Carrot Cashflow: Going Anti-Fragile with Selling Online (CC13)

Listen to more episodes of Carrot Cashflow

Episode Summary

When farmer’s markets are your only market stream, every week can be a gamble. Some weeks you can sell out every single vegetable you bring, and some weeks—particularly the not-so-sunny ones—you can take more than half of your produce back home, all slated to be given away or to be tossed into the compost pile. What if you can go to the market and be at peace knowing half the produce you’re bringing is already sold and that you only have to focus on selling the other half?

In this episode of Carrot Cashflow, we’re talking to farmer Hermann Bruns of Wild Flight Farm in Mara, BC to share their experience adding an online selling platform on top of their farmer’s market sales stream.

Today’s Guest: Hermann Bruns

Hermann Bruns has been organically farming vegetables and culinary herbs with his wife Louise for close to three decades. Previously dependent solely on farmer’s markets, they made the jump to sell their produce online when Covid closed down physical markets in 2020. Thanks to the shift, their business has now become more robust, with increased individual sales each week.

Relevant Links

            Wild Flight Farm – Website | LocalLine | Facebook

In this episode of Carrot Cashflow:

  • Diego introduces the episode’s guest, Hermann Bruns (01:15)
  • Hermann Bruns, his farm, and his business (02:37)
  • Farmer’s markets as a sales outlet for smaller farms (03:26)
  • Hermann’s farmer’s market tips for new farmers (05:44)
  • Whittling down to what customers want to buy from farmers (08:19)
  • The downsides of doing farmer’s markets (10:31)
  • Why Hermann Bruns considered selling online (12:34)
  • How the online store helped with wholesale issues (14:34)
  • Hesitation behind completely moving the farm store online (20:31)
  • Having options and reclaiming Saturdays (21:43)
  • Higher sales with an online platform (24:03)
  • Advice on figuring out online store logistics (26:40)
  • Having less of a gamble with the produce harvested (31:47)
  • The feeling of security of bringing to market produce that are already sold (33:49)
  • Building convenience into pricing (35:05)
  • Dealing with online sales order fulfillment (36:31)
  • Orders, boxes, and truck space (39:48)
  • Processing boxed order pick up (42:12)
  • Hermann Bruns’ stand on selling produce online (45:46)
  • How much time and labor it takes to pack boxes (48:07)
  • The time it takes to set up an online store, maintain it, and deal with customer service (51:21)
  • Deciding on how customers can pay for their produce (55:38)
  • Hermann Bruns’ parting words for farmers who are considering selling online (57:01)
  • Better off business with additional sales streams (59:17)

Check Out My Book: Ready Farmer One: The Farmers’ Guide to Create, Design, and Market an Online Farm Store (2022) by Diego Footer & Nina Galle

Subscribe to Carrot Cashflow in your favorite podcast player:

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CC13 - Hermann Bruns

[00:00:00] Diego Footer: Carrot Sash flow profitable farm business starts here. Today, it's all about diversifying your farm sales models through an online store and how to make those sales run as efficient possible. Stay tuned for that coming up with farmer Hermann Bruns.

[00:00:36] Welcome to carrot cash flow. I'm your host Diego, DIEGO. Many farms within market farming rely on the old-style sales models: farmers, markets, CSAs, and going direct to retailers. Those models are fine, but they all have disadvantages. One way that farmers are trying to work around some of those disadvantages by diversifying their farm sales to include an online store.

[00:01:05] The great thing about an online store is you have 100% control of it. You control the hours, you control delivery, you control what products you can sell. Today, we're talking to farmer Hermann Bruns. Hermann�s somebody who's relied on farmer's markets heavily in the past when COVID hit, he moved to an online store and he's never looked back. Let's get into it, selling online with farmer Hermann Bruns.

[00:01:34] Hermann Bruns: I think it's diversity is, is always good because it gives you the option to do a few different things you're not quite as sort of beholden to one way of doing things. And so we could presumably do some sort of it's kind of like a, we can offer a modified CSA thing where people can order their own thing.

[00:01:54] Right? There's lots of different marketing roots. We could go with the store now that we have it. And you know, we're just working it the way we, what seems to be working right now. But I think anytime you have an opportunity to be a little bit more diverse in how you sell things. It just gives you a little bit more security that if one thing starts going down, some farmer's market is, gets moved to a different location, which is a bad location.

[00:02:23] Well, I've still got my store. I've still got, I can reach my customers. I can create a better, a different pickup location. I've got the option to do something. Whereas if you were just completely just going to the market and we were totally dependent on that market and they moved to a bad location, you're kind of� You're going with them.

[00:02:40] My name is Hermann Bruns and my wife, and I started farming just over 25 years ago. And we farm in the, in the north Okanagan in British Columbia. And we have a 20-acre farm and we rent a little bit of extra land so that we can, we can do some more rotations, bigger rotations between vegetables and some green miners.

[00:03:05] We grow a huge variety of market vegetables. We do two farmers markets a week, and we also do deliveries to a home organic home bots delivery company. We have a staff now of 12 people to help us run the farm that keeps us all pretty busy.

[00:03:26] Diego Footer: Having that track record selling at farmer's markets, for new farmers, getting into the game now, looking at all the models that you can sell wholesale CSA online farmer's market. What are your thoughts on farmer's markets as a sales model for smaller farms?

[00:03:47] Hermann Bruns: Well, I think farmer's markets are a great place to start for sure. It doesn't take much to get into them. It and it you'll really, you should do your research in your area as well as to what farmer's markets are doing well, and there's some that just you are a waste of time and we kind of went to quite a few before we settled on a few that one or two that we liked or felt were a good fit for our, what we had.

[00:04:20] So it it's and then there are of course, Yeah, it can be tough to you know, there are frustrations with farmer's markets, of course, because if it's a bad weather day and you get�you just happen to have the market on a downpour day and you could be bringing half your stuff back and you put all that effort into producing it and packing it.

[00:04:44] And, and then you end up having to give it away or compost it or whatever, and that can be really disheartening. But I mean, the nice thing is that you do get that connection with customers, that real direct connection. And you do have a way of sort of seeing what's going on.

