The Farmers Market meets the Internet
Online shopping site features local products
By Susan Miller
Photos by Stan Gurka
Entrepreneur Nick Carter has combined the two latest trends in grocery shopping to bring local consumers and food vendors the best in both worlds at the same time.
Community-based farmers markets have become a regular Saturday morning event all over Hamilton County, growing in size, number and offerings each year.
Another, more recent, trend has seen consumers grocery shopping online and having their purchases delivered directly to their homes.
Carter’s enterprise, called Market Wagon, combines the two. He partners with local growers and vendors to sell their products through his online service with two delivery options.
Consumers have the convenience of shopping online and home delivery while at the same time buying locally-grown foods and products from community growers and vendors – and unlike seasonal farmers markets, they can shop with Market Wagon year-round.
On the Market Wagon website (www.marketwagon.com), consumers browse through numerous product categories, place their order and pay online. Orders must be in before midnight Tuesday to be delivered Thursday of the same week. Orders placed after Tuesday will be delivered the next Thursday.
Shoppers can opt for their delivery to come directly to their home for a flat fee of $5.95, or pick it up free of charge at any one of the designated pick up points. Perishables are packaged in insulated totes and kept cold with ice packs. The totes and ice packs are left at the pick-up point, or, at the customer’s home, set back outside the next Thursday to be swapped for the new delivery.
Growers and vendors love it because unlike physical Farmers Markets, there are no booth fees, and everything they haul to Market Wagon every Thursday is already bought and paid for. Plus, they don’t have to sit in a booth all day in all kinds of weather wondering how much they will sell. They can also offer an unlimited selection of their products instead of just what they are able to fit into their truck to take to the market.
Market Wagon takes a small percentage of the vendor’s retail price when something sells.
Carter said one criteria he uses to approve vendors is their geographic location, which determines their ability to get products to Market Wagon’s facility every Thursday.
Vendors also have to have a real person available to interact with customers online to answer their questions. At the bottom of each product page on Market Wagon’s website is a chat function where shoppers can ask questions about a product and the vendor is expected to answer in short order.
Carter said Market Wagon doesn’t require growers be certified organic, even though many are. “Regulations are a poor substitute for transparency,” he said. “We require the vendors to describe their growing practices and facts about what they are selling and interact with the customers answering their questions.”
Local businesses that don't sell products through Market Wagon also value the service. Some, like Delta Faucet, take advantage of Market Wagon's Wellness program, to offer to their employees.
Jill Luczkowski, HR manager for Delta's Indianapolis/Carmel location, said the company began offering the service to their employees a couple of months ago and it's been a positive addition to the company's own wellness program.
"It's seamless with our program and super easy to get started," Luczkowski said. "We emailed our employees with a link to Market Wagon's website and put posters up around the building. Those who choose to participate order what they want, and it's delivered here on Thursdays."
Luczkowski said the service is a convenience for Delta employees, even those who aren't necessarily into nutrition because Market Wagon offers so many other products in addition to just fruits and vegetables.
"I thought it was going to be just fruits and vegetables, but there's so much to choose from," she said. "It's a great program."
Local businesses can get involved in another way, even if they choose not to participate in Market Wagon's wellness program, by serving as a designated pick-up host for consumers who don't opt for home delivery.
Noble Coffee and Tea is a delivery host in Noblesville. Every Thursday they get an influx of people coming to pick up their Market Wagon orders. Some stay and buy coffee and treats, and for some, it's their first visit to the coffee house. Right now, Carter said there are 200 pick-up locations around the state. More than half of Carter's customers, however, select the home delivery option.
Carter started the company in 2016 as a pilot project with just one pick up point in the Geist area. At that time it was known as farmersmarket.com. Business has more than doubled every year with strong growth during every one of the eight quarters it has been in business. It currently offers more than 1000 products from more than 100 vendors, and 3000 customers.
In addition to its central Indiana service area - which includes Indianapolis and surrounding counties along with Bloomington, Lafayette and Kokomo - Carter has also started Market Wagon programs in Fort Wayne, Michiana (South Bend, Mishawaka and southwestern Michigan) and Evansville. This coming spring, he plans to expand to the Dayton/Cincinnati area.