Dan Brisebois is farmer who has sold his products online in the past decade. Having two online stores, one for his seeds and one for his CSA’s, he has tried a lot of platforms.
Today, he’ll be sharing his experiences through it all—from moving his farm store online to choosing platforms to sell your products in.
Moving your Farm Online (1:45)
We started our online farm store back in 2004 with an HTML website where we mainly sold CSA baskets. Around 2006 or 2007, we set up a seed company, and we put together and circulated a print catalogue that you can also download from the site. It was a bottleneck for us because I saw other people doing more interesting things, so we decided to watch an online store so we could sell directly on the internet instead of having e-mail exchanges and working with mail checks and PayPal invoices.
When did you start bringing the vegetables online? (2:45)
We brought the vegetables online about three years ago, though I think we’ve brought in the vegetables longer than that through the CSA’s. We’ve always had the option for clients to order additional crops. For a few years we’ve been getting orders through Wufoo online until we switched to Google forms and integrated that into our online store. It was fantastic. We already had the system set up for the seed orders, and it wasn’t that big of a difference to add all the other products on.
How much of your vegetable sales take place online? (3:35)
For our CSA shares, it comes through to about $350,000, and then we’re selling about $60,000-$90,000 of surplus to the CSA members as additional orders, and majority of that are pre-orders through our Shopify online store. We also do some sales on-site, but it’s a fraction of what we did years ago.
Are the surplus vegetables only open to CSA members, or are they open to the public? (4:45)
At this point, we’ve moved away from farmer’s markets and restaurants completely. We have 500 weekly CSA members, and all the other vegetables go to them, though there’s a few other people who slip through the cracks, either people from the community who we’ve known for a long time or former farmer’s market members, but they’re really the exception.
What’s the reason behind managing the business through two platforms: one where you have people sign up, and one where payment transactions happen? (5:35)
The CSA platform is through a group based in Quebec called Réseau des fermier de famille, the Family Farmer Network, which is a program designed to manage CSA registrations and add-ons. It does have the capacity to take additional sales, but we don’t really like that part of it for a lot of reasons.
We already had experience with our Shopify for our online seed store that it was just easier to deal with a system where you could easily import hundreds of products and work what that system that is created to manage products, sell them to people, and have people to pay for them, as opposed to this other platform that could also do it, but you had to list the products one by one, and the interface wasn’t fantastic. So we ended up with two different platforms, one for managing our CSA’s and one for taking orders.
Can you walk me through signing up through the CSA platform? How do you get me in from one system and get the order into Shopify? (7:55)
The two steps happened for most clients at different phases, really. Our CSA recruitment and renewal phase begins at the end of the previous CSA year, around November. Majority of clients would have registered before the first basket at the end of May. At the sign-up phase, we get the clients into the system, and we regularly send them e-mails updates about what’s happening in the farm and what they can expect in the CSA experience. In the weeks leading up to end of May when our first CSA baskets arrive, we also start sending them e-mails promoting our plant sales, and in the succeeding weeks, we send them e-mails about other products available that week. In the e-mails, we give them a URL where they could place their orders, and while everybody can access the URL, we only share it within our CSA community.
So, the e-mails are being sent through Shopify? (10:45)
We’re sending the e-mails through MailChimp! We send out e-mails based on what week people are picking up, and we manually insert the link that leads to the Shopify page.
How do customers pay for the CSA? (12:10)
The customers are invoiced through the CSA platforms. Since the invoices are about $400-$1,000, we actually made it to be unable to take credit card payments, and we work instead with transfers or checks. For online orders, people can directly pay on Shopify, and we’re happy to accept credit card payments just so we could avoid having to handle all the different transactions.
How is your back-end logistics with having two platforms, do you wish it was all just on one platform, or are you used to it by now? (13:05)
I can see the joy and benefit of having just one platform, but it would have to work. In my experience using different platforms in the last 10-15 years, things get buggy, and I tried not to have one platform do everything. It’s mostly client interaction that’s challenging, whereas the back-end works out quite well.
Prior to Shopify, you used WooCommerce. What were your thoughts on WooCommerce? (15:00)
I love a lot about WooCommerce. I think the WordPress-WooCommerce ecosystem is fantastic in that if you want to do something, there’s probably a plug-in for it. We operate in the province of Quebec where the majority are French speakers, though there’s still a significant amount of English speakers, so we needed something that was bilingual, and WooCommerce does multi-lingual fantastically.
But there were so many customizations happening that we couldn’t keep everything running up-to-date. We had problems where customers couldn’t add products to their cart, or we won’t get any notifications that orders were being made, so it was all very frustrating. Seed season was coming up at the time, and I didn’t have the confidence that we could handle the orders with WordPress, so we decided to make the jump to Shopify.
Do you think that Shopify has done a good job in terms of updating speed, functionality, and appearance? (23:50)
Yes, I’ve been very impressed with how Shopify has been evolving. When we were first looking at Shopify along with other platforms, there were some key flaws that it had, especially around being multi-lingual, but by the time we set up a Shopify store 6-7 years later, it was a completely different environment. It had a lot of things it didn’t have before, and it even a multi-lingual solution. I noticed last fall that Shopify was very aware of what everyone else is doing and that they are responding to big needs. I’ve seen a big change in multi-lingual function, their point-of-sale solutions have changed a lot, and even the way they do shipping on the back-end has changed as well. I’m excited about what Shopify can become in the next 2-3 years.
From a point-of-sales standpoint, do you have payment options, or does Shopify process the transactions itself? (26:40)
You have a choice—Shopify could give you the credit card option, or you could set up PayPal or other options, though I think there’s an additional percentage docked when you use a different payment option rather than Shopify. The Shopify system works quite well, and depending on the tier you’re on, you have different discounts, and you could even do custom payment options, though you’ll have to collect them yourself and manually mark them as paid.
How have you found Shopify for creating a storefront? Can you run it like an all-out blog? (29:25)
The Shopify platform does have less options than WordPress, but it can do almost all the same things. I think that’s one thing that’s evolving a lot. You can have a blog, you can create all kinds of pages, you could even adjust the theme on different pages. Where I find it a bit limited is when we had a WordPress site, we had two or three types of tagging and two or three types of categories, so we were able to segregate products and blog posts so it would show us what we wanted it to show us. In Shopify, you just have less taxonomy to work with, although admittedly, some of that taxonomy in WordPress actually caused us more problems.
“The more you can work with out of the box, the less you suffer when things change.”
Could a farm function with Shopify as the sole platform of operations? (32:20)
You could totally function with just Shopify as your sole platform. We still have relics of our WordPress site in operation as kind of like our landing page. I think if you were in one language, you could get most of what you need out of Shopify, and ignoring some of the limits of your dreams might make you a happier person and a happier farmer just with one website.
How do you like Shopify for doing high-volume sales of seeds? (36:20)
There’s a lot of things I love about Shopify, and one of that is that they have a built-in importer, so you can upload a .csv file of all your products so you won’t have to modify each product individually. They also have a similar process for managing inventory, and you can do it bulk. It’s very easy to change prices if you want to put on a sale, or create discounts and promo codes, and I think all that is great. In terms of orders, you can have your main product and you can have variants that cascade down. Like for example, we have arugula seeds, you can get a garden size packet (2g), or you could buy 25g, or you could buy 100g, or we could sell it by the pound or kilogram.
How much of the product display is Shopify, and how much of it is you forcing Shopify to display that look? (38:45)
The biggest customization that we did to the products is the way we set it up as a radial menu—the little circles you click on for which product you want. I think Shopify has a drop-down menu as a default, and it was something we had someone do for us. We’ve also set it up so that the variants that are sold out no longer appear. Apart from that, just about everything else is Shopify.
As for selling vegetables, can you operate that through the same Shopify store as the seeds, or do you need a separate Shopify store to do that? (41:35)
We sell them through the same store, but the biggest problem we have with this is getting around shipping. But we have a key workaround for this—we changed the product’s default weight, so the recorded weights in the system are the actual weights of the products, but we set all our vegetable products at about 10,000kg each, so if somebody places an order, the shipping options available would be in function of the weight. It won’t show you any ship-to-home options, and instead will show you a different set of shipping options, which are pick-ups at certain locations.
How do you manage the pick-up dates and the order timing? (46:20)
Emily, my wife and co-farmer, would tell Fred, the guy who manages the Shopify page, what things are available that week, as well as the quantities. Fred would update our inventories accordingly so we don’t oversell, then he’ll circulate the e-mail. We have clear deadlines for orders (Fridays at noon), and when Friday noontime comes, Fred would change the shipping options to the week after next week.
What does the future look like for vegetables? (54:45)
I think that this experience is giving people a renewed appreciation for local food that they haven’t had in generations. I don’t want to be a doomsayer, but there might not be as many fresh vegetables on the shelves in the summer. I think that come summer, people would be thinking more highly of their local farmers and eating close to home from reliable, resilient farms. I think that this kind of appreciation is something that would last a generation.
Are you getting questions from people who aren’t in the CSA who want to buy vegetables? (1:03:00)
We are getting those questions. We have a couple of strings of information, but I deal with the seed ones, so I don’t know as much about the vegetables. As for the seeds, the phone is ringing off the hook that we no longer answer the phone, we get e-mails all the time, and the orders are just pouring in. I don’t think that we’re getting that for the vegetables yet, but we’re definitely way ahead for our sign-ups this year.
