Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Ideas to Market a Seasonal Business Year Round

By Heather Mikulas, Extension Educator, Allegheny County

The seasons provide a natural break from all of the hard work of growing fresh produce. If your farm’s business plans include some well deserved time off from the rigors of the growing season, there are some fireside efforts which can be done in slippers, at any hour of the day or night, which can keep your farm in the forefront of your customer’s minds. These suggestions for marketing a seasonal business in the off season can keep customers hungry for your business while the ground is frozen. Additionally, some of these activities may open off season revenue channels, should that be something your business wants to explore.

Update and expand your customer database during full season
Whether you are operating a CSA, farmers markets, farm stands, or pick your own, the time to collect customer information is while your product is ripe. Weekly or daily interactions with your customers can give you opportunity to collect names, addresses, phone numbers, and emails. This data can be collected via a piece of paper on a clipboard at market, or through social media or website, updating those contacts to maintain and improve customer relationships.

Ask your customers what they want
Additional information can be gleaned from your customers by asking them what they want next year, which can help with planting plans and market mix. While you are collecting contact info, tack on a question or two asking customers what they want to buy next year, and what they like best about doing business with you. Communicating with your customers helps to understand what your business can improve and helps to build loyalty.

Pay attention to consumer trends
Customers will love seeing photos from
"their" farms!
During the winter, food industry consultants and corporations put out research regarding food trends for the upcoming calendar year. These reports list what the ‘new’ flavor trends will be, package size, convenience and health trends, for instance. Even though these reports are designed for chain restaurants and new snack chip flavors, they can help farm markets and value added producers understand what product competition will be in the wider marketplace. This can provide backing for trying new product lines and freshening up product mix.

Invest in your newsletter and social media content all year long
Do your consumers LOVE to see pictures of spring lambs? They will love to see the ewes nestled in the barn in the winter, too. Do you excel at producing spring greens? Consider selling cold hardy greens in the off season, or at least share information about your seed purchase and provide some salad dressing recipes. Customers love to be connected to ‘their’ farm, even though it is your farm! Give them an insider’s peek into your off season my snapping pictures of your work and planning for the upcoming year. This way, they will be eager customers on opening day.



Stake out your territory
This can be done by defining your niche. Do you make jams and jellies? Perhaps limited run seasonal flavors will encourage customers to ‘buy it while they can’. Are your onions as sweet as candy? Talk them up in newsletters and social media, and create hoopla before they hit market, so when the onions hit the shelf, they don’t sit for very long.



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