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  #1  
Old 07-25-2016, 11:10 AM
SmallFlocksMom Female SmallFlocksMom is offline
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Default Needed: ideas for more efficient farm sales

This is for our friends. They own a small family-run organic farm, and sell mainly their dairy products, artisan sourdough breads and seasonal produce such as dried cherry tomato spread, fruit leathers, etc.

I know they work extremely hard and are struggling financially. They aren't young and, while they have several adult children, not all of them are into helping with the farm. We try to do what we can for them, by buying from them and advertising their produce by word of mouth.

Not long ago they invited us for a visit and I nearly cried when I saw their front yard. Everything was so forlorn and neglected - not so much from lack of money, I know, as from lack of time.

Their sales method is basically this: every evening, they haul fresh produce and bread of that day into their car and go door-to-door selling (rotating locations). They do this 6 days a week and have very little time left for home life. I know they are exhausted and I can't help thinking that there must be another, more efficient method for them to dispose of their produce. Maybe they are just too tired to even sit down and think of new strategies... so I thought I'd bring it up here.

Anyone has any brainwave?
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Old 07-25-2016, 04:05 PM
ScrubbieLady ScrubbieLady is offline
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How about setting up one or both of two things. Encourage customers to come to them to see everything they have and buy there (maybe an incentive to begin with or periodically, like an extra something with their purchase). Also, they could see about people placing orders for delivery. Still going out but much less time involved.

Well, three things. Any farmers markets where they are?
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Old 07-26-2016, 01:44 AM
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backlash Male backlash is offline
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A road side stand or a farmers market if they have them over there.
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Old 07-26-2016, 05:09 AM
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Default 3 hats

Prior to my EMS career I helped small businesses succeed. One of the best bits of advice I can offer is to divide the "chores."

Somebody has to produce the product.
Somebody else sells the product.
Somebody else counts the money.

These are three different hats, three different people. They might find a bulk buyer who resells their product for example. The money counter might still be in the family but it's important they learn the costs of production and be willing to confront the cold hard facts.

Without this division of tasks their enterprise will continue to suck their lives away. Period.

They don't have time to read it but someone needs to read the business classic "The E-Myth Revisited" by Michael Gerber.
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Use less, lose less, weigh the benefits, count the costs.
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Old 07-26-2016, 08:28 AM
SmallFlocksMom Female SmallFlocksMom is offline
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Prior to my EMS career I helped small businesses succeed. One of the best bits of advice I can offer is to divide the "chores."

Somebody has to produce the product.
Somebody else sells the product.
Somebody else counts the money.

These are three different hats, three different people. They might find a bulk buyer who resells their product for example. The money counter might still be in the family but it's important they learn the costs of production and be willing to confront the cold hard facts.

Without this division of tasks their enterprise will continue to suck their lives away. Period.
Your advice makes plenty of sense - now, I didn't actually pry into the minute affairs/considerations of their business, but my guess is that they are reluctant to outsource the selling to someone else because in the short term, it will make them lose money (the middleman will take a slice of the profit). However, in the long term it will free them up to become better, more efficient and more inventive producers. I will try to bring this up next time we see them and maybe a good idea will take root.

Farmers' markets and stands are good and they take advantage of those, but they are only seasonal in our area - not something on a weekly or even monthly basis.
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Old 07-26-2016, 11:28 AM
jvcstone jvcstone is offline
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they could look into setting up a CSA (community supported agriculture). That way a client base pays a set fee at the beginning of the year -season- and in return receives a weekly produce basket. That is generally delivered to a central pick up point, freeing up your friends time and money.

My daughter and family have been participating in one for several years now and enjoy it--fresh in season produce all the time. I think they go out to the farm once in a while to help with weeding etc--don't know if that is part of the deal or not.

JVC
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Old 07-27-2016, 07:41 AM
SmallFlocksMom Female SmallFlocksMom is offline
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they could look into setting up a CSA (community supported agriculture). That way a client base pays a set fee at the beginning of the year -season- and in return receives a weekly produce basket. That is generally delivered to a central pick up point, freeing up your friends time and money.

JVC
That's a good idea too. They could put up some ads to spread the word. Many local people appreciate and enjoy their produce and I'm sure many would love to buy from them on a more regular basis.

