Tag Archives: Marketing

Box Truck

16 Mar

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So it was finally time.

We bought a box truck.

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We’ve been doing farmers markets for 3 years now with our trusty farmers market trailer which is dutifully pulled around by the farm pickup truck.  The truck/trailer combo served us well, but now we’re trying to reorganize our market days and we decided that a box truck would be a better solution.

After a whole winter of shopping around, we landed on this 2003 Isuzu NPR box truck.  Now we just have to change it from a plain-ol’ box truck into a farmers market truck.

First up on the list of must-haves is electricity.  Freezers don’t stay freezy on their own, so we needed a way of getting all that 120 volt goodness inside the box.

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We learned from experience with the farmers market trailer that a plug-in style outlet on the box isn’t really the best solution, when you inevitably forget to unplug before you drive away there’s a good chance of breaking something.

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Inside, again learning from our experience with the trailer, we put an outlet strip on the wall up a good 3-4 feet off the floor.  Freezers need to be unplugged and plugged back in a lot and having the outlet strip easily accessible helps a lot.

The one outlet we put in the trailer ended up behind a big freezer down at floor level.  Over the years much cursing resulted from the contortionist ritual that was unplugging the freezers.

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All the farmers market fixtures get the same treatment:  tie-out rings, a bumper board so nothing important rubs against the wall, and a couple of boards on the floor so that it can’t go rolling around everywhere every time you hit the brakes.  We put a lot of work into having nice-looking fixtures and freezers, so we like to make sure they don’t get too banged up in transit.  The display freezer gets the same treatment, but with one of the coveted spots nearest the electricity.

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And of course, after all that talk about how we’ve outgrown the trailer,  the box truck gets a trailer hitch.
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For all it’s shortcomings, we’re still going to be using the trailer this year.  We’re hoping to make our farmers market outings a bit more efficient this year, attending two markets per day on Saturday and Sunday.  That’ll leave us more time to get things done on the farm during the week, while keeping us at 4 markets per week.

The plan is to drop our trailer off at one market, take the box truck to the second market, and pickup the trailer on the way back home.

Velcro: a love letter

29 Jun

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Velcro, you’re just about the best thing that a market farmer could ever have.

I have no idea why I don’t see more of you around.

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You hold my vinyl banners on the freezer.

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And on the folding table.

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Or on the tent.

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And at the end of the day, you hold them up out of the way, on the wall of the trailer.

Thanks velcro, keep being awesome.

Farmers Market Cart

27 Feb

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With all the excitement about the St. Paul farmers market, there has been a lot of worrying about how we’re going to handle a (much) bigger market.  We’ve been slapping wheels on appliances and researching new Point Of Sale systems.

The time has come to commit ourselves to a new POS, and Square has won out.  They don’t have a few features that would make selling meat much easier, but it’s good enough.  There are new mobile-POS systems out there that are a little cheaper, but Square’s still has the most full-featured software and that’s what tipped the balance for us.  We want sales reports, inventory and cashdrawer reports; Square is the only one that has ’em (that’s not murderously expensive).

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So with the POS all sorted, it was time to make ourselves a nifty little cart to put everything on.  We’re putting wheels on everything this year to make a nicer presentation at markets, so why not wheels for this too?

We grabbed the “small” wheels from the fridge and promptly got to building a 24″x36″ cart out of scrap lumber that we had lying about.

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The cart incorporates a nice little spot for our cash-drawer that’s rigged up to the Square stand, we don’t want that running away on us.
I used up a few 2×4’s, 1×12’s, MDF, Baltic Birch Plywood and Luan scraps that I had laying around. This cart has about every different type of lumber known to man.

 

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Up top we’ve got two little holes to get the Square stand all mounted and wired up.
It only takes a single specially-shaped USB cord, so we opted to keep the cord out of the way under the base.

 

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For the sake of our future convenience (and/or sanity) there are two drawers and some extra space to store all the stuff you end up needing or wanting at a farmers market.
Our list of stuff goes something like this:
Sharpie markers and alcohol pads – for writing and erasing on our laminated price lists
Pens
Business cards & holder
Brochures & holder
Informational & recipe postcards
Price list & signage
Calculators
White duct tape
Double-sided foam “poster” tape
Trashcan
Insect repellant
Sunscreen
Hand warmers
Freezer gloves
Phone charger
First-Aid kit
Extra shopping bags

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Speaking of shopping bags, I rigged up this beaut from a 2×4 with a few lengthwise cuts at about 15°. Its enough to hold a whole mess of shopping bags at the ready.