[00:05:01] What do they want, what do they, what are they looking for? And you've got multiple customers, not just�if you, if you're a whole selling wholesale and you've only got one or two, if those people don't decide not to order for some reason, or somebody offers them something cheaper, boy, that can be really big change in a short time.

[00:05:19] With farmer's markets. At least you're probably looking at 1, 2, 300 customers coming by and they're all making decisions. And so it kind of averages out a little bit. And if you're going to sell several markets, that helps too, because sometimes something will really sell well in one market, but won't sell so well in another for, because maybe there's another vendor that has the same thing or the people are different or whatever.

[00:05:44] Diego Footer: What about advice in terms of selling at markets and succeeding at markets? If you go that route, what if, what tips would you have for somebody new?

[00:05:58] Hermann Bruns: Well I think, well, our strategy has been, we we've been going to smaller, rural markets we've kind of avoided some of the bigger city markets in our area doesn't have a lot of really big cities. Although some farmers actually go to Vancouver you know, which is a really big city, of course.

[00:06:21] But that's a it's a six hour drive from here and I'm thinking, well, I really wanna do that. and so. And often we were one of very few vegetable vendors. And so my thinking always was let's make sure we do a really wide diversity of try to grow everything we possibly can and try to provide a really great selection and the, the better you can do that job of always having the, the broadest possible selection.

[00:06:54] The better, you're likely to kind of capture market share and get those customers thinking, oh yeah, this is a reliable source of vegetables. You can't just sort of show up every now and then when you feel like it. In all the time that we've been going to markets we've never missed a market.

[00:07:14] There's no way we're missing a market ever. And we don't care if it's snowing. The only time that we could possibly miss a market is that if the road's closed because of a, of a snowstorm or something like that, right. And we've had that happen and all we've done is just postponed it for a couple of days and said, okay, we're gonna be there.

[00:07:29] The market wasn't supposed to be on Saturday, but we'll be there on Monday. Cuz you know, people kind of want, you wanna be able to make sure that they can rely on you to have these items when they want them. And, and when they expect them. I think that's been our sort of real focus and always looking also at not being satisfied with selling out of something.

[00:07:49] I mean, it's always nice to sell out something, but it's also not a good thing because that means some customers went home without getting what they wanted. So if we sell out a spinach too early, then I'm thinking, okay, we should make a note of trying to grow a little bit more spinach at this time of year to try to adjust the amount so that we can get more.

[00:08:07] I always wanna bring a little bit of something of everything back, just so that we're making sure we're saturating the market and you know, our customers are going home happy with what they were able to get.

[00:08:19] Diego Footer: Do you think over the past 25 plus years, you've whittled down what you think customers want when they're buying for a small-scale farmer versus going to a grocery store?

[00:08:30] Hermann Bruns: The way I look at it is it's a moving target. Just when you think you might have it figured out the target moves. And so we're constantly adjusting to this every week. We're looking at, we're looking at our records of what we sold last year at the same time to be able to be able to predict whether there's a trend.

[00:08:52] So sometimes we see these trends, right? Particularly let's take lettuce, for example, that earlier in just two, two or three weeks earlier, we were selling a lot of lettuce and we never had enough. And it was because we were on the market earlier than some of the other growers in some of our markets. Now, they're coming on.

[00:09:14] So we can, we can kind of predict that trend a little bit. Now there are always variations each year, but, and there's then also changes where people start saying, well, no, I, I'm not so keen on lettuce anymore. I wanna eat more kale or I want to eat more you know, spinach or whatever it is. Right. And so things shift.

[00:09:33] So we keep pretty close records of exactly what we sell every market. We look back to previous years, what did we sell at this market at this day on this date? And then we look at what we sold last week and we kind of make an educated guess in there to try to look at what should we take and harvest and take to the market this week.

[00:09:53] So, but then sometimes you this just this week, we predicted that we were gonna sell a hundred head or a hundred kohlrabi and, and I think we got, we only sold half of them. I thought, whoa, go, how did that happen? Like how could our prediction be off that by that much? It's just one of these real weird anomalies that just suddenly, for some reason they didn't look quite right or whatever.

[00:10:18] Just, you don't know. There's so many variables there. It's hard to figure out why did that just happen? What if you were with kohlrabi, it's not a big deal. You just chop the tops and, and you can sell 'em again the next week. So no problem.

[00:10:32] Diego Footer: There's a downside to farmer's market. One is the commute, getting up early on those days, long days. What are some of the negatives to farmer's markets for you if somebody's going that route?

[00:10:43] Hermann Bruns: Well, yeah. Often farmer's markets, the good ones, are on Saturday, so it means you're usually it's chopping a day out of your weekend if you want to have a weekend. And yeah, it's usually early morning mark, early morning starts for sure.

[00:11:01] And yeah, like I said earlier, you can have just bad weather days. You're kind of really exposed to the weather, so sometimes some markets can be very sensitive to that and others are better for that. So you can definitely have that, that variable is in there.

[00:11:23] Whereas if the store, if you were, if we sometimes thought, well, wouldn't it be nice to have our own store and we wouldn't be in the weather we'd be available more to our customers. If they don't buy it one day, they might buy it the next. Whereas with the farmer's market, you get like a four-hour window where you've gotta be able to have people have to feel like coming to the market.

[00:11:46] It's kind of a narrow window once a week, right, or twice a week, if you go to a couple of markets, right. It's a, it's a narrow window. And if that window happens to be you know, a real downpour you're gonna�you're gonna be not very happy with what you sell. Right. So that's definitely something about farmers markets that are, but in, on the other hand also there's not a lot of you can kind of just bring what you got.

[00:12:14] It's not just that you have to prepare a lot of things. I mean, other than obviously you have to grow the product and get it ready for market. But as soon as you get into, well, as we'll talk later about the online stores and managing inventory, that's something that's like a whole nother level of stuff that you have to deal with. Yeah.

[00:12:34] Diego Footer: And using that as a bit of a transition, what was the initial catalyst that got you thinking to diversify your sales stream, beyond farmer's markets and some of the other physical models that you had in place? Why did you consider going online?

[00:12:52] Hermann Bruns: Well there's sort of two parts to that answer. One is we, like I said earlier, we do sell to a couple of companies that do a home organic home box delivery business. And we were�we were sort of thinking it would, we were hoping that we would maybe get a few more of those kinds of customers and we thought it'd be good to have our products on an online platform.

