The Farmers Markets and the LOCAL stores have a common theme: Bring the community together and provide extraordinary service in a happy, friendly environment.
When the opportunity arose to buy the Parker Farmers Market, Jill and Jason Williams had one main goal in mind. They wanted to turn a market with a lot of stuff into a true farmers market. That meant focusing on food and other local products and all but eliminating the marketing booths. When they bought the market, the vendor agreements were already in place for the upcoming season, so they had time to formulate their plan and focused on a real market. The next season, people commented on the huge difference. Jason still wanders through the market just like any other patron – and he listens and talks to people to see what they are looking for.
When the couple purchased Southlands Farmers Market a year later, the goal was same. They knew what worked so the benchmarks were: turn the market into a community event, give the ownership to the people, and ideally find vendors that are in it for the long haul.
The popularity of The Parker, Southlands and Festival Park - Castle Rock Farmers Markets translates into a waiting list for vendors. How does one vendor applicant stand out amongst the others?
“We choose food items first,” Jason says, “and look at what each market or store needs at any given time. After that, it comes down to how local the products are.”
The LOCAL stores naturally evolved from the markets. After Jill and Jason did a one season holiday store several years ago, people asked, “Why don’t you leave it open year-round?” They pitched the idea to Southlands Shopping Center and that was all it took to launch the LOCAL in Southlands four and a half years ago. They hadn’t planned on opening a second LOCAL, but the space at the corner of Mainstreet and Pikes Peak Drive beckoned with those golden words – location, location, location. The Parker LOCAL has been open for three and a half years.
Customers can shop for handmade gifts, local food and drinks, and artisans can showcase their work.
What was it like for the couple to own multiple small businesses during the pandemic?
“We have grown a lot since 2013,” Jason says. “COVID did slow our growth a little, and we have been in the process of rebuilding.” The key to rebuilding for many businesses has often involved coming up with new products and/or new ways to market and reach customers. So how did these local retail shops and farmers markets survive?
“The key was going back to basics,” Jason smiles. Simple? Maybe. Essential – definitely!
Jill’s background is in retail sales and management and Jason has years of experience in the hotel and hospitality industry. “Our employees embrace our philosophy,” Jason affirms, “which is making each customer feel great. When a customer walks in the door it’s all about the experience.” Just like Jill and Jason, the markets and the stores have been a match made in heaven. Only about 20% of the farmers market vendors fit easily into the stores; yet in both cases, the markets and the LOCALs are representing 100 other small businesses.
“We knew we could rebound, but the stores killed it!” Jason beams like a proud dad. As any entrepreneur knows, each business is like having a child - or two!
During the past holiday season, community residents were intent on supporting local. “Customers commented that they were buying all of their holiday gifts here (at the LOCAL),” Jason says.
Three markets and two retail stores – yes, it’s a lot. So why do Jill and Jason do what they do? They love the success stories! Like Leon, who moved to the U.S. four years ago. In that time, he has married, had two kids, learned to speak English (he also speaks French and German) and has a thriving bakery business.
Or Boomtown Coffee, now Legends, which got its start at the Southlands Farmers Market.
Jason explains that the markets give business owners a chance to test out their ideas by being face to face with the public and get honest, real-time feedback.
When customers find a product they love at the markets, they are desperate to find it the rest of the year. If that product fits into the stores, it brings those people in to see other products too and gives the business a year-round outlet.
What are their plans for the future?
Jill and Jason’s son, Max, recently joined the family business as the operations manager. It was the right fit for his background and we let him make the decision to move back to Colorado and work with us.
The LOCAL Foods opened in August 2020 and more than carried its weight. People came in looking for a certain food product they loved and they found they could buy all of their groceries. “I know the meat suppliers personally and have conversations with them every week. I drive to the dairy every week and pick up milk. I know the people who milk the cows,” Jason says. “If someone wants to know how the meat is raised, I can refer them directly to that farmer.”
The LOCAL in Parker parallels the markets in many ways. It is truly a unique retail experience for the customer. Everyone that comes in is happy and thrilled to support and feel good about buying local.
“We want to educate people on why it is important to buy local even if the price is higher. These farmers are doing things the right way and none of the animals go to a feedlot. You might end up eating less of higher quality meat, which is the way that it should be.”
COVID highlighted another reason why a local food network is so important. Many breakdowns occurred in the national food supply chain, from production to transportation.
“We want to give control back to the local farmers,“ Jason says. “Higher quality meat and dairy products are better for the environment, the local economy and better for you.”
Handmade gifts, local food and drinks, and a place artisans can showcase their work – this is what we are lucky enough to have right down Mainstreet at the renowned Parker Farmers Market every Sunday from May through October and all year round at the LOCAL.