RX for Keeping Your Business Healthy

Courtesy of Roxanne C., Philadelphia, PA 

Whatever else the ever-expanding ecosystem of food activists, advocates, bloggers, media celebrities and nonprofits has accomplished, it has convinced consumers that the big food companies can’t be trusted to be honest about how they make food, and what’s in it. Ketchum, the big public relations firm that works extensively with the food industry, says its research shows food purchases are driven by one thing – consumers’ deep concern about the health and safety of themselves and their families.

As a result, SPIN farmers now have the opportunity to serve new customers. Marketing to them requires using different methods and different messaging. Like most business owners, you might have started out selling to those similar to yourself. But to capture new customers you have to start understanding the needs and motivations that may be different than your own.

SPIN farmers are reporting they’re seeing new interest from millennials, and they are changing up their products to serve them. Millennial customers are usually young professionals. Many have two income households and young children. Home cooking
is becoming more important to them, with men participating in more KP duties. Speed and convenience are key for them, and SPIN’s mix and match multiple unit packaging and pricing allows them to grab and go. If you’re still weighing out your produce items, you may need to re-think that. You might also consider offering and packaging produce together that can make an entire meal, like ratatouille.

Many millennials are single and looking to meet people and try new things. Hosting cooking demos that emphasize the health benefits of the ingredients from your stand is a way to initially engage them. Ask them what they need. This could lead to changes to your crop repertoire, or your marketing. If your market is only open when millennials are working, you may need to extend the hours, or consider a satellite market closer to workplaces, or an online order and delivery service. Or start using facebook and email marketing to create direct connections with your customers.

With so many players driving so much change in the food industry now, you need to keep your sales and marketing as fresh your produce. That way, your business will be as healthy as your customers.

DDG6 photo 2 DSC00353 (2)
GET UP-TO-THE-MINUTE SALES AND MARKETING TECHNIQUES SPIN FARMERS USE TO GROW AND KEEP NEW CUSTOMERS IN THE SPIN ONLINE SUPPORT GROUP. GET A TRIAL MEMBERSHIP WITH THE PURCHASE OF ANY SPIN GUIDE. GROW AMBITIOUSLY.

Bee Friendly Farming Attracts Customers

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon SK  

Here is one certification that is easy to get, may go beyond certified organic, and is more relevant and cheaper and less intrusive to implement – Bee Friendly Farming.

A few criteria are required to make your farm pollinating insect friendly, and they are easy to implement. You need to supply photos but there are no actual inspections. A nominal fee gets you some signs you can post at your plots, and use at your farm stand. So it’s good for bees, and good for your operation, in more ways than one. In Canada, the Bee Friendly program is handled by Pollination Canada,a project of Seeds of Diversity. Certification criteria, yearly membership cost, and the price of the metal
sign is on their web page. More details about the program are here.

This is an eco-friendly benefit all of your customers understand and are eager to support. They’ll be attracted to your stand like well…you know.

SF photo fb bee friendly

 

 

Insta-fame. Insta-millions. Insta-success!

Courtesy of Julianna Tan, owner/operator, Those Girls at Market, Saskatoon, SK

I’m just playing with you. Instagram doesn’t mean any of the above but it should be a tool to help you build a following and keep up with the cool kids.

SF photo guest blog Julianna Instagram logo

 

In the exponentially fast-paced world of social media, Instagram has changed in many ways since we last had a chat. Just a few months ago, I briefly described what Instagram is and how you can use it as a small business owner.

Today we revisit the concept and update readers on the following questions:
What is instagram? How do I use it? What benefit could this social media platform provide for me as a small business owner?

So let’s get down and dirty with the details. Instagram recently announced they’ve reached 500 million users worldwide. Of those users, over 300 million are using Instagram everyday. So what’s the hype?

Instagram instantly builds communities by bringing people together over common interests, from hip-hoppers to shoe-shoppers; the everyday experience lets people stay connected, share experiences with like-minded individuals, and inspire a sense of wonder.

Instagram is a mobile (smart phone) app that allows users to:
• Upload and edit photos and videos
• Write a caption or message along with each photo or video (altogether, we will refer to a photo/video and caption as a “post”)
• Utilize hashtags (#) to “tag” your posts, which allows other users who are interested to find your post (To learn more about hashtags, read here.
• Like and comment on other users posts
• Send direct messages to a user’s inbox

How would you use it? That’s up to you. Just the way everyone has their own personal clothing style, everybody has their own Instagram style as well. Some will choose to make it an artsy portfolio filled with colourful vegetable photos. For an example, you can see my personal Instagram account here.