[00:13:21] We used to do it by fax where we'd fax them a list of what we have, but if you fax the same list to three different customers, Then if one customer buys all of it, the other ones are gonna get shorted or�it's really hard to manage. Oh, that's now just sold out. So that's the part that I was really keen on at first is doing that.

[00:13:41] So I thought, well, if we could find a, a platform where we could just put all those items on the platform, and then as soon as one customer buys, let's say you've got 200 bags of spinach that you've got on offer. One customer buys 150 of them. That means the next person that looks at it will only see 50.

[00:13:57] Right. And that was a really important thing because there was, I needed inventory control on that. And then we wouldn't get that problem where we're selling out. like we're kind of shorting other customers on things. That had already been purchased. So that was sort of�that's how we got into it a few years ago, but only on our, we didn't use it at our market side at all.

[00:14:19] We only used it for those wholesale customers. And yeah, we were really, we didn't put any pictures on or anything. Like it was just as a way of kind of managing inventory then of course.

[00:14:34] Diego Footer: Well, let me pause you there. So if we, if we look at just that, how did having an online platform help solve some of those wholesale problems?

[00:14:45] Hermann Bruns: Well the main thing being that it was just a little bit easier for a customer a wholesale customer to go on and see what we had available at any point in time, and it would be what we actually had available. Right. It wouldn't be a list from yesterday. That was a list of everything we had.

[00:15:05] And in the meantime, we've had five other customers buy something, so this would be a list of what was real time list. That was my thinking on it, and the customers on the whole, on the whole seemed to adapt to that pretty well. It was, we, we actually ended up not getting a lot more wholesale customers, so we might have been able to get away without even using the store, the online version.

[00:15:29] But at that point I had kind of started the transition of learning, how to put things online and learning how to manage the inventory and stuff like that, that I just decided to carry on with it. I didn't wanna go back to the facts again. Even though some days I thought, oh, this would be a lot simpler.

[00:15:48] I could just quickly send out a fax, but I know that I would have to send out another fax with an update several hours later when the first few orders came in. Right. So yeah, I think that's really what we wanted to do with it. And it worked pretty well for that. Yeah. And the other thing too, is we could offer multiple pack sizes, for example, quite easily, like on, let's say on spinach, we could offer like half a dozen different pack size.

[00:16:16] There's no problem. All coming off the same inventory, which was really cool. so that way if we knew we had a hundred pounds of spinach and some people were buying it in, in three-pound boxes and other ones were buying it in eight ounce bags, we wouldn't sort of overshoot the mark on, we would still be limited to a hundred pounds.

[00:16:36] Diego Footer: Yeah. It seems to me like, just hearing that, that the first time you don't have to resend that fax or make that call or send that email saying yeah, that thing you wanted, somebody just already bought it all that, that pays for it or makes it all worth it right there, because you do have that real time inventory.

[00:16:53] Hermann Bruns: Yeah, yeah. That, that was for me, the really important part and it you know, it worked well. Yeah.

[00:17:01] Diego Footer: So, so given that, that was up and working on that side, what was the catalyst to move it to the retail side of things?

[00:17:08] Hermann Bruns: Yeah. So we had been experimenting a little bit with possibly offering some bulk items. We send a newsletter to our our, our customers prior to every market just telling 'em what's going on, what we got, that kind of thing, and that's a real important communications tool. And we used to list on the, and especially in the winter, we used to list lots of items on bulk because we'd have lots of cabbage and lots of carrots.

[00:17:37] And, and we were buying apples from other farms and, and offering those as well. And so and then people were emailing in these orders and I thought, oh, this is getting to be a, a bit of a pain because we're starting to get quite a number of them. If you've only got 10 orders of kale, that's not bad. But if you start getting 15, 20, then you're doing it all by email and they're all different quantities and no sort of organized way of downloading it.

[00:18:02] You have to kind of enter it all into either a spreadsheet or on some kind of a, an order sheet. And so we implemented, we thought, okay, well, we got this online store. All we need to do is create another catalog and it'll be just our bulk stuff. And so we were just doing that sort of LA in 2019 into 2020, and then of course COVID hit and we realized, oh, okay, well, we've got an online store.

[00:18:28] We're gonna just put everything on the online store. And, and we, it, because we were selling part of the reason for that too, was that we have winter markets, we do markets year-round. And so when COVID hit in the middle of March, we were doing biweekly markets and it was really intense at that point.

[00:18:51] And everyone was really fearful about it. And our decision was to go completely online only. And so we basically told our customers through our newsletter that the only way we were gonna be bringing produce there was through an online order so that there was low contact. And we were trying to get everyone to spread out so that they weren't all showing up.

[00:19:11] Like at 10 o'clock in the morning, like it usually is at a farmer's market. You get these big lineups and everyone shows up at the same time. So we were able to get everyone to start putting in online orders. They were really motivated at the time. And then we'd say to them, okay, if your name starts from between A and H you come in in the first half hour and the next people come in the next half hour.

[00:19:35] And so that we could really spread them out. So we didn't get big crowds because that was sort of the thinking at the time is we had to kind of keep the, keep the contacts and the numbers down. Andthat's really what was the main catalyst for pushing it. We had sort of been thinking, well, maybe some of our customers had already been asking us can we buy other things through your online store, in addition to the bulk items?

[00:20:00] And we were just sort of contemplating, yeah, we should maybe do that. If we have time, we can start adding other things. And then when that hit, we realized we had to do it from, and in the space of, I think three days, we put everything on. And from one week to the next, we went from having a, a market where people are coming to pick, buy their stuff at the market table to online orders only, and that was like a crazy learning curve, but that's sort of how, how it happened. Right.

[00:20:31] Diego Footer: What was some of the original hesitancy? Was it just, Hey, it's another thing to do already on an endless list of things to do?

[00:20:39] Hermann Bruns: Yeah, there's definitely we discovered�well, we knew that before and that there's a bit of work involved for sure.

[00:20:47] And we thought, well, how many people are gonna wanna do that? And do we want to go down that road? And there were some issues still with the platform that I wasn't�I was a little bit hesitant about that I thought should be fixed before I kind of went whole hog into it. And so I was kind of just.

