Let’s start with a few warm-up questions: If you always dream of running your own coffee business, where will you sell your products? In a grocery store? In cafés and bakeries? Online?
A popular option is to start a mobile coffee business at farmers markets.
Farmers' markets are designated locations for the sale of fresh food and beverages. Along with providing an outlet for local products, farmers markets help generate traffic for nearby businesses and help sellers strengthen their social ties with communities.
Also, they can be helpful as a testing ground, offering sellers an opportunity to discover their target customers, hone their selling techniques, and try out new products.
So, in this guide, we’ll explore how to start a mobile coffee business at farmers markets.
While it may seem as easy as buying freshly roasted coffee bags, setting up tables, and bringing in customers, there are actually strategies to keep in mind to increase your profitability and improve your odds for success. From choosing your suppliers to marketing to customers, we’ll cover it all to help you get started on the right foot.
Buckle up and start now!
Why should you consider running a mobile coffee business at farmers markets?
Whether you’re a local coffee seller or just interested in starting a mobile coffee business in the future, selling coffee at farmers markets can be beneficial.
Firstly, one of the main benefits is face-to-face interaction with customers. Face-to-face interaction can elevate the perceived value of an experience or a product as it showcases the seller's intention, effort, and authenticity, which creates meaning for customers.
Instant feedback from consumers also helps you understand the demand for their coffee. You learn what customers like and dislike about your product, which allows you to improve and adapt to customers’ needs.
Secondly, aside from coffee inventory expenses and relatively small setup costs, there are not many risks involved in starting a mobile coffee business at local farmers markets.
Lastly, selling coffee in-person can help you sell coffee online as well. To be sure, selling directly at farmers markets gives you instant credibility online and provides your offline consumers a convenient way to reach you. For instance, while you may sell coffee in person on weekends, you may be generating online sales throughout the entire weekdays.
Now, we’ll detail how to start a mobile coffee business at local farmers markets successfully.
6 strategies to start a mobile coffee business at farmers markets
1. Plan your business & calculate relevant costs
A clear plan is undoubtedly vital for success as a business owner. It will help you map out the essentials of your coffee business and discover some unknowns. A few important questions to answer are:
- What are the startup and ongoing costs?
- How much should you charge your customers?
- What will you name your business?
Now, let’s find the answer to each question one by one!
1.1. What are the startup and ongoing costs?
Startup costs for a mobile coffee business at farmers markets are not actually too high - because, unlike coffee shops, you don’t require a physical space to operate. To further refine your starting budget, only invest in what you absolutely need. If you plan to serve coffee at several first few events, for instance, don’t spend money on porcelain cups right away.
Below is the essential equipment you will need to get started:
- Coffee truck/cart
- Coffee beans*
- Batch brewer**
- Air pots/carafes***
- Drink add-ons (i.e., sugar, syrups)
- Serving items (i.e., cups, stirrers, and lids)
- Water pump for your coffee maker
- Refillable 5-gallon water jugs
- Handwashing sink
*Depending heavily on whether you want to buy big 5lb bags to sell brewed coffee, or smaller bags to sell them as retail, or both.
**The batch brewer is responsible for all your brewed coffee. In fact, regular brewed cups of coffee are a staple in most farmers markets, and serving brewed coffee is a quick and easy way to serve a large number of customers.
***You need something to brew all your coffee into. Air pots are a common option thanks to their convenient size and being considerably cheaper than thermal carafes. But thermal carafes are a good option as well. Many of them are easy to use in terms of quickly pouring out coffee and showing you how much coffee is left in the carafe so that you know when to start brewing the next one.
Like new apartments or office suites, basically, farmers market stalls are blank slates. You can drive your coffee cart to farmers markets and start selling coffee. However, you should consider the following costs & fees:
- Stall fee. This is a one-time fee for the season or the week, depending on each market. The fees can be as low as $100 to $600 per season, depending on the market’s popularity and location. In some major cities, such as New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, stall fees are likely to be much more expensive (and stalls themselves more competitive).
- Tables and seating. If not provided by farmers market management, you will need a sturdy surface to display signage and samples. Some farmers markets have high, permanent counters, but a folding banquet table can do in a pinch. You’ll also need chairs for customers. So, the costs are $50 and up for a banquet table; and $10-15 per folding chair.
- Personnel. Most farmers markets are open at least 4 hours per week, often from 8 a.m or 9 a.m to 12 p.m or 1 p.m on weekends. Some markets have multiple open days or longer hours. Even if you choose a farmers market with modest hours, you will probably want at least one partner to help you with loading, unloading, transactions, as well as supervision if you have to find market management or even run to the bathroom!