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When it’s time to go home the bag-holder and everything else slides back out of the way.
The vegetable vendors have been jealous of how quickly we could pack-up our old setup. This is going to make it so much faster, we’ll be on the road home in no time.

Big Wheels

14 Feb

It’s that time of year again, mostly spent inside where it’s warm.  That and the new year is kicking off with all kinds of “business” stuff to get done.  There’s all the tax prep, market applications and market-season planning going on.  While going through our big to-do list, I noticed that our annual re-inspection by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture is coming up in 6 weeks or so.  Time to get cracking on a few projects.

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One such project is putting some new casters on our egg refrigerator.

The egg fridge is a True GDM-7, a commercial refrigerator (as required by the MDA) that we take to farmers markets with us.  For the past year I’ve had it on these 3″ casters.  It lives in the farmers market trailer and we roll it out at each farmers market.

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I love having the refrigerator out in front of our booth at farmers markets as it has really helped our sales.  Even though we have pretty extensive sinage (if I do say so myself) you’d be amazed at the number of farmers market shoppers who don’t realize we have anything to sell.  With the egg fridge at least passersby realize that we have something to sell, even if they think we only have eggs to sell. Getting a product out where customers can see it is awesome.

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While I loved having the egg fridge on wheels, the 3″ casters were aggravatingly small.  They didn’t work that well on anything that wasn’t perfectly smooth and the little “brake” on the wheels didn’t work very well.  It went flying around the trailer a bit more than it should have (with no eggs in it  thankfully).

I decided that some bigger wheels were in order this year.  These 5″ wheels should roll a lot easier.  Instead of brakes on the wheel, I’m going to bungee the fridge to the wall of the trailer when it’s in transit.

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I made a lovely frame to bolt the casters to out of some 2×4, 1×4 and whatnot. This fridge came with four metal feet, the feet screwed in with a 3/8″ bolts.  In our current arrangement the wooden frame is bolted to the fridge using 3/8″ bolts where the feet were.  The big casters are then lag-bolted to the wooden frame.  The old casters were screwed directly to the bottom of the fridge with sheet-metal screws.  I was a bit nervous to go that route with the bigger wheels. I guess the manufacturers don’t get much demand for big-wheeled refrigerators.

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That’s too bad, cause this bad boy wheels around like a dream!  And it looks about a foot higher.
Now lets see what other stuff I have around to slap some wheels on…

Farm Store Plans

8 Sep

So we’ve been making plans for the on-farm store in Minnesota.  There is a small garage-type building right next to the house that looks ideal for the purpose, but it needs a bit of work, specifically, a new roof.

We’ve been thinking of an on-farm store for a while now, and that’s part of the reason we chose this farm in Zumbrota.  It’s close to town, and right off the highway, making it convenient for our customers to get to our store.

Just think of all the times we won’t have to load everything in the truck, drive to the farmers market, setup, sell, take-down, drive home and finally, unload.

But there are a few less-obvious benefits of an on-farm store as well.

The first and foremost of these is the lower regulatory burden and it’s attendant benefits.

Selling your eggs to a Restaurant or Grocery Store? You’ll need to Candle, Grade, Pack and Label your eggs.  And you’ll get paid a (lower) wholesale price for them.

Selling at the Farmers Market? You’ll still need to Candle and Pack them, but you’ll at least get a retail price for them.

Selling at your on-farm store?  There aren’t any of those restrictions. Lower regulatory burden means we can offer lower prices too.  We’re planning on offering eggs from the farm-store at $3/dozen.  The same eggs sold at the farmers market will be $3.25 or $3.50 to account for the added costs.

Keep in mind that this example is just for eggs, but holds true for many different product categories such as poultry, dairy and canned or processed foods.

With on-farm poultry and dairy, there are opportunities that simply don’t exist for farmers selling off the farm.  There is simply no legal way for a consumer to buy raw milk or a chicken that was processed on-farm from a farmer who is selling at a farmers market or through a grocery store.  Consumers get more choice and better prices, and the farmer gets more time to actually farm.

