If you have been following my series of posts about starting Sunberry Baking Company, a vegan baking business based in Harrisonburg, with my wife, you have read a lot about the startup and back-end aspects of opening a new small business. (To catch up on the series and read previous posts, see our Blog page.)
For the most part, our efforts have been focused on preparing to sell our vegan treats in earnest. We did get the chance to sell at a few events in October, including the Virtually Sisters Pop-Up Shops in Staunton and the European Holiday Market in Harrisonburg.
Unfortunately (and, I admit, frustratingly), we only sold a small percentage of the products we prepared for those events. Those experiences and a nagging pessimistic voice in my head meant that I was not banking on much for our first “official” day of vending at the Harrisonburg Farmers Market, which was last Saturday, January 12th.
Boy was I wrong.
Thanks to a serendipitous combination of eerily spring-like weather, a great spot at the Market, and (of course) some pretty impressive vegan treats, Rosemary and I managed to sell out completely! And, even more surprising, we sold the 75+ items we brought to Market in less than two hours.
This surprising windfall speaks to one of the challenges of running a small business: understanding your market (customer base) fully and projecting accurately the demand for your wares on any given day, in any given context. A lot of prognostication comes down to making an educated guess based on your own research, on your knowledge of your community, and on the sensitivity of the finger you have on the pulse of the local market. Based on our limited experiences selling, we decided to prepare a good selection of different items but not make great quantities–that is, to aim for breadth rather than depth. Thus we came with a car full of goodies, including scones, cookies, cupcakes, and muffins (including some gluten-free items), plus samples of gluten-free brownies. And, amazingly, the people came to try and buy them…
Overall, it was an unbelievably positive experience for us. So much of our work thus far has been theoretical, plus a lot of “administrative” work. This was just one day, and a first day at that (which brings with it a certain novelty factor for customers), so it remains to be seen just how much the community will support our endeavor–though we are sure they will enjoy our goodies.
Perhaps the most vivid memory I have from that first Market is standing behind the table and making my pitch to eight or so people, standing together in little groups. The looks of interest and happiness on their faces were immensely rewarding; sharing our treats with them was even better. All of our products reflect our care for animals, people, and the planet; our business is a manifestation of this ethos and ethic, and reflects our passion for these causes. As a result, I am always encouraged when others are receptive to our vegan treats (“made with love”)…and to us.
We are excited for the future, and about finalizing our kitchen inspection (though that has hit a delay with VDACS and may not happen until late February…), so that we can offer Sunberry Baking Company products in more places around the Valley. For us, like so many local small business owners, offering our products for sale is about much, much more than profit margins and sales figures.
I hope we see you at the Market some Saturday soon!