I was talking with a fellow attendee from last summer’s profitable market gardening workshop in Kelowna, B.C., and he asked me how did I add value to sales at our farm this past summer.
If you are in an area with a lot of farms, and a lot of the same items for sale, you need a niche that garners attention and loyalty! Because your customers can and will go to different vendors and farms, looking for the best deal. But you can keep them happy. And it’s all in the little things that make a customer’s day and put a smile out there that does that.
Last year, when we were still in Maple Valley, Washington we ran our urban farm under the name Lahar Valley Farm, and our logo incorporated Mount Rainier into it. A bold logo caught the eye, especially at markets, with the banner behind us. With an unusual name, it struck up conversations quickly. With our current location, on our new farm we have gone back to the homestead name, Never Free Farm, and haven’t decided if this will be the new name. However, a great name, bold logo and a social media presence is some of the most important things you can do immediately.
You cannot avoid it. You don’t need to be a photography pro, nor own a fancy camera. Learn to take non-shaky photos with your phone, use a few carefully selected hashtags, and use Instagram to showcase what you grow and do! You don’t have to post a ton of photos, but keep it regular. When things catch your eye, take the time to slow down and shoot a few photos. When you have time, post them. Be who you are, let people in a bit into what goes on in your life.
Feature fun activities for children. I cannot stress that enough. Parents love to take kids to farms, be it urban or rural. You don’t need to be a tourist trap with a petting zoo and ride on train, with inflatables and a bounce house. Rather, think Waldorf/outdoor kindergarten style where the children can run around and burn off energy, and if they pick a few strawberries, so be it. In off-season I hosted home schooling families to come out and visit. Activities involved digging for worms in our worm bin, to seeing how plants grow.
But one of my favorite things is above: painted rocks. I hosted a local rock spot (it even had its own Facebook page) for the local painted rock group in the town. Most towns or regions have a group on Facebook, and a hashtag (ours was #MVRocks and #MapleValleyRocks). People came by often to swap rocks.
These rocks lasted minutes out there! They carried our farm website on the back as well. I know similar small business who would hide painted rocks that if redeemed, would win a prize.
Other farms did similar things, such as letting children throw feed to the chickens, or open test garden days (for a local seed company). U-pick is also an idea some farms have gone to, to give a deeper connection for the families.
Build in loyalty with custom boxes:
Last year much of our business was built off Facebook posts, on our farm’s page (a fresh sheet was posted weekly with prices), and on local community pages on FB as well. With photos and clear prices, people knew how to contact us. We offered pickup in coolers, and customers could pay ahead with Paypal invoices, if they wished. Having a presence on social media also meant that customers could tag us, to share us with friends.
We didn’t have the space to run a full sale CSA but we could offer price point boxes. If a customer had $10 or $20 in their budget, we made it so, and if there was something they didn’t like, they let us know. Freshly picked, often within an hour of pickup. That is something big farms cannot offer – and they won’t get at a farmer market.
And we always tucked in a special item, be it a bit more of a veggie, to a cutting of tiny grapes, or fresh herbs. Something to let people know they are appreciated.