Thursday, April 29, 2010

Adding charitable activities to your marketing plan

Your marketing plan is a living document. Customers' wants and needs from the businesses they purchase from is constantly changing, so you as a business owner will need to accommodate these changes or risk being left in the dust by your competition. Many customers are now looking beyond price and selection in choosing a business to meet their shopping needs. The values of a business can make or break a sale.

Customers are looking for businesses who regularly participate in charitable giving. This can be through product donations or money. Why is charitable giving a hot topic for buyers? It may be because of recent economic problems like corporate bailouts. The thought of employees losing their jobs while CEOs pull in million dollar paychecks has left a sour taste in the mouths of many consumers. Consumers are looking to spend their money at businesses that are not just out for profit, but are instead looking to help their community. Some examples:
1. As a jelly maker, you advertise that 30% of the profits from your newest flavor will be donated to a local animal shelter.
2. At your farm market, you advertise that on Tuesdays, 10% of all profits will be donated to pediatric cancer research.
3. At your bakery, you advertise that any unsold bread will be donated to your local food bank.

To help alert charity-conscious consumers about your giving, try using social media. Twitter and Facebook are great outlets for this. Post regularly about what will be donated and the charities that will benefit from your giving. Also, ask the charity that you are giving to to also post about your business's charitable activities. There are even services available to advertise charitable businesses, like HelpOT ( HelpOT's mission is to bring together businesses and advertise their charitable activities using social media. Each city has a Twitter account and posts about local businesses. (Right now, HelpOT is only available in Austin, Chicago, New York City, San Francisco, Orange County, Dallas, and Los Angeles, but check back often for info about your city.) All participating businesses can post to this Twitter account and talk about their charitable activities. Customers can then see all of the charitable activities taking place in their city.

As a business owner, has your business participated in any charitable activities? If so, has this increased sales? How did you advertise?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

"Grow your skills, grow your market" program

In December of 2007, Penn State Extension Educators John Berry and Bob Pierson conducted needs assessment surveys of 61 farmers’ market managers in South-East Pennsylvania. What they found in analyzing these surveys was a strong desire for more and better networking and educational programming addressing small market managers. In 2009, Penn State Extension Educator Peggy Fogarty-Harnish visited 15 farmers markets throughout Lancaster and found similar desires to those in Southeast Pennsylvania. This discovery broadened the scope of the program from Southeast Pennsylvania farmers’ markets to a more state wide focus group. These efforts led to the creation of the “Grow your Skills, Grow your Market” program offered by Penn State Extension with support from Chester County Economic Development Council. Each year, specific topics of interest will be identified and corresponding and relevant speakers will be found to participate in the program.

This year, the program started at Lancaster Central Market—named by the American Planning Association as one of the top 10 Great Public Spaces in 2009—on March 30 at 8:30 A.M. After the treasure hunt led by Linda Aleci from the Franklin & Marshall Local Economy Center, the program moved to Southern Market Center for networking and workshops. In all, there were 68 attendees representing multiple cities including Harrisburg, Allentown, Phoenixville, Philadelphia, Carlisle, Hershey, Quakertown, and West Chester. Other workshop presenters included Carolyn Shelby, USDA Electronic Benefit Transfer Coordinator for Mid-Atlantic States, and Susan Richards, Capital RC&D Area Council, who together presented a workshop on obtaining EBT capability at your farmers’ market. Nicky Uy from The Food Trust talked about recruiting producers and vendors before lunch was provided featuring foods from Lancaster Central Market. Linda Aleci returned after lunch to talk about the great features of Central Market and then turned it over to John Berry who discussed food safety. After a break for networking, Carmen Humphrey from the USDA/Farmers’ Market Promotion Program closed out this year’s “Grow Your Skills, Grow Your Market” with a workshop on promoting and paying for a farmers’ market.

Fogarty-Harnish says this year’s program was very interactive and promoted peer to peer learning, while also leaving plenty of time for Q&A sessions. This program is particularly relevant today because of the recent growth in farmers’ markets due to consumer awareness of healthy eating, supporting the local economy and food safety. “It is definitely a consumer-driven development,” says Fogarty-Harnish, “and the downtown areas and boroughs see the benefit of local farmers’ markets to community economic development.” There is a local desire to keep the food dollar in the community and it seems the downtown areas and boroughs profit from the markets due to an increase in sales owing to the increase in consumers frequenting those areas.

Farmers’ markets are complex businesses. There are a lot of issues involved including food safety, regulations and permits, marketing and research, and the struggle to help low-income families have access to the products. A lot of markets are volunteer, which means that there is a lot of turnover from year to year. Fogarty-Harnish says that there is “an emerging professional development needed to strengthen and sustain markets over time.” With the help of this workshop, we can look forward to an even more successful future for farmers’ markets.

If you have any questions about “Grow Your Skills, Grow Your Market” please contact Peggy Fogarty-Harnish at (717) 394-6851 or at

By Dawn Gannon (, Penn State Extension Writer/Intern

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Is farming in the Great Plains in grave danger?

