Today we’re interviewing Jordan McPhee of Maple Bloom Farm from Prince Edward Island, whose farmers’ market was recently shut down due to the COVID pandemic. He organized an effort to bring the local vendors from his market online so that their customers could continue to patronize them at one central pickup location.
Can you talk a little about how your local farmers’ market came online? (1:30)
I’ve been building and planning online stores with developers for a number of years, so I had a plan waiting in the wings when the COVID-19 started becoming an issue for us. Once we were shut down we had five days to come online. Luckily I had already started talking to other farmers about coming online weeks before about selling on my online store coming in June. I simply ramped up what I was already planning and after meeting with these vendors and the market managers we had an incredibly successful launch.
Our physical market had 60 vendors, and as of now, we have 24 signed up online. We were able to onboard farmers by communicating with them via spreadsheet and they would fill out their product information including, the name of the product, number of units, and the capacity they could fulfill. I entered that information online for them. The website has a single cohesive look and you can search by product name or producer name.
How smooth has the sales process been? (6:20)
Gathering orders went as expected, the problem came when we were exporting orders using the software we had set up we weren’t able to differentiate by order name or number. There was no real chronological or alphabetical order to how the orders were packed. This made it difficult to find the orders later when customers came to pick them up. That was a bit difficult, but we do have a plan to download the sheet a day earlier next time and set up the orders in an organized way by order number and by distribution zone.
Do customers pay for their order online? (9:45)
Because of COVID-19, everything is strictly no touch. So we only take payment online. All of the orders have to have the item affiliated to the producer because all of the money is paid to a single account, and then has to be distributed by who is owed what. We know exactly how much of each product has been sold and we want that vendor to invoice us for them at the end of the week so there’s a paper trail.
I question the success of having one person or channel being in charge of distribution for a market like this, managing all of the products and answering all of the people’s questions, instead of the individual vendors being in charge of their own products. What’s been your experience? (12:00)
That’s an important question we took some time to discuss before we executed on this. We considered ourselves a wholesale distributor using this model. So each farmer is paying a one time $5 per item posting fee, and in addition, we charge 20% of total revenue. Compared to what these vendors were paying as a weekly fee for their physical stalls at the market this fee was comparable, and even where it was 30% or so more these vendors saw an increase in sales by around that much as well. We have to charge this much as it took 10 people from 8 am-8 pm to fulfill and distribute these orders, or 12 hours, valued at $15/hr.
This is really a fair price when you compare it to other wholesale distributors. I have one I work with during the summer who takes a 30-40% cut depending on the product. We’re working on a software that can work with this kind of distributor model we’re using now, and also the farmer runs hosting and management of products.
We’ve proposed this model multiple times at our meetings and it’s been voted down by a slim margin. Now that we’ve trialed it and it’s brought in just as much money as the physical market not many people are going to want to revert because it means you only have to drop off your product each week, not host a market. When we go back we can do a hybrid model.
Is there a cut-off time by when you need to order or is the online store open 24/7? (23:20)
We count back 72 hours from the midnight the night before the pickup day, so if your pickup is on Saturday afternoon you count back to Wednesday at midnight for the last available order day, and then instead of taking the store down for those 3.5 days we leave it up to receive orders for the pick up the following Saturday. We thought that perhaps there wouldn’t be too many orders then, but it turned out that over $3k of orders came in during those days. It might be a result of the crisis, but we’ll see soon enough. We believe since people have gone through the process of selecting the products they’re willing to pick the later date if need be.
Do you plan on adding additional pickup days? (26:00)
All year round we’re open Saturdays from 9a-2p. Wednesday market days are only from June to October at the same time. If we’re to have the online store continue it would be each day of the week following the physical market because that’s when the product could be brought and stored for the next day.
What type of time commitment would it take to set this up? (28:15)
You want someone who is comfortable with managing a spreadsheet program and being able to export those in a format other farmers can understand. Expect about a week of spreadsheet work to get it setup. That being said we’re going to move to the multiple supplier version of the software as soon as possible. It’s going to take some training for the farmers to understand the spreadsheets so orders aren’t made incorrectly. We’ll be able to reduce the price of the fee for those people. We’ll keep the option of managing products for those people who don’t know how to manage this kind of software.
