Carrot Cashflow: Selling Online First (CC17)

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Episode Summary

When you’re first building out your customer base, many farmers will tell you to start selling at the farmer’s market to let people know you’re there and to build connections before you consider starting selling online. But no one said you could start by doing just the opposite.

In this episode of Carrot Cashflow, we’re talking to Lesley Dennis of Solway Farms in Kentucky to talk about her experience selling their produce online before they considered selling at a farmer’s market.

Today’s Guest: Lesley Dennis

Lesley Dennis runs Solway Farms, a diversified, small-scale, certified organic family farm in Eastview, Kentucky alongside her full-time farming husband. Aiming to be better stewards of the land, Solway Farms helps forge a connection between their community and fresh, wholesome food.

Relevant Links

           Solway Farms – Website | Instagram | Facebook

In this episode of Carrot Cashflow:

  • Diego introduces the episode’s guest, Lesley Dennis (00:38)
  • Why consider hitting a different market? (02:44)
  • Why would have a CSA model been tougher? (04:25)
  • The hesitation behind growing just salad greens (05:46)
  • Going down the online selling route right from the get-go (06:55)
  • Tapping the first few people for a new online store (09:26)
  • Taking a look at Lesley’s core customer base (12:08)
  • Leveraging an empathetic connection (13:56)
  • Solway Farm’s consistent customers (16:00)
  • Pushing the convenience of the pre-order option (20:27)
  • Pre-ordering window and logistics (24:31)
  • The process of packing orders at the market (26:55)
  • Lesley’s minimum number of customers to make the model work (29:34)
  • Pre-order order value versus farmer’s market order value (31:27)
  • Deciding on whether or not to scale up the business (36:57)
  • Taking a leap of faith in expanding and diversifying the farm (39:58)
  • Lesley Dennis’ advice if you’re considering adding pre-orders to your farmer’s market setup (41:55)

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

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CC17 - Lesley Dennis

[00:00:00] Diego Footer: Carrot cash flow. Profitable farm business starts here. Today, we're talking to someone who started out their business by only selling online more on that coming up.

[00:00:32] Welcome to carrot cash flow. I'm your host Diego, DIEGO. Today, I'm joined by farmer Lesley Dennis of Solway Farm. Lesley's gonna talk about how they started out their farm, exclusively selling. Online. Why is that unique? It's different because most people start out at a farmer's market or with a CSA, a farmer's market's a great place to start because it puts you in front of a well sifted group of customers.

[00:01:02] And it brings customers to you. If you start your own online store, it's a lot different. You need to get the customers to show up because opening a. Isn't enough. Nobody's gonna know it's there unless you promote it. So Lesley's gonna talk about how they got traffic to their online store, how they've managed it, how they deal with fulfillment deliveries. There's a ton of practical tips in this one. I hope you enjoy it. Let's jump right into it. It's Lesley Dennis of Solway farm.

[00:01:39] Lesley Dennis: Hi, my name's Lesley Dennis. My husband and I, we run Solway Farms. I started SolwayE farms in 2019, growing vegetables, not knowing whether or not we were gonna get in a farmer's market. I started in the fall, which is a little bit different than a lot of people who wanna start right in spring to go into summer.

[00:01:59] So we were just trying to hit a different set of folks in our community. We set up a website to allow pre-orders. So that kind of set us apart. We got certified organic in 2021. So we're going into our third growing season, and it's really taken off a lot. So my husband was able to quit his public job the fall of 2020. I am still working a full-time public job, but he's on the farm full time doing the vegetables and we also have cattle.

[00:02:39] Diego Footer: So you got a lot going on.

[00:02:42] Lesley Dennis: Just a little bit.

[00:02:44] Diego Footer: With everything you mentioned, Hey, we wanna hit a different segment of the market when you started, what was the thought behind that? Did you look around and say, there's a lot of farmers selling vegetables around here. We gotta find some way to differentiate. Why was it that fault?

[00:02:57] Lesley Dennis: Yes. Just to differentiate and to give some credit. I did pay for some�what's the word, Jesse Frost. I paid him to give us some input, some advice on how to get started. So I knew I wanted to get started.

