Today I put out the "No Parking" signs in Snohomish, for the last time this year. It's a day that seems nearly unattainable when we're sitting at the beginning of the Market marathon back in May. It also likely seems unimportant to the average civilian. But for a Market Manager, it's a big deal. To me, it's like the final .1 miles of the 13.1 half-marathon. It's that last push that I know, come hell or high water, will get me to the finish line that is SO close.
Ranging from 20-22 weeks, the market season is a long stretch - but then it's nearly gone in a flash. Every Tuesday, aside from 1 that I had scheduled away, I've gone into town and put those "No Parking" signs out in a manner that I feel should make sense to anyone utilizing the street for parking in the next 48 hours. Despite my best attempts though, at least 8 cars didn't heed the warnings and were ultimately towed this season. Many of you who read my blog posts know of a few choice instances where confrontation was involved, or at the very least excuses. I'm actually thinking of publishing a book of titled "The Unbelievable Excuses People Tell Market Managers." But I digress.
This roundabout-ly brings me to a fun fact that I've wanted to write about for some time. And, while it's specific to MY situation and my job as Market Manager, I'm sure many of us could write funny, sardonic satire about the ins and outs of the day-to-day of any job, specifically those running their own business (you know who you are!) Since it's the experience I have though, let's give it a shot. What does it really mean to be a Farmers Market Manager?
Well first of all, folks think that you run a farmers market for 10, 15 or 22 weeks...whatever the time frame is of your particular market. In my case it's May through mid-October, and it involved 3 markets this year. Then it's over, and you basically have nothing else to do but Netflix and chill, right? This time of year, as things wind down, I frequently hear "What will you do all winter?" Nothing, Suzie. Nothing at all. This is a myth often held about market management and I'm here to put it to rest.
Market Managers are often part of a co-op style membership system. This means that the market is a member-owned business, run by a volunteer Board of Directors. Now, they have a vested interest in the success, as well as retaining good Market Managers, but they also have full-time jobs their working, in addition to their participation as a vendor and Board Member in the market. So, that leaves a lot of the administrative work in the off-season to...yours truly.
"So, like, you file away folders and do some spreadsheets?" Yes x 100,000. Market Managers are usually the sole holder of financial information for vendors, to keep it confidential. In order see our successes (and failures) over the course of a season, we have to have numbers and reports. I can tell you that with an average of 50 vendors each week, plugging in numbers to a large, monstrous spreadsheet takes about 6+ hours. This year, we averaged closer to 80 vendors per week in Snohomish, with over 120 total for the season. That puppy's going to take some serious time to sit down and work through. Not to mention time chasing down vendors for their info or clarification on issues. I get to do this multiple times, since I'm the fortunate manager of 3 markets.
When I finalize the report, I need to make the numbers make sense to our Board, to our Membership and to our customers. 3 completely different sectors. We want to be proud of our success and show it off. This helps us prove our worth in a community. So I create infographics, reports, and an agenda for our big wrap-up meeting, our social media page, and our documentation.
This year, we decided to do a Harvested Holiday Market, which I am stoked, and terrified about at the same time. This is a whole new ballgame as we've never done it before. Not someone to do something at a C+ level, I'm giving it all I've got. We'll level up my Mother of Markets character a few notches for that I'd say. So yes, that's a this-year extra-work thing, but there's plenty more that needs to be done to wrap up our season.
We need to ensure our bills are paid, our staff are paid and W-9's collected. We need to make sure all of our volunteers got their hours signed off on, and that sometimes means meeting up at Looking Glass Coffee to sign off on them.
The storage unit doesn't clean itself, nor is it water-tight, so a run-through and re-org needs to happen there, too. Inventory of items we have and need takes place and are noted for next year. Some of them need to be purchased in the current tax year, it just depends.
There are many other reports that have to deal with our SNAP/EBT funding and grant finances that need to be turned in - many of them can use information from the MONSTER report mentioned earlier, but it still needs to be formatted in ways that make sense to what we're submitting for.
Normally by December, things are wrapped up nicely, and I can mostly enjoy the holiday season. That's not to say there aren't emails, inquiries, follow ups and such that happen ALL THE TIME. Folks looking to inquire about next year, musicians that want to book out their schedules early on. Daily tasks that cannot be ignored. Vendor questions that have come up because they're trying to close their books for the year. All of this comes back to Market Manager job descriptions. When I go to holiday fairs and festivals, I'm always armed with business cards, looking for vendors who might be a good fit. I'm "on" so that I can come across professionally.
Come January the year kicks off with a bang. Conference schedules (I'll have 2 next year, at least!) along with new grants and funding opportunities that need to be plugged into the deadline calendar. Since everyone is usually gung-ho about the new year, the inquiries start flooding in much more frequently as folks gear up for their planning. We need to ensure we apply for appropriate permits, get the contracts set up for the year with staffing, or decide to search for new staff if previous people aren't available. I need to update and renew my contract(s) and finalize official dates for market openings.
Go to conferences, make friends, see old friends, come away with AMAZING IDEAS that we CAN'T WAIT TO START! Release new vendor application, and the floodgates open.
We then start moving closer and closer to spring - poster designs, Easter parade float, opening day festivities. All this in line with new vendor recruitment, current vendor retention and customer engagement on our social media platforms. Updating the website, checking the mail, responding to the dozens upon dozens of emails that come in each day. Add in any of the new ideas we had last fall, and we have a full plate from about February-April. I distribute posters all over town, or utilize a High School volunteer to do some of the outward areas. When I distribute materials, it takes about double the time as I like to talk and engage with business owners - ensuring they know I'm the point of contact and that we're on good terms.
I order up a few boxes of supplies from Amazon and start making my vendor packets for 100+ vendors, ensuring all info is updated and my master spreadsheet for the new year is updated. Not going to lie, this often takes place in between cooking meals and doing my own chores as my hand cramps from stapling so many damned folders.
Another part of being a Market Manager is being involved. I often try to attend Chamber meetings or visit City Council meetings where they pertain to the market. We have monthly Board meetings to decide how to curate new ideas and what makes sense for the coming year. I frequent various businesses to show support, just as they did with the market.
Just for fun, I'll shamefully plug in here that I also run Mockingjay Press...social media for 25 clients, many with daily posting needs, newsletter creations, event management and more...That's a 12-month, 365 gig too. Add in being a human and having my own goals (fitness & health) along with 3 energetic dogs, a fun social life, and other volunteer commitments I've enjoyed being part of.
And suddenly, we're at opening day and I think of the folks that asked me 7 months ago: "but what will you do now that the market is over?"
So, I'll tell you now, as we head into the final countdown. I'm tired boss. Real tired. I love what I do and I wouldn't trade it for the world. The marathon of markets is more than you may think though, so have some kindness and grace the next time you see your market manager in a stress-out day...or even when you see her on a day off. Perhaps don't comment on her mid-day, November pedicure with "Gosh, you must just love all that time off you get off!"
It's a truckload of work to put on this show (aka circus) - and I cannot thank the folks that put me in the Manager position enough for trusting me to do the job. I'm going to keep giving it 110% as long as I can. The small business life isn't for the faint of heart though.