Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Events – know when and how to host them

Hosting an event can often intimidate an ag. business owner/operator. The list of concerns can range from where to direct overflow parking, to having enough staff, to what event would customers even be interested in attending? Certainly, it would be a shame for an event to not live up to customers’ expectations – which can negatively impact your business. As the saying goes “anything worth doing is worth doing well.”

So, what events could you host? Are there particular products that your business can tie-in with: wineries and harvest parties, growers who sell their strawberries and strawberry festivals, etc? Do you celebrate your “grand re-opening” each year? Are there particular anniversaries (1st anniversary, 5 years, 20, 100…) that are monumental for your business? Invite your customers to celebrate with you. Is there a charity that you like to support that could benefit from proceeds from admission, sales, and a raffle? What about hosting an event for your top customers? What better way to show your appreciation than to single them out and host something in their honor.

Don’t feel that you have to go it alone. Involve other complementary businesses. They can be vendors and purchase floor space where they can sell products or they can even co-host the event. If you have the space, bring customers to your location but come to an agreement with other businesses that they will supply employees who will help in the planning, day-of, and clean-up. Splitting the costs could make a first time event more palatable.

As you develop your ideas for events, keep in mind that your ultimate goal is to increase revenue. So, when putting the list to a vote, give stronger consideration to those that make sense for your business, that are likely to increase foot traffic and bring in new customers, and that you and your staff can “get behind.” If you don’t have faith in your idea, the event is likely to not have the impact you had hoped.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

You have the space, now use it!

I think a strategy that works well for ag. businesses is utilizing retail space to the fullest. We all know that wineries can serve as sites for weddings and receptions, but how else can retailers “sell” their space during non-retail hours (or at least areas away from the general public)? The possibilities could be endless. What you’ll have to consider is whether or not you have the staff (who are willing) to work after hours, and if the after hours or the non-sale peak you have available would appeal to groups or organizations. Also, do you have ample parking, restrooms, and tables/chairs/etc. that groups might need for their event? Having organized events myself, I know that the “creature comforts” like pleasant bathrooms, comfortable temperatures, accessible parking, are what attendees focus on and complain about.

What are some ideas? I just received a birthday announcement from my six year-old niece. Her party won’t be held at a kid’s themed restaurant or arcade, but at a pumpkin patch. What an interesting idea – an open space where kids can run free, pet animals, experience agriculture, and where pumpkins serve as guest favors. I’m sure that the pumpkin patch is a more cost effective option – and doesn’t limit my niece as to the number of guests she can invite.

You may have considered other ideas for using your space: hosting parties, allowing clubs to rent out an area for meetings (what garden club wouldn’t want to have their monthly meeting in a garden center?), promoting the space as the perfect place for a local wine judging event to be held, etc. I have even seen ag. businesses offer their space for engagement parties, rehearsal dinners, and garden centers who allow couples to get married and have their reception at the outlet - all can work nicely for businesses with a certified kitchen. In instances where just the space, restrooms, and parking are available, it is worth developing a list of caterers that you approve of to make the host’s job easier. Think of what other services might be necessary for a successful event and create a list of them, too.

So, think outside the box – how can you effectively use your space? The payoff may be more than the revenue you receive the day of the event but from the increase in attendees who become customers.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Adding to your product mix – before, during, and after you commit to selling niche products

Continuing our discussion from last time, once you have your list of potential niche products what is your next step? Pretest your ideas with a group of customers and ask them if the idea appeals. Next, trial a few of the goods. If you’d like to sell lamps, display a few in a prominent location where customers will notice them. Don’t forget that your promotional efforts will need to be bumped up a little – if you carry new products, let the community know that you now carry something a bit out of the ordinary.

Now, do customers take notice of the lamps, or whatever else you decided to carry, and do they purchase them? It may take some trial and error and certainly you don’t want to make the decision to delete a new product based on a few reactions. Instead, develop a promotional strategy where the lamps are positioned as a nice addition to what you already sell. Show the lamps in use. In the store, create a small vignette that mimics a sitting room where the lamps are turned on. In advertising, whether in print or online, use visuals, too. Often times consumers need to see how the product is used in situations before they can envision how they will use it themselves.

As you work through the seasons and focus on your niche product – keep track of the outcomes of all your efforts. Have you seen an increase in foot traffic (consumers who visit your store) because of the specific ad you created using the lamps? Once at the store, do customers purchase them? These and other metrics that you use to judge promotion and product success should be considered when you either decide to add more lamp options or choose to go another path with niche goods.

