Listen to more episodes of Farm Small Farm Smart
Say something big happened that was out of your control. It was so big that it had affected not just you and your farm’s operations, but it also affected other farms and businesses in your area. It might be something like natural disasters that caused roads to close and people to evacuate.
How would you react to that? How do you bounce back from something potentially devastating to your business and your operation? How can you drum up sales right away and get yourself on your feet again? Today we’re talking to farmer Max Becher to share with us what he did after the forest fires ravaged his are in Ojai, California.
Today’s Guest: Max Becher
Max had begun farming with his wife, Dierdre, in Ojai Valley in California. Initially catering to a handful of customers, they had dramatically grown their customer base with intensive planning and strategizing in response to their losses from the wildfires in their area.
Ojai Farm Stand (now Farmivore) – Website
First Steps Farm – Website | Farm Store | Instagram
In this episode of Farm Small, Farm Smart
- Experience summer and making the most out of the time we have (01:25)
- What happened when the wildfires hit Ojai, Southern California (06:15)
- What was going on in Max’s head while the wildfires were happening (09:35)
- How the wildfires affected the farm’s business (13:10)
- Being systematic with goal-setting: how Max and his farm restimulated the demand when sales were slow (18:00)
- Building e-mail lists
- Using targeted Facebook ads
- The most successful method that brought in the most people to the farm (26:25)
- Farm signups and orders they get per week (28:30)
- How long signups usually stick (31:20)
- Branding and how they worded their campaign (32:45)
- The process behind the brainstorming session on how to get more customers (34:35)
- The primary landing page of the Ojai Farm Stand website (40:15)
- Success of the promotion, new promotion ideas, and new goals (42:50)
- The returns from the $10 weekly Facebook ads (48:00)
- Upping their product offerings and the average cost of customers order per week (49:50)
- The margin per customer order and how it breaks down into operation expenses (55:25)
- The salad box subscription and other strategies to move products from the farm (56:05)
- How combining products and offering themed subscriptions are in a farmer’s point of view (01:02:05)
- Parting words and where best to reach Max and his farm (01:05:30)
Subscribe to Farm Small Farm Smart in your favorite podcast player:
Diego: [00:00:00] What do you do when you're in a pinch and you need to drum up sales right away? Today, farmer Max Becher is going to share some tips on how he added a bunch of customers to his email list this year. He's going to tell you how we did it, why he did it, what worked and what didn't. Stay tuned for that coming up.
Welcome to the world of farming small and farming smart. I'm your host, Diego. It's been a while since I've recorded an episode. And I want to say welcome back. Thanks for tuning in after a long hiatus this summer, if you're tuning in on the Farm Small, Farm Smart feed, great. But if you're listening to this via Permaculture Voices, this is kind of a new thing.
I'm going to try some new stuff going into the fall. I'm going to be releasing all new Farm Small, Farm Smart shows on the Permaculture Voices podcast feed and the Farm Small, Farm Smart feed to try and get the podcast out to more people. So thank you for listening today. Before we jump into today's episode, I want to talk about the summer break and why it was there and also some issues that are happening within the small farming community. So just bear with me before we get into the episode with Max.
Earlier this year, I decided that I really wanted to experience summer. And I wanted to take some time this summer to not be working all the time to be around my kids, to be around my wife, to do things that I wanted to do. So I decided to take this summer off from the podcast. And it was a great decision.
I have three daughters. They're seven, they're, five they're, two, and they are getting older by the second. Literally and figuratively my oldest daughter, I can't believe how big she's gotten. I can't believe where the years have gone. The time that I'll have with them is so precious. I've talked about this a lot on Do the Work, how quickly time goes by and me putting some physical barriers on work this summer was a way for me to in theory, slow down time to give more of me to them.
They're only this young once. I hope you took some time this summer, or I hope you'll take some time this winter for a lot of you who grow vegetables seasonally in Northern climates, to enjoy the people in your life to enjoy your life. Kids grow fast, things change�very quickly. If you listen to this podcast, you probably also listen to the Farmer to Farmer podcast.
Diego: [00:02:55] And recently host of the Farmer to Farmer podcast, Chris Blanchard, came out and said, he's going to be stopping his show due to health reasons. And they sound pretty ominous. Like he's talking like he's never going to get better health wise.
Now, I don't know Chris. I've never met him. I've never talked to him. But I respect the work that he's done with 170 something episodes. That's a lot of work and he's somebody who's given a lot to this community and I hope�sadly�but most importantly, one lesson that he will give in shutting this show down is life can be taken from you today.
Your partner�s, your kids' lives can be taken from you today. Everything can change in an instant. Don't take it for granted because you may plan on doing something. You may have grand expectations for the future, and it could all end tomorrow with a doctor's visit, a car accident, or a slip and a fall.
While farming is great, while the knowledge around growing vegetables is great, while information about how to run a business better is great. I'm going to try and integrate more context, holistic context, whole life context into these shows to stress this importance, to show that it is not all about business. It's not all about farming. It's not all about vegetables.
Diego: [00:04:39] It's about you, your life, the people in it, and everybody making sure that they're putting time in to get the most out of each other and enjoy that time, because it can end in a flash.
Along the lines of things changing in an instance, what if a macro situation happens in your area where your farm is located? What if there's a disturbance in that area? That affects your business. How would you react something that's beyond you. Something that's beyond your competitors, something that you and your competitors are all facing. What would you do? Economic troubles, locally, natural disaster. Weather. It's a real problem in one that you might not be planning for.
This episode, I hope gets you thinking about that because it's a real problem that Max Becher had to face on his farm out here in Ojai, California, when Southern California experienced catastrophic wildfires. His farm was affected. His life was affected. His business was affected, and his bank account was affected.
Think about that. And how you would react in Max's situation. As we jump into this one. Let's get into it: adapting to a changing world with Max Becher.
Diego: [00:06:14] So Max, last fall in about October timeframe, I visited your farm up in Ojai, and at the time everything looked great, but it was definitely dry. If we fast forward ahead a month or so from when I was there, So Cal got hit by forest fires that swept all across the region and Ojai and your farm was affected. Can you talk about what happened during that time?