If you don’t have any experience with this kind of software you should take the time to set up a network slowly, don’t try and set up a multi-farm distribution channel right out of the gate without knowledge of how to manage the details of food safety, proper handling, and logistics. Starting small with something like 10 of your own items sold via an online platform will begin to give you a sense of what it takes on a weekly basis to tackle all of these details. Once you look to scale make sure you tap into your social network and offer discounts to the wholesale price breakpoint to vendors who are selling in your network, like a 10% fee instead of 20%, or veggies to volunteers to get the setup started. Just make sure what you’re offering in the online world matches what you can deliver at the end of the day.
How do you manage refunds and disputes from customers? Do you provide the contact information of the farmers whose product they purchased or the market manager’s information? (37:45)
In the case of a returned item, the first thing I offer them is the opportunity to list that item in their order next week and it will be credited to them at the next pickup. If they didn’t want to order again then I’d go into Stripe which is the online payment processor we’re using and I find that customer and issue them a refund. The market will absorb that cost.
As for a quality issue, say if they ordered mushrooms and they went bad in a couple of days, we’d first offer them a replacement and the vendor will bring that item for the customer free of charge the following week. If they want a refund then we’ll issue them a refund and the vendor will be charged 80% of the price of that item. We are considering if we are holding onto the funds from the purchase in the future we could issue a refund without having to charge the vendor.
You’re using an e-commerce site called Local Line. What’s been your experience in using it? (41:00)
They’re a small company based out of Ontario. The setup process is fairly clear and straightforward. The same with the customer experience, it’s a fairly straight flow through. We did have a challenge with managing how the orders were exported so we could organize the pickup. We made the mistake of printing out all of the zones out at once. We had 207 orders come in and we need to organize them differently next time.
How did you make this public to bring the customers in to shop online with you? (44:00)
I started by placing a Facebook ad, paying $75 a day. We put a link to a landing page explaining who, what, when, where and why. Start with the why to tell your story. Linked to that is a shop now button that they can click through to see the online store. We had over 3000 people click through on this ad. About 10% of those people shopped with us after viewing the site, which is about the conversion you’re looking for.
You’re developing your own software called Waggon – what is it and how will it fit in this new online farm sale landscape? (47:40)
This software will allow you to host a market just as we have, or host a CSA. You can visit the site and sign up with your email address and get a free one month trial to see if it will work for your customers.
If you want to learn more about Jordan’s online e-commerce platform, check it out here at Waggon.ca. You can view the PEI online marketplace here and the platform Local Line they’re using with this link.
Listen to the Episode:
Subscribe to Farm Small Farm Smart in your favorite podcast player:
Diego: [00:00:00] What do you do when your whole farmer's market shuts down? you bring it online, not just your booth, but many of the vendors who were selling at your farmer's market today, it's all about setting up an online farmer's market with farmer Jordan McPhee coming up. Welcome to farm small farm smart. I'm your host Diego Dai Ugo.
Today's part of our selling online series. And we're going to be talking about how one farmer reacted when his local farmer's market had to shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The farmer is Jordan McPhee. He's in Prince Edward Island and he organized an effort to bring many of his fellow vendors at his local farmer's market.
Online. That way local consumers could go to one store and purchase from a variety of farmers picking up the items a few days later, it one central drop point. It's an idea that worked well during the pandemic. And it's an idea that will probably work well after the pandemic. So if you already have an online store, think about the next step.
Why not aggregate with other producers and farmers to create a bigger online presence and give customers even more convenience and variety when they buy their local food. Now that seed's been planted in your head, let's jump right into it and find out how he did it. It's Jordan McPhee recently with everything happening in the world.
Here, you were forced to take some action pretty quickly and bring your sales online, but not just sales for your farm. You were tasked with taking all of your farmer's market sales online, meaning every vendor sales online and bringing the whole farmer's market online. Can you talk a little bit about how this came to be.
Jordan MacPhee: [00:01:56] Yes. I've been researching online stores and building, online stores with the development team for a number of years. So I had a plan waiting in the wings when the COVID-19 started to become a real issue for us when our farmer's market decided to close down last weekend. we had five days to get a solution going.