But, of course, first of all they need to stop, sit down, breathe deeply and re-think strategies. I believe they are just plain exhausted. They have been doing this thing for over 20 years and I have no idea how they keep up at it.
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Old 07-27-2016, 09:05 AM
Setanta Male Setanta is offline
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I was thinking about this since I saw the post, was going to suggest CSA as well, otherwise I can't really think of much, though I will share some of my personal strategies

my garden is a mix of market crops and personal use. generally I try to plant so I have a mix of things to use fresh and things to preserve.

in the past I have made a CSA barter trade with friends who produced things that I could not, I traded my products for theirs. before I moved to my bigger lot I could not keep chickens on my smaller one but a friend had chickens but his yard was too small for a garden, I traded a box of mixed produce a week for 18 eggs. there are also a few local resteraunts where they will buy or barter store credit for produce that they use.

a roadside stand can also work, I had a lot of success the first year I had one (started with bundles of firewood, then I added beans, squash, turnips, etc, as I had stuff to put out), the second year didn't do so well as stuff was stolen more often than sold, and after that I moved to a new place and couldn't run a stand there.

I have been making weekly trips to a group of business offices at noon just as everyone goes out for lunch, as they leave I am sitting in the parking lot selling produce and eggs (in the past I used a bike trailer to get there, now I have a truck). sometimes I sell everything I bring. I used to work there so they don't kick me out for soliciting, also the office is big on environmental sciences so selling organic pesticide free products there is popular.

local farmers markets have not worked well for me, the closest ones are a 70 mile round trip, and require a business liscence and all kinds of paperwork.

setting up a truck, bike trailer, buggy, or wagon on a busy, slow, road or intersection often works in this area. we have a lot of small hamlets and towns where the speed limit is slow so its easy for cars to stop, set up a vehicle and sit there selling out the back. works best when there is a lot of traffic. even better if an ad hock farmer market forms where multiple stands set up in the same good spot (this happens in an old parking lot from a long closed down gas station on a busy intersection, the building is boarded up but the parking lot could have up to a dozen amish buggies, pickup trucks, and one guy with a wagon behind his tractor, its a popular spot that became an unofficial farmers market).

CSA would also work and I am planning to do that next year myself, selling shares in the spring and dividing out a box of whatever I have every week. this is being prompted mostly as a way to save on egg cartons.

that's about all the ideas I could come up with
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  #9  
Old 07-27-2016, 11:34 AM
jvcstone jvcstone is offline
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grew up in the NE part of Philadelphia, and old enough to remember the vegetable huckster (local farmer) who would come down the street in his horse drawn wagon twice a week. Course that was when milk, eggs, bread, newspapers, etc were delivered to the door, and mail was delivered twice a day. world certainly has changed a lot.

JVC
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Old 07-28-2016, 04:01 AM
Kachad Male Kachad is offline
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I like the CSA ideas, that is becoming very popular around here, and helps bring Customers to them, instead of going out and spending a lot of time and gas money going door to door.

I also like the idea of the truck\trailer\buggy that has been mentioned. There's a truck that sets up right around the corner here ... just like the guys mentioned - on a side street right off of main street. Traffic flow is excellent and slow. Of course, you have to have a person here too - but at least you're not driving door to door. Plus, the time in between customers can be used for other "paperwork" or just relaxing.

There was an Amish buggy that I used to make it a point to stop at, and had very similar goods to what you described. They also seemed to do very good business.

Personally, I can't stand having people coming to my door selling stuff. Even if it's something that I may be interested in, I don't purchase, because I like my uninterrupted privacy at home.
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Old 07-28-2016, 08:14 PM
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Lots of good suggestions here about a stand at the end of their drive, farmer markets, possibly local CSA's or coop's to join. All this depends on your state and their regs and laws of course. I have to agree that likely their door to door is doing more to hurt them than help them and itís probably a huge sink hole pulling them down further..

Here are a few thoughts, put up daily and weekly ads on Craigslist, Nextdoor.com and even post ads around at public post billboards wherever they might be in your area. I see them places like convenience stores, libraries, etcÖ post a brief description of who, what and where they are; what they offer, and list contact info with both email and phone numbers on little strips for tear offs at the bottom of the page for people interested. Get a decent looking logo or make it colorful and have it look half way professional. If they don't already have one, they need to set up at a minimum a basic but decent website with easy access to them via email, phone, Twitter and Facebook contacts. Keep them the same i.e. ABCfarms.com, #ABCfarms, ABCfarms@gmail you get the point. Any of their existing regular customers, on their next cold call rounds they need to tell them immediately on the next visit that they will be ending the random unwanted drop ins (trust me, to most they are unwanted). Let them know that instead they are setting up a weekly email list to go out with what's available that week along with prices and any specials. An option might be for orders to be picked up on certain days and times or to schedule a time. Maybe for certain customers or for those with orders over a certain dollar amount (they will need determine what amount is profitable) they will make delivery available on certain days and or times.

