Advice for a new business?
July 27, 2011 7:12 AM   Subscribe

My husband and I are taking our used bike sales & service side business to a new level - the local farmer's market! We're getting our ducks all in a row and getting ready, but have we missed anything? Advice?

I am a business student at the local state college, and I'm nearly done, so I feel reasonably confident at what I'm doing (plus, I have ten years of work experience at companies of varying size).

What we're going to be doing is setting up a spot at the Cape Ann farmer's market a few miles from our house. We will have a few ready-to-ride used bikes for sale every week, as well as things like baskets, racks, tires, tubes, and other accessories. We will be offering on-site tuneups and we will also hold free bike clinics - how to change a tire, how to lube a chain, etc. My husband has been fixing up yard sale bikes and selling them on Craigslist for two years, and he's able to fix nearly everything at this point (with the two sticking points being carbon-fiber and disc brakes - but there is a high-end bike shop in the next town).

I'm pretty excited, since this is a logical next step towards the eventual storefront we want and doesn't require a hell of a lot of startup costs. We set the company up as an LLC, which may be overkill, but I'd rather spend the relatively short money to separate the company from our personal assets. We're applying for $1m in farmer's market vendor insurance, which is the only thing not in place yet. We have an EIN and a MA state DOR number to collect sales tax, and a business checking account. My husband is doing the logo, I would rather get one done professionally but at this stage in the game we don't have the budget for it. I'll be doing the accounting work, but we will likely have an accountant take care of filing taxes.

You aren't my lawyer, and you're not giving me legal advice, but have we missed anything? Can you think of anything you'd like to see at our stand if you were coming to our farmer's market?
posted by kpht to Work & Money (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you're using a name that isn't your name, make sure you've screened it (made sure it's legally available for use) and filed a dba. I'm sure you've got a little website, even if it's just your contact information.

For every customer you get at the Farmer's market, you're getting the eyeballs of lots of potential customers so making sure you've got a name that will stick and a place for folks who didn't bring their bike that day can look you up -- even email or check a Twitter feed to see if you'll be back next week or where else you'll be -- will help you build momentum.

Good luck. I'd drag my bike to my farmer's market if I knew you'd be there!
posted by Gucky at 7:29 AM on July 27, 2011

Business cards and/or flyers with services & contact information. A local bike map (perhaps highlighting farmers market, local food, or farms on the map) -- there likely is already a bike map printed so I'm suggesting you have copies of that available. Baskets for carrying veggies!

If there isn't a bike rack (likely their is), bike parking at the market would be awesome. If there is a bike rack and it's feasible, being located near the bike rack might be sweet.

A facebook page. Lately I find myself "liking" businesses as a way of bookmarking them. I can always find hours/contact info/website URL when I have a facebook "relationship" with the businesses I frequent.

Several farmers market vendors are in the habit of sending weekly updates of what they're bring to market -- either on facebook or via email in newsletter format. I really like knowing what will be available. Planning your marketing campaign/strategy and having it up and running when you start will really help.
posted by countrymod at 7:38 AM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Not sure what your cost/profit level would be, but perhaps some nifty T-shirts with your business's name/logo website?

Make them cool enough people would buy one, and cheap enough that you could toss one in for free with every bike, or purchase over X.
posted by timsteil at 7:49 AM on July 27, 2011

We've registered the business and the name as an LLC with the state, (Big Mike's Bikes! As my husband is big, and named Mike.)

He had a simple blogspot that we're going to revamp, a facebook page, we're going to get on Yelp with the help of our awesome friends who have bought bikes from us and can give us some good reviews. We'll throw together a twitter and probably register an actual domain at some point.

Luckily my husband is also a self-employed DJ, so he's done all this before and we have a decent promotional network. We'll also have business cards so people who see a bike but obviously didn't bring money or need to think about it can contact us and arrange to purchase it at a different time. We'll also have information for the farmer's market website once we start.

I do believe it has a bike rack! It's at Stage Fort Park, which is a large area with a beach, grills, baseball field, playground, etc. It also hosts a cycling event yearly, but on a different date than the farmer's market.
posted by kpht at 7:51 AM on July 27, 2011

Good advice up-thread, but I'd suggest making your own version of a local bike map, with your logo and contact info on it. Printing is cheap (you can even do it on a laser printer to start) and printing something people want to hang on to is a great marketing tool.

Designers cringe over the spec work ethics, but you can use one of the logo contest sites to get a bunch of possible logos, and only pay if somebody submits one you like. If you're branding your business and printing stuff, don't go with a homegrown logo. You'll have to see it every day, so you should be happy with it.
posted by Scram at 7:53 AM on July 27, 2011

Consider offering a few services for a fee:

$ for a rider's consult (I tell you what I want to use a bike for, you give me a list of bikes that would suit my needs/body type/fitness level/budget). Less$ follow up after purchase (from you or someone else) to adjust bike & discuss other gear. (the initial service could be a form the rider fills out, you respond 3 days or a week later with the recommendation.)

Offer consultations on old bikes - can it be repaired? approx cost of repair? would it be better to donate it or maybe sell it to you? How much would you pay for the bike? (There are plenty of people who have an old bike or two in their garage or basement - most folks just throw them out if they're in disrepair because they don't know how to fix them)

Cheap business card idea -- print your biz info onto paper, cut to size and glue to front side of old Bicycle playing cards.
posted by jaimystery at 7:56 AM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Get a Square and take credit cards! I run out of cash really quickly when shopping at farmers' markets -- I would be happy to find you accepted credit cards.