So luckily I had already spoken to a number of farmers weeks before to begin selling products through my online store. In this coming June. So I just took that exact same model that I had already worked out that business model and just ramped up the speed with which we were going to launch. I spoke to my farmer's market manager and together we sat down with some other vendors and just organize how we were going to do this.
And we got the products up. And we had an amazingly successful first week with just 36 hours between when we launched. And when we accepted our final order.
Diego: [00:02:54] To give people some perspective, how many different vendors were selling at your farmer's market? The real, the actual physical market two weeks ago?
Jordan MacPhee: [00:03:01] Right now, so March 10th had 60, vendors in it. we have. Last weekend 24 vendors I believe had already signed up and we're just waiting for the rest of the ones to roll in the�
Diego: [00:03:18] 24 of the 60 move from in-person to online because the situation around the world dictated that had to be What was the process of moving those vendors online? How, because I imagine this can be pretty complex.
Jordan MacPhee: [00:03:35] It's actually a really clean system. The way that we were able to onboard, different farmers, we, instead of having each farmer manage their own inventory, we just had a core group of people, mainly me, communicating with the vendors, sending them a spreadsheet.
A simple spreadsheet for them to enter in their information. And then they emailed that back to me with their name, product units, unit size, the inventory, like the weekly capacity they could actually fulfill and a description was optional. And I just simply uploaded those products, over a number of hours.
Cause there were over a hundred products to upload in the first day and it went pretty smoothly. All things considered. the, as far as the look and design goes, there's just a single cookies of the design to the entire website. And it's not modifiable that way. There's not a lot of, there's no, difference from going to vendor to vendors, product, you simply go into the store, you see the entire market's, catalog.
Selection. And then you can start searching either by product name or by producer name. So if you already have a relationship with Jen, the farmer who's selling her duck eggs, you just type in the word duck or Gen-Z farm, and then her duck eggs will pop up along with everything else.
Diego: [00:04:52] That's you said the part I'm trying to envision here is I go to the store. What am I seeing? Am I seeing a list of vendors or a list of products?
Jordan MacPhee: [00:05:00] You're seeing a list of products and then the PR the vendor's name is listed with each product. So for example, my pea shoots have my name, my farm name, maple bloom farm next to them. That way they can be distinguished at first glance.
they can be differentiated from, Margo's pea shoots and Jenny's pea shoots. if the customer coming to the online store wants to get my specific product, then I'll let them do that. Now also keep in mind that if this wasn't a farmer's market in general, and I was just an individual farm taking the initiative myself.
I probably wouldn't have anyone else's pea shoots in the store. Cause I wouldn't want to be competing inside of my own store that I've set up. But since this is more of a cooperative model where we're all trying to fight for each other, I said, everyone just put in whatever your most popular products are and we'll differentiate by having your supplier name next to them.
So it's not every piece you'd order is just getting divided into three ways among three P shoots producers. It's a much cleaner system that way. And people can see the product and see the vendor name. And it's really clear as soon as they log on.
Diego: [00:06:08] Got it. So I go to the store and if I type in carrots, I might see five listings for carrots and each of those listings are differentiated by the producer who is supplying those, having done this now. How smoothly did it actually go?
Jordan MacPhee: [00:06:27] were coming in. There were no errors. As far as that went. Some people got booted off the websites that we were using, but they were able to log back in later and get it as far as it goes from us, like being able to process and view the orders, everything went pretty much as expected.
The real problem came about when we went to export the orders, using the particular software that we had set up, Where we weren't able to organize the orders by order number, order name. So there was no real chronological or alphabetical order to how the customer's orders were packed. that meant that we were just really packing in a random, random, order. so it made it difficult for us to find the orders later when customers came to pick them up. so that was a little bit difficult, but we do have a plan in place to just, download the spreadsheet. a week or a day earlier and organize it a bit better so that we can set up the physical space in a way that's going to be easy for us to control and to find exactly where our customer's orders and, Quarter end, sorry.
when they pulled up to the market, the building, they gave us their order number or their customer name. And when you don't have the customer names in alphabetical order, or the order number is in numerical order, you're just staring at 200 bags, with little white sheets on them. And we had to, you can imagine people like attend people, scouring the, the spreadsheets that were on the front, stapled these bags to try and find the right order.
two days after we went through all that, I went onto your Instagram page. I was going through my Instagram. You might've noticed my comment. you were sharing a video that you would put up a year or two ago, with a very structured, very clean, organized way to pack orders from someone who's doing more than a hundred orders per week.