Only you will be able to truly determine what new products will work for your business So, what will “fit” your store, what could you provide that would differentiate your business from others in the area, and how are you going to proceed after the new product is a success?

Friday, October 15, 2010

How does your product offering grow?

As a retailer your options for products you sell can be immense - whether you are an established business owner or an entrepreneur putting your business plan together. What is the best way to add new goods and value-added processed products to the mix and how do you determine what to discontinue? Today’s retailer may be a little less traditional than in the past. Florists offer wine tastings and wines for sale, winery tasting rooms offer bath and body products, and garden centers offer value-added processed food products. There are no bounds as to what a retailer could offer as long as it makes sense for the overall business mission.

What does this mean exactly? Well instead of considering what makes sense to sell in a traditional florist or garden center – consider what makes sense for your target customer or that complements your core product? Several options, whether goods or services, could be considered – the key is to make sure that the “niche” idea “fits” with what you want to convey to your customer. For example, gardeners who shop at a garden center or nursery may enjoy other outdoor hobbies and activities. Might products suited for birding appeal to clientele? Consumers who visit florists might look for goods to decorate their homes. Would dinnerware, decorative clocks, or linens be appropriate for the store?

Take care in selecting products that may not be available at other local stores. It would be in your best interest to carry something that will differentiate your business from your competitors. So, do a little shopping yourself. If you are considering adding ornaments to your mix – what brand could you sell that you think “fits” and that customers cannot get elsewhere in the local community? Or, when you travel, check out a few progressive retailers and evaluate the non-traditional goods they carry. As you look around, watch customers – do they notice the products, do they pick them up, do they purchase them? Develop some criteria that you will use to determine what niche products to sell.

Stay tuned until next time when we talk about the next steps for growing your product offering.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Tips and techniques you can use in the retail outlet to appeal to your female customer

In the last blog posting I initiated the discussion about attracting and appealing to your primary customer, the female in the household. Certainly, agricultural businesses do not want to ignore the male consumer but research clearly demonstrates that appealing to the female in the household can have a strong positive impact on sales. The purpose of this blog is to make the retail outlet more comfortable for shopping.

First, consider “who” will be shopping with your female customer. Will she have a female, male, or child in tow? The situation that will benefit your business the most is if she brings a female companion. She will probably shop the longest (in terms of minutes) when shopping with a friend, and possibly spend more. How much of an effort would it be for you to clear some space near the entrance and create a waiting area for reluctant shopping companions? The issue becomes trickier when your female customer is shopping with young children, which would require a retailer to provide babysitting services, but for an older child or adult companion placing comfortable chairs, a television, and magazines near the entrance could be the perfect place for the female shopper to “park” her companion.

Continuing on through the store, how cluttered is your retail outlet? In general, more floor space should be devoted to browsing than merchandising. This allows customers to pass each other without touching each other, especially if carts are used in the outlet, and makes the space look less confusing. If a space is arranged and cluttered in such a way that the customer cannot see a clear path to navigate they may become overwhelmed and decide not to walk forward but rather walk to the door and exit.

A few other things to consider include using color at key places (on back walls or areas where consumers don’t tend to walk to naturally) to draw attention and encourage customers to walk throughout the space. Color should be used strategically to draw customers to particular areas within the space. Along with using color on the walls, use different textures of wallpaper, paneling, and other material to catch the eye. Choose colors that correspond to the theme of your outlet and that works with the merchandise you sell. For a winery tasting room that is trying to convey a sophisticated feel and where a fair number of glass wine bottles align the walls – colors such as terracotta, a warm soothing yellow, or another complementary color should be considered.

How you use these tips and techniques is up to you but keep in mind that these strategies can only improve a retail space and make it more comfortable for your customer, which should be your goal.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Using Facebook as an online storefront

Do you use Facebook in your business? If so, you are probably seeing the benefits of this quick and easy way of communicating with your customers. Some businesses are taking their Facebook presence to another level. Retailers are now using Facebook as an online storefront. Customers can make purchases without ever leaving Facebook.

According to the article "Retailers working to turn Facebook into marketplace before holiday shopping season" by Maria Halkias, this phenomenon is referred to as "social retailing". How does it work? "Best Buy is an example of a large retailer with a "shop" tab on its Facebook page. Its entire inventory is on Facebook, and users are encouraged to share items they're considering with their friends and read what others think about a product."