[00:03:14] So rather than I think a lot of people go in wanting to hit everything, do a full-blown CSA. So to me, it was very valuable to get his input. And we honed in on doing salad greens and mixed greens. And we started with caterpillar tunnels to hit the seasons there wasn't many people growing year round here. So we were just trying to hit some of the markets that weren't being hit.

[00:03:45] Diego Footer: Salad, greens, mixed greens, right outta the gate. I think it makes sense. What was the original plan though? If you hadn't talked with Jesse, where do you think you would've been starting out?

[00:03:54] Lesley Dennis: Oh, probably a CSA, which would've been insane. But, yeah, so I'm very thankful for that. And I also took Ray Lettuce master course to beginning. That would be some of my advice is listen to experts. So people that have been in it get their advice, their dos and don�t�s. And start from there rather than learning the hard way all over the way.

[00:04:25] Diego Footer: Sure. Why do you think a CSA would've been tougher versus growing just those crops? What do you think would've been the thing that would've made it, that disaster?

[00:04:34] Lesley Dennis: With anything, right. It's a lot easier to hone in on a few things than it is a lot. And I also believe that starting right out the gate and trying to commit yourself and promising people, X amount of number of vegetables every week to X amount of number of people.

[00:04:57] The logistics of that is just mind blowing, starting off. And I do feel like sometimes you set yourself up for failure getting on that. I wanted to offer someone convenience. So we did open up the website, which has an online store. So we do have a fully customizable CSA, I guess you would say, cuz we do grow year round, and folks can get on our website and choose what they want.

[00:05:33] And then it's in a bag for them, whether it's delivered or whether it's like a curbside pickup when our farmer's market is closed or. Ready for them at the farmer's market. When the farmer's market hours are, the season is open.

[00:05:46] Diego Footer: I love the idea of just simplifying things, hit the ground and say, Hey, we're gonna do this one thing really well and be known for that. So going in with just greens and salad mix, did you�did you feel any pressure, like that's all we're selling is that all people would buy from us cuz it is a little scary, just going out there saying, Hey, we're gonna sell these few products.

[00:06:11] Lesley Dennis: Yes, absolutely. We have the feeling not enoughness when people like, oh, we really love your stuff. Are you gonna have tomatoes? Are you gonna have peppers, watermelon and sweet corn? I'm like, no, we really just try to focus on the same things and be really good at the things that we do grow. And people are like, oh, I get that.

[00:06:33] So it kinda takes the pressure off, especially those consistent customers. They get why we only focus on a few things because our time is limited. Number one, our space is limited, and we wanna be consistent with the quality and the type of stuff that we're bringing to market.

[00:06:55] Diego Footer: You said you initially had an online store right out of the gate. What was the thought behind that? This is pre-pandemic. There wasn't nearly as many farms with online stores as there are now. So why did you go that route right at the beginning?

[00:07:09] Lesley Dennis: If you look in every day, right? People will get Amazon delivered to their door. People want convenience, they want easy. And without knowing whether we were gonna get into a farmer's market, I said, How can I get stuff to people?

[00:07:27] And I work at Fort Knox for my public job, and I see that there is a need for fresh greens. There's not a farmer's market that's within the gates of Fort Knox. And so I thought that I could hit those folks. I did have an in with some military spouses and they share stuff within their community. And so that's kinda how I started.

[00:07:53] So I just saw it as a great opportunity because people want convenient and me I'm a mom. I get it. You're busy. And the times that maybe a market would be open, you don't have the time to either get there because of other commitments or you don't think about it. So in the nighttime, when things are calm, somebody could go on my website.

[00:08:22] Order what they want. And then it's delivered within the next few days to their doorstep, or they pick it up on their way to soccer practice. So convenience like that is what I saw an opportunity for because as a market shopper, our market opens at 7:00 AM and there's not breakfast offered there and getting out my door, my kids ready.

[00:08:47] They're small five and seven. It was just a nightmare. And if you don't get there early, you don't get the good stuff, period. And so, it was just like hectic to me, and I would just not go and get it at the grocery, which I saw that as an opportunity. And then the pandemic happened, a lot of people pivoted, and we were already set up for it and people loved it and people still love it.

[00:09:14] I don't think it's something that we're gonna get rid of. The pre-ordering for pickup. And we saw a lot of people, a lot of other farmers in our state kind of pivot to that pre-order pickup thing.