And, they have the spreadsheet and very big numbers so that you can see them from far away and different, distribution zones are color coded. So those are all things that we're now going to implement this week. So that things that are being delivered to this town or that town or being. Kept here for pickup are all in different areas.
The way we were doing it, we were doing like pick up a delivery B delivery, a pickup delivery. It was just chaos.
Diego: [00:08:50] So the backend lit packing logistics were confusing. But functionally, the website itself worked well. So I'm looking at the site now, it's, the eat local PEI online farmer's market. I'm not logged in. So I can't tell exactly how this works. If I want to get product, do I pay for it directly on this website?
Jordan MacPhee: [00:09:15] Because of COVID-19. Everything from order to distribution is done. 100% no touch. So we only are accepting, sorry, payments credit card payment.
Diego: [00:09:29] How do you divide up the take between producers? If I get an order that comes from five different producers, how do you divvy up that check on the back?
Jordan MacPhee: [00:09:39] So it all is being funneled into a single account. So if you're going to have a core management team organizing this on behalf of a number of farmers, it's extremely important to have every single product labeled with the producer name.
So that on the other end, When it's time to send out those orders, you can send them to the individual farmers. And you have a very clear track record of who is owed what at the end of the day. So I have 24 producers, for example, we know exactly how many units of each of their products were ordered.
And that means that they can each issue me an invoice at the end of the week that I can pay. I think, I believe there's also a way you can develop a report on the software itself. That'll tell you exactly how much you always person, but just for record keeping purposes, we want to see that invoice coming in. So that there's a paper trail.
Diego: [00:10:33] Yeah. I like the idea of doing this. I think this is a wave of the future. That's being forced upon us now. I'm talking to several producers who have their own individual online stores, but you're the first person I've talked to. Who's brought a whole farmer's market online.
The bottleneck I see in this, and I'm playing devil's advocate here and you can tell me where I might be wrong would be you're doing this. You're doing all the work, all the other producers who are just giving you information. Aren't. Participating in this, if there's customer questions about a product it's falling through likely one email address.
I question the sustainability of that. If you're not charging them something to do it versus a more distributive way of having an online farmer's market, like a. Food node or reco ring where it's up to each farmer to post their own stuff. Each farmer collects their own payment. Each farmer does their own distribution versus centralizing it all under one site. What are your thoughts on that?
Jordan MacPhee: [00:11:49] Yeah, that's a really important question that we, took some time to discuss before we executed on this, we knew it was going to be a really important point. To have a really clear information and communication around how the payment structure was going to work. Because when the farmers show up to the market, they're being paid, they're paying for their rent by the foot.
Some, farmers have a 20 foot move. Some farmers have a four foot booth. So you might only be paying 20 bucks if you're a small scale, like a very small booth, but you might be paying a hundred bucks if you're a larger booth. So we had to find a way to still manage how people were going to be treated in the store.
We considered ourselves a wholesale distributor using this business model. So each farmer is paying a one-time $5 per item posting fee. So if they uploaded five products, they paid $25 one time. In addition to that, one-time posting fee, to pay for the time and software that's uploading the product. We also charged 20% of total revenue.
And when we did the math. On what an example, a day of where we could sales would render after we had like the first week to look back on, it was pretty damn close in terms of the amounts that the farmers were paying in. Hosting fees and percentage of sales compared to their weekly rent in the physical farmer's market.
It was no more than 30 or 40% different, but many farmers actually saw 30 or 40% increase in the online store versus what they were previously doing in the weeks before in the physical farmer's market.
Diego: [00:13:33] Got it. So you are charging to run this service?
Jordan MacPhee: [00:13:37] Yeah, absolutely. there's just way too much work involved with managing the logistics, uploading the products and packing the orders.
Like we got there at 8:00 AM. We didn't leave until 8:00 PM. There was 10 people there. You do. 12 hours, 10 people. Doing work that's valued at least $15 per hour and it should be valued higher. but that really starts to add up. So the 20% that, we are taking for managing all the sales and logistics is really a fair price, especially when you compare it to normal wholesale prices.