To be honest it sounds like they are wasting lots of their energy, gas and most valuable and important -time - running around conducting what I will wager is a losing proposition. From what youíve said Iíd wager they are just taking things off the duff. They need to run things like a business! They must know their costs and expenses and they must price their products accordingly. Ideally their products will demand a top dollar due to quality and being different than everyone else. If not, they might need to look at what can be done to better improve their costing or to push up their quality. For example, if they quit all the driving around aimlessly trying to sell, burning up costly gas, that should help cut their costs. Then since they will be running things like a business and not like a kids lemonade stand, they need a good tax accountant. Also they should look to local and regional resources like grants or farm programs available from the county and state. Local extension offices also often have info to help farmers with ideas on selling their products and how to maximize their return on their investments.
Yes lots of stuff to be done, often the farming is the easy part! I'm sure they are hardworking people but they need to redirect their efforts and energy and quit throwing it down the current rabbit hole of door to door sales. Possibly you or other friends have skills or time where you all can chip in some to help get their heads above water? Are you good with websites? Maybe you could help set up a domain for them or set up their emails and other web presence? Maybe youíre good at carpentry and can help to build them a small roadside stand where they can either man it or have it on the honor system with a lock box for people to drop money in.

They should also look at developing secondary products. What do they do with excess? Can they turn them into things like fruit spreads, pies, chutneys, pickled products, custards? I highly suggest they look at hitting up some of the local restaurants to talk with the chefs. Many have interest in local sourcing and in the wholesome nature of many small farms and homesteads with GMO free, soy free, free range eggs, meat, organic vegs, etc. That could help them to establish larger, weekly customers for a large portion of their seasonal products and also help them get ideas for new crops of opportunity that chefs and restaurants would like to have. Ask the chefs what kinds of things they find hard to get or that tend to be very costly for them to get. This could be a great product for them to consider producing next year.

On the farmers market, an idea might be for them to partner with others that sell there or to find sellers interested in selling products they donít have to offer. Maybe a bulk sell or a certain percentage of the sales. Again, to do this they must understand their costs and what profit margins they need to make money. Maybe they can swap weekends manning a joint booth with a neighbor. A win-win as they both get to be making sales will at the same time they get freed up to do other tasks.
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Old 07-31-2016, 09:47 AM
SmallFlocksMom Female SmallFlocksMom is offline
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I typed a huge response the other day and then there was a glitch in the internet connection and it all vanished... bummer.

Anyway, I hope we can persuade our friends to incorporate some of these ideas. It really seems to me they are working very, very hard but in the wrong way - like carrying water in a leaky bucket. Get a whole bucket, and you'll get more water for the same effort.

I hope we manage to introduce this topic without offending them.
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Old 08-04-2016, 10:54 PM
Doninalaska Doninalaska is offline
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Originally Posted by jvcstone View Post
grew up in the NE part of Philadelphia, and old enough to remember the vegetable huckster (local farmer) who would come down the street in his horse drawn wagon twice a week. Course that was when milk, eggs, bread, newspapers, etc were delivered to the door, and mail was delivered twice a day. world certainly has changed a lot.

JVC
I think I still have family in that area who still do that. They have a route to travel, similar to a milkman. They knock on the doors once or twice a week and offer what they have in the truck. The customer then chooses what they want to purchase for that week, and the truck moves on to the next stop. Members of my family have been farming outside Philadelphia since the 1750s
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Old 08-16-2016, 10:03 AM
SmallFlocksMom Female SmallFlocksMom is offline
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I just wanted to update and let you know that we've tried to broach this subject with our friends and I'm afraid they are so set in their ways as to be wary of any change. They are doing very badly financially; last Friday we visited their farm and while it was never a "tourist farm", it used to be at least clean and well-tended. Now it's just unsightly. The picnic tables are dirty and have heaps of broken glass around them, and the smell is simply awful. Several formerly successful ventures had been called off because they can't handle everything. I suggested they need an extra pair of working hands and the reply was, "yes, but how? It costs money".

My husband and I suggested that if they want to, we'd be most happy to sit down with them and develop a plan which will consist of these three basics: 1. Budget revision, 2. Selling extra livestock, 3. Getting hired help on a percentage basis (no full-blown salary until they scramble out of their financial quagmire).

But at the end of the day it is, of course, their life, their business and their decision.
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Old 08-16-2016, 11:02 AM
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Sounds like they need to realize that what they are doing isn't working for them. Until that reality kicks in, they won't want to hear about a different way.

Maybe direct them to this forum? The ideas here should at least get them thinking and they can ask questions.

Like you said, it is their life, but it is hard to watch good people suffer.
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Old 08-16-2016, 05:36 PM
SmallFlocksMom Female SmallFlocksMom is offline
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Sounds like they need to realize that what they are doing isn't working for them. Until that reality kicks in, they won't want to hear about a different way.