Max Becher: [00:06:43] Yeah, it was a crazy time. I remember the night it started, we were just coming back from the olive oil mill, dropping off some buckets for them cause it was right in the middle of our harvest. And, it was like six o'clock in the evening. And the girl that was staying with us at the time came in and said, Hey, there's a fire over there.
And we didn't really think much of it at the time, because there already been a fire a few weeks before that. And, it had been put out within a few days and no it was wildfire season. We thought it would go quickly, that it would be put out quickly. Then we went out and looked and it was really windy and it was close. I drove up to try to see if it was near orchard or the farm and it looked a little further beyond that once I got up the Hill.
But all that night, I was up all night, checking updates on my phone and, seeing, building after building that had been burned and it had reached nearby building and it was coming around and, we're in a very tight Valley with only four roads that lead out of it. So we left the next morning and that was the morning we were supposed to be packing web store orders.
We had probably around 90 or so pending orders that had been placed. And we just had to get out of there. Both Dierdre and I grew up here and, we've been through some other disaster-related situations here in the Valley. And, we knew that those roads are gonna block up fast, especially once everyone was trying to get out.
So we left and we just, we headed North and we stayed up North for several days and that meant having to cancel a whole week of our web store orders. Plus, we had just gotten a bunch of plants from the nursery, which were in our greenhouse and we don't have anything on automatic waters and we had microgreens in there.
So we lost a bunch of stuff and we did actually suffer some damage from the fire. it, the very first night it came through the olive orchard, basically burned all the equipment we had there, burn the crop on about a hundred trees, about a hundred out of 800 trees total. So not a huge crop loss, but, it did make the fruit on those trees that were hit on harvestable.
And we were up North for five or six days, the fire was raging pretty badly. I was communicating with customers from San Jose where we were staying with Dierdre�s sister and, just trying to keep close tabs on what was happening here and getting a neighbor to water some of the starts that we had from the nursery. So they wouldn't all die and they didn't, we got back and I just had a big clean up, basically.
Diego: [00:09:15] You can see this on the two YouTube videos that I shot out at your place, but where your vegetable farm is located, it's in a valley. And when I was there, it's dry grass all around it. It's the perfect situation for a wildfire to come up.
So when something like that happens, what's running through your head because you have not just the, in the ground stuff there, but you had all of your infrastructure out there. You got a BCS area of your greenhouse, your packing shed. It's all there. And it's really in God's hands, for lack of a better word. At hat point, is it just hope for the best and see what happens?
Max Becher: [00:09:55] Yeah, once the fire comes, it comes, there's not much I can really do about it. I could have, I guess I could have hooked up the cool lot trailer and tried to show the BCS in there or something if I was really worried about it.
But, it was very sobering. I mean that first night when I drove up the Hill and looked at the flames and I was initially relieved to see that the farm was fine and it was over, it was the next Canyon over it. there's a big Ridge of Hills in between us and Ojai valley and, another Canyon on the other side called Wheeler Canyon, which is really where it got established was in there.
But it was a really sobering thought as I went to the farm and I took the generator that we had there because the power was going out too. That was the other thing. The power had all gone out in the house. So the house was dark. We had some flashlights and stuff, but we weren't really expecting this. We weren't really as prepared as we should have been really.
So I took the generator home cause we would need that at the house. My cell phone was, it had a low charge, so I needed to charge that. But as I was there at the farm, I looked at everything and as I was driving away, I was the thought crossed my mind. I might come back to a bunch of charred remains and it was really sobering to think about potentially losing everything. But at the same time, I was relieved by the fact that we lease our land. We lease our house, all our equipment. If you totaled it up, sure, it might be, I don't know, 20 or $30,000 worth of equipment, but I'm 29 years old, I could start over again and we know how to do this. We have the skills, we can get back into it quickly.
So it was a real mix of really wondering if I was going to come back to it all. And that would have been a tragic loss if it had hit the vegetable farm. And unfortunately all the expensive machinery, like the BCS, the greenhouse, the packing tent, in most of our tools and seeders, those were all there on the vegetable farm, which was not touched.
It was the olive harvest equipment that we had bought just that season actually, and only used for a couple of different days. That was what burned in the orchard. And that was mostly like buckets and ladders and, irrigation supplies, things like that. it could have been so much worse than it was, but man, I was thinking about it that very first night it started. I was wondering if I was going to come back to it all.
Diego: [00:12:20] I think in the show before I've touched on loss and crop loss where a bed may fail or a few beds, they fail or something doesn't germinate. But one thing that I don't think we've ever hit on in any episodes, and it's not really thought about is what happens if your region is affected and there is catastrophic failure across the farm where potentially all your crops die, or there's a systemic disruption in your area which affects you in other ways.
It disrupts the market. And that's really what you had. cause you were your farm, your vegetable farm turned out to be okay, but not being able to fill those orders lost some revenue. And then your market was affected after that. How did those fires indirectly affect the farm as a business?
Max Becher: [00:13:18] Sales was the biggest effect by far. All the equipment we lost in the orchard, maybe a couple thousand bucks at most. When I heard that stuff had burned, I really didn't sweat it. But it was the sales. It's hard to calculate exactly what the loss sales were, but I'm pretty comfortable saying it was somewhere between eight and $10,000 over the few weeks that followed the fire.
Because the first week was the worst and that's when it was surrounding Ventura and Ojai and then working its way up towards Santa Barbara. And that's when a lot of people evacuated, including ourselves, we were gone for six days. And then when we came back, the Ojai Valley is not a very big Valley and it's like a bowl and the smoke just sat in it.
And it looked like a thick fog. You couldn't even see into the distance. It was that kind of foggy thickness, but it wasn't, it was just smoke. And so tons of people who are out of town just stayed out of town and Ojai is a really big tourist destination. We've got the Ojai Valley Inn and spa here, which has something like, seven different kitchens for its different restaurants.
And. Yeah, it's a huge resort that brings in hundreds of people, people with money who come and spend at the farmer's market, in local restaurants that we sell to and all of these businesses completely shut down. The Ojai Valley enclosed. All of the local restaurants closed and everything was just shut down.
