Oh yeah, and some adorable pictures of Penny playing with one of our bull calves over the back fence.
- Don’t count your chickens before they hatch. Or your eggs before they’re laid. Or your lambs before they’re grown. That’s why we don’t take deposits more than 4 weeks out on animals. You don’t know what will happen. We’ve had our chicken flock suddenly decimated by predators. We’ve lost sheep to freak accidents in storms.
This is just another way of saying that you need to have a good understanding of your supply and demand and be honest and up-front with your customers. Farming is a risk. It’s not all in the farmer’s hands. The beauty of direct marketing is that your customers can become partners in your risk-taking. But believe me, you only want willing customers. Don’t promise if you can’t deliver.
- Treat all customers the same. If you direct market by word of mouth, keep in mind that your customers know each other too. They’re going to be talking to each other about you, your farm, your prices, and your products. They’re going to know if someone got a better price, if someone got a better product, or if someone got a dozen eggs after you told them you didn’t have anymore. Sure, everyone likes to think they’re special, but at the end of the day, everyone respects being treated fairly.
- Listen to your customers’ input. We’ve adjusted our weaning and feeding programs slightly over the last two years to coincide with having lambs ready for the main holidays we know our customers are celebrating. We’ve also culled and added breeding stock with an eye toward both our management expectations and our customers’ carcass preferences. Now I did say “listen” not “follow” here. We’ve been asked to do a few things, like no tail docking, which we have determined were unacceptable for our farm. But because we know it’s an issue of interest for a large part of our customer base, we make sure when making a sale to point it out so that everyone is making a well-informed decision.
- Cultivate demand even when supply is low. Yes, you need to keep point one up there in mind and use some common sense here. Always operate with integrity! But you never know when a regular customer will move (we’ve had that happen), or have a drastic dietary change (we’ve had that happen), or find someone who meets their year-round supply need instead of your seasonal offerings (had that happen too). We always give out more business cards each year than we know we’ll have lambs. And we keep a “waiting list”, if you will, of customers we couldn’t serve. We also keep in touch with other local farmers that might have what the customer wants in the short-term.
- Cultivate relationships with other farmers. We try to keep tabs, keep numbers, and keep track of the specialties of other small farmers in our area. We have someone we send folks to for chickens (breeding stock), someone else for goats, and someone else we recommend for strawberries and pumpkins. And those farmers send us customers that want lamb, beef, and breeding stock. We’ve seen over and over the last few years that there’s waaay more demand for direct-from-the-farmer food than there is supply. Collaborate, don’t compete! It’s great for your customers, it’s great for your family, and it’s great for your community!