There is a bit of a sticking point with an on-farm store, and that is the big question: Manned or Unmanned?

We’ve been leaning toward Unmanned, and it seems that we’re in good company.  While theft is always a bit of a concern, a large company has just helped us out by doing a bit of an experiment with the honor system.

This summer, Honest Tea conducted experiments in 30 cities to test people’s honesty.
We set up unmanned pop-up stores and asked people to pay $1 per bottle on the honor system.
Data was collected and we compiled our findings into the National Honesty Index.

Note that the worst performance was a pay-rate of 61%  (Detroit) with only two cities coming in under 80%.  The average pay-rate seems to hover just below 95%.

I can live with that.

More importantly, I can make a living with that.

Farm Rap

5 Jul

So it would appear that there is a burgeoning new genre of music; Farm Rap.

The first entry into this category is the Yeo Boyz from the UK, with their viral hit “Yeo Valley”

Next up, from this side of the pond we have the Peterson Farm Brothers with “I’m Farming and I Grow It.”

 

In the interest of retaining my dignity, I will not be attempting to cash in on this latest musical trend.  While these videos are at least mildly embarrassing to the featured parties, they are garnering quite a bit of attention.  In case you were wondering how this “viral marketing” stuff works, this is it.

Make something funny or awesome (or both) that people want to tell their friends about.  The next few million views just sorta take care of themselves.

Green Machine – Now on Faceypages

4 Jun

Well I finally caved.

We’re on facebook.

Which brings up a whole different set of issues.  Apparently businesses on facebook don’t have facebook pages, they have “tabs” and facebook provides no means to create this tab.

So you’ve got to log-in as a “developer” and create your tabs in an API.  In short, it’s a hot mess, and you have to jump through a whole new set of hoops to make it look like you want it to.

It’s at this point when the shock, horror and utter dismay set in.

I don’t want to have to fight with another interface just to make another mini-website.  I already put up a real website, and it was a pain in the neck. So this leaves the door open for all sorts of third-party vendors.  Some are free, most want you to pay, and the vast majority are selling all sorts of social-media snake-oil.

But just when you’re about to throw in the towel and hire one of these social-marketeers, remember the immortal words of Ken at Popehat:

“Outsource your marketing, outsource your ethics and your reputation.”

Don’t do it.

 

Farm Marketing: Engaging Tech

25 May

Technology.  It’s a word that you usually either love or hate. I love the internet. I hate smartphones with a passion, especially the way they turn normal people into dead-eyed, thumb-tapping, phone-obsessed zombies. But technology is rapidly changing our world, and on whole, I believe that some of these technologies are changing our world for the better.  Social media, Web 2.0 and mini-computers (like smartphones) are opening up possibilities to small farmers that haven’t been around since….well…ever.

These new technologies are helping to make little-ol’ us competitive with the big-hulking mega-food-conglomerates.  If you don’t belive me, just ask yourself when was the last time that thousands of regular folk pooled $35,000 to fund a butcher shop for Smithfield foods?  Smithfield can’t make social media work for them, but Walter Jefferies knows how to make it work for his farm.

It is said that people do business with entities that they know, like and trust.  Here is where social media gives us the huge advantage.  We are far easier to know, our practices are more likeable, and we are more easily trusted than any of the big food companies.  All we have to do is put ourselves out there and interact with people.

Essentially, the more information that people gather about the big food companies, the less likely they are to know, like or trust them.  If we’re doing our jobs right, then the opposite should be true.  The more our customers find out about us, the more they will know, like and trust us.

I’m no fan of social media for myself personally, but as a business, it’s too good to pass up.  Social media is like someone giving you the keys to the marketing kingdom, or the enchanted sword Andúril of business, or whatever other goofy metaphor you’d like to use.

To quote Scott Stratten: “to be successful, you have to:

– Answer questions about our product or service

– Educate consumers

– Offer post purchase follow up

– Market research

– Discuss industry best practices

Read those five things out to a social media naysayer and ask if they agree about them being smart for businesses. Because that’s a checklist for what social media is used for.

Another big trend that I see (that farmers aren’t using) is the QR code.  QR codes are those little square pixelated-looking barcode thingies that are showing up on real estate signs, business cards, direct mail postcards, coupons and a bevy of other creative places.  But what, you may ask, exactly is a QR code?