Others will use it to showcase behind the scenes production- customers love seeing how an item went from the kitchen (or field) to their hands. One of my favourite examples is a local bakery here. Here’s an example of one of their posts that explains some behind-the-scene action.

Others will use it to keep followers in the community updated on upcoming events or news, like this.
(If you scroll down far enough, you will see that I use to run this page. You can tell by the artsy vegetable photos)

Using your Instagram account is a free way to advertise to people in your area by using hashtags. For example, My business operates in Saskatoon so it is important for me to let people in my area know about my business. Therefore, on my posts I make sure to hashtag: #Saskatoon This let’s users in Saskatoon find my posts. If they visit my Instagram page and like what they see, they can follow me and engage with my posts (like them, comment on them). As a result, my photos will start popping up on their feed (their personal homepage those 300 million users are scrolling across everyday).

This helps us find new customers in the area, keep our customers reminded about our products on a regular basis, create a unique relationship with our customers by letting them see our behind-the-scenes production, showcase our new products, and let our customers know where we are located… all for free!

So what are you waiting for…. I’ll follow you back if you follow me here.

SF photo guest blog Julianna Instagram chocolate page

KEEP UP WITH THE LATEST FOODIE MARKETING TECHNIQUES IN THE SPIN ONLINE SUPPORT GROUP. FREE ONE MONTH TRIAL MEMBERSHIP COMES WITH THE PURCHASE OF ANY SPIN GUIDE. 

Owners: Ying and Julianna Tan
www.thosegirlsatthemarket.com
Phone: 306 241 9390
info@thosegirlsatthemarket.com

Is Organic Certification Worth It?

Courtesy of Roxanne C., Philadelphia PA

The question frequently comes up, Do SPIN farmers get organic certification? The real question is, Is organic certification worth it?  Let’s think it through from a SPIN farmer’s perspective.

Organic certification has cost and effort associated with it, so you need to determine if there is a business advantage to having it. SPIN is a direct marketing model so growers sell direct to their customers. They can explain their methods, show photos of their operation and even have customers come visit their plots. That is how they build trust, and it is what has driven the growth of farmer’s markets over the last 15 years. People want to know the color of their farmers eyes. That is the advantage SPIN farmers have – they can build trust directly. Organic certification is more useful for growers who can’t do that because they sell through middlemen. They have to outsource trust building to certification agencies.

The bottom line is that for SPIN farmers, it probably makes more sense to put the cost and effort of certification into building relationships with customers instead.

SF photo blog certification John at farm stand

Here John Greenwood of JNJ Farms in Macomb IL sells to a customer who always knows where to find him. His plots are 5 minutes from the market. 

GET HELP WITH OTHER MAJOR BACKYARD FARMING BUSINESS DECISIONS IN SPIN’S ONLINE SUPPORT GROUP. FREE TRIAL MEMBERSHIP IS AVAILABLE WITH THE PURCHASE OF ANY SPIN GUIDE.

Farming Has a New Narrative

Courtesy of Roxanne C., Philadelphia PA

Egged on by the ever-expanding ecosystem of farm advocacy groups, farmers seem compelled to explain how exceptional they are. Here is a recent example titled “Here’s What I Need You to Know About Farming.” As we’ve come to expect, it includes the oft-repeated narrative about how hard farmers work.

SF photo hard

Many people work hard. Think of your local dry cleaner. Hair dresser. Roofer. Plumber. Print shop owner. Their days are long, their stresses are rigorous. That is the reality of self-employment, but they don’t try to use that to promote their businesses.And what are customers supposed to do with that information? Should they feel respect? Sympathy? Guilt? If you want commiseration, there are support groups and services, including the SPIN online forum and Open Houses, where you’ll find plenty of understanding and even more problem solving.

Recent topics have included:

  • why yardowners want SPIN farmers to use their land
  • selling social capital along with your veggies
  • whether to go all-in or start part-time
  • why you have to sometimes say no to restaurants
  • how to grow more on less land
  • how to raise $2,100 through crowdfunding
  • binding customers to you via email marketing
  • growing lettuce throughout 100° summers

The new narratives that are emerging in the SPIN group aren’t about how hard farming is, or how exceptional farmers are. They’re  that you can build a business based on how exceptional your products are. They’re about what customers want, and the best way to
deliver it. And they’re about making farming easier in the process.

SPIN photo Wally straddling spinach beds

Have you heard? Farming doesn’t have to be as hard as it used to be.

