Monday, August 24, 2009

Lessons learned from Ag Progress Days

On Thursday, I visited Ag Progress Days for the first time ever. It was an amazing combination of all things agriculture. Most of the vendors had well-designed displays. Unfortunately, a few displays were just not helpful. If you saw Jeff's tweets from APD last week, you may have read about some vendors reading books at their displays and not looking very welcoming to potential customers.

Besides the reading vendors, I think the most lackluster display can be seen above (I waited until someone stood in front of the table to protect the identity of the vendor). As you can see, the "display" consists of banner with the business's name, an employee sitting at the table (behind the standing man), and a few brochures. As a potenial customer, what would bring me to this booth? The banner doesn't even give an idea what kind of business it is.

When setting up a vendor booth, remember that you are there to attract customers. With hundreds of other vendors at Ag Progress Days, attendees have a lot to see. Your display should sell your business without you even having to say a word. In an article by Startup Nation, a website developed to give how-to advice to entrepreneurs, they give tips on creating a vendor booth.

Tip 1: Spend serious time planning. "Create specialized, eye-catching marketing materials...The idea is to get attendees to stop. Think of your marketing materials as 'bait for fishing in the aisles.'"

Tip 2: Put your signage in sharp focus. "Make your booth signage as focused as your overall trade-show approach. Your backdrop should be simple and concise – five or six words to tell your story; something that people cruising by will get quickly. Also, design two-sided business cards for the event. Include contact info and a photo on one side, with a list of benefits in working with you on the other."

Tip 3: Choose your floor location carefully. "Where you park yourself is key...A corner, an island, a peninsula is the most ideal situation because of traffic flow and visibility. And don’t sit. Sitting behind an exhibit booth sends the message that you’re not interested or aggressive. People will just keep on walking."

Startup Nation article

As an ag entrepreneur, have you participated in any fairs or shows? Have you developed a strategy for your display? Do you have any other advice for potential vendors?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Being prepared for economic change

In this economy, restaurants are really hurting for sales as customers cut back on luxuries like dining out. It seems like restaurants are scrambling to get people in the door by offering coupons and "limited time offer" pricing. But what if a restaurant had a game plan BEFORE a slower economy (or a rising one)?

Quizno's is doing just that. At the company's annual meeting on August 10, the Flex Plan was unveiled. Food Business News reports that the Flex Plan is "a product development strategy that quickly responds to changing economic conditions...Flex Plan allows for the development of many different products, varying based on price point and balacing consumer taste with product cost." For example, Quizno's recently introduced the $4 Toasty Torpedo and the $3 Toasty Bullet. These new lower cost subs were created to protect franchisee margins while still providing an affordable option for consumers. When the economy is doing well, the Flex Plan allows for development of more indulgent products like premium, double-meat subs.

Rick Schaden, CEO of Quizno's, has said, "This economy presents unique challenges, particularly as consumer confidence ebbs and flows. We knew there was a better way to address the changes that came with this economy. By preparing for eventualities, we're taking the gueswork and delay out of product innovation and allowing for an immediate response to customer feedback. It's better for our customers and it's better for our franchise owners."

Quizno's article

As an entrepreneur, have you developed a plan for economic changes? What do you think of the Quizno's Flex Plan? After reading about the Flex Plan (and experiencing today's slow economy), will you develop a plan for the future?

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Power of Choice

As consumers we all feel empowered by choice. And when it comes to food, options are never a bad thing, at least in my opinion. For a grower involved in retail fruit and vegetable marketing one way to empower the consumer is by doing a pick-your-own operation, through which customers walk around your orchard and are able to pick out what they want. The idea of pick-your-own has been around for many years and some agricultural businesses have been pretty successful with it. However, the liabilities that come with letting people roam around your farm can prove to be too costly for many growers. But, there are many simpler ways that you can empower your customers. One of these easy little techniques was brought to my attention this past Saturday at the Gettysburg Farmers' Market.

While I was strolling around the market I came across a booth that had many different varieties of cherry tomatoes in several different colors and sizes. As I was trying to decide what variety to buy, the woman behind the counter said “here, just make up your own pint”. So, I grabbed the empty pint and got to work choosing my tomatoes. Something as simple as that actually made my purchasing experience much more fun. I walked away a satisfied customer with the exact combination of tomatoes that I wanted; a few smaller ones, a few oranges ones, a few white ones, etc. Though doing something like this may seem like common sense to many of you; don’t underestimate the power of choice when it comes to any aspect of marketing. Take some time to think about whether there is an item at your market that you could make more customizable for your customers.

Photo courtesy of Farm to Chef Gettysburg

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Standing out from the crowd

Recently, Smart Money magazine interviewed Jeremy Cowan, founder of Schmaltz Brewing Co., a niche craft brewery in San Francisco. In his interview, Cowan stressed how important it is to stand out from the crowd. As a small business owner, it can be very hard to gain customers with the "big guys" having an established market share. Shmaltz Brewing Co. has "learned to aim for the fringes and explore the counter-intuitive." Some of the company's brews include very interesting themes like "Chosen", a Hebraic-themed beer, and are introducing circus sideshow-inspired lagers. Cowan also says, "Although we lack the budgets of giant beer companies, we bring attention to our products through unique branding and promotions. For example, for the past two years, we've hosted 'Freaktoberfest,' a boutique beer and music festival in Brooklyn, N.Y. That and other promotional events have helped us attract a loyal following."

Another piece of entrepreneurial advice Cowan gives is to seek out professionals if you are not capable in a certain business area. "I like to be creative, which helps in running a business. However, I generally have a tough time with numbers, margins, and negotiations. To make up for my failings, I tapped a business consultant friend, who helped me craft a budget based on my company's sales, expenses, and profits...In time, I hired a professional bookkeeper and small business accountant to keep the company's financials on track and on budget," he states.

At the conclusion of his interview, Cowan was asked to give the best piece of business advice that he could offer. "You do not need to spend money to make money. You'd be better served if you learned to starve, struggle, save and sell. That way, you can achieve your vision based on quality, sincerity, creativity and hustle," he proclaims.

Cowan interview article

As an entrepreneur, what do you do to stand out from the "big guys"? Have you or do you plan to seek out professional help with matters you are not great in? How do you feel about Cowan's piece of advice? Do you agree or disagree?