[00:21:09] Sort of yeah, playing at the margins a little bit, testing it out and just getting to the point where, okay, now it looks like we could do this. Maybe we should start doing it and we'd sort of quietly already started doing it for a few customers. We hadn't actually kind of promoted it.

[00:21:26] We had mostly the items on there, but no pictures. And then we realized, okay, we gotta get photos of everything up. And you really get serious about this and start spreading the link promoting it widely. And that's sort of what we ended up doing.

[00:21:43] Diego Footer: How was that? This concept of, well, I can sell online. I can open the store for as much as I want during the week. I don't have just that four-hour window on a Saturday. I'm not losing my Saturday is what were your, what was that like as a farmer, when you, when you were connected to a couple markets, and you had those limited windows now it's kind of like optionality has just gone wide open here. What what'd you think about that?

[00:22:14] Hermann Bruns: Yeah, well, I mean, that definitely was you know, it just added a little bit more of an element to something that that we can offer a service. Basically, we were offering the service of, okay, you can put in an order anytime you want, you can be lying in your bed and put it in on your phone.

[00:22:35] So that was a convenience factor, for sure. And from at the time a safety factor that people wouldn't have to be standing in crowded lineups to do it. And for some customers, we had had some customers earlier, already, like I'd mentioned that that were sort of saying to us I can't make it to the market at the for that four or five hour window.

[00:22:56] Would it be possible for me to put in an order and then I could just send a friend or something to pick it up or something like that. And so that suddenly made it possible for people that kind of wanted to be able to plan or couldn't make it to the market for whatever reason, but still wanted to buy from us.

[00:23:14] They could go on to the store anytime and put it an order and then they could figure out how they're gonna to get it. Like just by sending a friend or they, we had, we offered three different pickup locations, so they could kind of choose a different spot if that was convenient.

[00:23:30] For the most part, I mean, I think overall it's the same customers. I don't think we necessarily gained a lot of customers out of it. I think it was pretty much all this for us, at least. Pretty much all the same people just ordering in a different, getting their vegetables in a different way.

[00:23:52] And for some, there was a convenience factor for sure that made it easier for them to just sort of quickly come pick up their stuff. It's all paid by e-transfer already and they can just come and get it and go.

[00:24:03] Diego Footer: Do you think that you've seen customer sales online go up if you compare the market sale to an online sale, I've heard some farmers say they, they do notice people buy more online. It's easier to click and buy?

[00:24:17] Hermann Bruns: Yeah, I think that's definitely true. We've noticed that too, that, and it, I think it's selecting that the online store is selecting for customers that are more serious about getting their weekly vegetables. And they're not just sort of tired kicking or saying, oh, let's go to the market because it's something fun to do on a Saturday morning.

[00:24:35] Right. And if we buy something, we buy something. If not, no big deal. These are people that are saying, okay, well, I'm getting my weekly vegetables every week from this farm. And you know, this way by being online and putting in an online order they can take a look in their fridge and see what they have.

[00:24:54] And I think one of the situations at a farmer's market too, is that people are walking the length of your table. Like we have it set up so that people start at one end of our tables and wander and pick up a basket, a shopping basket, and walk along the edge of the table and put things in the basket as they're going along.

[00:25:13] And I think sometimes, you sort of hit a physical limit of how much can go in the basket and you're thinking, oh, well, that's gotta be enough. And whereas, so, and that might that might be a $40 purchase, but you know, if you were to sit at home, and you're your looking at your fridge and trying to plan your week, your weekly menus or whatever do your weekly produce plan, you might come up with a different number and you have no sort of�there isn't that sort of physical queue to kind of discourage you from buying enough for the whole week.

[00:25:48] So this way they can say, okay, yeah, let's get one of this and one this and one of this. And then whatever it is, it is, and that's gonna be good for the week. Whereas otherwise they may go to the market and say, okay, I thought I had enough. Oh, I guess I gotta go to the grocery store and buy some more because I ran out of lettuce, and I should have got three instead of two or something like that.

[00:26:06] And this way they just buy three and it's in the box, and it's ready to go. so definitely I've noticed that our sales per customer increased but like I said, it's mostly the same customers�but it's just selecting for those that are already the ones that are serious about it and want to get all their produce. And they just are doing a better job of it because they can kind of do it while they're at home and thinking about it. Right.

[00:26:39] Diego Footer: And one of the big decisions that people have once they make the decision to go online is when to leave this store open. How to do the delivery? How many drop points. What would be some advice you've had you mentioned early on, Hey, it was kind of a mess and, but we got through it.

[00:26:58] We figured it out. And you've refined the system over the past year, year and a half. Now, what advice would you give to somebody in terms of, here's, what's worked for us in terms of when we open our store. Here's how we've gone about deciding how many pickup locations to set when to set, to give people some, some guidance on, all right. Where should I start?

[00:27:23] Hermann Bruns: Yeah. So we had the benefit of already having kind of our farmer's markets and those, we just converted those into pickup points in, in the early let's say March, April, may into June. And so we were starting to do both we'd do the online store and anything that was available, we bring to the market and set up a market table as well as handout.

[00:27:50] And that's what we continue to do today is that we run both models. So in terms of pickup locations, we just use our farmer's markets. And we added a one for an on-farm pickup. So if people wanted to come by to the farm and pick it up, they could come there on a particular day. and then, yeah, then we ran into the problem right away is okay.

[00:28:13] We got one market on a Wednesday morning or Wednesday afternoon in one town and another market on a Saturday morning in another town. now do we want to do inventory for the whole week, which on our store at once, because then what would happen is that possibly if you were on something that was low inventory, that you didn't have a lot of let's say cherry tomatoes early in the season, none of them would go they'd all get scooped up at the first market at the, at the for the first round of orders and market.

[00:28:51] And so Saturday wouldn't Wednesday would get it all Saturday wouldn't get anything. so we decided fairly soon that we, we didn't wanna do it that way. So what we do is we do an inventory for the salmon market. We open the store, usually now we open it on Friday afternoon. So they've got Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday to put in their order.