 

Defining Your Niche

Courtesy of Jared Regier, Chain Reaction Urban Farm, Saskatoon SK

Starting out as a young farmer in a market with many seasoned veterans is a challenge. We have a thriving farmer’s market here in Saskatoon these days and the large crowds alone nearly enticed me to join in the fun if they’d have me.  There was just one thing I couldn’t quite wrap my head around.  As a small farmer, why would I want to take my carrots to the market only to sell them right beside another farmer with the same carrots?

Whether I attended the market or not, I needed a way to stand out if I was going to be successful. I spent a significant amount of time thinking about the factors that could potentially set our farm apart from the rest. There are popular vendors at our market that no doubt increase their sales by dishing out jolly remarks all day long, but I am not particularly boisterous or outgoing so it didn’t seem wise to count on my charisma to draw in costumers. I am, however, strong willed, motivated, organized, reliable, and committed to the vision of sustainable local food production. I enjoy pushing my own limits and challenging societal norms. With those strengths in mind, I laid out some parameters for operating our farm:

1. All farm work would be done by bike.
2. All public sales would be membership based.
3. All food would be grown within city limits and without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides.

Each of these standards of operation takes extra effort on our part but they also define our niche in the market place so we’ve been intentionally transparent about our methods. Now a thoughtful consumer is faced with the choice of carrots, carrots, carrots, or carrots grown by bike right here in Saskatoon. The choice is easy because we’ve given them a story to tell and a chance to be a part of our journey. Will we attract the average customer? Probably not. Thankfully, we don’t want the average customer. We want the ones who already care and standing out is the best way to find them. Define your niche, tell your story, and let the customers come to you.

SF photo blog Jared niche logo

Meet and learn from Jared Regier and other SPIN members at our online hub for backyard-based growers, Backyard Riches. Membership  is available to anyone who purchases our learning programs. Hope you’ll join in!

New Year, New Condo

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon SK 

There is a new 100 + unit condo opening up across the street from the Saskatoon Farmers Market. Starting late spring/early summer hundreds of new customers will be streaming past my stand. The development is called “The Banks”, and it is dubbed ” A New Way of Urban Living.”

SF photo condo sign

Currently the west side Saskatoon where my market is located, is a mixed demographics bag. A lot of rough-side-of-town types and progressive younger people. Up until now there has not been too much in the way of high income, this part of town.

Talking to other market vendors, the consensus seems to be that younger people in their 20’s probably wouldn’t be able to afford these new condos. Instead, these newcomers will most likely be middle-to-high income. Chances are there will be a wide variety of ages, but probably no senior citizens. Probably most won’t have families because the units are too small.

SF photo condos under cosntruction

So what does this mean for me? Reviewing my crop repertoire, I don’t see the need to change what I’ve been offering. But I will need to ramp up production. So my planning for this year will include figuring out the logistics of that. Responding to high demand is a great challenge to have. Quick Greens, such as pea shoots, micro greens and sunflower shoots can easily be ramped up  because they don’t take much space are short turnaround. But SPIN-scale production of longer season crops that require more space is trickier, and I’m in the course of figuring out how to best utilize my larger peri-urban plots.

The rumour mill has it that a Whole Foods will be opening up in this development. I formulated SPIN’s approach to packaging and pricing in response to the big guys, so I’m already positioned to deal with them. take them on. Whole Foods is not cheap, and most of its produce probably is not locally sourced. So my farmer’s market, which is a producer-only, has a clear competitive advantage for us locals, and my stand pricing can stay the same.

There’s actually a big benefit of having Whole Foods as part of the local food scene because it will draw more new people to this part of town, much like an anchor store in a mall. So my market will become, for the first time, part of a destination spot. The new residents will check out Whole Foods, then the farmer’s market, and then get what they need, probably shopping at both.

As you can guess, my farmer’s market is abuzz with high expectations, and management knows it needs to take its marketing to a new level. Plans include a welcoming party and leafletting to all the condo units. My personal marketing will emphasize the chemical-free and hyper-local qualities of my produce, and I’ll be handing out business cards, and engaging customers at my stand. I am anticipating that one person will still be able to handle the customer volume, but there will be much less downtime than in previous years. So I will need to do more pre-bagging at home.

Before I had a chance to complete this post, I learned that there is another set of condo complexes slated to be developed near the market. I am banking on all these people who are embracing a new way of urban living, will also want to embrace this urban farmer.

Plan to Extend 2016 Sales by Observing Market Conditions Now

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon SK 

Crop repertoires always vary from year to year. SPIN farmers aim to change up their offerings, experimenting with exotic crops, and providing those not offered by their competition. Keep an eye out, too, for crops that are in short supply. Right now at my market, onions are in short supply. So my plan for 2016 will include more plantings for storage onions. The demand for garlic is exceeding my supply also, so I will increase my production there too.

