Truth be told, I’m not much of a marketer. As an extension educator,
my colleagues and I ‘give away’ our products, which are information
and advice. We can afford to, since you already paid us. When a ‘customer’
thanks me, I often reply: “your tax dollars at work!” In addition,
as someone trained in production, I’ve tended to overlook marketing and
focus on the growing of crops. Unfortunately, some farmers feel that way,
too. But more and more, we both realize that just being good at production
will not necessarily keep a farm in the black. You’ve got work just as
hard, and maybe harder, at selling your products at a fair price.
That’s were marketing comes in. It’s not hard to do it well, if you
like people, and have some creativity. If you don’t, I suggest that you
get some help from a partner, an employee, or a consultant.
Marketing is an attitude and an orientation that puts the customer
first. By ensuring you are doing what the customer wants, needs, and expects,
you will have repeat business. In order to market any product successfully,
you must have a product that is desired by your target consumer; you must
develop an effective marketing plan; and you must make good use of promotional
opportunities, from advertising to displays and packaging.
According to folks at the University of Wisconsin, there are six
common marketing mistakes that business entrepreneurs often make. The first
is the failure to develop a suitable competitive advantage. The second
is to focus on the product or service instead of the benefit of the product.
The third mistake is a failure to define the target market. Mistake number
four is underestimating the competition. The fifth marketing mistake is
having an excessive optimism about the idea, product, or service so that
shortcomings or pitfalls are not recognized. The last mistake is the establishment
of prices without knowing the effect on the demand. As a consumer,
I would add a seventh mistake to this list, and it’s a big one: some businesses
treat their customers as an inconvenience.
An understanding of why customers buy as they do is important in
the establishment of a marketing plan. The reasons people shop at a particular
store are generally: convenience, variety of selection, quality of goods,
courtesy of sales people, integrity and reputation for fairness in dealings,
services offered such as credit or return of goods, and prices.
Marketing experts tell us that loyal customers can be more profitable,
especially over their lifetime, than customers who switch stores on a regular
basis. Therefore, it makes sense to identify and nurture your best customers,
while trying to increase the loyalty of the rest of your customer base.
Modern food retailers usually treat all customers as if they were
equally important (i.e. profitable) to the company. Customers who only
purchase a few items are treated the same as customers who purchase the
majority of their food in one store. But some retailers understand that
as little as 30 percent of their customers may account for as much as 80
percent of their sales. Obviously, all customers are not created equal!
Food retailers need to think about how to manage their biggest asset, customers,
by rewarding the best customers for their loyalty.
This may be an area where small stores, farm stands, CSA’s and farmer’s
markets have a distinct advantage over their giant competitors. Smaller
operations often already enjoy a more intimate relationship with their
customers that can be enhanced and solidified through attention to customer
needs and service.
One way to strengthen your relationship with customers is by providing
information. Tell your customers about the products you sell. If a crop
was grown on your farm, be clear about that. If they aren’t, be honest,
and feel free to name other local farms or firms you buy from. People also
like information about how to use products: recipes, storage information,
and tips for easy preparation. And finally, seize the chance to tell a
good story about your product and your business. Through signage, brochures
and/or product labels, you can weave a tale of pride, care, value and heritage
that will enhance the product’s desirability by allowing the customer to
feel ‘connected’ to the product as well as your farm.
Despite consolidation in many industries and the seemingly ubiquitous
presence of chain stores, small store size and local ownership are attractive
for a growing segment of shoppers across most demographic groups. Evidence
of this trend is found in the move by some major retail chains to build
smaller stores, incorporate local and regional products, and to become
more involved in supporting activities in each store’s local community,
among other things.
Among consumers, recent events have caused more concern about the
origin, handling, and safety of the foods they buy. Locally owned and operated
food stores can alleviate some of these concerns with their familiar faces,
product knowledge, local sourcing, and customer service. Small business
operators may also be able to respond quicker to changes in consumer tastes
and demand. All of these facts should encourage small retail outlets to
pay attention not just to product quality but also to customer service
and customer recognition in order to achieve the ultimate marketing goal: