies up by about 100%. This is not a scam, it's how stores work. The cookies at my health food store were big, individually wrapped and had a reasonably attractive sticker holding the wrapping in place with a logo and ingredients. But it wasn't a big business - the clerk told me that it was just some guy with dreads who made them as a low-key home-based business. I only ever bought one for my kids but I think the cookies moved reasonably well.
posted by GuyZero at 2:36 PM on January 29, 2009

If these can buy three cars, purchase houses with three bathrooms, and feed/cloth three kids...then why can't they pay three dollars for some baked cookies?

Reiterating what others have said: they do not want cookies, whereas they do want to feed and clothe their kids and have cars and nice homes. Or, more likely, they do not want your cookies, because yours come in ziplock bags and are produced under unknown conditions, whereas they can just pick up a nice packet of cookies next time they go shopping which they know are produced under regulated conditions and which have a contact address of someone from whom they can demand recourse if there's something wrong. If I buy food from small-time operators it will be at a market or fair where I can taste the product first and also where I know there is somewhere to go should the food make me ill. I wouldn't buy from someone selling on a corner or mall entrance.

I also wouldn't buy CDs from artists I don't know or like - if it's a local artist I'll buy it at the gig or while they're busking - I wouldn't buy scarves because I can make my own, unless they were really amazing and unique and I saw them on display at a craft fair or on Etsy.

You should lose the attitude. You sound as if people owe you a living just because they have more material goods than you, and if you tried to sell me stuff with that attitude I would say no bluntly - others will see you as a beggar, as GuyZero says, and try to get you moved on. I understand the attitude - when I was a student living under the poverty line I had it too - but it does you no good. You will never bring people round with that attitude.

And finally, where I live you actually can't sell stuff on the street without some kind of permit, even if it's a coffee shop trying to flog "walk-through coffee" in the street outside their shop; it wouldn't surprise me if the same thing is true where you are. If people think you're selling stuff without a permit it just ups the dodginess factor.
posted by andraste at 2:59 PM on January 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Presentation, presentation, presentation...

Nthing ditch the Ziploc and go for some nicer packaging. You could probably add 25 to 50 cents to the price to cover the cost of the packaging and people would be even more willing to buy it than when it was cheaper. I probably wouldn't have bought food from a Ziploc bag, even in college, unless if was from someone I knew.

Now to an area more in my expertise: how nice are your scarves? Are they knitted, woven, or crocheted? Do you use cheap acrylic yarn, or nicer fibers? Are they plain garter-stitch, or do they have some interest? Are you good at knitting, and therefore make scarves that look like they could be professionally-made? You are unlikely to sell anything but a really quality-looking item to a wealthier person.
You could also sew/iron little fabric tags on your scarves with your "brand" on them so they look even more legit, and present them in a way that looks professional, like on a table folded nicely. You should put tied-on bigger tags that say the fiber used in the scarf and some sort of care instructions on the back (like Wool-Cotton blend, handwash in cool water, lay flat to dry, etc.)

If your scarves aren't knitted/crocheted, skip this part: Scarves are probably the least cost-effective knitted accessory to sell. They take forever to make unless you use that super thick yarn, which usually looks ugly anyway. You end up making like $2/hr for your labor. Not really worth it. I've found hats and headbands to make much better profits.

Also, when trying to sell to more upscale clients, dress appropriately and act friendly, but not too pushy.

Of course, Etsy and farmers markets/craft fairs, etc., are also really good ideas.

In this economy (I wonder how long we'll have to keep starting sentences that way), it's a lot harder to sell anything that's not a necessity. This includes accessories, gourmet snacks, and CDs, of course. Even to rich people. I sell jewelry and knitted stuff, so I feel your pain.
posted by fructose at 3:13 PM on January 29, 2009

You have a few directions you can go.

You could focus on what is working for you, and figure out how to make the most of it. You can sell popcorn to drunk college students for $0.50/bag? Great! Try and sell more and more popcorn to drunk college students for $0.50/bag. Try and sell enough of it, while keeping your costs low enough, that its worth your while. At the same time, you can look for ways to upsell them. Get a few different sizes of bag. Maybe try selling HUGE bags of popcorn to groups of drunk college students for $5-10 dollars, or something. Maybe branch out and sell something else that drunk college kids will want, like, I dunno, some concoction of cheap fruit juice and potassium chloride ("Lite Salt") as a way to ward off hangovers in the morning.

You could focus on what's not working for you. Like figuring out what combination of product, location & presentation/packaging will attract the larger denomination of bills you are after. Maybe its your popcorn and cookies in a nicer package sold at farmers markets.

More than a few business have started out in non-traditional venues. My old favorite pizza place was started by people who used to set up their booth at area festivals & fairs. My new favorite pizza place started selling pizza baked in their portable wood-fired oven at the local farmers market.
posted by Good Brain at 3:21 PM on January 29, 2009

Back in the 80's there was a follow-up book to Dress For Success. The author was a researcher -- he didn't care what the results were, he was paid to find out.

One thing he did was take a couple of college students and have them beg for a day. He sent them into the business district with a line about a lost wallet or something.

The first day they dressed in jeans and t-shirts. They got a little money. On day two he dressed them in business attire. They made bank. One guy gave the male student cab fare and his WSJ.

The point here is to market yourself and not just the goods. Wear the uniform of the people you are selling to so they think you belong to the club. By this I mean: every group has their 'uniform' whether it is drug dealers on the corner or the band geeks in high school. Dress and comport yourself like the upscale clients you want to sell to.