And restaurants aren't buying, there's no one at the farmer's market. The farmer's market was canceled for a week, actually. We lost higher week of farmer's market sales. Then when it did open up again, the next week we sold maybe, Oh gosh, I don't even think it was $200 worth of stuff. The entire market. We did that in the beginning, and we thought that we thought those days were done. It was an abysmally slow market and everyone's walking around with these dust masks on their face because the air was not safe to breathe about half an hour away with my parents in Santa Paula, where the air quality was much better.
And we were literally coming in for about two hours to do the most basic chores on the farm and then getting the heck out of here. And then we came in for the market that one day that reopened. And same thing, just left town as soon as we could. So it was miserable for a couple of weeks. And when people are preoccupied with something like that, they're not out buying stuff and they have other things on their mind, obviously.
So the sales was the biggest loss. after that, I would say all the lost plants. That really continued to hit us a couple months ahead because we basically got behind an entire planting cycle on the farm. And we lost a lot of the plants that were about to go into the ground. Not all of them, but we definitely saved a good number of them and, made the most of what we had, but I lost at least one week of microgreens.
And then I actually got first thing when I got back, I got a new batch planted. I had to germinate them at my parents' house. Cause that's where we were staying and they were outside. They didn't, they germinated so slowly basically that I didn't harvest them until the following week, one week later than I would have. So I basically missed two weeks from micro greens and all these things add up and, it really put us in the hole.
Diego: [00:16:48] So when you face something like that, there's a lot of emotions and there's a lot of hardships. But you're somebody who's shown in the past, like your entrepreneurial and you've tackled a lot of situations in the past that I think has been challenging, not ones like this, but others microgreens were one of the ways you dug yourself out of this.
And we'll touch on that. In part two, you have this many series when sales were slow. What was the other thing you did to try and restimulate demand coming out of this low? Because one thing is just to get frustrated and quit. Another thing is to get innovative and try and figure out something to do to kickstart things.
Max Becher: [00:17:39] Yeah, we really had to get creative. we had our button in the corner and, we had to fight back, adding to the chaos was the fact that this happened right smack all of harvest season. And we had five acres of olives that we needed to harvest. And, our equipment was gone. So we had to hire outside labor to do the harvesting work.
And we were planning on bringing outside labor in any way. But, now we were forced to do that for the entire rest of the harvest. I had to borrow about $22,000 to harvest the rest of the olives, get them milled. This is all happening as we're getting back from evacuation, trying to plant micro greens, trying to throw together a week for the web store and get in touch with the other farmers who are also just reeling from the evacuation.
One of them had the fire come literally within site, if it's farm, I think to the next property or something like that, yeah, basically missed his farm by a few feet. so I was trying to pull everything together and I had to take on this debt for the olive harvest. We have lost sales, over $20,000 borrowed for the harvest and milling for the olives.
I had to come up with a plan and it was, my feet were to the fire. And this was definitely the biggest challenge I've faced since starting the business four or five years ago. And I just had a brainstorming session. I talked to Dierdre and we came up with basically a multipronged approach to how we were going to deal with it. And microgreens were key.
We were going to, we were going to crush it on microgreens. We got another ordering with the nursery. We knew we wouldn't see that revenue for another two to three months because that stuff had to be planted and put in the ground.
We realized that the fastest way, other than microgreens that we could make money, was by cranking up the number of customers that we had in the web store. We've got the system rolling. You saw it in October, everything's in place. If we could, we thought if we could only crank more customers through this system, we can generate more revenue.
And, there was enough product to buy in. Our neighbors were still producing. It didn't matter that we didn't have so much on our farm. We were able to buy in product. We knew the margin more or less than we would make on it. And so we made a goal. There's a motivational speaker, for lack of a better word, who's a good friend of ours and a customer here in Ojai.
And he is very much into setting concrete, specific goals with very specific parameters and giving it a timeframe. He says, when you do that, you just get stuff done more effectively. And the key is to be specific and to give it a deadline. So we did that.
We chose a week in February. That we were going to add 100 new customers to the web store and it sounded totally crazy. I was like, okay, let's choose the craziest goal I can think of, how about a hundred customers. That sounds pretty crazy and impossible and ambitious. Let's make that our goal we'll shoot for it. And maybe 150, that would be awesome.
And so I started prepping for it about three weeks ahead of time. I created a special page on both our websites for the website, for the farm, the website for the farm stand. I created an email list. I basically took a piece of paper and I wrote bullet points down of all the different possible ways I could look for customers.
And then just systematically went through that list. And, I emailed people and I drummed it up with our customers. I doubled the new customer promotion that we do. We normally give people, $10 off their first order. I doubled it to 20 and I did it for just this one week. So we were telling people that it was coming up and we were building segments up.
We were calling it week 100, we were saying, Hey, we're going to get a hundred new customers, help us make it happen. We increased the customer referral that we give our own customers. For anyone who, who sent us a name and actually signed up and anything we could do to build up excitement to promote it. We really played it up and honestly it was fun.
I spent a couple hours at it every morning. I spent a lot of time getting ready for it. We created a new type of subscription called the easy salad box, which basically has nothing but salad ingredients in it. We thought that might appeal to a number of people who didn't want the full box or the half box of just generic fruits and vegetables.
So this one was specifically targeted to be easy. The list goes on and on. I won't bore you with all the individual details, but we spent a lot of time developing this comprehensive strategy to find customers. When the week came, I was shocked because by the end of that week, we had 120 new names on our list. We blew past our goal.
I was nervous and I was ready to be embarrassed in front of my customers when we only pulled in 20 or 30 names. Cause 20 was the most we had ever gotten before in a single week. usually when a customer posted our store to Facebook and promoted it or something, but I actually spent some money on a Facebook ad, which was incredibly effective.
I'd say at least half, if not more of the customers came in some way or another from seeing us on Facebook. I was posting it in local Facebook forums and communities as well, wherever I can post it myself, but then I was promoting it too. And the whole thing probably cost 40 bucks, so it was really cheap.