[00:29:17] And then at on Wednesday morning, we close off that store. We change the inventory, put in new inventory for our Saturday market. And the people for the Saturday market have Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, or just half of Friday to order. . and so that's ultimately the, the way we came up with so that we could manage individual, like more the inventory, a little bit more specifically for each market.

[00:29:46] and that way we could divide things up and also we needed sometimes when you, you look at what you might have on Monday, or even before, you're usually make a decision already on Friday the week before, you'd think, okay, I'm gonna have X number of pints of cherry tomatoes. And then you don't you end up with a lot more or something like that.

[00:30:07] Well, midweek, we could shift gears and we can just add more inventory to the, the rebel Stok market. And anyway, it just helped us kind of D keep it separate a little bit. And it worked better for us that way than doing one inventory for the whole week. But everyone's, situation's gonna be different.

[00:30:24] That just was the way it, we decided to do it. And it works quite cleanly. And then it also helps us track how individual markets. Are still doing relative to, especially now that we're selling bolts at the same time. So if we have, let's say a hundred bag of spinach 50 get bought up by the store and then we take 50 to the market.

[00:30:44] you know, we already set we have to harvest and pack all that spinach before we even know what the store ordered. And so the rest just goes to the farmer's market. and you know, either sell or doesn't. So yeah, that's how we decided to, to manage the inventory between the two markets.

[00:31:05] And it works fairly well if you sometimes, sorry, another thing that I just thought of. Some things we were allowed to we, we could, we would sell at one market and wouldn't sell at another too. That was another thing that we did because either there were some rule difference, differences that some markets wouldn't allow us to sell something that another market would allow us to sell or we didn't have something for the beginning of the week, but we'd have it at the end of the week.

[00:31:34] So we'd just put it onto one market, and we'd just harvest it once rather than harvesting it, trying to harvest it for both. So we can kind of control what we're offering to each market that way as well, by having separate inventory for each one.

[00:31:47] Diego Footer: Has this blended model of farmer's markets and online store result in less waste? Are you able to sell more of each crop because you have, you're now having this inventory and then being able to push it online and then the rest goes to farmer's markets?

[00:32:10] Hermann Bruns: Yeah, I think, I think it maybe does marginally help with that because certainly you have a, you, those customers that have ordered online are not gonna make a last minute decision to order to buy their stuff somewhere else.

[00:32:29] So you've got a pretty good idea. Let's say for our Saturday market by Friday, we, our store caught off is at Friday at 10:00 AM. So we know, okay. You know, of a hundred bags of spinach 50 have already gone to the store and to orders. So those 50 are sold. Now, I'm only gambling on the last 50.

[00:32:51] Whereas if you go to a farmer's market straight ,you're gambling on the whole hundred, more or less, because if something were�if the weather was really bad, then you all those people that bought that already paid for the 50 and had ordered that they're gonna have to come pick up their order regardless.

[00:33:11] They've already ordered it and paid for it or, or they're going to pay for it. And so they're, they're gonna say, okay, well, weather be damned, I'm gonna go. Whereas you know, that same customer, if they hadn't ordered can say, ah, what the hell? I'll just buy it at the grocery store. It's too rainy out there. I'm not going out there. Yeah.

[00:33:30] So that, that helps a little bit. You're you're gambling on a little bit less because it's already pre-ordered so there's always, it's kind of nice to know, okay. This chunk here is already sold. Boom. We don't have to worry about that. Now we just need to worry about this piece over here that retained the market, which is a smaller piece.

[00:33:49] Diego Footer: Is there a different mental feeling, just knowing that a big chunk of what you take to the market. Like it's already sold and now you can focus on just selling the rest. And in that way, I guess it kind of makes it easier too. Like if you know, okay, well, spinach sold really well.

[00:34:06] I don't have as much, but I'm long a bunch of tomatoes. Okay. I can really focus on pushing tomatoes instead of having to push spinach and tomatoes, because most of the spinach is already sold?

[00:34:16] Hermann Bruns: Yeah. Yeah. You can definitely those sorts of things and it gives you a bit more room on the market table. If some things are sold out, you can, you can just say, okay, well we'll put two boxes of tomatoes up, cause I don't have any spinach. Before you'd have to have, at least at the beginning of the market, you'd have to have all that out there until the spinach out there as well until it was the spinach sold.

[00:34:37] So definitely there's a little bit of that you can, those kind of factors that you can�variables that you can play with a little bit Yeah, it does. It does feel secure. I mean, I think right. You know, it, I kind of like to see more of itself through the store, just because it feels like a more secure feeling. We're now getting back into the summer again.

[00:35:05] Diego Footer: Do you offer the same product pricing and quantities online as you would at the market?

[00:35:12] Hermann Bruns: We decided that the online store is gonna be a bunch of extra work. And we're gonna need to put that somehow capture some of that extra work back in pricing. And we felt like, well, it's also a convenience for our customers, and they would be they would be willing to pay for it.

[00:35:33] So what we did is we just tacked on 25 cents onto every item that we�that we sold, so if an item was two 50 on the store or on at the market, we would just charge 2 75 on the store. We can offer some other things. Like it's easy for us to offer maybe some different pack sizes that we wouldn't offer at the market, for example.

[00:35:58] So that's something that we can do on the store. And so there's a few things like that, that we do that you can only get through the store and that's our way of also incentivizing people to use the store because, okay, this, if you want this item, it's in short supply, it's gonna sell out, like, like I said, the first cherry, the first few weeks of cherry tomatoes, we know they're gonna sell out because they just aren't producing what we know we can sell. And so if you want it, the store�s people are gonna get it first. So there is your incentives. That's how I see it anyway. Right.

[00:36:31] Diego Footer: Yeah. What about on the fulfillment side? So there's a couple ways I've heard farmers do this if they have a market pickup, one is they just go to market. Like they normally would, a customer comes and then they pull the product from their offerings and assemble it there and say, okay, Joe, here's your stuff.

[00:36:48] The other way is you have a list of orders, and you pack 'em all separate. So they're already bagged, boxed. You go to market with those bags or boxes. Joe comes up. Here's Joe's box. It's already done. Boom, take it. You're on your way. What do you guys do and how do you like it?