You co-wrote the book on Crop Planning. What’s a farmer in a more temperate climate to do if the field is overwintered with season extension, their CSA’s are sold out, and there’s clearly demand for product?(1:05:40)
I think it’s easy to see the potential profit right now, but it’s very important to remember our own health, both physically and mentally. This is going to be a trying summer, and the number one thing we should plan for as farmers and as individuals is how to get through this in a healthy and sane way. We should be cautious that we don’t bite off more than we could handle. If you’re adjusting your crop plan, make sure that it’s something you’re able to do—be realistic about the amount of land you could crop, and the amount of crop you could process at any one point.
If I were jumping into meeting a higher demand, I would really look at which crops are profitable, and which ones aren’t. There might be a part of you who wants to do a social good and think, “I want to have these crops available to make sure I feed my community,” and that’s valuable, but if you’re growing these cops at a loss, it’ll compromise your farm, which would also compromise your community. You’ll have to be honest.
All businesses have weak links, and the current situation has made weak links glaringly obvious to some of us. Given the way of the world right now, are you thinking about modifying your business, or is there anything you want to change? (1:19:20)
There’s a couple of ways to answer that. This experience is testing all our weaknesses, not just in terms of systems, but in terms of communication. In our seed business, there was a certain way we printed shipping labels, and I bought a dedicated printer for shipping labels, which would definitely speed up that process.
The layout of our seed warehouse was set up a certain way, and we reorganized the layout to make up for the isolation distance. We made it so that all the tables are on one side, and storage on the other. In doing that, we not just resolved the isolation problem, but we’ve created a better flow for how seeds go from bulk storage, to packing, to shipping. It solved problems we didn’t even think about.
“I think that the fundamental reason why people buy from us even before great vegetables is that we become a community, and we need to find a way to preserve that community through these times.”
Conclusion & Resources (1:27:20)
I decided to write a weekly newsletter that focuses on online stores. People could sign up for that newsletter through FarmerSpreadsheetAcademy.com. I’m also launching a Facebook group called Move Your Farm Store Online since there’s been an uptake of interest there.
“I think it’s important to make a community where farmers can ask questions and hear from all kinds of people.”
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Diego: [00:00:00] Today, we're talking to farm websites, your online farm store and making the two work together. How can you make it easy? How can you simplify it? That's what this one's about. Coming up. Welcome to farm small farm smart. I'm your host Diego Dai ego in today's episode, talking to somebody who's been selling online for a long time.
It's farmer Dan Brisebois. The aunts had a lot of experience selling online over the past decade. He has two online stores, one for his farm to manage their CSA shares and one for his seed business, where he sells seeds to customers and farmers just like you. Over the years, Dan has tried a lot of platforms.
He's had a lot of experiences selling both the seeds and the CSA shares. Today's going to talk about how he does both of them, what platforms he uses and why, what he likes about it and what he doesn't. And he's also just going to share some ideas and concepts around moving your farm store online things you should think about to try and simplify it such as if you can work with, out of the box, it makes your life a lot easier.
Meaning if you can just work with the options that a provider gives you. Your life's going to be a lot easier than if you really try and go over the top with customization. I think you're going to benefit a lot from Dan's experience. He's seen a lot, he's done a lot online, so let's jump right into it.
With farmer Dan, an interesting situation in the world right now, and a lot of farms are moving online. You're somebody who's had a lot of experience selling online through your seed business and through vegetables. Can you give a brief history of. When you initially took your farm online, why was that?
Dan Brisebois: [00:01:54] we, so we started off our farm in 2000 fall of 2004, and we had an HTML website and initially we were mainly doing CSA baskets and that was fine for that. but we set up a seed company in 2006 or 2007 around and we put together a small print catalog and we were circulating that and you could download it for.
The HTML site and it just I could see other people doing more interesting things and it was a bit of a bottleneck. So we decided to launch an online store so that we could sell directly from the internet rather than having to have email exchanges and then mail checks or, or working with a P PayPal, I guess invoice.
Diego: [00:02:35] And to this day, the seeds, obviously you're doing a lot of those sales online. When did you bring the vegetables online as part of that?
Dan Brisebois: [00:02:44] We brought the vegetables online about three years ago. we've been to, and I guess we brought the vegetables online longer than that. We've through the CSA we've always had, given the opportunity to. To our clients to order additional crops.
In addition, in the fall or, when there's a lot of kale or tomatoes and for awhile, we were actually doing the orders through a Rufo, online form. And then we switched to a Google form. So that was, over a few years we did that. And then finally we just, I did to integrate that into our online store. And it was fantastic because. Because we had the system set up for the seat orders and it really wasn't that big of a difference to add it, the, all the other products on
Diego: [00:03:26] and today, how much of your vegetable sales take place online?
Dan Brisebois: [00:03:31] I guess it depends how you qualify that. So our CSA shares folks register through, another platform and they can manage their baskets and they can manage the vacations to that.
And we don't take any orders through that, but, so that's about, maybe it's $300,000 or I'm not even sure how much, sorry. Maybe that's, maybe that's like $350,000 that's coming out of, just a CSA and then we're selling another. I'm not sure. 60 to $90,000 of surplus stuff to the CSA. And the majority of that is done through pre-orders through our Shopify online store. We do some store, some sales onsite, but it's a fraction of what it was.
Diego: [00:04:12] it's the majority of your sales pretty much the whole farm, is online.
Dan Brisebois: [00:04:17] Yeah, all the non CSA subscription, yeah, all the, all the vegetables, additional vegetable sales are pretty much online.
Diego: [00:04:24] So is the model for your farm for sales? It's primarily CSA. That's where the bulk of the revenue comes in and then surplus vegetables that don't go into the CSA box. Is that going to. Just CSA members who are absorbing that, or is that also open to the public?
Dan Brisebois: [00:04:44] At this point, we've moved away from farmer's markets completely. we it's been years since we dealt with a restaurant, so we D we have 500 weekly CSA members, And that's the bulk of our revenue. And then all the extra vegetables are going to them. There's a few people who slipped through the cracks, either people from our community that we've known a long time, former farmer's market members, but they're really the exception. The majority of the orders is coming from, from our CSA members.
Diego: [00:05:12] So CSA program running online, you're managing it. Through two platforms, one to have people sign up and then one to have people actually do the pay transaction, the sale itself. Can you talk about the reasoning behind that?
Dan Brisebois: [00:05:28] So the platform, the CSA platform we're with is through a, it's a group based in Quebec called, The family, which is the family farmer network, which was formerly called, and it was a program that got started through this network. And, it's really been designed just to manage CSA registrations, add ons at registration, and then like people can move their baskets around for different vacation dates. It does have the capacity to take additional sales, but we didn't really like that part of it.
For a lot of different reasons. and, and we already had the experience of using Shopify for our online seed store, that it was just easier to deal with. all our items that we put, like all the ways that we sell our vegetables. Our in our Shopify store, so there might be like 200 different products, like every way that we handle beats or lettuce or carrots, we have a bunch of carrots, a kilogram bag of carrots, a 20 kilogram bag of carrots.
Those are each different products and it was just so much easier to import. Hundreds of products into Shopify and work with that system that is created to manage products and sell them to people and have people pay for them as opposed to this other platform, which it could do it. But you had to do most of the products, one by one and the interface.
Wasn't fantastic. and that's why we wound up with two different platforms. One that was great for managing CSA. And one that was great for taking orders.
Diego: [00:06:54] CSA is themselves can be logistically complex. For potentially the user and also the farm that's managing the CSA. So having specific software to handle that makes sense, having the benefit of using a platform like Shopify, that's been around for a long time, that is made to do exactly what you described, sell organized inventoried products works great.
So I get why the hybrid could be there. When you get somebody who signs up in the CSA program using the CSA software, can you walk me through how that person then gets into Shopify has had a manual entry and then talk about. Like their flow. I sign up for Dan CSA on the backend. What are you guys doing to get me into one system and then get part of the order or whatever you need into Shopify.
Dan Brisebois: [00:07:56] So the two steps happen for most clients that really different phases. like our CSA recruitment and renewal phase begins at the end of the previous CSA year. So in our baskets, And sometime in November and around November 1st, we're starting the next registration. And we have the majority of clients have registered before our first basket at the end of may.
so at the signup phase, really what we're just trying to get them is into the system. And then we can communicate with them by email. And when. and in the weeks leading into the first basket, so we, once they sign up, they start to receive emails from us regularly about what's going on in the farm and what you can expect for the CSA experience.
But, in the weeks leading up to the end of may, we also start sending emails, promoting our plant sale. So the first thing that we sell to our CSA clients, is they can buy, they can place an order of like garden plants for their garden and. they can order on our Shopify store and then they choose what drop-off date they're going to be picking up on.
And so to get them to that place, we just, we have a URL that they can, we just give them the URL and then the choose that. And, everything's on it. And so anybody could use this, this web address to order, there's not like a co a password or a code, or it's not restricted any way, but we just share that information within our.
With our, within our CSA community. and it's not available. Like you can't get it through our website. and that's the way we guide them. And then, and then the benefits about training, is that, every, so we have stuff for sale almost every week throughout the whole year at the beginning, it's the plants later on, we start selling reusable bags and we sell dry goods, like honey or flour from some of our native neighbors.