But with the Facebook ads, you can target them to people within a certain area. And we only deliver within three cities. So I limited it to two of those three cities where we had the fewest customers cause I wanted to build up our base there and you can target it to people with specific interests.
So I just targeted any interests that I thought would be, at all interested in fresh vegetables, whether it was sustainability, organic farming, gardening, fitness, anyone I thought might be interested. I selected those interests and that made sure that the right people saw the ad. So it was a multipronged strategy. We made the goal. We put a specific time limit on it and we prepared well enough ahead of time. And I think all those things together made it as successful as it did.
Diego: [00:24:28] Yeah. There's a lot. I want to touch on there. First, what do you think was the most successful method that brought in the most people if you had to pin it down to one?
Max Becher: [00:24:40] thing, it's hard to say. Cause a lot of people sign up and don't, I always ask people, how did you hear about us, and maybe a third of them tell me, but based on those that did, Facebook was huge. And I was told, Oh, we also created an Instagram account. I didn't have an Instagram account before.
Yeah. I'm kind of in the dinosaur days and social media. I never got into Facebook personally. I only use it for my business really. I have a personal page that I've probably posted to 10 times in the last 10 years. I created an Instagram account, try to put something out there every day, try to put something on Facebook every day.
And we would post how many signups we had gotten the last day. So we were trying to keep the excitement going and keep people in touch with what we were trying to do and, Hey, help us. Help us reach our goal.
Diego: [00:25:29] It was almost like a Kickstarter.
Max Becher: [00:25:32] Yeah, kind of!
Diego: [00:25:32] Like in the sense of brought up the community into the process instead of just going at this, we're going to do this cold where you're just advertising and said, Hey, we set this goal. We're trying to do this, help us get there.
Max Becher: [00:25:44] It felt a lot like a Kickstarter and I was In my own mind, I was treating it that way. I'm pretty sure with Kickstarter, you have to meet your goal or you get nothing. Correct?
Diego: [00:25:51] They may have changed it since then, from part of the Kickstarter, let's say that's true.
Max Becher: [00:25:56] Okay. That's kinda how I was thinking of it. I was real, especially when I saw in the first two days, something like, I don't know, 20 or 30 signups rolling. I began to say, Whoa, in seven days we might actually be able to do this. And I started pushing it harder and getting. I got more excited about it.
And maybe that maybe people could tell and that helped bring them on board, I don't know. But I was emailing customers and sharing it anyway.
Diego: [00:26:25] And when you say sign up, what does that mean? Like in your, how are you defining that?
Max Becher: [00:26:30] That's a good question. When it comes to the 120, a sign up just means that someone, I've got their name, email, address and phone number on my list so that they completed the sign up process that far.
Now, some of them, maybe 30 or 40 of them, for whatever reason don't go through and actually choose a subscription. Including the web store access share, which really just gives you access to the store. It's not a subscription at all, but for me, you go, the software treats every member is having a subscription.
So what happens then is for me, they generate some email and they say, Hey, a user signed up, but they didn't choose a subscription. You might want to follow up with them. So what I do in that case since web store access doesn't�it doesn't actually give them any kind of recurring subscription.
I just sign anyone up for web store access who doesn't choose a subscription. I send them an email. Hey, welcome to Ojai Farm Stand. I saw you signed up, Yeah, I added web store access to your account, the store is open starting today. Here's a coupon $10 off your first order or whatever it might, I think actually it was 20 that week, because of the special and basically their emails� in my system.
So I can really directly easily market to them. And out of those 120, that does not mean 120 new orders per week at all. It meant it's been about 50 new orders a week. So when you're looking at the number of orders that we have, that we had before, it was about 90 on average every week, when you came out, I think we had a hundred, that was a little bit of a higher week. On average, we had about 90 per week and since we ran that promotion, our average has been 140. So essentially we added 50 orders per week because even among the customers who did choose a subscription and followed through all the way, they don't all necessarily order every week cause we don't require that.
So 120 new names in the list and that brought the entire list up to about between four and 500, I think a little closer to 500 now, whereas the orders that we get per week now are averaging out at 140, which really is that's more than a 50% increase in business from what we had only one week before that.
Diego: [00:28:58] How sticky do you find these signups? If a hundred people sign up, how many of them just drop off the list without doing anything? And how many do you think actually become somewhat regular customers?
Max Becher: [00:29:13] I mean in this promotion and always, it does happen that someone will try it for a week or two, or even, some people even do seven or eight weeks and then they quit. They just realize it's not for them.
And I've just realized that's part of the business, not everyone who signs up is going to follow through and that's just life. So we've already in the last couple of months, since that promotion, I can think of at least two or three that emailed me to cancel their subscriptions, but we're holding that average.
Our average as of last week was still 140, 140 orders per week. Cause we've been adding new ones since then too, it generated a ripple effect. So we're getting more signups just week to week after the promotion that we did before the promotion and I actually talked to a couple of the signups from the promotion who said, Oh, we heard about you for several years, now we just decided to sign up. So that was the push they need, they needed.
And I feel like it's obvious. There's going to be some people who don't sign up during that week and they're going to trickle in afterwards and that's what's happening. So pretty much the people that leave, that signed up during the promotion, they've pretty much been replaced by people that come in the weeks afterwards. And we've held that number.
Diego: [00:30:28] With the Facebook ads, you mentioned that you targeted a lot of groups that would resonate with this type of product�fitness and healthy.
What did you use to describe your campaign? Because, one thing that is really important is the wording involved. It's one to get in front of the right people, but then you also need to have the right wording in front of those people to have it�have them move and do something. When you put these ads out there, what were you saying in those ads specifically?
Max Becher: [00:31:00] That's a really good question. I certainly remember spending a lot of time on the wordings and even going back and looking at the preview of the ad to see. So sometimes it only shows the first four lines, then it will show.dot, dot, and you have to click on it to view more. So I wanted to see what was showing up in those first few lines I've done.
