This is a Farmers and their Diversified Horticultural Marketing Strategies video clip.
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Farmers and their Diversified Horticultural Marketing Strategies [DVD]. V. Grubinger. 1999. University of Vermont Extension. Available for purchase at: http://www.uvm.edu/vtvegandberry/Videos/marketvideo.htm (verified 31 Dec 2008).
Karen and Jack Manix, Walker Farm. Dummerston, VT
I’m Karen Manix, this is Jack Manix, we’re here at Walker Farm in Dummerston, Vermont. We have a diversified operation, it’s two parts, horticulture and vegetable. We farm about 30 acres organically and we have about 14 greenhouses. And pretty much we’ve been emphasizing the flowers over the last 4-5 years because they seem to be subsidizing the rest of the operation. 25 years ago this summer, we came here to visit Jack’s grandfather and helped him with the chores and really liked it and felt like it was where we needed to be. So he taught us about farming, and we tried milking cows, raising pigs, chickens, making apple cider, on and on. We’ve found a couple things that work real well for us, is growing vegetables and growing flowers. And we also live right on a state highway, which has problems, but it also is a great location. Since we have a farm stand right on route 5, we don’t wholesale, we just retail right here and that seems to be working out.
Well we were very lucky when we got started in this business to get hooked up with some good caterers and restaurant owners that helped us to develop our marketing strategy and they taught us that people eat with their eyes. We’ve learned to display with color and presentation. The same thing carried over into the horticulture where we got hooked up with some upper-end gardeners and landscape designers and we did the same thing there. One of the things we wanted to do was to develop an upscale market where people really appreciated fine flowers and good food and would be willing to pay for that freshness so, we really don’t compete with supermarkets because there’s really no way they can match what we offer every day. And so we developed a marketing strategy with our horticultural and catering friends and they taught us what people wanted or what people would want in the future, because they were privy to interesting things coming down the pike. And so working in cooperation with them, we came up with products that really challenged our clientele. In order to keep our upscale customers, to keep them happy, we send our catalogs of our flower material in early spring late winter and they’re able to pre-order for a fee. And we gather up stuff for them and it’s all ready when they come and they can just put it in their car and go. We’ve also developed a website where people can log on and download our catalogs.
I think that the single most important thing for marketing is to have people working in your stand that understand that making eye contact with your customers, being friendly, making a little chat, giving them respect to the customers is your best marketing tool. For someone to come in and feel like, ‘ok here’s a person that we like’, makes all the difference. We also pay our stand people more than our field workers, because we feel that the marketing is where we need to put our emphasis the most. And, just about anybody can grow a good tasting tomato, but it takes an expert to sell a good one. Especially during tomato season. What seems to work for our farm stand is to have lots of please and thank you’s, all of our employees are encouraged to do a lot of that. And to keep everything as spotless as possible, cleanliness is a really nice attribute concerning food. And quality control, everyone’s encouraged, if they see something on display that doesn’t look up to up standards, throw it out.
One of the things we wanted to do was to connect the people who shop here with our farm so we developed this program we called the wrap-around which means instead of people to stop, go into the front of the stand, get back in their cars and go, we widened our display area with gardens and greenhouses and other attractions to bring them around behind the farm and into the fields, so they could connect with the cows and the vegetables and the flowers and really feel like Walker Farm was a part of their life.
Its really important to keep in touch with what your customer needs, and we have done surveys where we ask them what they’d like to see here, how we can improve. And we usually give them a free tomato plant or free flower for filling out the survey. One of the ways we can keep improving our business is during the off-season going to the seminars and educational meetings and doing a lot of reading. And during the season we take time off to visit other farm stands to do a little corporate espionage and stealing their best ideas and using them here because everything we do here, we’ve learned from other people. The main thing is to have fun with your employees and your customers and your marketing will just take off from there. The message that should be given out to all people is that there’s a lot of money in this business and there’s wide-open opportunities in agriculture and even though you hear a lot of doom and gloom stories especially, unfortunately, from the dairy section this is a great field of opportunity.
This video project was funded by the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (USDA).
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