Plus, what the other are saying about the products.
posted by trinity8-director at 3:28 PM on January 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

drunk college students are a goldmine: they probably have more expendable cash and less inhibitions about blowing it then any other demographic. Lower income people and true grown ups tend to be thrifty.
but the post-pub crowd would probably love brownies, egg sandwiches, breakfast burritos or any other high calorie easily packaged food, especially if it's conveniently between their bar and their bed late at night.
probably they'd be easier to deal with if you had a buddy ('business- partner') with you. I bet you could make a lot of money doing this!
posted by genmonster at 3:35 PM on January 29, 2009

The older you are, the more you've been ripped off by "deals" out of trunks or ziploc bags. The wealthier you are, the less you need to save money by buying "deals" out of trunks or ziploc bags.

Get packaging, get shelf space in reputable stores, and perhaps you'll make more money. The key question is, will you make enough additional money to cover your additional packaging/fulfillment expenses such that it's worth your while.
posted by davejay at 4:00 PM on January 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

There's a lot of good advice here, but to answer your question about why your customers aren't of the sort you'd like, it's this simple:
drunk kids will buy trunk food, and sober adults will not.
also, I don't know anything about where you live, but if it's like anyplace I've ever heard of, you're probably breaking laws at every step, from cooking in your uninspected kitchen, to vending without a permit.
posted by moxiedoll at 4:32 PM on January 29, 2009

Sorry if this sounds glib, but I don't think "wealthy people" (high net worth) are really your target market. They tend to be tightwads (as was mentioned several times above) and seldom make impulsive purchases. Read "The Millionaire Next Door" if you want to understand more about the average wealthy USian.

You are looking for impulsive people with a few bucks burning a hole in their pocket. That's why you're having such success with drunk collegians. Either change your product and marketing, or accept and embrace your real target market.
posted by ROTFL at 4:49 PM on January 29, 2009

Right now your target market is "people who like cookies in zip-lock bags from random people."

This is a very small market as evidenced by the very small number of people I've seen doing this. (total: zero.) If it was a bigger market, more people would do it or you would have more success doing it.

If you want your target market to be "rich people I hate who should get off their high horse and buy my cookies" Well... I don't think that's ever going to happen. You might try somethign more reasonable, like "How can I sell more cookies at a higher price?" to which there are a great many answers above. Though it's a mystery why none have "best answer" checked.

Also you're making a huge mistake in assuming that people who have lots of money want to give it all away to a stranger under any circumstances. You simply want rich(er) people's money. Here's two important things to know about becoming rich: a) No one does it by giving money away and buying random stuff from random sketchy people. b) People rarely get rich by being greedy, usually the opposite. You are being greedy because all you are thinking about is Rich People's Giant Piles Of Gold. It's a fatal business trait, knock it off.
posted by Ookseer at 6:01 PM on January 29, 2009 [6 favorites]

When I lived in Austin in the late nineties, I started seeing flyers for Tiffany's Treats, a business that offered to deliver homemade cookies. I thought, "Who in the world would call the have cookies delivered?" It seemed like an idea doomed to failure. As the years went by, I started seeing more and more Tiffany's Treats delivery vehicles. The operation seemed to be getting more professional, and even thriving.

And sparked by your question, I just Google-search Tiffany's Treats and I see they have expanded to Dallas, too.

If you treat your business like a business --- with a business plan, a relentless focus on efficiency and best practices, and of course, on a quality product --- you can do very well, even with an idea that doesn't immediately seem compelling.

You seem to be approaching your enterprise like a hustler, or a small-time peddler. Learn about how businesses operate, forget about selling stuff from the trunk of a car, and follow the example of businesses that work.

With regard to people not buying from you when you set up shop in a parking lot, this is not just a stuffy, irrational prejudice. People like to have some degree of confidence that food products they consume were subject to certain quality controls, and that the seller will be accountable if, say, the food is bad. Restaurants and groceries are accountable, because we know who owns them and where to find them. By selling products out of your trunk, you announce "I am a dirt-poor parking-lot hustler running a shoestring operation." This gives rise to visions of you making and packaging your food in a shabby, cramped, roach-infested apartment kitchen. These visions do not whet the appetites of potential customers.
posted by jayder at 6:22 PM on January 29, 2009

Not much to add here, as a lot of people nailed it already - no way am I buying cookies or popcorn in a ziploc bag from a random person on the street. However, this is exactly the type of thing I see at farmer's markets, particularly if you have some kind of artsy packaging. The farmer's market in my local area attracts of lot of hipsters who would definitely go for this type of thing.
posted by RobotNinja at 6:51 AM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Just adding to the pile-on, as an individual you'd no doubt consider older, and even wealthy (although I'm just a part-time teacher now) here's my data points.

Hand made scarves? I have many (enough) scarves.

CDs from local artists. Most of us 'older people' think the music you kids fancy is shit. And we stopped going out for music a long time ago because it's all way too loud, so we don't know of your local bands. If we listen to music at home, it's to some ancient band (or even style of music) you've probably never heard of. But I assume you've got a boom-box going so the passers-by can hear what your selling. And I have actually bought the occasional disk on the street, when I've liked what I was hearing.

Gourmet Popcorn. Don't like popcorn any more. Don't have dentures yet, but even so those little pieces of kernel getting trapped between my teeth and gums has become very annoying, so it's no fun, not worth it.

Baked cookies. I can make great cookies, and if I want the good stuff, that's what I do. Or I go to the bakery and pay way too much. Since this is the one product you carry I find interesting, maybe you should start your own bakery. You don't need a storefront yet, just start by renting a spot at your local farmers market, and build your reputation there. I've watched a local bakery grow this way... now they've opened two little shops. And as pointed out upthread, you need distinctive, attractive packaging, not baggies.
posted by Rash at 4:28 PM on January 30, 2009

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