A QR code is really pretty simple.  It’s a hyperlink for stuff that’s not on the internet.  In real life, someone would scan a QR code with a smartphone and instantly be taken to a website.  For small farmers competing in the cold, distant asiles of supermarkets, this could be leveraged into a HUGE advantage, but I’ve yet to see any small farmers do anything with it.

We shouldn’t be putting too much information on our packaging or signage, but throw in a QR code, and you’ve just linked a massive amount of information to your product without overloading the package and your customer.  There’s a lot more that QR codes have to offer, and a lot of caveats for their use, but that’s a subject for another time.

The final area that I would like to see farmers doing better is simply getting their farms online. I know a great many farmers, and a minority of them actually have their own website.  Of those that are online, a mere handful actually update their website or put content online on a semi-annual basis.

I can understand the reluctance to get a website going. If you’re web-challenged (like me) then it can be a hassle, but it’s getting easier all the time.  That’s a good thing too, because with every day that goes by, there is a greater need to have a web presence.

I am from the first generation to have really grown up with the internet. I had telnet and Alta-vista and an excite email account in middle school, and I have only grown more accustomed to the internet as I’ve grown older.  For people my age and younger, the internet isn’t a tool, it’s their default method of investigating and interacting with the world.  If you’re not on the internet, you’re missing out on their current and future business.

And remember, in the grand sweep of history, we are still in the beginning of the internet age. With all the advances in the past 5 years, who can tell what the next 50 years will look like?  We are just beginning to see the ways that farming can be improved with technology.  Take the Holstein Cow for instance.

So anyway, long story short, internet good. Just use it responsibly, and as with everything else, in moderation.

Farm Marketing: The Pitch

9 May

So we’ve already covered the basics of farm marketing. We’ve come up with our farm’s identity, and we’ve put that identity (brand) to use.  Now comes the part where we actually come up with our “pitch” so to speak.  Now our pitch is pretty straightforward when we’re at a farmers market.  We engage the customer in conversation, extoll the virtues of our product, and answer any questions that they might have.  Again, this is our strong suit as small farmers.  We know our product better than anyone, and we are passionate about it, which usually makes for a pretty good pitch.

Where we get into the weeds so-to-speak is when we extend our marketing beyond our conversations with customers.  I know, because I too am guilty of this.  I noticed that I was framing my own farming with a lot of negative statements.  I was so caught up in explaining what Green Machine Farm isn’t that I had neglected to explain what it is about.

I have a theory about why so many farmers fall into this trap, and it’s all about that one customer

We’ve all had the customer who comes to our booth and leads off with a simple question. “Is it (organic/local/hormone-free, etc.)?” And while the single question, and subsequent curt dismissal of anything not meeting the standard is memorable, it shouldn’t inform the rest of our marketing efforts.

We wouldn’t want to base our marketing on these folks would we?

As many of you can attest, the fine folks at “Portlandia” seem to have hit on something here.  We typically have a very small number of customers who are adamant about getting the “right” food.  This may be a well-informed or ill-informed idea of what constitutes “right” food, but their insistence is challenging, and we end up defining ourselves based on those few customers.

It would seem that as farmers, we could devote great tomes and epic poems to defining what we are NOT. Our meat is hormone-free, antibiotic-free, free-range, pastured and fed no soy.  Our veggies are pesticide-free, GMO-free, heirloom, no-spray and no-till.  We are very good at describing what we are not, by-in-large, our prospective customers don’t know what that means or how that benefits them. We need to improve our ability to define what our products are as opposed to defining what they are not.

I was reading a copy of Inc. magazine today out of complete boredom, when I happened upon an article that was quite apropos.  In particular, Elizabeth Nientimp’s three tips for designing food packaging were particularly enlightening.

Three things. First, make it simple.  Resist the urge to tell consumers everything about your brand on the front of the package.  Second, make it special. Understand what makes your brand unique and own it. Finally, make it personal. Know what motivates them; let them see themselves in your brand.

There’s a lot there in those three little points.  Take them to heart, because they are the best advise you’re likely to hear.

The first two are pretty simple, but it’s that pesky third point that’s often hard for us farmer-types.  It’s often difficult to put ourselves in the shoes of our customers and to understand their motivations for buying our products.  Fortunately, a marketing blogger-fella has a pretty good run-down as far as that goes.