And then we start selling the surplus vege. And so every week we send out an email and we make that URL. Really clear in the email, so that people just click on it and it's less than optimal for some people who don't check their email, but it works for most people. And once we've gone through the process a few times just about everybody can figure it out.
Diego: [00:10:03] So the emails are coming. And being managed through Shopify.
Dan Brisebois: [00:10:08] so this is actually, we bring in another system at this point where we're sending emails through MailChimp and there's a close interaction between MailChimp and the CSA platform. and, I don't work with that much, but some, somehow they have web hooks that are adjusting it.
So we send out emails based on what week people are picking up. And, and it's in that will just craft the, the email and then just. Manually insert the link.
Diego: [00:10:30] Okay. And then the link to buy the honey, buy the flour that takes them to a Shopify page.
Dan Brisebois: [00:10:36] Yeah. And it's the same URL that we've had for three years.
So if the bookmark the URL somewhere, they can just keep going to it. And they'll find the, they'll find the store. but a lot of people don't work that way. So that's why we just try to remind them with a new email each week. And that email can also promote what we have coming up. So so I think the general sequence is that on a Monday we'll send an email about what's in the coming basket and a cup of some news from the farm and maybe a recipe or two, and then Wednesday or so we'll send out another email saying, this is what we have for sale for order for next week.
Please place your orders by, Friday at noon. And here's the URL. And, and then. We just rinse it. We just repeat, every, every week
Diego: [00:11:21] for the billing on the CSA itself. Is that essentially a product. In Shopify, a skew. And then when it comes time to bill, you send them to that product in Shopify. That's how they then pay for the CSA.
Dan Brisebois: [00:11:36] So the CSA shares themselves are actually, they get invoiced from the CSA platform. And so they get an invoice sent to them and because, We're talking like people's, because the invoice is often for 400 to a thousand dollars. We've actually chosen to not enable credit card payments at that level because the more or less 3% winds up being a significant number.
And so we just work with, interact transfers or checks for that. But when people place their online orders, Then they pay directly on Shopify and we're happy to accept credit card payments for $5, $20, $30 orders to just avoid having to handle all those different transactions.
Diego: [00:12:17] Having the two platforms. How would you say that is logistically on the backend? Do you feel like you're just used to it now or do you wish it was all one
Dan Brisebois: [00:12:27] platform? There's part of me. Like I can see the joy and benefit of having just one platform, but it would have to work. And that's, from my experience using so many platforms over the last 10, 15 years, things get buggy and, I've learned a lot to not try to have.
One platform do everything. and I think if we weren't set up with this other platform right now, and we just had the Shopify store, I would probably try to find a way to make it work with Shopify. And there might be a way, but I bet it wouldn't be as good as what this other platform can do. And there's definitely a logistical challenges.
Like we have clients who the. Can't remember they can't. So we have, you have two sets of passwords, right? Because they have two platforms and some people just can't remember that. And it's always a challenge to get them to sign up, to sign into each platform. And, if somebody sends us an email to update our, their address, we got to do that in two different places.
So there are, it's mostly about interaction with the client. That's the challenge. Whereas on the backend it's, it's worked out quite well. Fred, one of my co farmers that. Turn the soul. He manages the whole CSA platform and I rarely have to go in there. and then I manage the Shopify platform. And the only thing that Fred does is he will add or sub like he'll add or remove products from the web store for that week, but just about everything else.
I'm taking care of. And, so he doesn't have to be, to know all the ins and outs of our systems and he's learned a lot of them and that helps, but, but so having these two systems has meant that, we're able to separate it into two different brains and having multiple people on the farm, like as a worker co-op we do have seven co-op members who are there for the long run. So we do have multiple. Brains that we can divide projects up amongst
Diego: [00:14:15] At one point in time prior to Shopify, you had WooCommerce, what were your thoughts about WooCommerce when you were using it?
Dan Brisebois: [00:14:23] So there's a lot. I love about WooCommerce. and I think the WordPress WooCommerce ecosystem is fantastic in that if there's something that you want to do, there's probably a plugin.
For it. and, we, so we operate in Quebec, in Canada. We're a province that has majority Frank, French speakers and, but still a significant of English speakers. And so we needed something that was bilingual and WooCommerce does. Multi-lingual fantastic. and so that's what I really loved about work.
WordPress and WooCommerce is just all the different ways that you can do stuff, but it turned into. There was so much customization happening that it was hard for us to keep on top of it in house. And we needed to work with, with a web developer to keep stuff up to date and, It was just it for us.
And this is not necessarily everyone's experience, but our experience was that we couldn't keep everything working continuously up to date. And, at a certain point, we got to a point like where, there were certain products that people couldn't add to their cart. And certain website languages.
And it got really frustrating when you have something for sale and somebody isn't able to buy it. And then there were certain orders that we weren't getting notifications. That they were being placed so we wouldn't fulfill them. And, those are all things that can be worked out, but it was, it was really challenging and we did a lot of work on it and it wasn't getting better.
And we were got to get to a new kind of just rebuild of our WordPress site. And I was afraid we would do all this rebuilding work. And we come back with similar product problems and, and that fear came at a, it was like an early December, a few years ago where we were getting ready for our seed season.
Like the seed sales really started early January and I knew we had to be ready and I didn't have the confidence that we could do that with WordPress. And so that's, we jumped into Shopify and over Christmas break basically launched a Shopify store. And I don't know that we could have done that as easily with WordPress and WooCommerce.
Diego: [00:16:31] Yeah, I think a lot of what you say makes sense. That's been my experience. the benefits of woo commerce, are it take some control back where if you're under a Shopify platform, you're really you're playing in their house, their monthly fee. If they raise it, you're more or less going to go with it.
It's not a significant monthly fee. I don't think for any sort of doing a significant amount of sales. So it's not a huge worry. But it is like a Facebook where it's their domain, where with woocommerce, it's yours, you're controlling it. You're using the WooCommerce platform and they could charge for that and plugins, they do charge for it.
So those could change, but it's yours. They can't just flip a switch and say, Oh, you can't use this color anymore. And there isn't a lot of customization. The problem being though that sometimes all that customization doesn't want to work together. So there are plugins to do pretty much everything, but trying to get everything to function with, everything else can be problematic.
And getting it to like display in the right way. And I just had this problem this week, I was struggling with a plugin. I was trying to do that involved having a series of dropdown menus to customize a product. And it just didn't work. And after a band, playing around with it for awhile, I had to abandon it and move on.
And the thing I love about Shopify from just doing some research on it is. It's made to co-exist with itself. Everything should work together without a problem and their insurance that because not anybody can just submit an app to Shopify, it's a closed platform. So if you're going to submit it has to be approved and it has to, or with it where WooCommerce and WordPress.
People can just create plugins all the time. And so you submit them. There's no real barrier to entry there, which is great in one way, but it's also bad in another way, in terms of it might not always work. Like it says it
Dan Brisebois: [00:18:49] should, I you're spot on with everything you said. And, and it's moving from WordPress to Shopify. There's a certain part of my, like my ethical framework that, I wouldn't say took a hit, but more had to mourn stuff, had to mourn Leunig, losing something. Like I really loved the open source environment that WordPress has, but the reliability that Shopify gave it's what, that true.
That's open source in this, but in terms of the, in terms of the fees, with Shopify, there are monthly fees, even like when you get, when you have, when you do an add on or a plug-in, I can't remember what words they use for that, but, you pay by month. And whereas with w with the WooCommerce or WordPress, you'd be paying like one fee and you'd have that forever.
And so the recurring fees really add up in Shopify, but. Unless you set yourself really basic in WordPress or unless you have computer experience, Of a certain level, you have to hire someone else to do it. And, and initially in 2000, I think 11, when we first set up our first online store, we were looking at Shopify and we were looking at these other content management systems and this, the recurring fees of Shopify, we're like, Oh my God, it's gonna, when you look at 10 years, we'll have paid this, but you look at this fee, we set pay this to set up, a website.
And that the point was with Drupal. We, we just, we've saved all this money over 10 years, but then within three years we already had to do a whole rebuild and then another couple of years later. And, and then there was problems arising here and there. And so the web developer fees were equally, this were easily the same fees we pay for Shopify, if not more. And it's sometimes it's an illusion how you pay or, that you're saving money
Diego: [00:20:31] And the money savings. Again, I look at it as you're saving money potentially through WooCommerce, but when you look at the greater scheme of a farm, are you do those savings really matter? You're doing $350,000 in CSA sales.
Who cares if you save $500 a year on the platform. If things work better, that's the cost of doing business? It's small. It's not like you're going to save $35,000 or $10,000. It's not huge. And I'm with you on the overhauling of websites as time moves on, because sometimes what you'll see with WooCommerce is.
Well will commerce operates on a WordPress environment. So you have WordPress updating itself. Then you usually have the plugins that update themselves to work with the new version of WooCommerce or w. Work with the new version of WordPress. And then you have the plugins that work with WooCommerce updating as WooCommerce updates.