I've done a number of similar posts since then. And I, the exact wording of that particular ad slips my mind, but basically things that I try to highlight are local produce, fresh produce brought to your door. And then just a little further down from that, the no weekly commitment aspect to it. I feel like those are the main bullet points that I want someone to see that I feel like would pique their interest in a couple seconds
Diego: [00:31:50] And Facebook, and really this whole idea of how to remarket and kickstart this hundred day camp or the a hundred customer campaign. And it came out of this brainstorming session.
When you sat down to do this, I'm intrigued by the process. What are you thinking in terms of how can we generate customers? Because I think sometimes, and I'm guilty of this. We all get lazy and we just say, Oh, how can I get more customers? And you look at two or three options and you dismiss one and you go with one.
When really you're trying to just throw out as many ideas as you can and see what's feasible. How did you approach this problem from a more base principles standpoint of we need to grow the less here's what we could do.
Max Becher: [00:32:34] I just, I spent an entire evening, one night sitting down with Dierdre bouncing ideas off of her. I just had pen and paper in hand and, for hardcore brainstorming sessions like this, I generally like to get away from the computer, get away from the screen, just shut it and turn it off. And that's where I do so much of my routine work is on the computer, and I feel like if I put it all away, it helps me get into a mindset where I can really be creative.
And so I just, I took a pen and paper and I kept the list ongoing, I, there was one night where I came up with most of the ideas, but I just, I left that paper out on the table for the next several days. And anytime I thought of a new, a new area in which I could reach out or a new person I could reach out to, I just wrote it down.
So I went through all my personal contacts and, I had an email template that I sent to personal contacts, like friends and family members. In particular people that knew about the farm stand and had even, we had a number of friends who had talked about wanting to join for awhile.
So I had a friendly, personal email that I sent to them. I just substituted first names and, send it through my personal email. Hey, I'm sending you this email because, I heard you mentioned interest in the farm stand. We're running a week-long promotion during this one week. It was like February 16th to February 23rd, this would be a great time sign up. Thanks, Max.
And I sent that out to all my friends and family. Anyone I thought might be interested, but I think I also said if anyone who's interested just forward this on to them. Here's the coupon code and, Basically having that week set aside that, that made a great way to suggest it to people. It wasn't just me nagging them. Hey, you said, you're going to sign up if you want to sign up. It was me saying, Hey, there's this week here where we're actually doubling our promotion. This would be a great time to sign up if just, if you have to think about doing that, this is the time to do it.
And then I had another one for, a different template for different business contacts that I'd collected. There was one guy from a gym that I had talked to a while back about doing some type of subscription box for his members and it never really took off. So I called him up again and he said, yeah, print up a flyer, I'll have my fitness instructor, give it to all our members.
And, there was a business that a friend of mine created down in Camarillo. He's got something like 40 employees and, I went in and cooked lunch for them one day, with produce from our farm and other farms. And so I sent an email to him and he sent it out to all his employees.
These are just a few of the 40 or 50 different bullet points that I had on that piece of paper. And it took multiple days where I'd spent a couple hours on this in the morning. I'd leave early in the morning and get away from the kids. Go down to a coffee shop where I do a lot of my office work.
And I just sent emails, email after email. And, I kept checking the website to make sure all these links that I was giving out and you actually led to the right page and that I would go to the page and see the first thing they would see and catch the little errors and change them.
And we were taking photos at the same time of us packing in the tent and, showing photos of the boxes. So we had a lot of photo material to share. I really just. You know those questions where people ask, like, how many uses can you find for a paperclip or something like that?
And then you just have to get creative and find, 50 to a hundred different years. That's what it felt like. It was like, okay, how many possible different places could you dream up to find customers? Write it down and then just go frickin check off every single one. And don't stop until that list is black because everyone's crossed out.
And some of them were a little more intimidating than others and it just felt really good to stare them in the face. And with everyone that I checked off, it was like, yeah, I'm getting this done. And you know what, when those customers rolling in, it was like, I saw all that hard work pay off. And Dierdre was impressed. She was like, Oh, those hours you spent down to the coffee shop. It's like they accomplished something.
Diego: [00:36:53] Yeah. It's you go from this low of the fires and had dead sales to now you're adding more customers in a week than you ever had before. And that customers, they can pay off well into the future.
And you're doing it by this brainstorming. You're creating the list. You're sending it out via a variety of methods to Facebook and people you know. That's one part is to get that message in front of them. The second part is you're sending them somewhere in that communication�go here. Did you have one specific landing page that you directed people to? And if you did, what are you putting on that landing page? To further incentivize them to sign up.
Max Becher: [00:37:41] There was one final destination landing page. I know I shouldn't phrase it that way. It wasn't the final destination, but there was one primary landing page and I made that the front page of the Ojai farm stand website for that one week.
So if you went to Ojaifarmstand.com during that week, the first thing you would see is you see this big picture of me and Dierdre holding the boxes of produce in the tent, smiling at you, holding them up so you can see all the beautiful, fresh vegetables inside and in big, bold text, can't remember exactly what it was, something highlighting the excitement of getting 100 new customers in a week, be part of it sort of a thing, like really inviting people to be part of this.
And then, if they scroll down further, they could read more about it, and I definitely highlighted up towards the top, one week only $20 off. And, since then I realized the $20 was so effective that just as the last few weeks, we've just upped our beginning customer promotion period, back then, it really you know, we have been doing 10 for a couple of years and, we have to do 20 for that week. And I highlighted that right at the top of the page.
And that's where the Facebook ads sent people. I changed the front page of first steps farm to basically be that same page at the time top of both of those pages and at the bottom. And I think once in the middle too, there was a big sign up now button.
I'm sure there are people who are paid to do this for their living, making, I don't know, web marketing or whatever it's called. I'll think about how to maximize the maximum conversions on clicks and stuff like that. I have no formal training in that whatsoever, but that's the sort of stuff I had in mind, like how can I make this easier for someone to, without even making an effort? Ended up on my signup page and just make it so easy and so attractive for them to sign up. so that landing page linked to from sign up widget, which is what I used to take a signups.
Diego: [00:39:49] Do you think that this is a one-time thing or do you, after seeing the success of this promotion, do you envision yourself doing this annually biannually? Just to install some new vigor into the list?
