by Elizabeth A. Tomlin
Whether you’re on the East Coast, West Coast or somewhere in between, and regardless of whether you’re selling products at farmers’ markets or through social media; the recent webinar, The Strategy of Identifying, Reaching and Connecting with YOUR Agritourism Customers, had something to offer.
Featured presenters Kristen Skaggs and Anna Farrell with the Farrell Design Group have years of experience in marketing for ag clients and “helping farmers and ranchers reach customers.”
They advise producers to put some time into recognizing who their customers are by assessing the demographics; age bracket, income level and gender. “Understand the demographics and you’ll know where to put your marketing dollars.”
The second important component is understanding customer psycho-graphics; personality, attitudes and lifestyle.
“Demographics is who buys, psycho-graphics is why they buy.”
It’s likely that you have several different customer types. However, most customers will fall into one of two categories: Busy families with children and moms and dads who like to cook or organic/vegetarians with not many options for eating out.
Talking directly to your buyers and getting to know them is key in discovering what they are interested in purchasing. Ask them what they like about your products and share your farm story with them. Ask for their advice. Listen to what they have to say. Offering samples of your product and asking for feedback will give you valuable information for targeting other customers. Remember that customers and trends change.
Having a good attitude is imperative; the way you answer your phone, say good-bye and thank you. Train all of your employees to be courteous, helpful, and neat and friendly. This reflects on your ‘brand.’
Branding is an extremely important component of successful marketing.
“Your visual brand is your foundation for success.” stressed Farrell. Business cards, labels, tee-shirts, aprons, hats, market bags, brochures, signage, social media pages and any methods of advertising should all reflect exactly the same logo. “This is absolutely essential. Branding consistency is key.” Your brand should appear professional.
Customer service should always be foremost in your mind. Follow up with customers. Pay attention to that one product they always buy. Offer it frequently.
Farmers’ markets are usually located around cities where people of different nationalities live and other languages are spoken. Are you in an area where there may be a language barrier? Reach that market by bringing in cultural products and hire someone fluent in those diverse languages to market your products. Be sure your signs reflect those languages as well.
All vendors are not created equal. So, if you are marketing your products through a vendor, be sure to get at least three recommendations for them before turning your products over to them.
Utilize the internet. Develop both a website and social media page. Be sure to link one to the other. Farrell recognizes that folks don’t update their websites as often as they may like, but social media pages can be updated daily. Blogs are beneficial in telling your farm story to connect with customers.
Developing emotional connections between customers (and potential customers) to your farm and farm products are encouraged.
“Use animals to your advantage.” Got spring chicks? Calves? Kittens? Share videos, photos and stories on your website and social media pages. Share family photos. Customers love to feel that personal connection to the farm. “Bring in your personal story of your ag business.”
“People who are ag-tourists are looking for unique experiences,” said Farrell. “They want to get away from the city and enjoy rural life.”
Al Courchesne, of Frog Hollow Farm, told of his experience with expanding from a 13-acre, “you pick,” peach orchard, 40 years ago, to a thriving 143-acre organic fruit farm, while establishing a customer base and connecting with ag-tourists.
Courchesne said he established his connection to customers by going organic in 1989, when the demand first began. “That was an important step in marketing strategy.”
Courchesne found quality, branding, packaging and delivery were key components to his success. “All of these things make a big difference!”
He added distributors to his business to reach restaurants, hotels and catering companies to distribute his fruit and value-added products. He also developed a CSA and adds a weekly newsletter to the box to maximize customer engagement.
He stresses that producers have good communication with customers to assure customers are getting what they want, when they want it.
Training programs for employees are also key in operating his business. “Really good training is required for pickers, packers and sellers at the market.”
Farm events, such as picnicking among blossoming trees, to dining with a host bar and live music, are advertised and bring in tourists. Educational tours for schools and special groups are available. Fundraisers are also held at the farm.
Courchesne advises leaving your business cards/brochures at stores and venues where people will pick them up and take them home.
Like the Farrell Group, he stresses use of the internet to bring in more customers. “Social media is a good use of marketing dollars.” He also uses the internet for mail order marketing.
Frog Hollow Farm recently opened a farm-to-table café, where they feature their assortment of products in special dishes made in the farm kitchen. “Our mission is to provide nourishing, seasonal food from local farms, vineyards, and breweries and to educate our customers about the principals of sustainability practiced at Frog Hollow Farm.”
Interested in hiring an outside consultant to help you develop a marketing plan?
“Be sure to get at least three references before you hire one.” advises Farrell. “If you hire someone, you should see a significant increase in sales.”
“We hope the webinars are useful to producers,” said coordinator Penny Leff. “Because farmers and ranchers are busy people, the webinars share the advice of industry experts and experienced agritourism operators in an accessible way that doesn’t require investment of travel time or conference fees. In the next four lunchtime webinars, we will be connecting participants with experts in internet marketing, county permitting, tourism, hospitality and customer service, which are all important for agritourism success.”
Go to http://sfp.ucdavis.edu/agritourism/Agritourism_Conversations_2016/ for more information.
Identifying, reaching and connecting with agritourism customers
by Elizabeth A. Tomlin