- Cash storage. In our opinion, you will still need a lockbox for cash and change. Remember to head to the bank to load up small bills and coin rolls the day before market day. The cost is from $25 for a basic cash box.
- Credit card processing. These days, even farmers markets vendors need to accept credit cards. Some credit card processing apps, like Square, offer subscription - and per-transaction pricing for their mobile processing services. There’s no need for plug or wiring - the stripe-and-chip reader attaches right to your phone and tablet. Email credit card receipts are excellent for announcing upcoming events and driving customers to your website. The cost is variable but generally less than 3% of each transaction; readers are often free.
- Printed collateral. This may include signage, paper slips with your website and contact information, flyers announcing events at the farmers market, order sheets listing inventory available for purchase online or by mail, and labels or ingredient lists (in case required by your local authorities or market). The cost is negligible if you print them at home.
1.2. How much should you charge your customers?
To calculate how much you should charge your customers, consider the amount you invested or owe (if you took out a loan to start your mobile coffee business) along with your monthly expenses. For instance, say you plan to pay $1,500 per month to repay a $20,000 loan in 13 months. If you plan to take part in 4 farmers markets per month, you will need to make at least $375 per market to cover just your startup costs.
If you want to charge by the hour, consider setting a minimum time limit to ensure that you can make enough money at each market. For markets at which you will sell coffee by the cup, research the prices that your local competitors charge. If coffee shops in your area charge $3 for a shot of espresso, for instance, you will know that is a reasonable price point for your customers.
1.3. What will you name your business?
Your name is your identity, and it’ll be useful in many different settings. However, ultimately, a business name sets you apart from other sellers or competitors out there.
Below are some tips for you when naming your mobile coffee business:
Determine your goals
A business name should be memorable, catchy, relatable to your customers, and set clear expectations relating to your products, services, or a general sense of your business. Ensure that you’re aware of your desired target market, the way you want to attract your customers, and the specific emotions you want your business name to evoke.
There are many ways to brainstorm a name for your mobile coffee business; in fact, this part can be a lot of fun. Here are some brainstorming techniques to inspire you to find the best name for your new business:
- Jot down a list of particular keywords for your mobile coffee business name
- Visualize the type of business you’re trying to create as well as everything that comes along with a mobile coffee business to bring life to this idea
- Think of some adjectives that would describe your mobile coffee business and the types of products offered to derive inspiration
Utilize your farmers market location
The name of your farmers market or city is a great way to brand your business. You can use nicknames that define what your location is well known for or use slogans or historical accounts that define your city. Some examples include:
- Colorado Coffee Cart
- Missouri Mocha Co.
- Seattle Espresso Shots
- Sips in Singapore
Connect through emotion
Psychology plays a remarkable role in connecting with customers, and those who feel connected to your business become loyal customers.
That’s why words that evoke a specific emotion, reminders of travel memories, and personal experiences may be good for business and branding. Incorporating these emotions into your brand name can be a sure way to earn repeat customers for your mobile coffee business.
Some examples include
- Mocha Me Happy Co.
- Brew-tiful Day
- Bon Voyage Beans
- Big Journey Brews
Use pun fun, word combination, and alliteration
It doesn't need to be stressful or dull when naming your business. You can create puns, combine two relevant words/concepts, or use the same letter and sound repetition. For example
- Latte For Work
- Coffee Cart Cove
- Busy Barista Blends
Make it short and sweet
Sometimes, simply using one word can be more powerful and engaging. Consider your brand carefully and brainstorm adjectives and synonyms that describe your business idea well. For example, ask yourself how you’d describe what you’re offering (e.g., latte, espresso, etc.). Meanwhile, consider how you want customers to feel (satisfied, convenienced, energized, etc.) and so on.
Use a business name generator
You can look for a business name generator to make everything simple. A free business name generator tool by How to Start an LLC can help you discover the perfect name for your mobile coffee business. Simply follow the three steps: Search, select, and get the perfect domain name!
This tool also allows you to further filter your results by location, industry, and domain name to create more customized and unique brand names for your mobile coffee business.
2. Secure all necessary licenses and permits
Before selling a single item at farmers markets, you will need to get right with the law. Start by contacting the management team of your target market and asking what licenses and permits you’ll need to sell legally.
Understand that if you want to sell coffee at a farmers market in a neighboring county, you might need to obtain licenses and permits from their local government to stay legal. Even though the red tape can feel daunting at first, you should embrace this learning process. Soon it’ll be no sweat, and you’ll feel much more confident as a business owner when you know you are following the law to the letter.