Max Becher: [00:40:06] had. I had exactly that thought right after that week, I thought, Oh man, I'm going to do this again next year. And I know we could not do it again now with the same success cause we were capitalizing on a lot of prior marketing. A lot of these people said they had heard of us before and now they were just trying it out.
Who knows, maybe I'd be shocked if I made another goal, but I think it would be hard to hit another hundred in our three communities that we deliver in. If I tried right now, I don't think I can do it, but I was thinking next February, it's really good timing.
It's towards the beginning of the year, people have made new year's resolutions, probably be healthier, be more fit. All the Christmas hustle and bustle is over. Yeah, people are settling back down to the new year. I feel like January, February is a really good time to market this sort of thing at least in our area.
So yeah, I think I'll do it again. And it basically, it just got wheels turning in my mind. And when I saw the potential, our revenue jumped, we went from making�what was it? I think a little over 2000 a week in 2,200 a week in sales and between October and February, I left December out of that calculation cause that was so low skew the numbers because of the fire, yeah, jumped to about 3,500 per week.
That's really about a 50% increase in revenue and, it didn't really take any new infrastructure. We did have to buy a lot more bins. Yeah, maybe I don't know, four or $500 worth of Sterilite totes, but that's, that was paid for in the first week basically.
And we didn't have to buy them all at once. Either we bought them over a month or so basically there weren't any more expenses, revenue just went way up and that's really what that's the number one contributor to getting us out of this hole that the fire plus harvest loan had gotten us into, all at once.
I'm thinking now, even before next February, I'm thinking how many more customers could I add? And I just made a goal of myself to reach 200 orders per week by the end of this year. And if we did that, man, we would be, the days of financial stress would pretty much be over for us.
And that sounds pretty nice. So I made a goal of it and, one step that I'm taking towards that goal and to just be clear that's 200 orders per week, not 200 new customers, although it might take that many to get there right now, we're at one 40 average. So I would want to add basically again what we added during that one week in February, plus a few more between now and then. And I think that's a pretty reasonable goal.
So every week when the store opens now I run a $10 Facebook ad, targeted once again to that same audience and those communities. And yeah, I do a post with a photo that's relevant to that week. And, some texts, highlight some of the popular items that we might have that week, like blueberries or brussel sprouts or, sunflower microgreens and the things that really tend to sell really well. I'll highlight those in the subject title.
I've had a lot of requests from people in a neighboring town, but I've just kept saying no to cause we don't want to water down our delivery route and have to send a driver out there. But now I'm actually looking for just a separate driver who's willing to take on that route. And I could spin off some of the stops from another route that really has a few too many stops for the driver to handle, to give them a head start on their route, going down to Camarillo.
But, that would open up a whole nother city for us to tap into. And if I find some driver willing to take on that route and grow it slowly, then that frees me up from having to worry about it.
So it's an ongoing process, most evenings or mornings I'll sit down and I spend a lot of my time brainstorming. it might sound funny, but I'll just spend time sitting on the couch, literally doing nothing else. But trying to think about, new ways to find customers.
Diego: [00:44:19] Go into one of those ways. And you just mentioned and circling back again to Facebook, when you do these $10 ads a week, what do you think you're seeing in return for those? Do you think they're paying off on one hand? It's only 10 bucks, so it's who cares, but if there's no return, why do it, are you noticing any sort of measurable activity from those?
Max Becher: [00:44:40] Yeah, we've been getting two to three signups a week. at least some of them referencing Facebook and, keep in mind, most people don't tell you where they heard about you, but the ones that do are often saying Facebook or that you did a Facebook share.
So it's hard to know sometimes whether it's what you post organically in Facebook's terms or whether it was the promoted post that was actually seen, you can see the percentage of, people that saw the organic posts and ones that saw the promoted posts, but you don't really know whether the signup came from one or the other, but for 10 bucks a week, $10 is what we pay a customer as a referral credit.
When they refer one customer. So if I can pay Facebook 10 bucks get two or three customers a week and just keep putting it out there. I know people who aren't signing this and they might have to see it 20 times before they sign up. But I just think $10 a week, to have a constant presence out there on Facebook is a good investment.
And those two or three signups that we're getting per week. And say one of them sticks, even if just one of them sticks and is, a paying customer over time, that�s well worth the cost.
Diego: [00:46:02] What's an average customer order from you a week in terms of dollars?
Max Becher: [00:46:07] That's an interesting question because I just looked at the numbers a few days ago and saw an interesting trend, which I can tell you about. I shall. I'll have to tell you about it if I give you the numbers because they changed.
Basically a month or two ago, an average order was $24 and it's the average orders have hovered around 24, $25. Most times that I've checked the numbers in the last year or so. And that's an average order. Some orders are as small as $7. Others are around a hundred bucks. If some people really buy their food from us in a big way. But the average was about 24.
We've had some other exciting changes happening, not just adding new customers, but we actually teamed up with a food hub, what we didn't know to team up with them, but we're contracting with a food hub, which essentially does what we do on a wholesale level. They're going around to local farms. They send out a list twice a week. And they put the grower's name next to the product. So you know what farm it's coming from, but it's all wholesale, they're selling cases to restaurants and retailers and people like that.
And the reason I got in touch with them, if you don't mind me digressing here just a little bit, it's going to come back to the average order per week. And the reason I got in touch with them was that I was spending all Tuesday morning driving my van or truck around to farms in Santa Barbara, which is about an hour drive to get up there, or even a little North of Santa Barbara for one of the farms. And it took me all morning just to go pick up the produce.
And I was really getting to hate it. I have to sit in traffic sometimes on the way back, and it's just not what I felt like doing. I didn't want to be a trucker. I wanted to be expanding this business and farming. One of my farmers suppliers knew about this food hub and he knew they were already picking up from the same farms and they came to Ojai twice a week and he said, Hey, call them up. See if they'll haul for you.
And I did. And it was really fortuitous. They just happened to, one of the two days they delivered Ojai happened to be Tuesdays, which is the day we need to get everything delivered. And they go every day to pick up from this one particular farm we were going to every week and often enough from the second one that we were going to.
