Sales Models – A small market gardeners perspective
The Savage Garden
This year saw us change our sales model from market trading to online sales and deliveries due to the first Covid-19 lockdown. As our market was relatively new, small and unestablished, it didn’t survive the lockdown and didn’t reopen. We also pulled back on the work we were doing with restaurants, again due to the pandemic. I’ve put together some thoughts associated with each sales avenue.
Sociability: Markets are very sociable which is great if you are a sociable person, exhausting if you’re not.
The Weather: Amazing and a great atmosphere on a good day but on a rough, windy, wet Irish day you start to question your sanity. A simple solution? Indoor markets.
The Customers: It is hard to find customers as good as your regular, loyal, market customers. Anyone who will go out of their way on a weekly basis to come to your market/stall is the person who will really appreciate you, your produce and what you are about.
The Politics: Market politics can be difficult, however, if you have a good team of serious food producers on board from the beginning and a solid set of rules and principles that all agree on, much of this can be avoided.
Location: Very hard to get it all right e.g. good access for traders (loading/unloading), visibility, parking relatively close, enthusiastic landowners (if you’re renting), enough space.
Expense: Once you get the initial set up costs out of the way (high-quality gazebo, weights, tables, stay away from cheap equipment), it’s relatively cheap to participate in a market.
Online Sales/Delivery Service
Sociability: None, this style of sales is designed for the unsociable amongst us! It is, however, important to stay in contact with your customers e.g. personal content on the website, a newsletter etc.
The Weather: Pretty cushy on a stormy and wet day driving around in your warm, dry van. However, frosty roads, other inclement conditions and even warm weather can pose challenges.
The Customers: It is very difficult to get the calibre of customer that you find at the market through a delivery service. Beware the person who is just signing up because they want convenience, especially if you are only selling local and seasonal produce. Be very clear on what you are offering and what you need from them for this to work out e.g. what you have available at different times of the year, minimum order amount, regular orders etc.
Politics: Well, there are none really unless you like a good old argument with yourself. Although if you mess up on orders or have difficult customers, you may find your customer service time increasing with calls/texts/emails.
Location: You, in your van, on the road; don’t drive too far unless it makes sense and is worthwhile. Consider collection points along the route if you find yourself driving too far for not enough.
Expense: There are quite a few more expenses with the online/delivery system; more paper & ink, more diesel, subscription to online sales platform, credit card & Paypal fees, delivery insurance (not the same as commercial insurance). Delivery insurance is much more expensive (double) and it is important to note that many insurance companies won’t touch you with a barge pole if you mention the word ‘delivery’. Do your research before contacting companies and be very sure you want to go down this road, pun intended. Despite the added expense, we are finding the delivery service worth our while; some of the delivery expenses we equate with what we used to pay to participate in the market as well as the amount of discounts I used to give! Our quality of life has also improved dramatically; we have gained extra time in our day on a Friday and exhaustion levels have dropped significantly.
Restaurants are a very good extra source of income. I solely concentrated on providing mixed leaves as I found it hard to get restaurants to take significant amounts of other products. That was going well, and the restaurants were contributing an important amount to our turnover. However, the lockdown came and I realised I had been running and racing too much. The result is that we’ve cut back on our restaurants and in the New Year we’re hoping to tie restaurant sales & deliveries in with our main delivery day for more efficiency.
Summary: These comments are solely based on our experiences as small-scale growers. Another grower could have completely different feedback, every situation is very different. I love the way we are selling now, but I do think it’s only working because we converted our brilliant market customers over to deliveries during the first lockdown. We’ve only been doing it for eight months so who knows where it will go. If someone were to approach me and offer me a place at a well-run market with a good variety of traders, I would not easily turn it down; I believe that markets are ultimately where you get the best customers. Restaurants are a fantastic source of extra income but be sure it’s worthwhile and fitting in with your workload and quality of life.
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