[00:09:26] Diego Footer: You mentioned early on, you talked to some people in the community around where you worked to help get word out there.

[00:09:33] And I think that's one fear people have of, of going directly online is okay, it's one thing to sell at a farmer's market. The farmer's market inherently brings people to you, but if you go on your own and just set up a website, an online store, you gotta get the people there. And I think that's where a lot of people struggle, but I love the idea of just looking around.

[00:09:56] What do I have in terms of community? Who do I know? What am I involved in? Can you talk a little bit about how you use that to launch the business? Did those military families become a big early customer group of yourself?

[00:10:14] Lesley Dennis: I would not say so. Yes, very much. So it's like the seven sta�seven step problem solving method. Right? What do you know? Who do you know, how can you bring the people that you know, or the organization to help. And I had a personal trainer, so she was into fitness and nutrition. And the people that she knew was, were into fitness and nutrition. So getting in those circles, I had a yoga instructor very early on.

[00:10:48] She was interested and word just gets out that way. Because another thing that I did was that yoga instructor, she had a course for folks in the service. Right? So I gave her some mini bags as trials to give out to those people that were attending her classes. Now that was a miss, but it could have been a hit, but just trying to put yourself out there and thinking, who are your customers?

[00:11:16] Who are your customers going to be? A lot of people focused on nutrition, wanna get, they use smoothies. Okay. Who can I hit? And so I stopped at gyms, different places like that. But I will say one of the downfalls of having military customers is they move every couple of years. That could be a downfall, but people see you drop in bags on porches.

[00:11:44] And that's another market thing is we put our logo on everything. I stamp our logo on our bags. And so when I drop that bag off on their front porch, you can see our logo. And then I offer discounts for, if I have multiple orders, I can drop off in one spot, then I offer off a discount for that. So, yeah.

[00:12:08] Diego Footer: Yeah. When you look at your customer base now, can you, could you...provide attributes of that group? It's like really important to know your customers. And in the beginning you can think, Hey, it's one group, it's the people in this yoga class. And then you try it. Doesn't really pan out. And then eventually you have a customer base.

[00:12:28] Now, do they fall in one category? Is it moms? Is it people local to one part of town, one area? Like how would you group those? Cause I think people do struggle with that of who is my customer.

[00:12:44] Lesley Dennis: I would say for the most part, the bulk of our customers, if I did our analytics and did sort it by most paying in, I would say that they are either involved in education or were involved in education or, yeah, I would say those would be the top, like the bulk of them. So most of those are women and most of them and were moms or, and they're still moms of course, but maybe not to small children.

[00:13:18] And then I would say right following up to that are folks that are focused on nutrition. Yeah. I would say that would be our top two groups. Now I will say, the folks that are in the top tiers, we have a very good relationship with them. They ask about our family, we ask about their family, and I do feel like that is one of the things that really ties into a long-term customer is just, they feel a connection to us and to our farm.

[00:13:56] Diego Footer: Would you say you're the face of the business? I know you do it with your husband.

[00:14:00] Lesley Dennis: I would say I'm the face of the business. Now he goes to the farmer's market, too. Sales are better. He'll say that a woman will out sale a man almost anytime. And it does show. But people do know that he is very much part of the business, but I run the social media. I send out the emails weekly.

[00:14:23] Diego Footer: Yeah, no, I asked cuz I was wondering, is there something in this like mom-to-mom connection? I think there's some inherent bond there. I see it with my wife and other moms and stuff like that, so I think if you're in that position, it gives you an unfair advantage in a good way. Hey, I know what you're going through. I know why you're already thinking, that type of thing.

[00:14:47] Lesley Dennis: I totally agree. Because a lot of moms will come up and ask, oh man, I just wish my kid would eat more vegetables. And so I kinda can give it to 'em for my aspect. Anytime I cook taco meat, I just put some kale in there, just hide it in there and they're like, okay, okay.

[00:15:07] I guess you do get that. And then also sometimes my little boy, my oldest, he just turned seven. He comes to the farmer's market too. So he's very much a people person. I do feel like that drives some sales�women, moms, whether they're moms of adult kids, or their grandmas, they see that, and they value that we are bringing our kid into that to bring�that they are connected.