[00:37:06] Hermann Bruns: Yeah, so we do the latter and yeah, you certainly could do it. the way you first described, if you have, if it's mostly market and you get like half a dozen orders, you could put them. And I actually thought about that. Yeah. We could hire someone to help us pack these orders at the market and just pack them before the customers come.

[00:37:27] Like just as we're setting up, somebody could, we could have someone for an hour and they could pack like a couple dozen orders, but we were getting at least when we first started, we were getting two, 300 orders twice a week. And there was just no way that we would do that. They'd be able to do that at the market.

[00:37:47] And they would and if there's any issues, you're kind of screwed at the market. You can't really say, oh, let's run out and grab another head of lettuce. Cause I know I got it out there. Yeah. you know, so we, we, yeah, we, we realized pretty quickly we need to pack the orders before we went to the market or to, to the delivery point.

[00:38:08] And so yeah, we basically take all our produce, set it up as if it was a market. So it's an extra step of work again. Right. Cause you're basically doing the work that a customer would do in doing all this packing. So normally a customer comes to your market table, they have their own list. They haven't had to kind of send it to me.

[00:38:27] We haven't had to print it out and interpret it. they just come and they say, okay, I'm gonna get one of these, one of these, one of these, these, and I get to the cash out table. And it turns out to be 20 bucks. I hand them 20 bucks and I'm gone. But now, we're doing a bunch of that work. We're receiving their order in print form.

[00:38:45] And then we're having to go through and do all their selections for them and put it in a box and get it ready. And that's why we wanted that extra 25 cents per item, because that would work out on a 10 item box. It would give us about two 50 and we figured that we should be able to, we should be able to pack the order and maintain the store for that.

[00:39:04] Um so that's what we do. We basically create, we set up our same market tables, actually inside our packing shed layout, all the produce, um in alphabetical order, because that's how we're packing it. And then we've got these printed orders, everyone's orders printed two or 300 of them.

[00:39:25] And we just start walking around with our shopping baskets, the same shopping baskets we use at the market actually. And our staff is. Spending time doing, packing all these orders and putting them into our, our, our boxes that, that people can then pick up. Yeah. And yeah, it's a bunch of work, but yeah, that's why we need the extra money.

[00:39:48] Diego Footer: Here's something that people might not think about. And now I'm wondering is, is something you really need to consider if you go to market and you're just selling to retail customers, that market everything's kind of boxed uptight. There's not a lot of airspace. If you're boxing up 200 orders in boxes, not every box is jammed full, do you need an extra truck? Do you need more room to get all this stuff to market?

[00:40:12] Hermann Bruns: Yep. It, it uses more space for sure. We discovered that, too. the other thing that happens is we, we came across really quickly is we used to have�we have a box, a system of stackable boxes. So and people use Rubbermaid tubs, but we, we have a, we happen to have a box that kinda stacks one way and you turn it the other way and it nests when it's empty.

[00:40:37] So when we take, when we take our produce we've got these rolling pallets where we stack on, we can stack four stacks of these green boxes that we use. They're sort of mentally a little bit, they don't have lids. They just sort of sit on top of one another and we can stack them seven high and it comes out to about here on me.

[00:40:57] and great. So that's good. And we can every box, like you say is full, but now you've got all these people ordering and they're all different size quantities and, and all kinds of different stuff together. So and then the other thing that happened is that we realized is okay, we can't stack these order boxes anymore.

[00:41:19] Because sure enough, the first customer that come is gonna be the one whose orders at the bottom of seven boxes. And you're thinking, oh my God, you have to lift seven boxes off to get at this guy's order. So we created a shelving system that we could put on our rolling pallets so that then we could pull the bottom box out because it was sitting on a shelf.

[00:41:39] All the rest were sitting on shelves on top of one another. So suddenly that shelving system was another inch added on. And suddenly like your, your, your same seven boxes are another foot higher. and so. Luckily, our truck was just able to accommodate it and, and we, we had enough space, but yeah, it definitely just started using more volume.

[00:42:04] Um just because, and what we did too, is sometimes we would put, we would if someone didn't order much, then we put two or three orders in one box to try and get them as full as we could. Cuz otherwise, yeah, it would just eat up space like crazy. But yeah, it definitely uses a bit more space.

[00:42:21] Diego Footer: One other question on farmer's market logistics, one way to keep track of who's picked up, what is you have boxes their label then when a box is gone, that's gone. Somebody picked it up. When a box is there, you can see who hasn't came. Do you feel the need to go beyond that? Do you have a printout of orders?

[00:42:38] And when somebody comes, do you have 'em sign something? Do you check it off? What's the process for discharging a box? Once a customer comes to get.

[00:42:49] Hermann Bruns: Yeah. Um initially we did have a little sign off segment because we didn't know how they were paying and we had to re we had to track, how are they paying?

[00:42:58] Are they paying cash? Are they paying check? Are they paying e-transfer now? they changed that in the, in the, in the platform so that our customers at checkout say how they're gonna pay. so they have to say, they're gonna send a knee chance or whatever. So we already know. So all that, they, we, we do print out a master list and we post that master list at our market table.

[00:43:21] So then people come up to that and they scan down and look for their name. And beside that, we'll have put in a number because we discovered really quickly that it's much faster to find someone's produce box. If it has a number on it than if it has their last, their name on. Because with names, you have to read each name individually to find it, and you can easily overlook it with numbers.

[00:43:46] It's much, much faster. You can quickly look it and scan down the numbers and find it right away. that was sort of, it took us a month to figure that out. But once we did, we thought, geez, that little tiny thing, it makes a huge difference at pickup.

[00:43:59] Diego Footer: So the number are the boxes stacked in number order too?

[00:44:02] Hermann Bruns: They're not yeah, they're mostly stacked in numbered ordered. Yeah. So if I know that they're not exact exactly because we're kind of packing orders simultaneously. Like we have three people packing, so they're not necessarily all stacked exactly the same, but all the one to twenties are gonna be in one section and the 20 to 40 will be in another section.

[00:44:23] And so I can kind of quickly narrow it down and say, okay, it's gotta be right here, which we tried to do with alphabetically with people's last names. But it's amazing how you just it's much faster to find a, a box that has a number on it. So that's why we create a master list. the Packers have that master list as they pack that order, they write down a number next to that person's name.