Like I have a wholesale distributor who's 30 to 40% of our farms business in the summer. And he takes a 30 to 40% cut depending on the product. let us, he's taken a 40% cut, more new screens. He's taken a 30% cut, but there is never a situation in which a wholesale distributor is going to offer you to take.
80% as the farmer and him only 20%. So this is just like something that's very, equitable and fair for everyone involved. It covers the costs, it recognizes the time and effort going into it. And you know what? I understand that some people don't want to have that model. They want everyone working for themselves.
And I believe you called that the reco model. Was it. So that system is also available in both softwares, both the ones that I'm using and the one that I'm developing with my team. you can have a model where there is a core team acting as a wholesale distributor or a food hub, but you can also have it so that there are multiple farmers, would their own supplier accounts uploading their own products into the store.
Both of those models are both adaptable and possible using the software that we're using and developing. With the model that you're currently
Diego: [00:15:22] doing, call it a managed farmer's market. You're the manager participating. Is there a participation only? They send you a, one-time kind of maybe an image, a description, the unit size of each skew.
They want you to upload that the $5 that's one and done. Then they're going to send you inventory via that spreadsheet on a weekly basis, which probably has pricing in it and obviously quantity. And then they deliver a product to a central location, drop it off. They walk away. That's as much as they're dealing with any of them.
Jordan MacPhee: [00:16:09] Yeah. You nailed it. And then they accept the transfer. Eight days later. I guess from a farmer perspective,
Diego: [00:16:16] if you're somebody at the market saying we can still go to the farmer's market, we'll pay for that, regardless of whether we sell anything or not, or we can upload it to the eat local pie online farmer's market, we'll take the one-time fee, which is nothing really to put the product in there.
And if we sell something great, we'll pay gladly pay 20% of it. And then just drop it off and we're done with it. We know it's sold and we don't have to do anything once we drop it off. If we don't sell anything or we don't sell as much as we thought, there's no risk because it's a percentage of sales model.
I don't see a downside or why a farmer might object to wanting to do that. is there downside, I'm missing of why somebody might not want to participate in this.
Jordan MacPhee: [00:17:09] You might not find a rational downside, but people are really good at finding downsides. So we actually did get a number of objections from some farmers who had just clearly never done wholesale distribution before they, we got replies from just like a number like out of 60 people.
You're going to see three or four pop-up and complaints. And those people just didn't participate and their logic, if you want to call it, that is. Farmers work too hard to grow produce or whatever food they're producing and just to turn around and give 20% away to people who are standing there doing nothing.
And, that's just a really, non rational way. I'm looking at it because if you actually factor in the time that they're saving, they're not spending one hour setting up their booth five hours standing there. One hour tearing down their booth and one hour counting the cash and inputting the records that they're saving eight hours right there.
So that's a $120 value. If they're paying themselves a minimum of $15 per hour, and then you stretch that to, if you have a larger booth and all of the labor that you're not paying for, multiply that by two more people. Now you're not paying $450 per hour. If we sold you a thousand dollars of produce. For 10 items, you paid 50 bucks one time posting fee, and you got to keep 800 bucks of that thousand dollars of sales.
So for $250, you earned 800 and save $450. On labor alone and then the rent. So you're actually break even based on the rent that you're not paying too. So when you actually spell it out like that, it's a no brainer. And we were flabbergasted when people complained, but we thought, it's up to them.
If they don't want to participate in free money, they don't have to. Obviously when
Diego: [00:18:50] farmer's markets are allowed to reopen too, you could do both.
Jordan MacPhee: [00:18:53] Exactly. You wouldn't believe. How many new faces came rolling through that driveway? the Superstore is open the grill, the grocery store, like the local, store here called Sobey's.
those are all open. They're allowing people to walk in. They're allowing online orders and pick up. I think you can even pay for delivery, but there's a six day wait. So there are people have options is my point. And we had new faces rolling into the farmer's market because. There is a new found support and respect for local.
Like we've never seen before. And those people who were showing up who were regulars were like, Oh, I wish you guys had been doing this for years. I hope you guys keep doing this when this crisis blows over. And, we recognize that's actually something that. Myself and the farmer's market manager, Bernie have both been trying to implement in this market for three years.