Farming is a top industry in the Great Plains, but it may see a major obstacle in the near future. Most of the water used in the Great Plains comes from the Ogallala Aquifer, a 174,000 square mile underground lake. This sounds like a huge amount of water, but as the primary source of water for farmers in the Great Plains (and the sheer size of the land known as the Great Plains), the Ogallala is draining at a shocking rate. Over 90% of the land in the Great Plains is used by farms and ranches, and 75% is cultivated (from the US Global Change Research Program

States like Texas have implemented controls on the amount of water farmers can pump, but these rules are only delaying the inevitable. The Ogallala is refilling at such a small rate, experts consider it negligible. In a recent article for AOL news, David Brauer, program manager for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service Ogallala Aquifer Program, said, “All we're doing is buying time.”

If the Ogallala dries up, what effect will it have on the Great Plains? Brauer also commented that, “We're talking about, for the last 20 years, 20 percent of the irrigated acreage of this nation is over the Ogallala." The Great Plains produces such a large amount of the grain that the any major reduction in the amount of grain produced would devastate the world’s grain supply.

For farmers: What do you think?
To prepare for the inevitable end to the water in the Ogallala Aquifer, farmers are developing dry-farming techniques and are hoping for the biotech industry to create drought-resistant crops, but will this save the farming industry in the Great Plains? Have you had water issues in your area? What would you do if your farm was facing a future like that of the Great Plains?

For value-added ag product producers: What do you think?
If your product(s) contains wheat (or any other commodity produced in the Great Plains), how will you adapt if there is a shortage of your needed commodity?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Foursquare: What's in it for businesses???

I started playing around with Foursquare ( today. It's the latest in a line of social networking applications that I've toyed with. If you know me, you know I love Facebook and Twitter for their business applications. But this one's pretty different. For details, see their website, but here's a quick overview.

The core functionality of Foursquare allows you to "check in" (all quoted terms indicate Foursquare jargon) at various "venues" (which you can add if none exists) all around the world. As you check in, you earn points (which don't lead to tangible rewards at this point) and badges as recognition for your travels. At each venue, you can add a public note indicating either something "to do" or some sort of "tip." If you're the lucky person who has visited a venue more than anyone else, then Foursquare declares you to be the mayor of that venue. Within Foursquare, you can also generate lists of friends, similar to those on Facebook.

Business Applications
So, what's in it for you as a business owner? On their website, Foursquare provides you the opportunity to list "Mayor Specials," deals you might give to your most loyal customers, inclduing your "mayor." They also provide other suggestions such as a free drink to every 10th person. Foursquare provides a new way to gauge customer loyalty as indicated by the number of times they check in to your venue.

It also provides a way to assess who is checking in at your venue. I added my office building as a venue (see If you find that venue online, you will see all who have visited it, the number of unique visitors, etc. (A better example might be the Statue of Liberty; see As an owner you can get to know your customers in this way. Keep in mind, of course, the demographics of who might be using Foursquare and whether or not it's consistent with your overall demographics. It may not be the best tool for true market research.

An owner might also have a lot to learn from the "tips" or "to dos" left on Foursquare. Some might provide insights into how to serve the customer better. Because it's so early, it won't take a lot of time to catch up on comments and respond to them.

With some ingenuity, Foursquare might allow a group of cheese makers to offer artisan cheese tours and to provide a reward for all who have checked in at the participating stops. The same concept could apply to other types of farm or food markets. Like every other type of social networking tool, the true power lies in the applications generated by its users.

Your Chance to Respond
What do you see as the business benefits of Foursquare?
How might businesses use this tool to connect with customers?

Learn More
I found a couple interesting blog posts...

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Establishing a business in a “saturated” market

If you are thinking about becoming an agricultural entrepreneur, you are probably thinking about what product or service will set you apart from the competition and excite customers. You don’t want to go into business selling the exact same thing as the competition. For example, coffee shops are everywhere, especially with the Starbucks boom in the 90’s, so one would think that there is little room for another coffee chain, right? The owners of Stumptown Coffee Roasters are trying to break the mindset that the coffee market is already saturated with coffee providers.

An article in March’s Time magazine describes Stumptown as a unique type of coffee shop. One way Stumptown differentiates itself is by buying single-origin beans (the New York Stumptown plant offers more single-origin beans than any other coffee provider). When you purchase coffee from Stumptown, every bag is labeled with the elevation, location, varietal, tasting notes of the beans it contains, and a profile of the area as well as technical information.

Video about Stumptown

Stumptown is also trying to change consumers’ view of coffee from a commodity like sugar and corn to a luxury item like wine. As such, coffee is similar to wine in that it has seasons and varietals. In the article, Duane Sorenson, founder of Stumptown, describes why Stumptown is different from the competition. "We started Stumptown with the idea of getting to the source. That was the concept, and that excitement is what we wanted to bring to our customers." Of course, premium products require a premium price. Sorenson explains, "The first day we opened [in 1999], we weren't in the position to pay what we do for a pound of coffee. But within a few years, people tasting our coffee experienced it as they never had.”

So what is the moral of this story? Even in an industry that seems saturated, there is always room for an entrepreneur to come in and offer a product in a way the customer has never experienced. You must thoroughly research and define your target market. For example, Customer A buys their coffee from the local gas station, Customer B buys their coffee from Starbucks, and Customer C buys their coffee from Stumptown. All are selling coffee, but each has a specific target market that they cater to. When developing your business plan, don’t overlook this crucial information! To get help on defining your target market, contact your local Extension office.

As an agricultural entrepreneur, how have you defined your target market? How did your research help you to differentiate your product from the competition?