[00:44:45] And they also label that box with the same number. And then the person comes along and says, okay, I'm number 10, box number 10. And so we look around and grab number 10 and give it to them. And that's basically all, we, we already know how they're gonna pay unless they change it at market. And they, if they had said, okay, they were gonna pay by each answer and they decide to pay cash, then we have to record that.

[00:45:05] But then later on. Our office person can go down and say, okay, all the cash and the check ones, we're gonna assume that they were paid because we already, they did it at market. So we don't have to worry about those. We just have to go and look for all the E transfers in our bank account. So then she opens up our bank account and scans down there for every, she has to match basically every E transfer to every order.

[00:45:27] Unfortunately, there isn't a really good electronic way of doing it has to be done at this point. We have to do it manually. And that, that does take some time, but it also means I don't pay since each answers are free. I don't pay a, a credit card fee, which that starts eating into money too, from my perspective.

[00:45:46] Diego Footer: So given all these challenges and having now, everything's normalized, I'll say with, with COVID going down and you're like about 50% market, 50% online. What are your overall thoughts on selling online? Do you think it's something every farmer should consider, do you think you should consider it? If the situation's right. Where do you stand on that?

[00:46:09] Hermann Bruns: Yeah, I don't think there's a one size fits all. I think every farmer's gonna have to look at what their own situation is, what, what they like, how they like to do things. I think it's definitely a customer convenience. We're gonna continue to do it as far as I can see, unless our customers just quit, stop ordering from us.

[00:46:28] We're continuing to promote the store because we think now that we put the effort into doing it and we, and you know, if you're going to set up all your produce to be able to pack online orders, well you don't want to do it for 10 orders. You want do it for a hundred, if you can.

[00:46:46] So because it's the same amount of set up and take down time to create the order situation itself, so we're gonna continue to offer it. I think it's a convenience that some, a lot of our customers are gonna want. Some obviously won't and so there's gonna be, I think it'll kind of settle down to a a certain percentage and we'll kind of continue to do it that way, offer both models.

[00:47:16] Just because, yeah, I know from before that some of our market customers just said, well, we couldn't make it down to the market at that time or whatever something was going on. And, you know we wanted to be able to put in an order and, and this is just gonna be some of them, we were doing it, they were just emailing us orders and we would just sort of do it kind of on the side, just do it and not advertise it at all that we were doing it.

[00:47:42] But now that we've got the store, we got our systems worked out, I feel like we're gonna continue to do it that way, unless our customers completely walk away from it. And then at some point we would say, okay, well, not worth doing anymore, but if they want to do it. I think it's definitely an advantage over just farmer's markets for them. Yeah.

[00:48:07] Diego Footer: At 50-50 split now, about how many orders would you say you're getting online per, per day, each week? Like per market each week?

[00:48:17] Hermann Bruns: So we have two markets we're getting around a hundred orders a market, yeah.

[00:48:24] Diego Footer: So a hundred orders. How long and how many people does it take to pack those hundred boxes on the back end?

[00:48:35] Hermann Bruns: Yeah. That's good question. I'm just thinking now. I think we're at about between two and three orders. Two and three between two and three hours. for three people. So we've got three people working on that are dedicated to packing orders on Wednesday morning. so they start laying it all out probably around eight o'clock or 8, 7 30, let's say seven 30 and by 10 30, they should be pretty close to being done for the hundred orders.

[00:49:14] Yeah. So that's a, and you know, it doesn't matter a lot if you get 125, it actually doesn't take all that much longer because you know, some of the time is spent the pack is setting up and taking down, but that's roughly where we're at. Yeah.

[00:49:29] Diego Footer: So if we said it's, it's 200 orders a week for the two that's about 18 person hours that go into making that happen.

[00:49:40] Yeah. Yeah. Okay. And, and how do you feel like, do you think that that. That's worth the labor trade off or do you, would you like, I mean, like, obviously you're saying, Hey, like yeah, if you do 125, it's about the same, but at a hundred that works. Is there a number that you think like if it got down to it just wouldn't work?

[00:50:02] Hermann Bruns: Well, yeah, I mean the economics, I mean, haven't recently done sort of a quick math. I should take my what I should do is take a look at my overall sales for those 200 orders and figure out how much of it is that 25, that 25 cent, how much am I getting to that I'm devoting to the store and the packing and seeing if they're covering those 18 hours, my guess would be that it would probably still cover it.

[00:50:29] And but yeah, once you get down to less than 50 we might have to look at other ways of doing it. We might have to, maybe there'll be some other way we can think of doing it, that we can reduce our hours. Yeah. you know, like we could conceivably do some of it at the market, let's say because that would save us, setting it up.

[00:50:49] That would be an option where I'd look at that and I'd say, okay, I've got staff that I'm hiring at the market to help me with packing. I can just make sure we get a dedicated extra person to come and quickly walk along the, the if I've got 50 orders, they'd have to walk along our market table 50 times and, and grab what they need for the orders.

[00:51:09] So that would be another way of kind of doing it. How many can probably, you could probably figure out little ways to, to do it in a more efficient way. Yeah.

[00:51:21] Diego Footer: Yeah. You just, like you said, it comes down to like the numbers and like you said, and, and what you're doing and yeah, in terms of just the tech side of things, and let's, let's include customer service in that.

[00:51:30] So if you include customer service and managing the online store, now that things are set up, like we've gotten past the initial setup on a normal week. How many hours do you think you have into that part?

[00:51:45] Hermann Bruns: yeah, that's, I should really know that off the hop, but I'm thinking that it probably takes roughly an hour to, to type in our inventory. Maybe let's say one to two hours be between adding new products and taking, because there's lots of times vegable farm in particular. Things are always changing.

[00:52:09] Like you never have the same list of products. And so you're gonna have to take some products off and put other ones on, and then you go through and you update the inventory for all your items. So that's probably at least an hour of work probably a little bit more. and then, then preparing the orders like you have to, then once you get them all, you have, we, we have to export them out of we're using local line, of course.

[00:52:38] And we have to export them and set them up so that we can, we can efficiently pack them. So we actually, we export them into Excel. then we have one of our office person sort of does a lot of formatting to that Excel sheet so that it becomes a really easy do for the packing crew to see what was ordered in a, they just, she puts it in a format that makes it easier for them to pack it.