[00:15:39] Into the growing, they just, oh, that's so great that he's involved in this and that he's getting to be, he's getting to be in the community. And then just seeing things grow from the dirt to bringing it people, to selling it full circle.

[00:15:59] Diego Footer: Yeah. It's cool to always hear how people build that community around their farms. And it's so important to differentiate between, you mentioned at the beginning and people are getting orders from Amazon now. There's a lot of places to go get food. And it's why choose me. And you you've talked about convenience. Now you have this community connection with this group of people. You are there any other reasons you think people shop with you guys?

[00:16:24] Lesley Dennis: I do think consistency. People know that they can get stuff from us every week of the year with the exception of maybe a holiday weel. And then quality people always talk about how long our stuff lasts. So we really try to hone in on our wash pack and getting our greens, um, rinsed and dry just enough that they last for folks.

[00:16:56] And I think that they really value the value they're getting. So yeah, I would say, convenience quality and consistency and then connection, which I think connection would probably be the top.

[00:17:12] Diego Footer: Sure. Launching that online store, pivoting over to that, when you have an online store, there's a lot of ways to get that product to people. They can come pick it up on the farm. You can do home delivery, you can do a farmer's market pick up. It sounds like you're doing some home delivery in farmer's market pickup?

[00:17:32] Lesley Dennis: Yes. We do all three. So some people do pick up at the farm, but we're pretty far out. So the folks that pick up live nearby.

[00:17:42] Diego Footer: What do you think has been the most, like if people had to choose one, if you had delivery or pick up at the farmer's market, which is the more popular option there?

[00:17:49] Lesley Dennis: Pick up at the farmer's market. Yeah, it's free, right. Home delivery, we do charge unless they get a minimum quantity or there are multiple people in a neighborhood that I can do one drop off.

[00:18:03] But yeah, definitely, the farmer's market pick up, I think because a lot of the folks that are our top block customers, they are buying from other local vendors. They value local food, so they can get other things while they're there, but they know that they're gonna have X, Y, and Z in their bag from us. So they don't have, they know that that is guaranteed.

[00:18:33] And then they can shop around for maybe some other things that they were wanting to get at the farmer's market. There are a few other vendors that offer the pre-orders. But I think ours probably is the most successful or most utilized.

[00:18:51] Diego Footer: And in terms of the process to kinda summarize how this might work, tell me if I'm missing anything in here. So you, you open up your online store at some point during the week, customers fill their cart, check out, choose how they, their delivery option. I'm gonna pick up at the market pay. Then they show up at the market. Their bag is ready, and they're waiting.

[00:19:11] Lesley Dennis: Yep, you've got it. We open up our pre-ordering on Wednesdays, which it's just a harvest estimate. At that point, we have not harvested anything, and we harvest, I say we, but my husband and we do have one on farm helper, part-time, that comes on Thursdays and Fridays sometimes.

[00:19:33] And then Saturday is our market and folks pick up there and then I'll do deliveries. After give me just a minute. Sorry.

[00:20:12] Sorry. Hopefully that was an okay stopping point. Anyways, he's home sick. He was out all weekend. I think it's allergies, but he had a cough this morning when he woke up and he snuck back inside. My husband didn't see him. So sorry about that.

[00:20:27] Diego Footer: All good. I totally get. In terms of the farmer's market, if you looked at, in a day, X customers are gonna visit your booth. How many are coming to pick up pre-orders versus organic customers already at the market?

[00:20:45] Lesley Dennis: I would say a quarter to a third of our regular customers pick up from us, leave the market.

[00:20:57] Diego Footer: Why do you think don't, it's such a convenience option? Like somebody could easily say you already have it at the booth. I can just go pick it out.

[00:21:04] I wanna pick it out. Why is it perceived? And this is proven out cuz you have all these sales for pre-orders. Why do people choose to pre-order? What is, what are they actually saving in convenience? Like where is that convenience problem being solved.

[00:21:22] Lesley Dennis: They know that their item is secured, whether they get up and get to the market at 7:00 AM, or if they get there at 10 30. Because a lot of the times, by let's say, nine, I'm sold out of carrots or let us mix the two hot items.

[00:21:43] So that item is secured, right? They don't have to get up as early on a Saturday morning and they value the food enough that they want it, but maybe they're not committed to getting up as early in the morning to get there.

