We completely sold out of all our lamb this year. Every single one of them, right down to the littlest runt, was gone by the end of our lamb harvest day. That’s a good year. Here’s a few lessons we’ve learned over the last couple years with the farm that might be of some help to you.
(Since writing this, be sure to check out our second post 5 MORE Tips for Direct Marketing Farm Products!)
- Sort and mark sale animals first. We sort all the lambs out from the breeding flock, and then use washable paint to mark males and females–one green dot is male, two green dots is female. We keep animals for sale in a smaller field, near the house, where customers can get a good look at them and they’re easy to catch for closer inspection.
- State accepted payment upfront. We tell everyone cash or bank check only when they call or put it in bold print at the bottom of any ads we run. Don’t wait until someone’s driven all the way out to your place and decided they want to buy something. There’s nothing worse as a buyer, than not realizing you need to go to the bank for a withdrawal and it’s Sunday afternoon. I don’t care if it’s $100 for lamb, or $3500 for a piece of equipment, relationships are smoother if you just state it up front and stick to your guns.
- Require deposits to hold anything.We take 50% deposits, no more than 4 weeks out. (A lot of our customers are purchasing for a specific holiday. and don’t want to end up without, but aren’t ready to take it right now.) We mark the animals with a letter or symbol to id it for the buyer so they can be sure they get the one they paid for and picked out. We note the # of animals, deposit paid, amount due, and id symbol on the back of a business card and give it to them. We’ve gotten burned on not taking deposits before. It’s not worth it. Just state your policy up front and stick to it. If it bothers them that much, you probably don’t want them as a long-term customer anyway. In the words of Joel Salatin, “they either get with the program, or get it somewhere else.”
- Don’t bring strange animals to your farm for your customers. Two words: Hoof Rot. Two more: Never Again. We’re glad to try to keep up with our neighboring farmers and refer folks to them directly if we don’t have what they’re looking for. (Think Macy’s from Miracle on 34th Street!) But the risks to our own operation, and our reputation as well, are just too great. We sell what we have and let others sell what they have.
- Include your kids. One, it teaches them about the business aspects of the farm (and life!). Two, they learn about people. And three, it creates a family friendly atmosphere and welcomes your customers’ families more than anything you could say out-loud. We have a lot of customers that come alone the first time, and then bring wives, children, cousins, aunts and uncles, and even grandparents back with them the next time because they know they’ll be welcome. It makes for wonderful, long-term relationships.
I’ll have more tips to share on Monday!
Do you direct market–and not just livestock–anything? What have you learned about it? Have some favorite tips to share? It’s a learning process, and we’re definitely looking to improve the experience for us and our customers!