At least they should, but sometimes you have a plugin that somebody was making and it was free and it was working great and they weren't making any money off of it and they just decide to stop updating it. So that creates a issue as everything else moves forward, or you get a look. discrepancy where it just doesn't look maybe as clean or function as clean as some of these new things that work well, say responsiveness, I can look at any screen and the websites can display nicely.
that doesn't mean all plugins are going to show up that way. Have you found with Shopify that as time goes on, as web platforms become more feature rich as. Phones and the transmission of data becomes a bigger pipeline that Shopify has done a good job of updating speed functionality and appearance. And it's doing that as a whole very well.
Dan Brisebois: [00:22:41] Yes. I've been very impressed with how Shopify has been involving, And, when we first were looking at Shopify and other platforms, there were some key flaws that Shopify had, especially around being multilingual, but there were some others that I can't really remember them.
And by the time that we signed it, by the time we did actually set up a Shopify store, six or seven years later, we, yeah, it was a different environment. And we, it had offered things that it didn't before there was actually a multilingual. Solution, that we're using now. It's not perfect.
Except what I noticed last fall is it's gotten, they've done a huge jump forward. so I think Shopify and I'm sure this is true for any of the active, players in this world. They're very aware of what everyone else is doing and the are responding to the big needs. and so I've seen a big change in multi-lingual.
their point of sale operation. their point of sale solutions have changed a lot. recently, and even the way the do shipping on the backend has changed recently. And, When we first, when we first joined in all, I could see where the weaknesses of Shopify. I was grateful that it was working so well and I was grateful.
We could set up a store really quickly. And I loved that, but I saw all these other weaknesses of what we had lost by moving away from WooCommerce on WordPress, but a number of them have since come in and just the way that Shopify has responded and how it is an all-in-one system. I do see, it gives me really.
A lot of excitement about where Shopify will be in two or three years, because I think they want to be competitive. And, I think that they're trying to bring all the features in, at a number of platforms at a number of different, like the different pricing tiers. and this is my perception.
This is not something that has no insider information, but it's just my experience with being Shopify. It keeps getting better. And, and so it has been really excited and that has me, Looking less at other platforms, as a consequence,
Diego: [00:24:36] you mean the benefit of a industry leader. And I think they're, at that point, they're big. They are the square PayPal type company of online sales established, worldwide doing tons of volume. They get all this data from all these stores selling everything and they see where problems are and you're right. They have a whole team is working to advance things forward. From a point of sales standpoint when it comes to Shopify, do you have any optionality in terms of what payment processor you use or is it Shopify processes? The transaction itself?
Dan Brisebois: [00:25:15] You have the choice. you can, you Shopify can do the credit card transactions, or you could set up PayPal or other options too. I think that, So this is something I don't quite remember, but there might be an additional percentage doc. You use a different payment provider or payment system rather than, than Shopify, but the Shopify system works quite well.
And depending what tier you're on or pricing tier, you have different discounts. and then you can also set it up if you want to take e-transfer cash checks. any. You can do custom payment options and then it's just yourself that will have to collect them. And then manually marked that it's paid, within the system
Diego: [00:25:51] because that's one thing I have had some issues within the past is different payment processors, meaning square Stripe, PayPal have different security settings in terms of how they run credit cards.
And we were getting a lot of rejected transactions because. Something in the user information. Wasn't perfect. And while that's great, from a security standpoint, it can be frustrating as a store cause you're like, Oh, another rejected transaction. And some of those platforms allow you to go in and loosen those restrictions or change them and others don't.
So if you're getting good results with the in house platform where if they have an in house platform and it's just another thing built in and if it can work well, that's a big advantage.
Dan Brisebois: [00:26:35] It is. And, and I like, did you have those different, you can lax in a little bit, the security measures, if you want for payments, we've only had a couple payments over like tens of thousands that have not passed through, because of those.
And so it's really been an exceptional. and added on the benefits of doing stuff in house. Shopify has a lot for shipping, which might not be what somebody at farmers replicating farmer's market really needs, but if you have any kind of product that being said in the mail, Shopify integrates really well with USBs and also with Canada post.
And you can print your shopping lists, your shipping labels directly from the platform, and you pay directly to the platform and you get a little bit of a discount, at least in the Canada post I'm assuming the same in USBs. and so that's really fantastic and you can integrate other carriers too, if you wish.
So we haven't moved that way. but that's, it's nice to have that as the whole thing. So you don't have to log out of one system and then jump into. Another system to import all the same details to get, to print a shipping label,
Diego: [00:27:35] functionality like that. How have you found Shopify for creating a storefront? Meaning this let's say I went to Dan's farm store.com and that was your farm store. If it was held on WordPress, you get the full power of a WordPress to create. The appearance of that page, you can create pages, you can create a blog, you can put a podcast on there, you can do all those things because WordPress itself is really robust and you could manage the store on that page through something like woo commerce or big commerce.
If you go to Shopify, we know they have a great store platform. How have you found creating the storefront and the ability to add content to that storefront? Is it pretty limited? Hey, we have a store or we can put up some pictures and stuff like that. Or could you run it like an all out blog, if you are really trying to tell your brand story in an ongoing way through the Shopify platform.
Dan Brisebois: [00:28:42] So the Shopify platform does have less options. Then WordPress does, but it can do almost all the same things, but just with a little less bells and whistles. and I think that's one thing that's evolving a lot, but you can have a blog. You can have, you can create all kinds of pages, and you can adjust the theming.
You can do different teaming on different pages. and the more you get into some of the theming changes, that's the more where you might actually need to find a, what they call a Shopify expert. So like a web developer. to do that work, but there's quite a lot you can do before that. where I find some of it is a bit limited, is like when we had a WordPress site, we had two or three different types of tagging and maybe two types of categories.
And so we were able to really segregate products and, at all, Also blog posts and that kind of stuff to show you exactly what we wanted to, and with, Shopify just have less taxonomy to work with. and that is it's irritating at first, but some of that extra taxonomy that was customized in WordPress actually caused us problems.
So one of the, one of the lessons I learned was the more you can work without of the box. The less you suffer when things change. So I've, we have done some, some theming and some changes on our site to get exactly what we want, but. there's only a handful of things that we've done. And, we've instead just adapted to how Shopify likes to think and adapted our store so that it flows that way.
And I think most of the changes we've done have been aesthetic like we're menu bars are and the way products like the drop down menus display a little bit. but otherwise we really have chosen to go with Shopify.
Diego: [00:30:25] Do you think a farm could just have one site. And that would be Shopify. So there, it could be their online store and their farm website, or do you think they could, they would need the Shopify store for the online platform and then they would need to maintain a separate online farm website where if the goal for the online farm website is here's who we are, here's where we're located.
Here's a story. Maybe there's a bit of a blog on there, but it's really just a. A landing page and an information page about their farm. Do you need two platforms or could you function with just Shopify as the sole platform?
Dan Brisebois: [00:31:03] so you could totally function with just Shopify as your sole platform. And this is where I reveal that we actually, we still have relics of our WordPress site in operation, our vets like our landing page.
If you go to dot qc.ca our URL. You'll come to our old WordPress page and you have an option of going into seeds or an option of going into vegetable baskets. If you click the seed, you go straight. To our Shopify page. And if you go to the vegetable baskets, you stay within the WordPress system. And we kept that because initially when we, the transition, it was just easier to not recreate the whole site and we just haven't gotten around to doing the rest.
and so at this point we are talking about, do we integrate them all together? And the biggest reason we haven't is that Shopify doesn't do multilingual as well. Oh, as, as WordPress. So there are some places that are just the way the presentation is that we prefer the WordPress. and I think, and, so that's one thing, but I wouldn't be surprised if we do merge them.
The other thing that's giving us a little bit of pause, is some. And some like WordPress and also Squarespace. You can have a slicker looking landing page with maybe a little bit less work than Shopify has Shopify. and I think this is going to change in Shopify, but Shopify doesn't have quite the same, like drag and drop capacity.
And. You're more restricted into a theme based around your online store and less a theme based around, your brand. at least in my experience and maybe, somebody might write in and tell you that I'm completely wrong on that, but, but you, but I think if you were in one language, You could get most of what you need out of Shopify.
And I think that I'm ignoring some of the, like some of the limits of your dreams, might make you a happier person and happier farmer just with one website, as opposed to having two websites in this context.
Diego: [00:33:01] Yeah. I'm looking at your site now. So you go from. The main site to boutique dot the farm and that's the Shopify side.
Dan Brisebois: [00:33:08] Exactly.
Diego: [00:33:10] So that side takes care of itself, the actual farm side, which is still the remnants on WordPress that you alluded to that's up to you to maintain.
Dan Brisebois: [00:33:20] Yeah. And so we have that on a separate server, based in, in Quebec and, and we, and it's, there's, it's a site that's really aging.
it's five or six years ago that this site got launched and there's certain things that we set up in it that, are like we had staff profiles and they're out of date and there's a lot of stuff out of date. We're just really keeping up the more traffic, traffic, heavy pages. And it's been impressive how we get barely.
Any comments about the parts that are out of date? I don't know. People have been, you look at that stuff. our, we have a very active site, nonetheless.
Diego: [00:33:53] I think you're right. I think people overthink websites and think, Oh, I need this and this. And I would bet. Same as you, a lot of people are not checking some of these things that we think we need.