[00:22:03] Diego Footer: And it's also, you've mentioned in an email, it's a really good marketing strategy cause you have all these bags sitting off to the side and I'm sure you start to get people saying, what's this, what are all these bags? Yeah.

[00:22:14] Lesley Dennis: People scope 'em out all the time. They're like, oh, can I buy one of these? I'm like, no, but you can sign up for our email list. And I explain the process to them. And then people walking into the market, they see people walking out of the market with these bags. So drives curiosity.

[00:22:32] Diego Footer: Do you try and push the pre-orders like shift customers from being, I'll just say regular, just ALA carte booth customers into the pre-ordering category?

[00:22:46] Lesley Dennis: I will sometimes, especially if I can relate to them, if they're a mom with small kids, I'm like, Hey, I know you really wanted to get carrots, and you didn't get any of this week cuz your kids love our carrots.

[00:22:59] Get on our pre-order list. And I'll send out an email. You can pre-order and then you don't have to get to the market as early or come at your normal time. And you still have your stuff secured because I relate to that there you asked if I pushed the pre-orders and this is probably not fair, but if I know it's gonna be a really crappy weekend. That's gonna be cold. If it's gonna be rainy.

[00:23:32] I will push the pre-orders harder and maybe put, because there's a time limit, because I pack the pre-orders before the market. So I have to get there earlier than everybody else. So that's one of the downfalls, right? I just don't come and set everything up on the table.

[00:23:45] I have to pack the pre-orders before the market opens and then also fix my table up. I try not to give so many pre-orders that I have to get there extremely early, but if I know that it's gonna be like, I think our second market weekend, it was gonna be the high 38 and snowing. So I really pushed the pre-orders hard that week because in Kentucky, our weather can be sunny and 75 and then two days later we'll have snow.

[00:24:18] So pre-order opened on a very nice sunny day people aren't thinking about the weather on Saturday. And so yeah, sometimes I will try to push the pre-orders harder than usual.

[00:24:31] Diego Footer: Or let me ask you something on that. When do you close the pre-order window? Cause obviously if you're packing it market, packing's not really a constraint, but you have to harvest enough. So when would you close the pre-order window?

[00:24:45] Lesley Dennis: We close the pre-order window on Friday afternoon. So two things to be noted here. So we've got two different types of pre-orders. We've got pre-orders during the winter when we have no farmer's market. So for that, we open on Wednesday, and we close still Friday afternoon, but I go ahead and get those totals because we harvest to the orders through the winter.

[00:25:16] Now for once our farmer's market opens up in April, our harvest estimates, which are the numbers that we put on our website, they are conservative, but we know we're gonna at least harvest. Another thing we utilize is we go back and look at last year�s, what we harvested and what we sold.

[00:25:37] And there's another market that sometimes we have to set up on Sundays if we have a lot extra, so we can see that data. So data is very valuable. And so that kind of what drives our harvest estimate. So when we have a market, we at least harvest everything that we put as our harvest estimate on our website, but we've closed our website ordering Friday 11:00 AM, 12, 12:00 PM.

[00:26:06] Diego Footer: Why do you pack at market versus before at home or at the farm?

[00:26:11] Lesley Dennis: It's just it's number one, it's logistics. We've harvested, everything is in bins and our cooler. We're supposed to be getting a walk in this year, but our cooler is a CoolBot trailer. Thank you for the YouTube video, by the way.

[00:26:26] So just pulling everything out and then packing the orders, it would just take up a lot of space in our trailer or in our vehicle. It just doesn't make sense. Plus, we pack in brown paper bags. And so having those in the cooler, it's humid here. It just doesn't do well. It just makes more sense to pack at the market.

[00:26:55] Diego Footer: How do you pack at market? Because there's a lot of ways people can go about this of, do you just pack one bag at a time? So customer A, this is their order. You go through pack everything on that and then move to customer B, and then customer C or do you just say, okay, I have five orders that have carrots, so carrots going to five bags. So, you can either pack by the vegetable or by the order or neither?

