Punctuality and growing are not exactly friends. Ours is an industry that runs on the weather, not the clock. We can’t punch out at 5 p.m., and we can’t pep talk our produce into growing at a more consistent or reliable speed. Most customers understand this in theory, but they don’t always appreciate it in practice. Before we start swapping war stories about customers complaining when we run out of this year’s strawberries, let’s give them this acknowledgement: our customers aren’t in control of their schedules any more than we are in control of ours. We run on the sun and rain, they run on the boss man and the 40-hour work week. The point at which those two industries intersect — the sale at our farmers markets — is not always the smoothest of transitions.
Recently, I sat in a farmers market parking lot for 20 minutes waiting for the stand to open. The place had advertised to begin at noon, but the farmers didn’t arrive until closer to 12:30 p.m. I watched several cars give up and leave the parking lot early. And that isn’t just lost business, it’s lost reliability.
Many of these people were businessmen and women on their lunch break. The number of people who have flexibility in their day is in swift decline. When these people stop by our produce stand, they aren’t just giving us business — they are giving us the gift of their coveted time. With all the errands on their plate, most customers simply can’t wait on us for long and when making future plans, they will hesitate to pencil in a stop by our stand if we can’t provide some timely guarantees.
Time is money. We may question whether or not that is a good thing, but in our culture today, it still remains a business fact. So how do we graciously respect our customer’s schedule while juggling the practical bumps that come with growing produce?
• Leave yourself bigger windows of time. Advertise later than you expect: if you think you’ll get to the stand by 11, tell your customers 11:30. There’s no harm in being early. The few things that can be done early on your farm, do ahead of time. The irony of life guarantees that some emergency will set you back, so the bigger the window of time you leave yourself, the better.
• If you know you’ll be late, post it on social media or send a message on your email list. This won’t reach everybody, but it certainly will help with the bulk of your customer base.
• Send one of your employees or team members ahead. If you can send some produce with him or her to start selling, even better. But have a body there to assure customers the produce is en route and provide an estimated time of arrival. If you travel a long distance to your stand, it’s a good idea to have a friend, employee or contact in that city, who you can call to get there quickly in an emergency.
We can’t stop the bad weather or the broken down truck or many of the million little things that delay us. But a good business plan has a strategy in place to work around those unexpected moments and get them taken care of as quickly as possible.
The above column is written for educational purposes and should not take the place of legal business advice. To respond to these ideas or pitch future column topics, email the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org