And every time it's been brought up to a vote, it's been struck down by just like 55% to 45%. And we're 50% plus one a membership vote. So it was really disappointing each time, but there's a lot of people holding out. Who didn't who thought it was actually going to ruin the business of the farmer's market, who didn't even want to risk trying for a one-month trial now that we've seen it work and it's bringing in just as much money in a single week as is when every single person spends eight hours, they're sitting at their tables.
No, one's going to want to go back. Maybe 5% of people are going to want to go back to the old way, but that we can do both at the hybrid Saturday, physical market, Sunday pickup market. All the products are they're kept in storage overnight. And then we have a Sunday pickup market where deliveries can also be distributed around the towns in our area.
We have to compete and keep up. This is from our very first conversation, like over a year ago, Amazon whole foods. It's a thing. Now, Amazon bought out all the whole foods in North America. They now have, I believe 450 and growing physical stores. Amazon is going to corner the market of food distribution.
If farmers don't embrace the technology and get ahead of the curve and I want to use this crisis as. A catalyst to get farmers over their fears and concerns, and actually embrace the technology. That's just within our hands. Amazon would have been begging for this kind of technology. 20 years ago, they had to spend millions of dollars of capital funding just to get close to what farmers can get for 50 bucks a month.
Today, if we're not implementing that into our business models, we're insane. And we deserve to not be in business anymore, especially in the face of what our communities are going through with this crisis. We've got to step up. And serve the communities that are depending on us to continue producing food in a time of need.
In case the global supply chain starts to falter and break down, we need to make sure that we have a resilient, local food economy around the world. That's servicing the PR people in their own community. If we can implement the technology in order to do that, we're going to win over every customer that is possibly interested in eating, which is 100% of humans. Last time I checked.
Diego: [00:22:01] maybe you and looking at this, I think this solves a lot of the bad about farmer's markets. Farmer's markets get a lot of knock for time commitment. Maybe it's low traffic. You don't have a lot of direct marketing control of the hours can sometimes hurt consumers. The weather can hurt consumers showing up where this is valid all the time.
If I'm a farmer I'm looking at. Okay, I'll do a farmer's market. I'll do participate in the online farmer's market. I'll also have my own online store. There's so many ways that you could add using this online presence now to move products that I think it's, it will be a game changer for the online market you have here.
Do you have the cart open for a window or is it people can order any time throughout the week, but there's a cutoff of when you need to order. For pickup, how was that handled?
Jordan MacPhee: [00:23:05] That was actually the first year we started like a major logistical headache for us, but then we realized it was really simple.
in the end we just take your distribution day and we subtract how many hours before that distribution day, you want the store to close. So say you set 72 hours advance order time three days. So if I'm doing deliveries at Saturday at 4:00 PM, The 72 hour clock winds back starting at midnight. So you have your Saturday, you go to Saturday, midnight and subtract 72 hours.
Now that's Friday, Thursday, Wednesday at midnight, your store closes and you will not receive any more orders for Saturday at four to 7:00 PM. But here's the awesome thing Thursday at 12:01 AM. One minute after your store, quote, unquote closed, it's still accepting orders around the clock. It's just that Saturday is no longer an option for people to select.
So I was skeptical as to how that would play out. I had never actually seen it play out. My CSA doesn't really operate that way. People don't order nine days in advance, but when the order is closed at midnight, that Wednesday, the very next morning. We started seeing orders coming in for nine days later by Sunday, the day after we had distributed that week weekends orders, we'd already seen another $3,000 of orders come in another 60 orders with an average order size $50.
So in those three days where I would normally think, ah, let's just close the store, nobody's going to order between Thursday and Saturday. When we're distributing on Saturday, there was a huge amount of demand. Maybe that's a sign of the crisis that we're in. But it might just be normal behavior. Oh, the 21st is great out as an option, I guess I'll just choose the 28th because I've already gone through all the steps of selecting the products I want.
Diego: [00:25:02] What the customer's thought process? Do you think having a physical market Saturday, Sunday, online pickup is the way you'll go into the future for now? Or would you look at something like adding an additional pickup day? We'll also have. Pickups on Wednesday
Jordan MacPhee: [00:25:20] with our, okay. I'll just go through our specific market.