[00:27:15] Lesley Dennis: It starts out Friday. So Friday I shut the ordering off right now. We use Wix as our website host as well as the store host. I can print the orders out. I print them, I put them in alphabetical order. I staple them to a brown paper bag. If someone has two orders, I can pretty much gauge if they're gonna need two bags, right.

[00:27:37] Or sometimes three. Then I go ahead and write their name on a second paper bag. Put it in the order. So when I get to the market, I go ahead and set my tables up and then go ahead and pack some stuff on the table, because sometimes I know that pre-ordering, filling the bags could run me over just a little past seven.

[00:27:57] So I want people to see what I have. I don't wanna stop that, from people seeing it, but then I have everything in totes in front of where they are on the table. And I start with customer A, whoever is in the top and I fill their order, put it in line and then go through the alphabet. So I fill each order, but I know where everything is because I have it like an assembly line. So I can just take their bag, go down the row, set it on the table.

[00:28:26] Diego Footer: With pre-orders, is there any reason why people doing a farmer's market shouldn't consider doing pre-order? Is there enough of a negative to it that you could say, eh, don't do this. The only one I can think of is you just don't have enough product, but even then, it's okay. You're still the product's already sold.

[00:28:50] Lesley Dennis: Yeah. I would say probably not having enough product. Or not having enough time. It does take a little bit of extra time, just the management of opening the website, making sure the inventory is updated, closing the website, printing the orders, stapling the orders to the bags, packing the orders.

[00:29:15] There are other farmers at our market. They're like they ask us, is this worth? It seems like a big headache. I'm like, no, to me, it's worth it because on rainy days, we're bringing people in that may not have come to the market and maybe they're buying some of your jam or jelly.

[00:29:34] Diego Footer: How many customers do you think you'd have to, for it to be sustainable? Is there a minimum number?

[00:29:43] Lesley Dennis: If you're� So I think our average items sold usually average number of items sold is about three items. So most of our stuff is three or $4 a piece. So it's 12, I would say at least 20 to 30 customers every week.

[00:30:07] Now�pre-orders, yeah. when preorders. Yeah. Yeah, winter is a little bit different. Ideally, we would like to get more. And I think data is showing from 2019 to 20 to 21, in the winter of 2022, January, February, March, that the number of people picking up during the off market season is more. We're gonna have more people sustaining us through the winter, but sometimes, you know, we just go through the winter, hang onto those folks.

[00:30:40] Into once the market opens, no, don't get me wrong. We're connected to those people, that's not the only reason we grow through the winter, but we like to eat that stuff. We know other people like to eat fresh through the winter. Yeah.

[00:30:57] Diego Footer: Do you notice a difference in order value pre-order versus customer walking up to the booth? Is there any difference there in terms of total order?

[00:31:20] Lesley Dennis: Are you asking, okay, would this be a regular customer or is this just some random customer that may�?

[00:31:27] Diego Footer: I'd say in general, let's say you had 30 pre-orders one day. They average out to be some number order value, making this up 15 bucks and then the farmer's market you have 15 walkups, some are new, some are existing customers, but if you average those come out to 18 bucks or 12 bucks, do people spend more in person newer, existing versus pre-orders?

[00:31:55] Lesley Dennis: I would say I have two answers to that question because you have different customers. I will say yes to both. We're gonna have more items sold on pre-order. So let's say you've got your person that values local food, and they can get on our website early enough that they have more of a selection.

[00:32:17] They're definitely gonna order more than they would've when they came. I think because number one, they're setting in the convenience of their home. They don't feel like there's a line of people waiting behind them. Hurry up. So they're gonna order more. Also regular customer, maybe like the first time they ever ordered on our pre-order.

[00:32:40] I also think they're gonna order more. They do order more on a pre-order because I, for the most part, our average sales is two to three items per person at the farmer's market. If they're just walking up point of sale. So, yeah, I think not feeling rushed, right? They don't have those people behind them or they wanna get out of there because they have other things they wanna do Saturday.

[00:33:09] Diego Footer: That makes sense. If I think about shopping at a big box store, like I'm apprehensive to do some of the big box store pickups to order a candy bar. Or a pack of batteries. It's�I don't want that person to walk outside for one little thing. Whereas if you walk in the store, it's not so much trouble. So I think there maybe is some psychology to pre-ordering of, I need to make this worth it.