If we go to the seed side of things, because you sell a lot more seeds online, then you sell a LA carte vegetables online. If we throw out the shipping side of things, how have you liked Shopify for doing high volume sales of
Dan Brisebois: [00:34:21] seeds? There's a lot of things that I've loved about Shopify. One of them was they have a, a built-in importer.
So you can have a CSV file with all your products laid out and you can, so you can create that on Google sheets or Excel, and you can manage some of your product information there and just import it in five minutes into Shopify. So you don't have to be looking at modifying each product individually.
and then we have a similar process for managing inventory. You can do it bulk, import. Arts, you can also do it quite quickly from the platform. So that's been really great. it's very easy to adjust price. It says if you want to put on a sale or create discounts and promo codes. So all that stuff is great.
And I think it's becoming more common on other platforms, but I think Shopify did it better first and it still works really well. And then, in terms of. Orders, one thing I like that Shopify does. And this WooCommerce did too. you can have your main product and you can have variants that, that cascade down.
So if we have, let's say we sell a rugala seeds, you can click on a rugala and then you can see, we have. A garden sized packet with 0.2 gram, no, with two grams. So that 4,000 seeds, or you could buy 25 grams. So about an ounce, or you could buy a hundred grams about a quarter pound, or we could sell it by the pounder or kilogram.
And it's really easy to have those, to just create that taxonomy. it's easy to. yeah, I'm actually like, it's just, it works and I know other platforms have a lot of this functionality, but I just feel that I don't have to fight with Shopify to make it, do each of that stuff.
Diego: [00:35:54] I'm looking at your, the seeds now. And one thing I think. That Shopify does really well. Is it displays the products nicely? Like they've thought a lot about user experience in terms of what the customer sees when they show up. And I have seen a lot of smaller. Farm specific platforms lately. And I think they're lacking a little bit.
There they look a little clunkier and Shopify looks modern. It looks nice. It looks new. How much of the display. In the store that I'm looking at is Shopify. And how much is you guys forcing Shopify to display that look
Dan Brisebois: [00:36:39] now that you say that it does make me think of some of the things I do love about Shopify in terms of that experience. So the biggest customization that we did to the products is the way we've set it up as a radial menu. so like the little circles that you click on for which product that you want, I think Shopify had more of a down menu. Default. So that was one thing that we had somebody do for us and we've set it up.
So that products that are sold out no longer appear, or at least variants that sold out no longer appear. so that's, that was our customization, but just about everything else is Shopify. And one thing that I love is, so Shopify. The way they work is they have collections. So you can put any, like collections would be like a collection.
It would be like vegetable seed. So you could put any kind of vegetable seed in there, or flower seeds or, or herb seeds. And, but you might choose the side that edible flowers. Some of the edible flowers, extra vegetable too. So you could have things in multiple collections. And so it's very easy to display on your front page by collection or by product or by custom text.
And as the season progresses, I can, in a matter of three minutes, I can change what's featured on our front page. So I can go in and say like right now, I think it's, we have our sort of our core. groups of seeds. And then I think we have featured garden plants, because they can transplant orders right now and also potato seed potatoes.
And as those phase out, we'll probably replace it with stuff like things you can plant in June. And then a certain point we'll replace it with, with garlic, for seed garlic. And so it's just really easy for us to move that stuff around without, it's just built in quite quickly because. just, it's just a theming interface.
And so that's something I really like there, they really have it set up for you to get people to a point where they're adding something to your cart and, and that's what Shopify was built around. and all the rest is dressing around it. So as a retail experience that I really enjoy how we can customize that.
And there are things that we don't do. I think you can have recommended products or related products, and we just haven't ever set that up. and it might be beneficial too, but, but we haven't taken the time, but I do really like that, that capacity to customize for the vegetable side of things, not seeds.
Diego: [00:38:52] So when you're just selling actual vegetables, can you operate that through the same Shopify store? As the seeds, or did you need a separate Shopify store to do that? Or is there a way like with collections that you could manage your surplus of edge sales to CSA members?
Dan Brisebois: [00:39:13] So we use it through the same store and, we just have a collection that's, CSA orders and that's what we'll, that's what we publish. The biggest problem that we had with this was, how to get around shipping. And this is, I think the biggest challenges we've had with Shopify has been around, if we want people to pick up on a certain basket drop-off date, Like that's where the challenges have been. and so we've had to do a few work arounds and the key work around.
And I don't know if this is too technical, but we've changed the default weight of the products. So all the seeds, the weight that the system. the weight that's in the system is the actual weight of the product. so if it's a hundred grams of a rugala, it's entered as a hundred grams in the system.
And so when somebody places an order of seed, a hundred grams of a rugal a seed, I should say when somebody places a seed order, It adds up all the weight and then it displays a shipping rate and function of that weight. And people can pay that. But if we were selling, let's say we're selling a bunch of carrots that might weigh a pound and somebody orders that then the default that they're going to get is shipped to your house.
In a package that weighs a pound and that's not what we wanted with, with our CSA. We wanted them to pick it up at the drop-off. Canada post has a maximum of 30 kilograms that the, for the shipping system, for the shipping, System. So we want it to be above that. And then we sell big bags of cover crops.
And so people order a couple thousand kilograms of that. And so we wanted to be a separate system than that. So we set all our vegetable products at, I think they might wait 10,000, 10,000 kilograms each. So like the equivalent of like almost 25,000 pounds. And, and so when somebody places an order.
the shipping options that are displayed are in function of the weight. And so you might order four bunches of kale and on the backend, it's weighing like 40,000 kilograms. and so it just won't show you any of the shift to home options. And it'll show you another set of shipping options that we had, which are pick up at, our Beaconsfield drop-off on, let's say May 16th pick up at our point, Claire, drop-off on May 17th to pick up at the farm on May 18th.
And we usually show. The dates for drop-off like for the, for drop-offs that week and before drop-offs the following week. If we have the capacity, if we want to take orders for two weeks, some cases, we just take orders for one week. And so that was that we had to override the shipping options by adjusting the weights. And once we did that, it worked very smoothly. But, prior to that, we didn't know what to do.
Diego: [00:41:48] If you weren't actually physically shipping product, would you have to do that?
Dan Brisebois: [00:41:53] No, if you weren't fishing product, you wouldn't have to do that at all. You would just set up your options right away and you wouldn't set them in function of, of weight and you might set them instead.
And function of dollars. You could have a minimum order of like $20. And, but you don't have to do that either. You could just have people choose and then your options are laid out. And this is one place that if this is where Shopify is not directly. Created for delivering to a weekly market.
but, or to two or three options, but if you have more than one, so maybe I'll rephrase that. If you just go to one farmer's market every week, and this summer you're hoping to people do pre-orders and then you'll just show up at the market and they pick it up. Then it's easy enough for you to have this one order.
And it says pick up at market. And you're clear that it's the next week, but if you go to three markets and you want them to order from one of these markets, then it's probably worth including the date. In that shipping option. So they're more clear about what they're selecting and, and then going in every week and rewriting the title of that shipping option.
So that it's up to date and maybe, maybe you put a deadline by which to order different things. so that's something that I think some of the more farm specific, online store platforms might really Excel with Shopify. It's a little bit of a work around, but nothing dramatic.
Diego: [00:43:13] How do you manage the pickup dates and order timing? One thing I know a lot of farmers are struggling with is we let's say, do drop offs or deliveries next Wednesday. We need time to pack those orders. So we cut ordering off Sunday at midnight. So we have Monday and Tuesday to pack. How do you guys handle. Ordering with pickup dates. So you can actually fulfill that order and get it packed and get it to where it needs to be when the customer wants it.
While also making it clear to the customer that if you place an order on Tuesday for a Wednesday, pick up. It's probably not going to be the Wednesday tomorrow. It's going to be the Wednesday, eight days from now.
Dan Brisebois: [00:44:04] The process begins, that Fred who manages that page talks with Emily, my co farmer and also my wife who manages the whole harvest. And so she'll tell Fred. Fred and Emily will talk about what's available the coming week. And Emily will give ideas about certain quantities and sometimes it might be as much as possible. You can, we can sell as much as people want. and other times it might be, we have a hundred of these or 20 of these.
And so Emily will give. Fred the availability and the quantities. And then Fred, we'll get that into the system to make sure that the inventory is accurate. So we don't oversell. and then he'll circulate the email. And so that's happening like kind of conversation like on Wednesday, the week before. And then we have a clear deadline on the Friday at noon and.
And so Fred communicates that by email, but also on the actual order page, it says it at the top, this is the deadline and what Fred does at noon, the way he changes it is that he goes in and he changes the shipping options. So it might be that right now, we're Thursday. And, so let's say the, I don't know what next week States are, but let's say they were for, April 5th, sixth and seventh.
When people place the order right now at checkout, they're going to choose a specific date and a specific location. And then tomorrow or Friday at noon, Fred will go in and just change it for the following week. So it'll be April 12th, 13th, 14th. And so when people actually get to that point, the, see a date that's a week later.
And so what the place, an order at that point, and they show up the early week before. and if they start to put up a fuss. MSA I placed the sort of, they could look at their order form. They'll say no, it's actually says a specific date the following week. And and I think the challenges come early in the season for new clients who.
are more used to a get what they want when they want it. but quickly people just learn the flow of how we work. And we used to be a lot more flexible. We would take orders up until Sunday, sometime, and then we start picking on Monday, but there kept being little problems that would come.