Maybe direct them to this forum? The ideas here should at least get them thinking and they can ask questions.
I think this forum could help them a lot, but they hardly have time to spend online... or answer their phone... or shower or sleep, it seems. They really are working around the clock, but instead of working smart, they work hard. They "don't have time" to invest in minimal-budget advertising (Facebook, local ads, etc) or in cleaning up their farm so they have organized tours/seminars (they really have some very interesting sustainable agriculture methods at work), but this kind of minimal investment could give them awesome rewards. If I weren't so busy at this time of my life caring for young children and homeschooling, I'd gladly jump into that venture myself and work with them for a small share. As it is, I can only hope they sit down and revise their practices. It would be a pity to see them step aside, defeated, from the business to which they had dedicated around 30 years.
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Old 08-16-2016, 09:20 PM
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30 years??! No wonder they can't imagine anything different! It is like saying their original choices were wrong and no one likes to hear that.

But...if they have been doing this for 30 years, they probably have a customer base. Maybe they can slowly make some changes, like having people place their orders in advance, then maybe making deliveries every other day.

And, with age, sometimes adjustments have to be made. The body doesn't hold up as well as it used to, and stupid stuff like arthritis kicks in. It is OK to do some things differently to make life easier.

I do hope they pay attention to you, and maybe accept the help you offer.
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Old 08-17-2016, 08:39 AM
SmallFlocksMom Female SmallFlocksMom is offline
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30 years??! No wonder they can't imagine anything different! It is like saying their original choices were wrong and no one likes to hear that.

But...if they have been doing this for 30 years, they probably have a customer base. Maybe they can slowly make some changes, like having people place their orders in advance, then maybe making deliveries every other day.
Yep. Exactly. The longer you do things in a certain way, the more difficult it is to switch your mindset.

Yes, they do have a customer base which appreciates their fresh, natural, organic produce. However, often customers have no reliable way of contacting them. They have a business phone number which they rarely answer, and people are supposed to text them but usually they're too busy to respond to the messages on time. So for example, if I, say, want to drop by this afternoon and have a package of 3 loaves of bread and 4 containers of yogurt ready, there's no way I can communicate it to them within a decent time frame. They have no Facebook account, no website, no email, and no local ads. Other local small-scale farms are doing a lot better, simply by putting themselves out there more (even with higher prices and lower quality).

I'd say it's very difficult for a business these days to function without an online presence and a reliable, constantly available phone number. It's a no-brainer, really.
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Old 08-17-2016, 10:27 AM
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It's not that they don't have the time. They don't want to have the time. Majority of people don't like sales and marketing. with todays cell phones there is no excuse other than they are being completely obstinate. I mean what business person can't take 30 seconds to respond to a text or take a call. those are likely both cash money they are choosing to ignore.

To me sounds like your friends are burnt and it's moving past them. With the neglect of the place to me says a lot. Maybe before they let their operation and assests spiral into the ground loosing even more value they need to face facts and start looking at trying to find a buyer as it sounds to me as though they've given up. With the interest in homesteading, permaculture and all I'd think they might be able to find an interested buyer but then again it takes work and energy to sell a property. That likely is more the reason they are being so reluctant to do what most any person could see as sound principals of operation.

On the you wanting to help them out. Is there any way you could spin some of your home schooling lessons into things where your kids can learn while working on the farm. In that way your kiddos get valuable lessons and skills and you get to help your friends out. Though I don't know how old your kids are but even small ones can do things like pull weeds in the garden or help pick produce once shown how.

Don't your friends have any children or grandkids to help out?
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Old 08-18-2016, 09:10 AM
SmallFlocksMom Female SmallFlocksMom is offline
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To me sounds like your friends are burnt and it's moving past them.

Is there any way you could spin some of your home schooling lessons into things where your kids can learn while working on the farm. In that way your kiddos get valuable lessons and skills and you get to help your friends out.

Don't your friends have any children or grandkids to help out?
Yes, they certainly are burned out, I'm afraid, and no wonder. I do wish I could help them in practical ways on their farm, but my youngest is only 19 months old so it's really not an option. I can, however, help them with setting up a Facebook page and maintaining it, handle orders via an email account or text messaging, and do general administrative tasks from home... IF they want to.

They do have many children, several of them adults, but they get only minimal help on the farm. This sounds ungrateful, but not everyone is cut out for farming/homesteading.

Yesterday evening my husband drove over to their place and spent two hours with them outlining a new business plan. I haven't actually heard the details yet, but I sure hope some good will come out of it. My husband is a whiz in financing, websites and social media marketing.
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