I just switched to Square from a traditional credit card processor and machine -- MUCH cheaper, and pocket-portable instead of 2 pounds of aaaagh to carry around.
posted by at 8:08 AM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites] wow, that's an amazing idea! we both have android phones so we signed up!
posted by kpht at 8:36 AM on July 27, 2011

Bike of the Week on your FB page. Free ice water and maybe biking water bottles with your name on them.
posted by LarryC at 8:54 AM on July 27, 2011

Give out lots of stickers with your name/logo. Also hand out business cards with your website anf FB.

Also a big vinyl banner helps attract people visually.

If your town/area has a bicycle coalition or any other bike groups, make sure you get friendly with them!
posted by radioamy at 10:19 AM on July 27, 2011

I strongly suggest having your web presence sorted out before you head to farmers market. Pet peeve of mine to come across cool business, ask for website/business card/newsletter sign up only to be told "oh we are working on business card/website/newsletter -- check back next month". Have you info up and running with permanent URLS when you open for business.

Also suggestion, if there are local rides -- hook up with them and see if any want to make the farmers market a stop.

Two of our Ag/land conservation groups host an event called "Tour de Farm" which is a bike ride to various farms and it's a very cool fundraiser. If there is something similar in your area, see if sponsoring that event makes sense for you -- and if there isn't, consider putting one together. That's a little bit outside the bounds of "bike shop at farmers market" but being involved with the community is, I think, a great way to build business and rapport with customers and businesses.
posted by countrymod at 10:54 AM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Baskets and panniers.

If I'm at a farmers market and I see a bike shop, I'm probably also holding some shopping.

I want to be able to imagine myself cycling home with my goodies in a basket, like some French peasant.

Even if you don't want to sell baskets, then at least have a secondhand bike that looks like the dream transport of someone who buys their mushrooms, apples etc from a farmer just because they like the experience of doing it.

If you want to build a mailing list, why not have a competition each month where you give a small hamper to whoever wins a prize, from entries people submit. The goodies from the hamper come from stalls at the market. They have to come to the market to pick up their prize.
posted by MuffinMan at 11:05 AM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

- Something for the kiddos (a horn to honk, bell to ring, lights to play with, rig up a tricycle that blows bubbles when you pedal it....)
- A bike full of flowers and veg (can be fake), with an arrow in your direction
- Water
- Lights (I love these little LEDS) and bells....
- Spoke cards with a cool graphic and, more discreetly, your info
- Your own version of a bicycle crash form (too gruesome?)
posted by cocoagirl at 12:44 PM on July 27, 2011

@countrymod: done! we own right now, and we just have to set up a CMS or blog or anything. We have over a week to get something up before the first market date, so I'm sure we can do it. Facebook fan page is done, and twitter is on my list.

@cocoagirl: omg, the lights idea, thanks! we usually order some frog-type LEDs that wrap around the fork or handlebar and look pretty awesome for very cheap, and throw them in to sweeten a bike sale. You totally reminded us to order more! and the spoke cards idea is wonderful as well.
posted by kpht at 4:30 PM on July 27, 2011

What a great idea:) As a bike crazy person, I would go out of my way to check you guys out. Unfortunately, I am on the wrong side of the world. Here's a brain dump of some ideas.

Can you cycle to the market? Do people do this? I'm assuming so, but it's hard to tell from the farmers' market website. Some of this may not work if they don't.

A sign that says "check your tyre pressure at BigMikesBikes" near the bike racks. If I rode there I would totally go and check you out, and I'm awful at remembering to pump up my tires. It would give me an excuse to chat to you, and I would probably try really hard to buy something from your stall.

Small cheap accessories, puncture kits and maps. As I bike nerd, I will try my best to buy something from you, even if I didn't need it, so make it easy:)

Maps! Make them on bikely, link to them on your website and give them out for free. Map out the best way to cycle to the market and make it available everywhere. Get "how to ride to the market" on the market's website. Can you cycle near the market? Make a map of that. Also sell long distance touring maps if you can get them.

Don't judge people by gender or fitness level. Be friendly, helpful and knowledgeable about cycling in the local area. Know stuff about the bike models you're selling and tell potential customers. People love a good back story, especially about secondhand things.

Are there any bicycle advocacy groups in your area? Anyone in the local government or the college who's involved in promoting cycling, or even just a big bike nerd? Get to know them. They will be a good source of knowledge, and will probably have promotional material and be able to help promote you through their network. They'll also probably be excited to know that you exist.

However, be wary of over hyping yourself until you have worked out the logistics. Nothing worse than turning up to something you heard about on twitter and discovering that they're still working out how to use credit cards and only have three bikes. Take a couple of weeks to work out the kinks, then start marketing the workshops. Have workshop schedules printed out for people to take.

Maybe ask some friends to come and "try out" the bikes on the first day. People will be able to test ride them right? Hopefully there is somewhere sensible for customers to try them out near the stall. Otherwise, you might want to bring a trainer.

Panniers and baskets, absolutely. Can you sew? I've made panniers by sewing an ockie strap onto a cheap reuseable grocery bag. Memail me if you want more details. There is a huge gap in the market for cheap panniers. Also fenders in autumn.

Offer delivery and sell car racks.

Can you get yourself on the "news and events" section of the market website?

Get to know the stall holders on either side of you. If people are test riding bicycles near your stall, it'd be good to create some good will with the neighbours.

I love the contest idea.
posted by kjs4 at 9:30 PM on July 27, 2011

Oh, and one more thing. I would love a wooden fruit box as a rear basket for my bike. You know, the ones people use to display fruit in at farmers' markets. If you can source some and work out how to put them on a rack, I'm sure I'm not the only one who would buy one.
posted by kjs4 at 11:06 PM on July 27, 2011

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