One of the best things about NAFDMA, the International Agritourism Association, is that it’s truly a global organization. At the most recent annual conference in Austin, Texas, Heather Copley of Farmer Copleys in Pontefract, Northern England, shared her “Techniques from Across the Pond” regarding farm store merchandising.

Farmer Copleys is open 52 weeks a year. It is host to the UK’s Largest Pumpkin Festival, a farm café, a shop and an Airbnb farmhouse. They host special events and offer U-pick crops to customers. Copleys is a working farm which opened in 2002 with only Christmas trees and turkeys. Their shop was opened in 2003 and they’ve created a steady expansion since then. Heather said they focus more on food than entertainment.

“Merchandising is an underrated element,” she stated. “It’s crucial to increase and drive sales, and to move stock that isn’t selling. It can be the difference between profit and loss. It gives people a reason to return.”

Heather also pointed out the difference between a grocery store and a farm store. It’s all about the customer experience.

Good merchandising has a positive impact because humans are visual beings. The sales journey begins with the eyes. “Good merchandising creates an ambience, a mood, a season,” Heather said. “It’s real and tactile versus virtual. It sets the scene. It can result in sales and add-on sales as well as impulse sales and associated sales.”

She added that while we are very visual beings, it’s important for good merchandising to incorporate all the senses if possible. She would know – “We have gone through 20 years of learning to do this properly,” she admitted.

The 5 Rs of Merchandising

Banker Paul Mazur of Lehman Brothers said “We must shift America from a needs to a desires culture” after World War I. Many areas of business had ramped up to support the war efforts and didn’t want to slow down and lose profits after Armistice Day.

In 1927, Mazur defined the five Rs needed to achieve that goal: the Right merchandise, in the Right amount, at the Right time, at the Right price and in the Right place. “I’d add on the Right staff and the Right customer service,” Heather said.

Those last two Rs are critical at Copleys. “In your team, who’s ‘got it?’” Heather asked. “Who is creative and detailed? You need them to help communicate the vision. Have a leader and communicate your values through them to make those emotional connections.”

For those who haven’t put much thought into their merchandising before now, the first question is often “How do I start?” Heather said organization is key. Sit down and create guides and rules for your particular vision. Make an annual plan too. Part of your planning should include creating a floor plan with expected traffic flow. Heather said the goal is to make it practical and workable – and get your team involved too.

Referring back to Mazur’s principles, you can also create your own Right time. To draw in customers, come up with your own holidays or festivals to celebrate. For example, Copleys does a Ski Lovers Weekend with an Alpine theme.

“The first time you make a plan it’s hard work, but every time after that it’s easy,” she said, holding up a binder with a step-by-step guide to that event. “The beauty of this is everyone knows what everyone else in the business is doing. We use pictures to illustrate everything, and review what worked and what didn’t work each year.”

How and where you place your farm goods for customers to purchase matters.

The Building Blocks

Where to start with your plan? Begin at the roadside and take the same journey a visitor to your farm would take. Try to walk that journey with fresh eyes. Look at your buildings, including the walls, the doors and the traffic flow. When designing a floor plan, know if you can move any internal structure or elements.

Next, identify the light and dark spots and note them. That will all help you draw your floor plan. Once you have that, involve your team – the more eyes, the better, said Heather. And remember, the longer the season, the more you’ll need to move things around to keep visitors coming back “fresh.”

When you begin building displays, Heather offered this tip: “Don’t throw anything away. You can reuse everything on the farm” – from baling twine to feed bags to five-gallon buckets. She suggested creating a rolling plan (including the stocks and supplies you have on hand).

Make notes of seasonal activities and national holidays as well as regional food (and harvest) dates. Outside of those days, try to update two sections of your merchandise each month. Don’t forget to allocate a budget to any new design elements you may need and the labor it will take to update things.

Don’t be afraid to do reconnaissance at different shops for inspiration either, Heather said.

Display Theories

Merchandising theory has been perfected over the last century to lure people to specific products. Its basic principles include placing key items at eye level, sharing a message, embracing the “power of three” and triangles and utilizing repetition. It’s also about filling space appropriately. “You cannot sell empty space,” Heather said. “And there’s no point in having a display that’s so pretty no one wants to shop it.”

There are also a few display theories to consider:

  • Symmetrical: A grouping of products which is a mirror of its equal on both sides of the plane of symmetry – it’s balanced. Heather said this design is excellent for hot spots, islands, central features or entrances; it’s also perfect for new product launches. Customers can approach it either head-on or from all sides.
  • Asymmetrical: A group forming a pyramid one stronger side, either horizontal or vertical. This is also good for hot spots, for directing flow or for new products. This is usually set up against a wall or unit.
  • Repetition: This involves having more than one line of any product positioned together for impact. It’s great for shelves, fridges, countertops and walls. “It’s strong,” Heather said. “Use it to make a statement. Couple it with strong signage and/or a tasting opportunity.”

Repetition also ties into the power of three/five/seven. Our eyes are drawn to these pyramid-shaped displays, and grabbing one item off the top can be less intimidating than grabbing one from a perfectly arranged row on a shelf.

Heather also recommended having standards for your signage, always using the same font, size, color, etc. Match your indoor and outdoor displays.

Your farm stand or store is a reflection of you in the end. “Have pride in your display,” Heather said.

by Courtney Llewellyn