And not only that, they're a food hub, they're purchasing product from, 20 to 30 local and regional farms. Some of them are a little further afield, maybe, one or 200 miles instead of 50 miles, like the ones that we were more or less staying in a 50 mile radius, but.
The point I'm trying to make is we were able to offer a lot more variety and avoid that drive. So not only do I have more time that I'm not spending on the truck, they show up with a refrigerated truck that backs right up to that packing tent that you filmed the video in and offloads a pallet or two of produce.
One of stuff that I've ordered from them off their list, which enables me to offer items I could never have offered before because just because of the sheer number of farms I can source from, and then they also bring me a pallet that they simply hauled from the farm in Santa Barbara. So I'm still placing the order directly with the farm and I'm paying them $60 for the first pallet and 15 for any second pallets after that.
And they're bringing it right to me. The interesting thing is with the extra variety that I had on the web store, I checked the average order this week, this month, this past month in April. And it went from 24 to $27, so what I'm guessing, and it's going to be interesting to watch this over the next several months, but I'm guessing that because of the greater variety, more people found stuff that they wanted and they added more things to their orders.
So when you think about it, if you look at a $3 difference in your average order from 24 to 27, and you multiply that by 140, suddenly you're making between four and $500 more in sales off the same number of customers.
Going out and finding more customers is one way to boost revenue, but I think this might really be another one. And we're still figuring out which items we want to carry. And, ones that sell only two or three, if only two or three people order a certain item, I might drop that from the new list of variety we have, but we're finding items and they're providing us with some pretty popular items that we couldn't get otherwise like celery and brussel sprouts, blueberries and strawberries. So on several different fronts, I'm really excited about contracting with them. And it's cool to see the revenue go up with the same number of customers, just cause that average order has gone up.
Diego: [00:51:08] What do you make on an average order? Are you at about like 50% margin, at least on those?
Max Becher: [00:51:14] I haven't done a margin analysis recently, but within the last six months or so, more or less, I'm averaging a 40% margin. And about 15 of that 40 goes towards basic operating expenses, like paying my team to pack the orders, Farmigo, percentage PayPal's percentage. So that leaves me with about 25% that comes back to me at the end of the day off those ones.
Diego: [00:51:47] One of those things that you're offering now, and this may involve that food hub and farms that they work with, is that salad box subscription. This I'm hearing this more and more it's come up in past interviews. Personally I like the idea of it because that's much more attractive to me than say the standard CSA boxes, just the way I eat.
Now, I know you offer all a cart like. If I didn't want to get the other stuff, I wouldn't have to get it, but can you talk about again, the thought process behind the salad box subscription, what you're putting into it, how you price it and how successful it's been so far,
Max Becher: [00:52:26] It had some moderate success. I thought it was going to be a bigger success, honestly. And so it's been interesting to think about why it wasn't. Basically my weeks run on an every other week cycle. So I have a heavy week and a light week in the webstore and on a heavier week, I think I have about 16 people who are subscribed to that salad box, maybe nine on a light week.
So it wasn't wildly popular. But then again, we did get all those signups within one week and, maybe it'll grow over time. This is that salad box is the tip of an iceberg of a much longer conversation that I'm constantly turning over in my mind, which is basically trying to step into my customer's shoes, all of them, and just thinking, what are the obstacles to you buying fresh local produce?
And there can be lots of them, a lot of them boil down to not having time and not knowing how to cook the items. I think those are probably the two biggest obstacles is just unfamiliarity with prep and prep time. That's why we focused on salads because salads are really easy prep.
Oh. And also, we pitched this, we pitched. This one we marketed. It was that we were going to give them three different recipe suggestions for different salads, and we're going to provide the specific ingredients they need for it. One little side note on this was that it's also a way for me to sell my olive oil. With that harvest that we had around the fire, I ended up with 660 gallons of extra Virgin olive oil, top quality, extra Virgin olive oil that's been another huge prong of the strategy for us in getting out of that financial hole that we've worked our way into is selling the oil.
And so this is one way to do that because I told people once a month, I'm going to put a bottle of olive oil in your subscription box. So it's going to be between 15 and $20 every week with enough ingredients to give you at least three different varieties of salad and enough salads to have at least three or five salads a week for one to two people.
And it's hard to gauge how many salads is going to be cause you know, some people might fill the plate and some people might have a few leaves of salad and call that their salad. So I just spit those numbers out arbitrarily and I send the ingredients to people and they can do what they want with them, but it's between 15 and $20 a week on a normal week.
And then once a month I include a $16 bottle of olive oil, our own oil along with that. And, we give them three lemons in every box. So the idea is that the oil would last them, three or four weeks for their salads. And then they can use that together with the lemons, which here in Southern California, we have abundantly throughout a large portion of the year. It has the ingredients they need and the dressing.
Now, when I say this is just the tip of the iceberg, what I have in mind is I want to do something like a blue apron. I don't know if you're familiar with them or sun basket. There are these different services, which send you all the ingredients you need for a specific meal. And it's a complete meal, like a protein you'll have meat or fish and vegetable side and, potatoes or rice or something. And they send you all the ingredients and detailed recipes and you don't have to know how to cook at all. They lead you through the whole thing. They give you everything you need and they ship it right to your door.
And, I feel like these companies are gaining traction. My sister-in-law's subscribed to one, our neighbor across the street gave us some ice packs that they had leftover cause they subscribed to it. And I hear it being talked about elsewhere and customers have asked me to, Hey, can you include recipes? And I think a big project for the future is going to be some kind of recipe-oriented, meal-oriented box, instead of just giving them a variety box and throwing it at them and saying here, cook it. Here's your local produce.
There's some people like my mother-in-law who, we can literally take that box and every week, turn it into an amazing meal every night, but people I heard in today's world are rare and most people just get intimidated by that. And so I'm just trying to think what intimidates people, what gets in the way and how could we find ways to just make it easier to move or fresh local products through their homes, through their bodies, off our farms, through our books and just grow this farming movement by making it easier for people.
