Cooperation Makes for a Fun, Successful Market, Part I

by Thomas N. Tomas

Editor's note: This is Part I of a two-part article. 

We have been trained to believe that marketing is a competitive activity in which the way to "win" is to beat the "competition" in the marketplace. This approach takes the narrow view that the success of a marketing enterprise can best be measured by making more money than anyone else selling in the market. The real measures of success in marketing are much broader.

Marketing is an activity we engage in as a community in order to exchange goods and services and to have fun. The real measure of success in a marketing transaction is how much fun or enjoyment or satisfaction we as a community get from the process. It doesn't show up directly on the balance sheet, but without it a marketing enterprise soon dies. If the buyers don't have a good experience they will go elsewhere. If the sellers don't enjoy it, they will quit selling. The market will no longer exist.

Let's look at if from the vegetable buyer's point of view. He or she can go to a supermarket and select almost any vegetable grown anywhere in the world from a produce display of identical, cosmetically perfect specimens. The store is well lit, climate controlled with background music. The price is low. Recipes are provided along with tips on how to store and prepare. What more could you ask for? If you want to know more you can always watch "Your Produce Man" or some "Gourmet" cooking show on TV or pick up "Fact Sheets" from your Extension office.

What's missing is contact with another real live human being who has worked the soil, planted the seed and nurtured the crop. Someone who you can talk to. Someone who knows something about vegetables beyond price. Someone who you can have fun with sharing experiences about growing and preparing and eating real food. Oh, sure, you may haggle about the price, but that is part of the fun of a face-to-face bargain. It has always been a part of the dance people have done in markets since they first began. You each make an assessment of quality, quantity, value and how well you like each other before you arrive at a price. That's what the supermarket cannot provide.

I like the idea of the dance in the marketplace as a way of understanding why some markets succeed and others wither and die. You go to a dance for many reasons, but mostly to have fun. If only you and your partner show up, you have to really like them to have a good time, in which case you should have stayed home and danced to records. At a dance you expect to have fun with different partners in a group where everyone else is having fun. As a matter of fact, you only have fun if everyone else is having a good time. That's why someone is always encouraging the wallflowers and stags to get together. Live music is best because you can ask for your favorite tune, and the musicians improvise just for you.

So, too, in the marketplace. If you are the only seller, folks are going to have to really, really like you in order to have fun and buy your vegetables. You need other sellers to provide a setting in which you can do the dance of the marketplace with your customers. You need to encourage both buyers and other sellers to come to the dance, join in and have fun. You are going to have to get together and decide what kind of live atmosphere you want to create in your market so that everyone can have a good time.

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