Empower NYC Produce Street Vendors

This is a service design project aims to provide solutions to help Produce Street Vendors in NYC strive in their business

Palash is an immigrant from Bangladesh and has been working as a vendor for 9 years. He operates his food produce stand located on the corner of 22nd Street and 6th Avenue in Manhattan from 7:00am to 7:00pm every day. We spoke to the vendor and gained a strong understanding of his most outstanding challenges. The vendor agreed to share more about his service with us, and he was very enthusiastic about our project.

To improve the underrated and under-supported small service business in New York City — the produce street vendors.

Provide the vendors tools, effective design solutions, and competitive edge to innovate in their market space and to thrive with their own superpowers.

In a team of four, I conducted desk research, user interview, problem analysis, and prototyping.

Angie Ngoc, Xiaoxi Yuan, Mia Darling Ibáñez Risso

Our Focus: Produce Street Vendor

There are more than 20,000 street vendors in New York. Most of them are immigrants, 95% of the vendors speak 11 languages other than English. This is a highly diverse community that brings so much life and energy into the city. Within that population, there are about 10,000 to 12,000 produce vendors. They work very long hours and in harsh conditions. According to Rules and Regulations for Mobile Food Vending NYC, produce street vendors are classified as class E, a green cart or other non-processing mobile food vending unit in or on which only non-potentially hazardous uncut fruits and vegetables are sold or held for sale or service.

Discover the Problems — Research and Analysis

1 / Permits — High demand and low supply

In order to start vending, vendors need to obtain: A permit — to sell with a pushcart. The waiting time to get a permit is more than a decade. A license — to sell food on the street. Both can be renewed every 2 years. There are roughly 12,000 vendors right now in New York, but the permit cap is only 5,100 since the 1980’s. This leads to the fact that many are vending illegally. There are also black market transactions between non-permit holders who want to vend and the permit holders who take advantage of the situation. Some vendors lease their permits for between $6,000 to $8,000 every 2 years. Others hire the non-permit holders at a low hourly wage.

2 / Fines and Enforcement

Vendors are subject to hundreds of rules and regulations. All street vendors accumulate about 25,000 tickets per year. In 2016, out of more than 4,300 food carts and trucks inspected in Manhattan, there were more than 5,000 violations. The most ticketed violation is when vendors are parked more than eighteen inches from the curb (22%). Another one is when their license isn’t visible (5%). These easy-to-make mistakes can be penalized to $1,000. This can put vendors out of business right away.

To better understand their operation system and all the problems that might lead to a damage, we did an analysis by mapping out all the touch points, interactions and connections alongside their operation flow.

Service Blueprint

The vendors’ salient attributes are convenient, cheap, quick, and sold via the exchange of personal relationships. However, the service has faced many challenges. We placed all the pain points discovered from the research onto the Risk Matrix and decided to tackle the ones at the top right corner as those imposed the highest risks to the business.

They were categorized into three main problems:

  • Fines
  • Unclear perception of value
  • Interrupted sales flow

We crafted three design solutions in response to these problems, with the expectation that those would eventually help to significantly increase the vendors’ profit.

  • Cooperate with City Regulations
  • Increase customer’s WTP
  • Improve Sale Logistics

Providing Solutions

1/ Cooperate with City Regulations by equipping vendors with regulations knowledge.

Regulation Toolkit

2 / Increase customer’s WTP by Surfacing hidden values to customers.

Information Signage

3 / Improve sales logistics by Improving stand presentation and sales management.

Price Tag Redesign

Cooperate with City Regulations by equipping vendors with regulations knowledge

  • Language barriers — Communication is very important to collaborate with polices and health inspectors. However, vendors do not know how to stand their ground and defend themselves because of language barriers as most of them are immigrants and English is their second language.
  • Too busy to remember — Even though the sellers know all the regulations, they are too busy to take care of the business. Regulations are oftentimes simply forgotten.
  • Existing good materials — Vendor Power, a poster uses simple graphics and minimal text — in the five languages most commonly spoken among NYC’s vendors — to explain some of the most-often violated laws. But how to turn those valuable information into actions?

Design considerations:

  • Help with Language Barriers
  • Risk Calculation
  • Leverage Existing Materials
  • Distribution Channel

What’s included:

A “Vendor Power” pamphlet available in their own language, reminder measuring tape, a ruler, and stickers for the fines

Risk Calculation: The stickers inform and motivate the vendors to follow regulations by using the graphics from the Vendor Power, coupled with the amount that they’d be charged as informative warnings.

Ruler: Reminder of 4 main dimensions to avoid the heaviest fine ($1000 for parking for more than 18" away from the curb), as well as quickly communicate with police officers

Reminder tape: Vendors can stick the tape to the street so that it can stay there throughout the day and remain a steadfast reminder of the regulated parameter they have to stay within.

Increase customer’s WTP by Surfacing hidden values to customers.

Channel: The produce originates from Hunts Point Terminal Produce Co-operative Market in the Bronx, which is the same source for all major grocery stores, that is, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and Fairway Market. Another point is that all produce is locally sourced in the USA in the summer.

Price: If we compare the price between Trader Joe’s and the street vendors, it is apparent that the street vendors sell their produce at a much cheaper price point and for the exact same, if not better quality. There is also value in educating customers about daily price changes due to the weather, market demand, and holidays.

Freshness: It is restocked daily from Monday to Friday. In contrast, the big grocery stores keep their produce in the warehouses before shipping them to the stores, which sometimes takes months.

Health Inspected: The produce is inspected once or twice a month by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, with regular check-ups. Three main points to emphasize are the freshness of the produce, accuracy of scale, and pushcart cleanliness

Design considerations:

  • Content
  • Presentation
  • Cost
  • Durability
  • Location

Design Iterations:

3. Improve sales logistics by Improving stand presentation and sales management.

1 / Location of price tag is confusing as it doesn’t clearly indicate which product the price is for. Also, it’s all handwritten and in different colors, some old information is not yet removed.

2 / Organic produce is set on the side of the stand, thus lack of visibility. It also doesn’t have an organic sign.

3 / How the seller currently manages the price tags, a bunch of tags in different shapes and colors. For a street stand that is only operated by only one person per time, it’s a lot of work to update the price.

Before and After

Design Iterations:

v1 — v2 — v3

Our prototypes were iterated based on feedback from vendors, customers and walking-by pedestrians.

I'm a product designer and street photography enthusiast. I enjoy designing experiences that simplify and bring more delight into people's lives.