Diego: [00:57:15] Given that you're looking the route of things like blue apron and combining products together, how do you feel about doing that as a farmer? Is that a nuisance versus selling things ala carte? Do you think it's even more involved than a CSA where you're just putting a standard assortment of stuff into a box because now it's a themed box or do you feel like the return is just going to justify that effort?
Because it's not something I hear a lot of people doing, but again, I see the merit in doing and pre-combining of ingredients that should be together.
Max Becher: [00:57:59] It would certainly be a component of what we do. I wasn't speaking of moving the business in that direction exclusively, I think ala cart is always going to be a part of what we do and I feel Amazon is trying to do that ala cart through Amazon fresh and so are a lot of other grocery stores. They're simply letting people shop online. And tons of retailers are doing this, online shopping is really big.
But at the same time, I feel box subscriptions, especially ones that just take all the pressure off the customer because it provides instructions or whatever. I think those are growing in popularity, too. So it would be a component and what we offer. I'm always looking around for different software options. Farmigo only lets me do one order per week. We might want to eventually offer multiple days of delivery per week.
And if you set up the system efficiently, there's no reason you couldn't do that. There's no reason we have to force people to get their order in by Monday at three o'clock, between Friday and Monday in order to get it on Wednesday. There's a huge obstacle right there that we could knock down if we could figure out a way.
To just get things flowing a little more such that we had, product flowing in and out of the cooler and we could send it out two or three or even five or six days a week eventually. that's the direction we want to move in. I want to add the, the blue apron type subscription.
I want to add more flexibility and subscriptions. I'd like to add something like Amazon subscribe and save where you can take a specific item. one that we generally have week to week, and you can just build your own subscription box kind of a thing. I'm just looking at other businesses and what they're doing and trying to copy it.
Basically, the ones that look successful, I'm trying to think, if Amazon and Blue Apron can do it, why can't Ojai farm stand do it in our local community? And turn around and give 60% of the revenue to local farms. That's really what fires us up about this is that we're fueling this local food movement. And I feel like my work is to find creative ways to knock down the obstacles to people buying from those farms instead of buying from these other bigger companies.
Diego: [01:00:18] You're doing a lot of innovation around this model, including a big experiment in reality this summer, which we're not going to have time to touch on today, but maybe we can circle back and touch on that later on in the fall and see how that went.
But at this point, everything that you're doing with the web store, it's working, it's firing on all cylinders. You're continuing to refine it and nail down more and more details. We talked about that in the last podcast episode that you and I did. People can watch more about the web store a day in the life of the web store, on the YouTube channel, which I'll link to in this episode.
And for people that want to learn more from you and get some help from you in setting up this type of model on their farm, you also offer consulting around the web store. Can you talk about what you offer and how people can find out more about it?
Max Becher: [01:01:12] Yeah, sure. That all developed since that video you made. It's only in the last six months I've been doing this, but it's been really fun. I've had several clients who want to start their own web stores and everyone's got a different context. One guy had a farm and other guy didn't have a farm. One is actually a priest in a church who wants to start one out of his church.
There's all kinds of different scenarios that can fit really well with a store like this. So basically what I offer is initially a two hour conversation. And, I have a list of questions that I have people prepare, which are questions that would have helped me out to be thinking of when I had started out and I'm just helping them to avoid all the mistakes we made, all the things we learned through trial and error.
This system has had so many refinements and we have so increased the efficiency with which we can source produce, bring it in, pack it up, ship it out, get it to people's doors, ways we've found to reduce error. And so basically anything that I've learned through trial and error is what I share with my clients in the consultation.
I also have a page on the website, which, once someone does one consultation, I give them a login and a password to the page where I'm continually putting content out there, whether that's links to all the supplies, recommended supplies, the totes and the scales and all the little things you need to email templates that I've found useful to plug into Farmigo with dynamic fields, first name and subscription that then get automatically filled according to your subscription. And I've developed these templates over time. So I share all of those and anything that I can find that would be a value to me and running my business, I share with those clients.
And I either do it, custom tailored to their questions in a conversation or more general things posted to that page on the side. And that website is Ojaifarmstand.com. If you go to Ojaifarmstand.com/consulting, that's the page itself. But if you go to the website, you'll see the link.
Diego: [01:03:30] So people can check you out there. You mentioned you're on Instagram now, where can they find you there?
Max Becher: [01:03:34] First steps farm is our Instagram name and, we post for the web store and the farm altogether under that account.
Diego: [01:03:46] Thanks for listening to the episode today with Max. If you want to learn more about Max, check him out at Ojaifarmstand.com. Which I've linked to in the notes for this one, max does consulting with all things via web store. So if you were interested in setting up a web store type model like Max I'd suggest going and talking to Max, he can probably cut out a lot of the trial and error that you might do for a small fee. He does consulting.
Also be sure to check out the YouTube video that I did with max. I basically took it day on his farm of how they pack for the farm store. I captured it all in a 26-minute or so video. So be sure to check that out on my YouTube channel. I want to thank you for listening to the show today.
You want to support the work that I'm doing and you're in need of gardening supplies or farming supplies check out some of the supplies offered at Paperpot.co. They're not a sponsor. maybe they're a sponsor, but it's my company. So it's me sponsoring my own show in a non-monetary transaction. We have all of your paper pot transplanting needs covered, and we're starting to add more innovative tools as we can find them.
One thing that we'll be offering coming up in the very near future. Are Jang seeders from single row Jang seeders to five row Jang seeders. We're going to have everything Jang related, available on our site. Paperpot.co coming up to close this one out. I want to go again beyond the tools, beyond the business and stress, the importance of enjoying life.
Enjoying time. Enjoy the people around you. Enjoy the time that you have with them, they can be taken away from you physically or mentally any day. Don't take that for granted. Be appreciative of your kids. Be appreciative of your partner, your relatives, your family, the time that you have with them is precious.
That funnel is draining. Don't let it pass you by with that. I'm going to start ending these shows in a new way. But a way that's probably familiar to many of you. Thanks for listening more next time until then be nice. Be thankful and do the work.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.