by Brion Hurley

The Oregon City Farmers Market had faced many challenges this year, trying to figure out how to offer their year-round market during a pandemic.

As one of the first farmers markets to open up in Oregon, the leadership team quickly came up with a drive-thru option, to keep social distancing and preventative measures in place, while still allowing customers and vendors to interact and conduct business.

After a challenging Mother’s Day weekend, they reached out Lean Portland for some suggestions and improvement ideas. We had a great response from volunteers, but had to limit the attendance due to social distancing (thanks to everyone that offered to help).

Dustin Diep, Greg Boal and I went to observe the drive-thru market option on May 16th. After learning about the history of the market, and the recent experience of the drive-thru option, we spread out and made observations of the current process. We captured times from arrival into the parking lot, time when entering the market, and time when departing the market. We used the customer license plate number to combine our data together at the end of the day.

We provided a summary of the data to the board for review, showing that it takes about 10-15 minutes before entering the market (about 1 minute per car to enter the market). Therefore, they could provide estimated waiting times for the cars in queue (similar to waiting in line at an amusement park) based on the number of cars in line. We also observed different processes used by vendors when interacting with customers, which either increased or decreased the time spent at the booth. Some vendors had a simplified ordering option (pre-canned and pre-weighted produce), while others were more customized, but created longer wait times.

Although that was going to be the last weekend using the drive-thru option, they wanted feedback on the process, in case they have to go back to this option in the future. The idea that seemed to resonate the best was the role of a traffic manager (what we would call a value stream manager), to help direct cars around vehicles that are stopped for an extra long time (when backups and bottlenecks occur).

Cars line up to enter the drive-thru version of the market on May 16th

The following weekend, they opened up their normal operating market (with recommended masks and social distancing), along with a pick up option for those who don’t want to get out of their vehicle.

Vera Hurley and I observed the pick up process on May 23rd, and provided some feedback on that process. The process went pretty smoothly, so most of the suggestions related to the scheduling app they used, to help forecast and level out the demand, as well as looking up customer information. We also made some suggestions on visually funneling the traffic towards the pickup tent. Another idea was to organize the orders by customer name, but some vendors labeled the orders using first name, and some only used last name, making it difficult to group all the orders for a customer into one location.

Drivers follow the arrows to pull up next to the tent, whereas before they were waiting in the middle of the road and not allowing others to pass

In general, there seemed to be very good communication between the Market Manager, the vendors, the customers and the volunteers, which is ideal for making future improvements.

As we have experienced with other nonprofits, efficiency is not the primary goal. The farmers market reiterated that they want to balance their process with the customer experience, where they can engage in conversation and have a connection with the vendors, and not feel like they are rushed. With other nonprofits we’ve worked with, we hear about the importance of the volunteer and customer experience. They don’t want to lose or remove that interaction from the process. Our goal is to remove waste and inefficiency in the process unrelated to building relationships, so that more time can be spent in conversation between volunteers, staff and customers.

For next steps, the board members will review the recommendations, and reach out to us for next steps or future help (such as helping a specific vendor reduce waste). Most likely, if they go back to the drive-thru option, then they will review some of our suggestions and reach out for more details.

Learn more about the Oregon City Farmers Market