And what's nice about having a new Friday at noon cutoff is that, We try to not work much on the weekends, but we're going to be working Friday afternoon. So Fred can. Change the shipping dates. And then the next thing is we'll export the orders and then compile whatever needs to be harvested. And he'll hand that over to Emily.
And then over the weekend, when Emily's preparing her harvest for harvest plan, she just enters those in, as it to whatever CSA harvest we're doing and it's all integrated and there's no worry about. At Monday at seven 45, somebody comes up and says, Oh, we got to make sure we harvest these 10 bunches of kale because we got this order at 6:00 AM or, and so it's, we've really, we're really increasingly designing around the flow of things to make sure it's seamless at each step. And that people don't have unexpected surprises.
Diego: [00:47:07] Yeah, I think that's a great idea because this is something that I know farms are struggling with, where they're basically turning the store off or pausing the store when it gets to their deadline. So they don't get orders in this window of confusion that could put the farm behind in terms of packing and just leave the customer confused.
I like the idea of having a customer. Choose their pickup date specifically, even if there's only one choice, if pickups are every Wednesday and today is Thursday. So next Wednesday would be, let's say April 8th. And we know, okay, if you place an order today, it's going to wear before the cutoff, it's going to be April 8th, but make them select the only option April 8th and then after your farm in-house cutoff.
So you can fulfill orders rather than turning off the store, pausing the soar. You make it April 15th, that they would have to choose like that little hack right there, I think is really valuable and could save people a lot of trouble of having to. Pause the store, turn the store off, have these deadlines.
Now there is some inventory management about having people just order 24 seven. That is a whole nother thing people might have to consider, but if it is by as much as you want, moving that deadline, I think is a better option than totally turning the store off. Because if the store is off, you can't do any sales. If you move the deadline, you might not do a lot of sales, but at least the options there that you could.
Dan Brisebois: [00:48:39] Yeah. And I think on the inventory issue, if there's something that, you will have an extreme, limited quantity, maybe you don't, maybe you just pick it off the store that Friday afternoon. But, if it's something that you have most weeks, maybe you just put a lower inventory just to be cautious about it.
And, and, and we've, and some people do order at any point, but we found that email that you send out on Wednesday, Okay, really does trigger just a big uptake in orders. so I think that by insisting on the deadlines, people just start to think that they can't order at other times and they just respect those deadlines more.
as they're well-trained. And that's the advantage of working with a CSA group that comes with you year after, week after week, and then ultimately year after year, is that when you create something, once you, once somebody is like used to the system and has learned how to use it, there might be a little refresher at the beginning of the year.
But they can use it over and over. unless you change things dramatically like a year like this summer, I think a lot of farms are going through some big changes, in their systems that they're going to have to retrain their clients with.
Diego: [00:49:51] For managing that inventory and products on the backend. Let's say each week you have five surplus vegetables that you're selling to your CSA customers yet in your catalog, you have 500 products. Is it as simple as. This one's hidden or not displayed in these five or displayed. Is that how you manage? Here's what we have.
Dan Brisebois: [00:50:14] Yeah, you can. you can, if you can publish your, I think they call it available or unavailable, in Shopify, but it's basically publishing your own publishing and you can, so we, there's three things that Shopify generally works with.
That's what, unless you're selling on like other like eBay or Amazon or that kind of place. But if you're selling just on, like this, we have a point of sale, App or point of sale, like on the, on, like on a tablet, we have the actual wine store and then we, you can also do buttons that you put on other pages if you want to embed them somewhere else.
And so you can choose. Where it's going to be unavailable. And so we'll specifically make things unavailable on the, on the online store. So they just, w they'll just disappear. Literally. Won't say sold out. It'll just, won't be there. And then, but it'll still be on the POS, the point of sale, tablet.
And so if we were at the drop. Cough. And we had some extra of something and we wanted to sell it there. We could still sell it because it's actually in the system, but it's just people can't buy it or even see it from the desktop.
Diego: [00:51:18] It's a great feature to have. So then you can pick up those extra sales and just having this available unavailable catalog means you're going to do some work to put all these products in once, but on a week to week basis, you're just available, unavailable?
Dan Brisebois: [00:51:33] Exactly.
Diego: [00:51:34] Given everything that's happening out there in the world right now, I'm sure you're seeing a big boost and local food buying. I'm looking at your seeds. Tons of stuff is sold out, especially in the PA and the packet size, like many companies Johnny's announced yesterday that they're not even taking orders for a week from home gardeners.
So it's different times farms are doing four X in sales this time of year. What are your thoughts in terms of what the future looks like for vegetables? And you have a unique perspective because you are selling to the home grower in the form of seeds. And you're selling to just the home consumer who wants food.
That's already grown, that they can consume. You've been in this game for a long time. You've been set up online. Is this. Sticky, are people gonna, do you think this amount of interest in vegetables, both in local produce and in growing their own is going to stay? Or is this just like the toilet paper buying panic that will eventually just subside when things get back to quote normal?
Dan Brisebois: [00:52:56] I think that. This experience is giving people, a renewed appreciation for local food that they haven't had in generations. and I, and we haven't even gotten to the summer yet. Like we still have supply chains that are bringing in food, but, I think this summer there's going to, I don't want to be a doomsayer, but I think that like fresh vegetables, there might not be as many on the shelves.
I know that there are certain challenges related to migrant labor. In terms of, for vets for farm crews. And so just, there's going to be more challenges that come along. And I think that this summer people are really going to be thinking more of a more highly of their local farmers and eating close to home from reliable resilient farms.
And I think this kind of appreciation is something that will last a generation. so I think that they're like, When you go back a few generations, you do find people who have that because of experiences that you've lived. And it's maybe not all people will keep this, but there is a significant amount of people that will keep it.
And I think that's gonna carry forward. and, and so I think that the local farm movement is which I already thought was vibrant and vital and essential is even more And, and I think though, Like right now, people don't have the capacity to benefit from it, but as we go forward, there'll be people that able to benefit from it more including bigger players.
And so the landscape will change and it's going to be, it makes me think a bit about what we started our farm, in the fall of 2004 with the first growing season in 2005, there. There were so many great clients to be had because there had been people who'd wanted good organic farm food for 20 to 30 years.
And they had tried different farms and they had good experiences, but there just wasn't like, you weren't at a time with the industry where the quality was consistent. The customer service was consistent and we came on the farm and we'd been working on, we were working for so many other farmers and we knew what was involved and we took the time to create systems and we came in and we had clean produce.
We always had a full basket. We had clear systems and people just, there were so many people who were just so happy to get this cause they'd wanted it for so long and they just signed up and we have so many families who have been with us for 15 years, who come from that core. And even five years later, the landscape had changed.
There are many more small farmers now than there were when we'd launched, of the kind of bond that like this market garden farm and. There's more competition for clients and the clients take it for granted that there's great food out there and that they just have to go to the farmer's market or there's 500 CSA.
They can join too, depending on what areas they are. There's definitely only food deserts and there's definitely for different reasons, but there's a lot more option in most places. And people, I think some of the clients aren't necessarily as grateful for what an amazing opportunity it is to have healthy, fresh, delicious, beautiful food.
That's grown close by as the were 20 years ago when there just was less available. And so right now there's a change where people are becoming more grateful again about the magic and wonder of this, but they're going to, over the next years they're going to become. More used to it a bit again.
And I think the farms that create the system, like the farms that have great, consistent product and great customer service are going to have a lasting power that some other farms don't have. And if you don't have the great product or great customer service, I think like right now, because everybody wants this stuff, there's going to be no problem to have.
Bales the summer, if you're set up to do it, but two or three years from now, you're going to have to be probably better at those things to be more competitive in the marketplace. And so there's a stickiness to it. but there's, but I don't think it means that you can't have a top notch business, in all regards.
And I don't know if that, so I, maybe I feel like I've gone away from your questions just about seeds, but, but I think that's true in seeds also. There's right now, as the big seed companies are just shutting their doors down and big seed companies of the scale that we as Margaret Gardner is used for.
I think high mowing might still be open, but just about everyone else has shut down. So the next round of seed companies feel all that pressure and it's great. Like our sales are crazy. But, as you said, we're sold out of all this stuff. And so people then start going to smaller seed companies that they wouldn't have necessarily purchased from.
And it's really great right now for those companies, but it doesn't to be sticky next year one, the person has to have, if you're talking about. Seeds, the seeds have to germinate. And so if somebody bought from three companies to get all this stuff they need, but seasonal and germinated from one company, that's the company they're going to remember.
And then the seeds have to be what you said they were going to be. So if you said it's a red tomato and they wind up with a green tomato, maybe there'll be charmed, but they might also be disappointed. And then, it has to be. It's disease free as the seeds can get there. there's a lot has to do with the gardener and you have to have a good vegetable that comes out of it.
And if all those things go well, they're probably going to be, think of you more positive. And then if in addition, you also maintain an email campaign and you communicate with them through social media, right? And the learn to love your story. If all those things work well, work together, then you'll be sticky.
But if you had seized that didn't germinate and you have stuff that's crossed up and then the yields aren't fantastic. And then you didn't sell it, send an email or two over the season when it comes next time, you're not going to be high on the list. Likely you'll have more customers than you did this year.