There is no cabbage at market, so even though it is a difficult crop to grow for me, I’ll put in a cabbage planting for next year. My carrots and pumpkins/winter squash are selling steadily so I see no need to increase 2016 plantings of those crops.

SF photo winter market

My point is that you can continue to make money during what is considered the off-season by observing and responding to local food supply. By keeping your customers happy longer, you not only keep your cash flowing, you also ensure their loyalty. You can even gain new customers once their usual farmer is missing in action.

SPIN Apprenticeship Lesson: Respond to Seasonal Trends and Supply/Demand

Courtesy of Bryon H., Saskatoon SK

Over the last two weekends at the Saturday farmers market I learned creative ways to increase exposure and sales. The first one was the transition from being an outdoor vendor to an indoor vendor. The challenge was notifying as many customers as possible that Wally’s Urban Market Garden would continue selling indoors throughout the fall and winter. Leading up to this weekend, we mentioned this to customers at the outdoor
stand.

Last Saturday was the transition, where we set up a stand both indoors and outdoors. The satellite outdoor space cost an additional $15, but its sales quickly covered this expense. In addition to sales, we guided many customers inside to the indoor stand.

SF photo Bryon outside market stand

The indoor stand has some big advantages, like heat, since temperatures are now barely above freezing. Others are:
>> extending your marketing period
>> less logistical steps without full stand take down

SF photo Bryon inside market stand

 

This past Saturday happened to fall on Halloween! Not the regular market day for sure, and everyone had a good time. I was dressed as a stack of pancakes and was quite satisfied with the laughs I got.

SF photo BryonHalloween

 

In addition to the permanent inside stand, our satellite stand this time consisted of a temporary pair of tables featuring many heirloom pumpkin and squash varieties. If some of you out there grow or plan to grow unique pumpkin/squash (esp. large ones) you should sell of slices using SPIN’s price tier structure. These work very well for customers who are curious but intimidated to commit to an entire pumpkin.

Our Halloween pumpkin table could not have been timed better. Apparently the grocery stores in the city had sold out the day before and couldn’t restock due to an American crop failure in Illinois. As soon as the market opened we had numerous people buying multiple pumpkins. Some of these were customers who had never shopped from us before. So splitting up and having multiple inside stands definitely increased our sales.
The lesson I learned was to into get stuck in a rut with your farm stand, and always be looking for ways to change up your display and positioning, take advantage of seasonal trends, and be responsive to supply/demand issues. The more creative you are, the more people you reach.

 

SPIN Apprenticeship Lesson Learned: How to Market an Ugly Crop

Courtesy of Bryon H., Saskatoon SK

This week I had quite an interesting experience. Wally took me out to one of his backyard plots to harvest horseradish. What I was expecting was a typical looking SPIN plot with beds. When we got there it was barely noticeable what we were going to harvest! Once we walked to a back corner of the lot Wally pointed out the horseradish patch,an area that was teeming with plants.
SF photo Bryon horse radish plot
The more shocking event was actual harvesting. The harvestable part of horseradish is the root portion. They establish very deep roots which are very difficult to harvest completely. The good thing is that those unharvested portions will grow back aggressively the next year. Being a perennial, horseradish is a very low maintenance crop.
SF photo Bryon horse radish harvesting
Now the difficulty with this crop is the marketing and selling. A lot of people have never purchased and processed fresh horseradish. I’ve had some success at market today with offering a small sample to cook with and explaining a simple recipe. Two of the customers I did this with ended up actually purchasing a bag of horseradish.

Alternatively this is a much more marketable crop to restaurants. A chef who is a regular at the farmers market picked up five pounds and said he wanted another five pounds on the weekend!
SF photo Bryon horse radish crop

One thing I’d like to touch on that is a huge SPIN farming principle, workflow. Yesterday Wally and I were slicing  pumpkins for sale, and he commented on something I really took notice of. Ideally your work flow once organized should be fast and efficient, but as Wally had to remind me today is that it’s never worth working panicked.When you are rushing it is too easy to miss details or steps which could result in inferior quality produce being sold or damaging some of your own equipment. The former possibly resulting in a poor first impression, reducing the chances of customers returning and probably eliminating the chance of them becoming a word of mouth advertiser for you.

SF photo Bryon horse radish with Wally

 

It was a lot of fun trying to sell a niche product like horseradish. I noticed that the cultures who traditionally cooked horseradish were much more comfortable buying it. It is probably worth it to do some research on your city’s demographics and see which vegetables are used in those cuisines when deciding which new crops to test out.