[00:33:35] I'm not gonna order a pack of carrots and then drive to the farmer's market. And pre-order that I might need to just get enough. Or if you're at the farmer's market, you're walking by oh, pack of carrots I'm already here. Who cares? I'll get one thing. So I don't know. I feel like there's some psychology behind that, but thinking of this, if order value�s higher, people love it, would you prefer if you had a dream machine here that all your customers were pre-order?

[00:34:06] Lesley Dennis: That's a tough question. Because I wanna feed everybody like anybody that wants our stuff. I wanna feed them. Like I, that fills me up, especially when they give good feedback. Like your stuff is really good. Dream machine. Yes. Probably only pre-orders if we could sell out everything that we had. And not set up at a farmer's market, just because everything falls back to time, valuing your own time, valuing other people's time.

[00:34:43] And if I could set up in a hour and a half, two hour window for people to pick up versus me being at a market for five hours, you know, I get to spend more time with my kids. I get to spend more time on the farm. I get to spend more time drilling down on what makes sense for the business.

[00:35:09] Diego Footer: And there's always some people that'll just like they have a preferred method. Some of the online order people are never gonna go just browse a farmer's market. And some of the people who browse the farmer's market are never gonna do online. So, if you wanna service both, you have to do both.

[00:35:24] But in the sense of, if it is more convenient, if it is more lucrative, financially, part of that says, try and get everybody that you can to pre-order, and incentivize them to pre-order.

[00:35:37] Lesley Dennis: Yeah. It, and it's really hard to balance that because I am setting up at a farmer's market. People expect me to have product on the table. And if I sell most of my stuff on pre-orders, that kind of makes them feel like they're not as valued, or I don't know if that's how they feel or not, but that's how I see it. Like, why are you wasting our time if you're just coming to sell these bags that you are filling before I ever get the chance to see what's on your table?

[00:36:09] Diego Footer: Could you increase production in that scenario?

[00:36:14] Lesley Dennis: We�re appropriately scaled at every point of our business, our growing space, our wash pack and our market. If we expand one, we're gonna have to expand the rest. Like I said, we are getting a walking cooler, so we are expanding our cooling capacity. But if we expand on to our growing space, we probably gonna have caterpillar tunnels or high tunnels and. Like everything else that's went up that would take a loan.

[00:36:46] Right now, we're just trying to drill down on the data and to see if that's where we wanna go or not.

[00:36:57] Diego Footer: How do you decide that as a farmer? That's a unique spot to be in of, we're at capacity. And yes, we could scale up, but scaling up requires just that scaling up everything, labor equipment land, potentially, or even just the product line. If you don't scale up, and you�re at capacity, and that's fine, but it also says, well, Hey, this is where we are financially.

[00:37:28] And Hey, this is good enough. We're fine. And some people might be, let's say, productive capacity, how much their land labor equipment can produce. But they're like, Ooh, we're a capacity, but we're making X. We really need to make X or 1.5 X. So we have to scale. When you think about bumping up against that ceiling, does it all make sense?

[00:37:52] Does the, what you need financially match up with where the farm is? Where do you feel that pull of�not, I wanna expand because it's just something that a direction we wanna go in, but do you need to expand?

[00:38:13] Lesley Dennis: So I think our deciding factor would be, could I get to the farm full time? And if we expanded that expansion would have to pay for my salary for not salary, but make it worth my time coming to the farm full time, being able to quit my public job. And so that's our decision point, and we're just trying to run the numbers.

[00:38:47] And like you said, it's gonna take more labor, and we're gonna probably have to have another market. Now, we have had a lot of interest from the schools, so I've spent a lot of time volunteering at our schools. Just not, I value that I'm not there to try to sell stuff to them. I'm there because I care, and I think kids need to be connected to where their food comes from.

[00:39:15] But in that, I'm showing up and people are noticing it, superintendent, food service director. And so Kentucky also does have a really good program for getting local foods into schools. That would be one of the decision factors, too. Could, what are our, what could be our additional outlets other than farmer's market?

[00:39:44] And I would, if I did quit my public job, I would want to have that locked in. Like they're gonna come to us for X amount of lettuce, every month or whatever, and be able to plan that out.