I'm not necessary at this point, but likely to have more customers than you did. Before going into this pandemic buying, but you might not have the same as some people who had fantastic product and then nurtured their clients into a community over the year and are ready for them next year. And, and so this is an opportunity to get on top of all those things and be ready to be sticky, but it's not a given,
Diego: [00:59:17] are you getting questions from people who aren't in the CSA who want to buy vegetables?
Dan Brisebois: [00:59:21] We are getting those questions. We actually have kind of a couple of streams of information and I really deal with the seed one.
So I don't know less as much about the vegetables. I don't think we're getting quite as much like with the seeds, the FA the phone was ringing off the hook. Like we no longer answer the phone. we get emails all the time and then the orders are just pouring in. So I don't think that we're getting. That with the vegetables yet, but we are getting an increasing amount.
We're definitely way ahead of our signups for this year. like we're aiming for 500 weekly families, and I think we're at just shy of 400 right now, with still a month to go, which is a nice place to be in. And I have no doubt we'll be full. I don't think people have realized as much, or I don't think people are thinking as much about the summer vegetables yet.
and I think even the gardeners. I think that this crazy period of buying right. Is only beginning for seeds. I think there's still another two months of sales. I'm going to be like this because right now it's just the people who know about gardening, who are buying the seeds. There's going to be like, so we're in Montreal.
the ground is still frozen. We have a lot of snow. Now we have a moderate amount of snow. We don't have a ton left. it's been a mild spring. The ground is only going to be ready to plant in, two or three weeks. And I think that when we start to have days that are in the low twenties, so like the, I guess I don't around 80, Fahrenheit.
I think some people then are going to be like, Oh wow, a garden would be great. And so all the non garden gardeners are suddenly going to go crazy for seeds. So there's going to be another round that happens there. And then that might even continue into June for the people who don't realize it's too late for certain crops.
so I think that. The vegetables. We are feeling the demand from people who know about farmer's markets and who know about CSA. But I think that come may and June that's when the people who have never thought about a farmer's market are going to be wanting this stuff. And, and I think that's when we're going to the phones are going to be off the hook and people are going to be just driving in off the road to find out if there's something they can buy.
And, and in our case where just trying to nourish our CSA community. So we want to get to our 500 family families for a week, and that's where we're going. But in other cases, people who, are more dependent on variable amounts every week. that they're going to want to be ready for that.
Diego: [01:01:40] You wrote the book on crop planning, literally, what advice would you have for a farm. That's in this right now. And let's say they're in a more tempered climate than you. So there they have stuff in the field now, or they've overwintered with season extension and their currency. CSA is sold out there. Their phone is going off the hook. They're getting DMS on social media emails, and there's clearly more demand now for product. The crop plan was made two months ago for the CSA that they had planned. That's full. What do you think a farmer could do to take advantage of this increased demand if they have it, but they already had plans in place.
Dan Brisebois: [01:02:33] I just wanted to mention also that I co-wrote the book on crop planning my by Michael Farmer, Fred Terria was a really important part. So I just don't want him to be part of, not part of that had that acknowledgement. But, in terms of the planning, I think. Right now, it's really easy to see the potential profit, but it is very important to remember our own health, both physically and mentally, and this is going to be a trying summer.
and, so I think that the number one thing we plan for is how we. As farmers, but also as individuals, as husbands, wives, partners, as parents get through this in a healthy and sane way, because there's going to be, it's not going to be like any year that we've had before. And in one of those things might be to be very cautious that you don't bite out bite off more than you can handle.
So if you are adjusting your crop plan, make sure it's something that you are able to do. And, and so that's where I would definitely start off is be realistic about the amount of land that I could crop, and the amount of crop I could process at any one point. And it's possible that hiring people is part of the solution because there's a lot of people who are looking for employment.
we've been getting so many. calls and emails over the last two weeks, people looking for jobs and I, and this has got to be the case everywhere that people are looking for employment, or they just want to volunteer because they're bored. and, so you could do that, but having more people means more management and that can also add to, to craziness.
So I would start off with that. the next thing is if. I was jumping into meeting a higher demand. I would, I would really look at what crops are actually profitable and what crops aren't. And there is, there might be a certain part of you that is looking for as a social good. This is, I want to have these things available to make sure I feed my community.
And that is that is valuable. But if you're growing these crops at a loss, it's going to compromise your farm and that's going to also compromise your community. So you have to look at and be honest. if you can't keep on top of hand, weeding carrots growing three times, the amount of carrots is going to make it all the carrots harder to do and more expensive to produce.
So I would look at stuff that, your farm or your farm can. Do without, really increasing the expenses. I would also look at stuff that doesn't, and this is less about the demand. This is just it's about the general context. I would like I'm for people who are really invested in salad greens, I would look at other crops you might want to do that require less handling and less of your touching, or if you do maintain them, how you're going to make sure that, You're touching them least amount.
and some of them that might be in terms of. Actual like contamination. but also your clients are going to have food safety concerns they never expressed before. And it's not just going to be one or two people at of your clients who have more concern about the safety of things, but there's going to be significant minorities, if not like a majority of people who are going to be worried about what's going on and I would definitely adapt the farm so that.
You're easily able to answer that and that you feel confident with that. so those are my big advices, and I think those are great to do now before you have a lot of crop in the ground. and, and I'm a big advocate for planning in advance, but get it down on spreadsheets and see what it looks like, and then look at how the workflows change and, and don't be ambitious. Just to be ambitious, yeah. And make sure you get through the season, healthy.
Diego: [01:06:18] I think that's all great advice and maybe one easy way. And you could tell me if this is easier, not so easy, I'm not a CSA farmer, so I don't get that, but I get selling online. My thoughts are any CSA farm.
You're planning for some sort of contingency and you might have this number. We know, based on the amount of CSA shares we want to sell our crop plan says we have to grow this much product. I'm assuming there's a buffer in there of some percent of just going you set up your online store. And that is where all your surplus goes.
It can go to the CSA shares like you do, or that could be only open for the public or anybody at all could buy for that. And it could be this pop-up online market. You're not committed to anything because people come and buy on a weekly basis, what you have and it's surplus that. You're already growing.
Anyway, you could build in your pickup date delivery date drop off date. So you're not overpacking over-harvesting so it could be pre-sold, but that seems like an easy way for a CSA only farm to maybe step up and pick up some additional sales. Without shaking things up too much.
Dan Brisebois: [01:07:51] I, I think that's a fantastic approach, working on your safety factors on your buffer. and I think something that to think about is that people will be cooking different this summer than they have in the past. I like, I know this time is definitely stressful for all of us, and I'm feeling it. but there is a certain part of what's happening that is nice.
Like I'm spending more time with my kids than I ever have. and I've had more time to cook. and because there's certain time where we're Emily is at the farm when I'm at home. And, so that's, and then there was a time that we rotate that way. And so I just know, I think that a lot of people would be cooking way more than they ever have.
And, I think that even without thinking about additional clients, it's possible all your CSA members. There a vegetable consumption my double the summer. And, so those extras like that buffer, you might be able to sell it to those clients and it might even, and this is something that I'm completely making up as we're speaking right now is you might want to, have you could be, create an additional like bonus vegetable basket.
That's 10 or 15 bucks to like, they could upgrade to the next level. and you could move that stuff without having them to specifically order different things. Yeah. So I think that's a whole opportunity that, that could be benefited from.
Diego: [01:09:05] Another thought, and you let me know what you think, cause you already do some of this. And again, big CSA you've ran it for a long time would be for farms who hadn't ever considered reaching out to their community for other products, value added products. Like you sell the grains. Or the flowers, the honeys, maybe you're not producing it, but if you have a thirsty for product CSA community that is wants this food, and they really want the security, they want to know where it's coming from.
They're all into the safe handling of it would be. I'm thinking you could get on the phone or go around town. Everybody's at home now for the most part and be like, Are you moving enough product, would you like to try and move more product? And obviously it has to be a fit for both parties, but that's another way I see of creating kind of a quote bonus basket or a CSA.
Ad-on where you can probably enter into that agreement with ABC local business at no cost, meaning you're not going to have to buy a bunch of inventory. It's just Hey, would you like it? If we could sell. 26 packs of your kombu, Jay, each week. I'll come pick it up and just give you a check. Would that help?
That's another way. I think CSA farms and really other farms could look at expanding. Now is through this aggregation model going beyond vegetables, you obviously have to want to do it. It's gotta be a fit, but it is another opportunity because a CSA farm has something that's very valuable. They have a close, trusted, direct relationship with a consumer base who may have been with them for years and is at least with them for one year.
Dan Brisebois: [01:10:54] Yeah. I think that's a great way to go forward. and we actually have done that with w we no longer produce on potatoes. We're buying potatoes in from other people. we, Brian, small fruits from other people. And so I think that if you are serving a community that has a need beyond what you're doing and, As opposed to you just trying to grow all that need working with your other farmers and non-farmers cause some of this is it's transformers, to meet this client's demands is a fantastic thing.
And right now we are in an interesting time where. People are probably going to want to leave their house the least amount of times possible. So if they can go to one drop-off point and pick up a box that has some frozen meat and some kombucha, maybe an artisanal beer, has some grain, he might be really grateful to be able to get, organic ethically produced delicious stuff from one place to nourish themselves through this time.
and, It shouldn't be underestimated. The administration that goes along with coordinating some of that stuff. Like just the communication with the producer to get it. And then, whether it's delivered or if you have to go pick it up and the more it can be delivered, the better it is, the more you go to pick it up means you're away from the farm, which means you're not doing certain farm work.