[00:53:09] So that takes her another probably a couple hours to do that, that actually takes longer than you think. And I'm actually wanted, I'm gonna probably approach LocalLine with a, with maybe an idea on how they can kind of help us with that to try and fix to reduce that time, so that's, that's definitely, um a chunk of time there.

[00:53:36] And then we do some tech support. Still people will email us and say, oh I tried to order something, but I couldn't because this happened. And then we have to either phone them or email them and help respond to that. So I'm probably thinking like, we're probably looking at for sure, four hours for each market.

[00:53:58] Diego Footer: Yeah. So you're probably so four hours of customer service per market?

[00:54:03] Hermann Bruns: You think customer service being yeah. The whole, the whole setting up the store, like maintaining the store, maintain the inventory each week. and taking the orders, preparing them ready for our packing crew by exporting them out of the, it's not just a matter of that.

[00:54:21] We can just go hit print in a way they go and they print out. It just doesn't look it doesn't come out in a format that is efficient for us to pack them. So, I mean, if you have very few orders, and you have very few products, you probably could just hit print, but ours are not that simple, so that definitely adds another, some more time in there.

[00:54:43] Diego Footer: Yeah. So you're at about doing some math here. I mean, you're at like 30 hours out of, for 200 orders and that's about nine minutes of labor per order. So if you think about it, at the end of the day, you gotta cover nine minutes of hourly wage and benefits and whatever to, to break even on that cost.

[00:55:05] So you gotta be above that. So your 25 cent, your product markup, your service charge, whatever it is, has to be cover that, I�ll call it 10 minutes fee.

[00:55:16] Hermann Bruns: Yep, exactly. That's roughly what we're hoping that that it's doing. And I can't say that I totally verified that it's doing that, but you know, on a rough envelope back of the envelope way, we figure we're kind of in the ballpark there.

[00:55:34] And that we are getting enough. There's one other aspect that I haven't mentioned yet, and that is payment, so one of the things we instituted farmer's markets are strictly cash. Pretty much, at least ours have been strictly cash up until now, but now with COVID everyone was looking for not cashless ways of paying.

[00:55:59] So we offered etransfer and some people offered you know credit card as well. But I decided not to go to credit down the credit card road. I just decided to just offer each transfer because, and our customers pretty much accepted that. But then suddenly you're not handing you, you've got a tracking, a whole tracking component that you have to do now to track your, your sales.

[00:56:30] You whether you got paid or not, because someone can say, yeah, I sent you an e-transfer, but you have to check whether you actually got it. Whereas at the farmer's market, you tell someone that, oh, your bag of produce is 20 bucks. They hand you 20 and the, and the transaction is done. You don't need any, you don't need to check anything.

[00:56:48] It's an automatic check. Right, so that's actually a big factor for us is, is running down all and making sure we got all our Etransfers. That, that takes a lot of time.

[00:57:01] Diego Footer: Do you have any other further advice, words of encouragement, words of caution, thoughts for people who are considering diversifying out of a farmer's market and going online?

[00:57:15] Hermann Bruns: Well yeah, I mean, I would say that definitely consider it don't believe don't necessarily get sucked into thinking how that it's super simple because of course the tech companies and the platforms, they will tell you, oh, this is super easy to do. And, but in reality is it all takes time.

[00:57:40] It, and there's all kinds of little technical glitches and things that you have to kind of learn and learn how to do and learn how to deal with But I, I, I like it. I, I like I like the you know, the idea that we're kind of on this leading edge. We're giving people more options than just coming to farmer's markets for a foreign for our window a week.

[00:58:09] Just, it's gonna be very individual depending on what you what, what your situation is. And it's certainly worth a try to see, of course we were helped in. You know, we, when we went to that whole system, it was just, the customers were really motivated to do it. Right. And, and you've gotta, that's really, what you wanting to do is if you can go off of what your customers want.

[00:58:31] I mean, when we initially started too, it was, they were asking us for being able to buy and things in bulk. And then we had to figure out, well, we gotta figure out a way, can we, how do we get it? Let them know what's available in bulk, what the, what the options are, what the costs are and make it easy for them to order and for, for us to be able to receive those orders and stuff like that.

[00:58:52] So if, if you're starting to offer those sorts of things, then the store becomes more, more interesting. Whereas if, if you're doing fine at farmer's markets and you, you don't really have you, you don't wanna make it more complex. It definitely makes it more complex. if farmer's market is the simplest and most straightforward thing you can do. So, it's sort of the balancing act there.

[00:59:17] Diego Footer: Sure. I mean, do you think your business is better off because you have that additional sales channel?

[00:59:24] Hermann Bruns: Yeah, I think it's diversity is, is always good because it gives you the option to do a few different things. You're not quite as sort of beholden to one way of doing things.

[00:59:37] And so we could presumably do some sort of it's kind of like a, we can offer a modified CSA thing where people can order their own thing. Right. There's lots of different marketing roots. We could go with the store now that we have it. and you know, we're just working it the way we, what seems to be working right now.

[00:59:55] But I think anytime you have an opportunity to. Be a little bit more diverse in how you sell things. It just gives you a little bit more security that if one thing starts going down, some farmer's market is, gets moved to a different location, which is a bad location. Well, I've still got my store.

[01:00:15] I've still got, I can reach my customers. I can create a better, a different pickup location. I've got the option to do something. whereas if you were just completely just going to the market and we were totally dependent on that market and they moved to a bad location, you're kind of you're going with them

[01:00:35] Diego Footer: there. You have it. Farmer Hermann Bruns on selling. If you enjoyed this episode and you wanna learn more about selling online, check out my brand new book, ready farmer one, ready farmer. One is the farmer's guide to selling and marketing. It'll help you create, build and market an online store. So if you're currently just selling at a farmer's market and always wanted to go online, but you're not sure where to start, check out my brand new book, ready farmer one.

[01:01:03] It'll help you out and get you started on the right track. Thanks for listening to this episode. I hope you enjoyed it, but more importantly, I hope you do something with the information in this episode to make a more profitable farm business I'm Diego. And until next time, be nice. Be thankful and do the work.

 

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