This is where knowing your audience becomes so critical. There are too many psychological movers to name. These “movers” are emotions and desires that move people to buy. Some movers are negative and some are positive. All of them are based on emotion. Here’s a few small examples…

Frustration, Fear, Stress, Anxiety, Insecurity, Complacent, Bored, Desperate, Confused, Self-conscious, Disgust, Laziness, Helpless, Overwhelmed, and Disappointed.

Love, Freedom, Respect, Wealthy, Amused, Security, Accomplished, Essential, Dependable, Stability, Spontaneous, Joy, Fulfillment, Pride, Supportive, Admiration and Confidence.

As I said, there are more movers than I can list here.

Remember that stuff I said in the last installment?  You know, “consistency is key” and all that?  Yup, applies here too.

Your top 3 should become an underlying theme to your marketing and your content. You always want to be leading your prospects to action. Smart marketing isn’t blasting your “please buy my stuff” message to the masses. It’s showing your target audience you have a solution to their problems.

So there we have it.  Easy as 1, 2, 3.  Well, easier said than done anyway.  These little tidbits from the big marketing gurus are pretty handy, but as with branding, it’s not something you can just do once and forget about.  Marketing, like farming is not about magic bullets, it’s a long slow slog, but the result will be worth it.

Stay tuned for the next installment, were we discuss the last piece of the trifecta: Embracing Technology.  Also, you’ll get to see me (an near luddite) try to backpedal on my aversion to social media and smartphones. Hooray!

Farm Marketing: Using Your Brand

24 Apr

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Now that we’ve got part 1 out of the way, and we’ve already established our farm’s identity or “brand” it’s time to put it into action. This is the part where so many otherwise great farmers fall flat.

So what’s this branding business all about anyway?  It’s about immediately identifying your farm to anyone and everyone all of the time.  Obviously, it’s hard to do this verbally, as you’d go hoarse pretty quickly trying to shout out your farm name to everyone who passes by in a crowded market.  We need a to convey this information visually.

You can’t just slap our farm logo and name on a big sign and call it a day either.  What happens when a customer buys a bag of spinach and gives it to their friend?  The friend may think it’s the best thing they’ve ever eaten, but unless the bag has some sort of identifying information on it, they may never know it came from your farm. One opportunity lost.

The key to successfully using your logo/brand is consistency.  Consistently applying your branding is one of the most common mistakes that I see farmers making.  The font, colors and feel that are used in your logo aren’t just for your logo.  If you print something for your farm, a label, a CSA signup sheet, an invoice, it should use your font, your colors and should have a similar “feel” to your logo.  All of your materials should present a “unified look” to your customers.

“A unified look makes it easier for anyone (new and old customers) to readily identify you. Creating a thematic “look” for your business isn’t difficult. Many aspects of promotion are already commonplace but underutilized or not coordinated: farm invoices, farm checks, business cards, signage at farmers market and farm stand, produce bags, case labels, farm truck lettering/artwork, T-shirts, hats, and stationary letterheads.”- The Organic Farmers Business Handbook, by Richard Wiswall

The big companies that you’re competing with all know the importance of branding.  They all have multi-page branding guides that they distribute to their underlings.  These guides list out in exacting detail the exact colors that may be used in printed or online materials, the exact fonts to be used, and even the acceptable sizes that a logo can be printed in.

So how do we brand our farms to compete with the big boys?  Well, lets start out by clarifying that branding isn’t going to make our farm or products anything that they aren’t.  If we grow bad lettuce, good branding isn’t going to make it sell any better.  Branding is connecting your awesome product to a mental construct in the mind of your customer.  To make that association stick, we have to repeat it constantly.  We have to apply our branding to everything that leaves our farm, and a lot of the stuff that stays on our farm.

One of my favorite tricks (if you can call it that) for applying a farms branding is using commonly available 2″x4″ labels. You can download a 2×4 label template for free and use it to make labels for most of your farm products: bagged greens, baked goods, jams, jellies, you name it. Make sure that you’ve loaded up your logo fonts on your word-processor and use them! If you don’t have the fonts that are in your logo, you can use whatever font you’d like, but use it consistently. Consistency is key.