In general, you typically need a seller’s permit, a food handlers’ license, as well as vending location permits.
As a mobile coffee business, you may not be required to obtain a food handlers’ license or a health certificate as you will be vending drinks in disposable, single-use cups. Some states govern coffee shops as strictly as restaurants, while others are more relaxed and don’t view coffee as a significant public health concern. Be prepared to obtain a food handler’s license as a legal precaution regardless. This certification also sets customers’ minds at ease.
Just as with licenses and permits, you may need insurance to operate safely and lawfully. Business insurance protects your business's financial well-being in the event of a covered loss. There are different types of insurance policies for different types of businesses with different risks.
Finally, you may want to set up a formal ownership structure for your business. For instance, if you’re the only owner, you can register as a sole proprietorship. But if you share ownership with someone else, you’ll have to attain a different registration. By doing so, you can enjoy legal protection and other possible tax benefits.
3. Define your sales strategy
You cannot sell something without a clear sales strategy. In other words, it is not a good idea to just drive your coffee cart to a farmers market, prepare everything, and wait for customers to come to you. Remember that there are many sellers like you at a farmers market, and you need to make yourself stand out.
So, below are some suggestions for your sales strategy.
3.1. Sell brewed coffee
As we said above, brewing is the most common way to make coffee. Brewed coffee is often made by pouring hot or boiling water over ground coffee beans, contained in a filter.
Great coffee always starts with great beans. If you’re buying bags of pre-ground coffee from local supermarkets, you’re doing it wrong. Coffee is a perishable item, which reaches its peak flavor just a few days after it’s been roasted. It tends to go stale 1 month to 1.5 months after that. The stuff you find in local supermarkets has probably been on the shelf for months.
Your best option is to find a local coffee roaster/supplier and buy coffee when it is still fresh. You can buy big bags, but try to finish them a month after the roast day.
3.2. Sell bags of coffee
Selling coffee in smaller bags as a retailer? Why not?
By selling smaller coffee bags, you can:
- Motivate customers to buy more. Many people would love to brew coffee at home. In addition to trying your ready-made brewed coffee at farmers markets, they may want to buy some small coffee bags, bring them home, and brew by themselves. It would be a great idea if you sell both brewed coffee and small bags of coffee.
- Help customers try new blends. Keeping bags smaller encourages customers to try more new blends. They can easily switch to other coffee blends if they want.
- Create less waste. Imagine that someone is taking a risk on a blend that they are not sure about. If they don’t like it, they will have to throw away a lot of coffee. You can prevent that from happening with smaller bags of coffee.
3.3. Give customers your business card
It’s 2022; do we still need to hand out business cards to customers at events?
The answer is simply yes!
With a business card, you can give customers and perspectives all of your important information without even breaking eye contact.
There are some basics that should be on your business card, including your business name & contact information. In addition, a QR code is a great way of sending someone directly to any content you want them to see, whether it be your business social profile, homepage, or relevant landing page. Especially, with a QR code, you can make it easy for customers to go online and buy from you later after the event.
It’s easy and affordable to design and print creative business cards, so even today, you should always have some to hand when you attend the next event.
All of these strategies lead us to the next point…
4. Buy quality coffee from Dripshipper
We understand how hard it is to find high-quality coffee beans for your business, as there are a huge number of options out there. However, we believe that you should give Dripshipper a nice try for the following reasons:
- When mentioning Dripshipper, freshness is the first thing that pops into customers’ minds. Dripshipper guarantees freshness by roasting their beans right after you place an order, and using UPS or USPS for super-fast 3-5 day delivery. That makes Dripshipper stand out from the crowd.
- Dripshipper’s coffee is sourced from some of the most well-known farms and suppliers in the coffee industry. All their coffee roaster’s facilities are certified and compliant with all necessary regulations, including FDA.
- Dripshipper offers more than 40 options of rich and affordable coffee blends to compliment every customer’s taste. You can choose the ones that best suit your needs and your customers’ preferences.
- Dripshipper offers a private label coffee service to help you sell your own branded coffee with your logo on it. Dripshipper does all the hard work for you. All you need is to upload your own logo or label design and order immediately. That’s it!
- Dripshipper lets you buy in bulk and save big. Whether you buy small bags and sell them as retail, or buy big coffee bags, you will love the savings you get when buying in bulk.
- Dripshipper delivers coffee at affordable and unbeatable prices. Besides, they make their packaging & pricing plans public and clear to help you quickly make your decision.