[00:39:58] Diego Footer: I think that's the hardest one to figure out. And that's where some of that leap of faith comes in because really, you can grow more if you want. Like that's relatively easy, but it's, can you sell more of what you grow? And that's where the unknown is.

[00:40:14] Now, if you're selling out at a farmer's market consistently, you can say that market could take more. If you have more customers asking for it, maybe that forces you into diversifying and even more crops now.

[00:40:26] They're already buying salad mix and whatever other crops you go, but maybe these customers would also buy, I don't know, summer squash or something like that, that you don't currently grow. So it's you add product line, and that is the tricky part, right? Of figuring out if, I need to replace an income.

[00:40:45] Coming from the outside. Cause it sounds like that's where you're at to going non-farm where is that? Some multiple of that income in terms of sales gonna come from? And that's where it's the kind of scary jump, right? Cause you don't know.

[00:40:59] Lesley Dennis: Yeah, no, and then there's also things like value added. One thing that we've been value adding is dehydrating green onions and making a green onion powder.

[00:41:11] So that's something that's fairly easy. We don't do a ton of value added just because time, but I could see that would be a good outlet. Just trying to find, maybe do greens powder, trying to, just to diversify your income that way also, we do have the cattle and we do beef shares. So we're really just trying to diversify our farm income.

[00:41:40] And that's how you should do your income anyways, right, in life in general is just trying to diversify where your income's coming from. So that's just things that we explore. I think about. Yeah, I think about that every day.

[00:41:55] Diego Footer: So a lot going on, on the farm and just to start wrapping this up the pre-orders, if somebody's hearing this and they're not currently pre-ordering, what would be some things you'd advise them either good or to avoid if they wanna start adding pre-ordering to their farmers' market setup?

[00:42:16] Lesley Dennis: That's a really good question. Let me think about that... So number one, I would think that number one, check with someone who maybe is already doing that and just getting their input. And that's what you're doing right now. But if you don't be, if you're not able to have multiple questions back and forth, I would say�

[00:42:44] If you're just getting into the business, or you're not, I would say that you're keeping records appropriately. Like, I wish I would've known how to do that to begin with, just bookkeeping in general, but for the pre-ordering I would say, make sure you are consistent. You are opening, you're pre-ordering around the same time.

[00:43:09] You're closing the same time. Also on your website, be clear about when pre-ordering opens, when it closes. I'm still trying to figure this out, like how to effectively communicate. So somebody just goes to the page and like, oh, okay. This is why one of the questions I get all the time is like, how do you have carrots on the table?

[00:43:33] And it said sold out on pre-orders? It's like, it's just a conservative harvest estimate. And just somehow explaining that on your pre-ordering page, that these are harvest estimates, they could change. And I always tell people that, Hey, if you see something that is sold out, there is a section on the ordering in notes that you say, Hey, if you have two extra collard greens, please add them to my order.

[00:44:03] And then I do that. I see that note whenever I print them out. I circle that note. And when I'm packing that bag, I put 'em in the, I put 'em in there. So just effective communication would be number one. And number two would be asking around on different websites. So people who order, who do the pre-ordering on different websites, because I know that some will let customers pick cash on delivery.

[00:44:34] And some won't. So we utilize Tend for our crop records for organic, for our organic record keeping. And I know that they have a pre-ordering system that you can use, but they, you cannot pick cash on delivery. People have to pay with their card. And I would say that probably a quarter to a third folks pick cash on delivery.

[00:44:59] For pickup because they don't wanna put their card Infor information online. So that's a different group of people so that maybe aren't shopping online, but they do value local food and want the pre-order. So I would just say, shop around for your websites and then also effective communication.

[00:45:17] Diego Footer: Yeah, right on. Well, I love those tips and a lot of good advice in this one. And I think you've shown what's possible for a farm that's only a few years old, starting out online, building a customer base. It sounds like it's really working for you and the family. So, all the best to you guys. Thanks for sharing today.

[00:45:39] There you have at Lesley Dennis of Solway Farm. If you enjoyed this episode and wanna learn more about starting an online store, check out my brand new book. Ready farmer one. Ready farmer. One is the farmer's guide to sales in marketing. Think of it as a step by step handbook to guide you through every step along the way, you can learn more about that book@readyfarmerone.com or you can buy it directly on Amazon.

[00:46:07] 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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