Answer: We started direct marketing our lamb nine years ago. We have made many mistakes but also learned from them. We marketed 210 lambs in 2017, and hope to market 20 more than that in 2018. Here is a summary of what we have learned.
First, you need to define your ideal customer and target your marketing efforts towards him or her. We learned after a few years that trying to provide a product for everyone out there is not a good use of your time and effort. Although yours may differ, here is our ideal farmers market customer:
Age: Over 30
Gender: Female and male, predominately female
Interests: Wholesome Food
Hobbies: Gardening, Animals, Grilling
Once you have defined your ideal customer, offer service and product that fulfills a need that they have. Don’t just offer them lamb; enter into their life as much as you can and become a friend. It is relationships that sell product. Granted, an excellent product can be the way to get into the door, but it is the relationship with your customer that keeps them coming back.
A large part of our business is serving restaurants and a few high-end stores. We try to know the lifestyles of our chefs and cater to them. For instance, chefs are up very late and are very busy people from the dining hours on. Don’t call them at 8:00 a.m. or at 6:00 p.m. and expect to get a happy response to your call. Remember, chefs need a good reason to buy from you at usually a higher price point and more paperwork than say, from ordering all of their food supplies from Sysco. Differentiate your product from others: yours is local, you raise your lamb in a very happy environment, you take special efforts to harvest your lambs when they are finished to 0.20” of backfat, (See the ATTRA video, Putting A Hand On Them: How to Tell When Your Lamb is Finished) and you can offer fast, personalized service. All of these things mean something to chefs and store department managers.
When purchasing a product, customers look for quality product, price, and service. If you drop the ball in any one of these categories, you may lose an account. My wife and I initially delivered samples to 100 restaurants in our marketing area. About 17 to 20 chefs responded positively, and 10 have been our customers for nine years. We attracted them and have kept them because of an excellent product at a price they can make money on and service that caters to their needs.
Additionally, you must be able to move the cuts that are not the most desirable. For instance, often restaurants want to serve only racks. We sell our racks to chefs that understand that we have to sell the whole animal or we will not be in business the next year. Consequently, they buy some shanks, legs, or other cuts from us, in addition to racks. You can also alter the mode of a particular cut, selling shoulder steaks instead of shoulder roasts, for example. Many of these strategies are addressed in the ATTRA publication, Direct Marketing Lamb: A Pathway.
We try our best to be friendly with our competitors. We can all learn a lot from each other. We also try to be different.
Lastly, one needs to be patient and persistent, but not pushy. This is perhaps the hardest thing to do. No one likes a pushy purveyor, yet in order to sell, you have to not give up after the first time. Some of our best accounts were established by just going back a year later and inquiring again. Things can and do change. If you are there when they do, then doors will often open.
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