- Dripshipper makes it easy to buy coffee - you just need to access their web app, create an account, and start buying your coffee. Everything happens in a few minutes!
You can also use their demo store to obtain samples.
5. Find suppliers for other equipment
Once you’ve found your trustworthy coffee supplier, it’s high time to buy other equipment. For common items like cups, tables & chairs, etc., you can easily find them on online marketplaces like Amazon, Best Buy, eBay, and Etsy. Just simply enter the keywords in the search box and choose the right suppliers for your business.
Tips: Online reviews can reveal a lot about suppliers, so you should read them carefully. Besides, some product discovery tools like Thomasnet.com are also great for finding new, quality suppliers.
When you set out to purchase something big, like a mobile coffee truck/cart, you want to explore the pros and cons of purchasing a brand-new or a used one. We’ll show them right below, together with where you can find them.
New Mobile Coffee Cart
Used Mobile Coffee Cart
- You may customize your cart to suit your needs with the manufacturer (in case you buy it directly as a made-to-order purchase)
- Fewer issues with faulty parts or breakdowns
- Looks great, clean, and ready for business
- Often less expensive than buying a brand-new one
- May already have necessary permitting
- May have all the equipment and fixtures to quickly get started
- Often high initial costs
- Higher equipment costs to add customization to suit your menu
- You need to get permits from local agencies
- Coffee equipment may need repair or better maintenance
- Structure and equipment may need cleaning & upgrading/replacing to suit your needs
- It may be difficult to discover faulty wiring or damaged structure (dry rot)
Where to find one
You can find new & used mobile coffee carts on some marketplaces like Alibaba, AliExpress, and eBay. There is a wide range of carts with different designs, styles, and dimensions for you to choose from. Or, you can access some websites such as UsedVending, CustomCoffeeVans, Kareem Carts, Seattle Coffee Company, and Green Joe Coffee Truck for more optimization options. Contact them directly and evaluate products by yourself.
Whether you’re considering purchasing a new or a used coffee cart, keep in mind that the cart and its equipment are a one-time investment, and their quality matters a lot. Thus, don’t settle for cheap, unverified options, and do your due diligence before making your final decision.
5. Get your spot at the market
First, it’s a must to research farmers markets in your area. Fortunately, even the smallest farmers markets have some presence online to find information. Head to their website to figure out if they’re currently accepting additional vendors. Many communities offer different farmers markets throughout the entire city or county, with each market hosted on various days and locations.
Determine which market works best for you and sign up. However, we highly recommend visiting the target market first before sending in your application and fee. By visiting each farmers market first, you’ll determine whether the market is a good fit for you and your mobile coffee business.
Next, secure your spot at the target market. Popular farmers markets usually have waiting lists, so it’s normal if you don’t get your first choice during your first year in business. Perhaps you need to compromise on location, opting for that out-of-the-way suburban farmers market until the plum downtown spot opens up.
In order to maximize your chances of getting your first/second choice, contact the market management team as early as possible, well before the season begins. The worst-case scenario is you get on next year’s waiting list before all the latecomers.
6. Create and place approved signage
Make sure your mobile coffee cart/stall is eye-catching. Check with the market management team for guidance on approved colors, materials, along with any other notable restrictions. The easiest and cheapest way to list subject-to-change wares is a whiteboard if you have good handwriting. If your menu doesn’t vary much from week to week, consider printing a banner listing prices and items.
6. Promote your online presence
Last but certainly not least, it is high time to begin marketing your new mobile coffee business.
The majority of marketing is now conducted online. To make sure that you have a dedicated online presence, you can start by creating various social media pages on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or other platforms. This allows you to engage with prospective customers and better establish your brand.
Consider taking high-quality photos of your cups of brewed coffee, ready-to-use smaller coffee bags, or your behind-the-scenes photos when working at farmers markets - and post regularly. Even if you aren’t completely up and running yet, let customers know that you’ll be offering coffee at your farmers markets soon.
It’s also essential to have a coffee website with a shopping cart. While you may be working at one or two farmers markets every week, you can still sell coffee online 24/7. This will help compound your time as well as effort to sell as much coffee as possible throughout the week.
While creating a website is a necessary step, you may fear that it is out of your reach because you have little or no website-building experience. While this might have been a reasonable fear back in 2015, web building technology has seen huge advancements in the last few years that make the lives of small business owners much simpler.
Website builder tools like Shopify, Wix, Squarespace, and WooCommerce have made creating a basic website extremely simple. You don’t have to hire a web developer or designer to set up a website that you can be proud of.