As an ag entrepreneur, how has your Facebook presence helped you reach customers? Would you consider selling your products on Facebook? Why or why not?

Marketing to women: Strategies to attract her to your store and keep her there

In the horticultural retail business management class I teach and during extension presentations I deliver to green industry and produce industry growers and retailers, I talk quite a bit about identifying the primary customer and using proven strategies to meet their needs and wants. Most likely your primary customer, who is the gatekeeper for what is purchased for the household, is female – just as it is for the audiences I help educate. A fair number of resources are available, ranging from books to websites, which provide tips and describe techniques on how to best appeal to females, who on average make 80% to 85% of the purchasing decisions for the household.

So, with such valuable information available what can an agricultural business owner/operator do to turn shopping into an exceptional retail experience? Let’s take a “walk” through the outlet and consider some easy and quick fixes that will encourage her to walk throughout the store and shop as long as possible. According to Paco Underhill, a cultural anthropologist and author, it takes a woman only 3 seconds to determine whether or not the store she has entered is the right store for her. Three seconds for her to walk through the doorway, look right, look left, and either continue forward or turnaround and leave. Think about what you can do just around your entrance to encourage her to stay, rather than flee.

Take a look around your parking lot. Would containers with flowering plants add value to your outdoor space? What else could you consider adding to make the space inviting? Consumers find the sound of running water to be soothing – is there space to add a fountain or water feature?

Now that she is approaching the door to come into the outlet is the entrance and exit clearly marked? Is there ample space in the “decompression zone” (area just beyond the door) where customers can take off their sunglasses and coat and adjust to the inside setting before moving into the store? Keep this area clutter free so that customers have ample room to make any adjustments but also keep in mind that customers tend to overlook merchandise placed here.
Stay tuned until next time when we talk about merchandising tips and techniques to use in the retail outlet.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Can YouTube be used to help you market your ag. business? Part II

As with other social networking sites, it is necessary for an agricultural business to post frequently, though the number of videos produced may increase and/or decrease based on the seasonality of the business. To tie-in with other social networking tools you may be using, consider posting a video based on content posted in a blog, Facebook, Twitter, or other social network. Don’t forget to let consumers know when a new video available by sending them emails, placing an announcement on your website, putting a sign in your retail outlet, and posting on your other social networks.

YouTube can serve as a marketing and customer relationship tool for agricultural businesses. Since many people respond to visuals and absorb more information through their eyes than their ears, it has been suggested that “video is much more engaging than text” and it is possible that consumers will remain on a website for a longer period of time if video is available for them to watch ( Whether videos are created to promote a business, new products for the season, helpful tips, or how-to’s, posting videos on YouTube is just another creative way to reach current and potential customers and inform, remind, and persuade them to purchase your goods and services. Allowing consumers to view videos you produce adds another dimension to your website or emails.

As intimidating as posting a video on YouTube may be, consult the YouTube help pages where you can find videos and directions on numerous topics ranging from capturing sound to compressing video. Other resources can be found online through keyword searches. Once a process is developed, the number of videos and the content is only limited by your imagination.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Can YouTube be used to help you market your ag. business? Part I

As I read through the many email newsletters I receive each morning, it sure is apparent that topics pertaining to social networking, for beginner or experienced users, occupy a fair amount of space in each piece I read. A good deal of attention is given to social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook, but an agricultural business should consider the benefits of using YouTube to inform, reach, and build relationships with consumers.

Why use YouTube? Since many people are “visual”, this tool may better help convey benefits and features of your goods and services compared to “still” images that are just two-dimensional. Also, based on statistics, YouTube, in terms of “revenue and audience use,” is projected to increase 51% between 2009 and 2013 and in audiences between ages 18 and 34 (

What is YouTube exactly? YouTube is a website where viewers can watch programming such as movie trailers, clips, and full episodes of news programs, special interest shows, and videos that amateur videographers create. Videos can vary from less than a minute to over an hour in length. Viewers can find videos by:
• looking through videos arranged by pre-determined categories (e.g., How-to & Style),
• entering keywords into the search box (e.g., gardening, grilling vegetables), and
• clicking on links for related videos.
Viewers can also create a YouTube account and “subscribe” to “channels” that are specific to the source/person who posts the video (e.g., Garden Girl TV) or topic (e.g., how to make wine). By subscribing, viewers receive weekly emails that alert them when a new video is posted to their account.

Check back next week where I’ll describe how YouTube can be used for marketing goods and services.