And also in these day and age, you're risking maybe your safety, and, And then, so that there's that there is that comes in and then these extra orders. Do you take more time to fulfill and yes, there's probably an interesting margin that can happen and still pay the original person a fair amount.
so it can be worthwhile, but that really is worth planning it out. So if you just do it on the fly, see how it goes, then take a step back and just walk through what the system is and make sure that you're ready to do it the best way possible. I think one thing also in our experience is, When you buy something from someone else and you move it along, even if you're clear that it's coming from someone else, the quality of that product will.
Sort of reflect, can reflect on you. And we've so we buy potatoes in, but there is one person that we purchased potatoes from at one point that, we were getting rocks in the 50 pound bags. We even got a mouse nest and and some of the stuff in store well, and we did same kind of similar experience with garlic, but we had no mouse nest with that.
but it was. It's really disappointing too. it's just you, we pride ourselves on top-notch quality and when we get something from somebody that's not top-notch quality, it's really hard, especially when we've already been prepaid for it. And there's different strategies you can do, but it does become a PR situation and there is a certain way to spin it that strengthens your community by showing that you are willing to.
Except the responsibility of this, but it's just the extra headache also. And, and so the flip side is you, when you discover a great producers that work you can work well with and a great producer, it's in terms of the product, but also in terms of just will the answer the phone, are they on time?
Do they have things when you need them? if you find those people. They're fantastic partners to work with. And making those relationships and those relationships are built over time, but you might need to build a lot of relationships really quickly, and some of them might not work as well. And that's just the way of the world right now,
Diego: [01:14:13] Given the way of the world right now, are you thinking about modifying your business at all to prepare for something like this next year or did this situation set off any. Bells in your head, some whistles that went off to say know, we need to change because of this, either something you had always wanted to do. And now this is forcing you to do it or any no, we, all of our businesses have weak links.
And I think this has made weak links, glaringly obvious to some of us. I know there's definitely things I'm looking to change with paper pot and everything that we're doing. For your farm is a co-op. Are there things that you guys are looking at now to say, we need to change this, not just to prepare for if this happens again, but this was a problem now we're seeing, Hey, things need to be different.
Dan Brisebois: [01:15:12] I think there's like a couple ways to answer that. And the way you said we clinked, this is something that I have been. Like, it's been almost a Mon a mantra this last week, is that this experience is testing all our weaknesses and in terms of systems, but also in terms of communication and, and.
So it's like we've so in our seed business, just with the number of volume, like we've, we had a certain way. We printed orders like through a normal printer, not print orders, but like shipping labels, I've actually debt bought a dedicated shipping label printer. It should arrive today. I cannot wait and it should really speed up that process.
the layout of our seed warehouse was set up a certain way, but we. Discovered, like at first there was less staffing because of different self isolation stuff going on. But now as people are coming back, we have, we've noticed that people are working back to back and it's hard to maintain that two meters, six feet, isolation distance.
So we reorganized the whole warehouse to have all the tables on one side, like all the workstations on one side and all the storage on the other. And as we did that, It just, we realized that we had fixed this problem, but we created a better flow for how seeds go from bulk storage to being packed up, to getting to intuition into, the poll room and then into shipping.
And so it just, it fixed like it fixed so many problems that we weren't even thinking about. And and I think that we're going to see that with all kinds of things as we go forward this summer, and we already are being very proactive in thinking about solutions, but I'm afraid, and I'm not just afraid.
Like I know that there are things that we're only going to suddenly, we're going to realize, Oh, wait a second. This is different now because of this. And we'll create, I think we'll have better systems. so I think that, I don't know if that's a specific. An answer, but I think the, so I think there's a whole bunch of stuff that we're going to have a stronger farm with more defined systems that are more rigorous and we're going to be able to do things in less work.
and I think one of the things that's going to happen this summer is we're just going to have. less labor to give, like having our kids at home all the time. And like our kids are four and seven, so they can't just, they can't occupy themselves by themselves for a very long time. it just, it means we're not able to do as much.
So we have to do more with the time that we have given. So I think that's going to be a real plus in the future. We'll be in a more efficient farm. I think the other thing is there are things that we're going to do now. That we never wanted to do. We've intentionally designed our business to get out of farmer's markets and get out of dealing with all kinds of people and to work with the CSA where we show up and we have a market style where people just go and they fill up their baskets according to a list and we can talk to people and.
It's just very human connection based. And, and we love that. And now where we're trying to, we don't know what's going to happen this summer and we're like exploring some rain and just that include, everything is pre-packaged like we've moved almost towards the zero waste CSA. And now this summer, we're maybe going to have everything in its own plastic bag and maybe call on some volunteers.
Tiers to help us at distribution so that we can reduce the amount of people that are touching stuff and kind of custom fill people's order, like a basket as they go along. Or do we do to a pre-made box that we show up at the drop-off and people get maybe even drive through style or, and this, do we do a home delivery system?
And none of these are scenarios that we really want and, saw as a. Future and, but what we are making these decisions and we're going to learn from them. And, I, so the cynical part of me, Thinks that we might still be in this situation next spring. Like when people talk about vaccines being developed as like a nine to 18 month period, and then there's all the unreal, how it gets delivered.
So I think that we've got to be resilient and create stuff well now, but not just assume it's going to be over. And this might be, I hope it's not more than two years. but be ready for that. And. and then maybe afterwards we can go back to a more free and happy farm. And I'm really excited for that moment, but cookie, consumers patterns are going to change as a consequence of this.
And I think a lot of brick and mortar stores, whether they be, in a full arm, in a barn or else a real brick and mortar, are going to be different. W afterwards I think that, I think at least in North America, online buying and having things pre-made for you. Is this going to become much more normal for people?
there's a lot of our population that just doesn't do online sales. Doesn't like to use a credit card when the work on the internet. And I'm sure that in two months from now, that's all going to be different. And we, when we get out of this, we're going to have to face how customers' buying habits are.
And, whether the do want to keep. This more like if they really want home delivery, if they really want pre-made boxes that they don't have to touch. And that's something that we can only see in the future, but we'll have learned a lot now so that we have a more informed choice of how to do it. And in any of those scenarios, what is going to be important is finding a way to keep a special relationship with our clients.
I think that the fundamental reason people buy from us even before a great vegetables, is that. We become, we become a community and, and we need to find a way to preserve that community through this time. And we're not allowed to touch people and we're not allowed to talk with them, or we should have talked with them too closely.
And we're moving more towards email and video. And, and that's what I think is, a weak link we're going to have to, we're going to have to really master and solve.
Diego: [01:21:14] I think those are great suggestions. there's a lot that people can do regardless of their thoughts on the future to make their businesses better.
I think something as simple as what you mentioned of just getting. Used to maybe touching some products less is just very valuable, not just from a health and safety, but just from a productivity standpoint, a lot of great advice in this one, Dan, and you're doing a lot of different things now online to help the farm community, to help farms who are going online, what are some resources that you have to help people who want to learn more about what you're doing, but also help others who are trying to do this?
Dan Brisebois: [01:21:52] I normally run a news, a weekly newsletter about spreadsheets and seats, but I've decided I'm going to focus really on online stores, for the, for this summer. so people could sign up to my newsletter and then you can do that through farmer's spreadsheet, academy.com, but I'm also, I'm launching a Facebook group called move your farm store online.
So move your farm store online to just. and I've begun to write a bit about this on Facebook and through Instagram. And there's just been such a uptake of interest that, I want to, I think it's really important to create a community where people were farmers can ask questions and hear from all kinds of people, because I have a lot of answers, but they're from my perspective.
And I think that we have a small farming community really. There are people who know a lot about this. So I think we need to get everybody speaking together. And that's the purpose of this Facebook group. so by the time your episode goes live, I'm hoping it's vibrant and active
Diego: [01:22:46] right on. I'll be sure to link to it. And thanks for taking some time today to chat. Dan always appreciate it.
Dan Brisebois: [01:22:51] It's a real pleasure. And thanks so much for all your focus on, on all the studies that you focus on, but also on online businesses and, strong businesses these days,
Diego: [01:23:02] there, you have it, Dan Brisebois. On moving your farm store online. If you enjoy this conversation with Dan, if you enjoy this conversation in general about moving your farm store online, then be sure to check out Dan's newest resource, his Facebook group, how to move your farm store online. I've linked to that in the show notes.
It's really great group. Centered around this core topic on nine farm sales. How do you do it? What platforms do you choose? What experiences are you having with this platform versus this platform? How do you do this? How do you manage that? All the types of questions that you can ask and are being asked in that Facebook group it's free.
You can join. So if you're somebody who's looking to build your knowledge around online farm sales, Then be sure to check out Dan's Facebook group and also sign up for his newsletter, which I've also linked to below. If you're currently selling online and you want to share your story, let me know. I'd love to talk to more people doing this.
Hit me up on Instagram at Diego footer. Just send me a direct message and talk about possibly doing an episode. That's all for this one. Thanks for listening until next time. Be nice. Be thankful and do the work.
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