So I can actually think through the example here. So all year round we're open Saturdays, 9:00 AM to 2:00 PM. Wednesday is only from June to October, also 9:00 AM to 2:00 PM. Basically whenever there's enough product to justify having. Booth outside the market. We can fit another 20 boots outside in the area between the parking lot.
And, so you would probably do in both cases the day after the regular market day, because then any items that the farms have brought to the location can be kept in storage for the next day. So on Wednesday, everyone would be setting up for the physical markets. And they would put their products that are on display for that day on their display.
Then they put their orders for Thursday, which they've already received two days ahead of time in the storage cooler. Those do not get touched if you run out of turnips, sorry. You're not grabbing turnips from the storage container. Those are for customers who have already ordered, same thing with Saturday and Sunday.
So Saturday the farmers have pulled in. They've received there's orders Thursday morning. they know that what they have to set aside for Sunday, and they're going to bring both their Saturday products and their Sunday products and put the Sunday products in the storage container. the storage cooler and, just put their Saturday, items on display so that we think that would be the cleanest way to do it.
And, I think it would also make sense for deliveries to happen on the same day as distribution, just so we don't have too many options cluttering up the online store. It's Hey, come to the market in person, Wednesday and Saturday. And order for pickup or delivery on Thursday and Sunday, the communication just becomes a lot cleaner that way.
Diego: [00:27:10] I love the idea of it. And for somebody looking to do this for their market. What do you have maybe a weekend in the setting this up once and then a few hours every week logistically into managing the I'll call it that the front end, the website side of it. This is not including the packing, obviously.
Is that kind of the time commitment and you think it would take for someone to manage this if they're reasonably comfortable?
Jordan MacPhee: [00:27:37] Yeah. You want to have somebody who's really good at managing a spreadsheet and isn't going to make mistakes. Like you want to be able to, spend a couple of days downloading Excel spreadsheets from the software.
And putting them into a spreadsheet program that you're comfortable with, whether that is Excel or Google sheets. That's what I use. And being able to export those in an easily editable format for other farmers to input their information. those are all steps that I had to do. If you're not familiar with that, find somebody in your network who can do that.
Or if you have the time and you want to be managing this yourself, look up videos online and how to do it. You're going to be spending. Yeah, about two or three days. it was me and the market manager. We spent about 24 hours each over two days. we were both up until midnight, Monday, Tuesday, trying to get this online.
So we'd be able to receive orders for this week. so yeah, exactly three full days of spreadsheet work. And I'd actually allocate like a whole week, depending on how many farmers are you doing it for? That said we are. Definitely going to move to the, multiple supplier. version of the software as soon as possible, it just requires some training so that the farmers understand how to use it.
And don't accidentally say that they have a thousand units of five pound potatoes when they actually meant a thousand pounds. And then we ended up getting, 400 orders, but they were only actually able to fill 205 pound bag orders. there's very easy to make mistakes. If you don't have proper training.
So when we get our bearings and we have a good procedure in place and everything is moving very smoothly, we'll start to sit down with farmers. We'll do maybe a, an online group training session with a screen-share and have them have it recorded. So that we can send that to the farmers afterward. And if there's some 75 year olds farmers at our market, this is not the technology they were raised with that they don't use it.
We're not going to expect those people to do it. So we're going to be happy to continue to manage their products on their behalf. It's something that they want to use, but if someone's, 30, 40, 50, most of them are going to have familiarity with software and they're going to be trainable to use this.
and because they'll be doing the work themselves, we can start to reduce the fee. Because there's less labor time associated with the upkeep of the store it's being distributed among the members in the same way that, the market manager doesn't come in at 2:00 AM and set up everyone's booth.
each farmer is coming in with their inventory and setting up their booth. So in the online store, eventually it's gotta be the same. It's just in the three days that we took to set up the store three to five days, depending on how you count. we didn't have that option at hand. We had to just move on it and force it through the door.
Diego: [00:30:35] Yeah.I like that idea of getting them, making them be responsible for their own store. You collect the fee for managing, the overall structure and the packaging of it and the distribution of it, but getting people to put their own products on there, that's probably a worthwhile trade off because there is a lot of logistics there of just getting numbers, And double checking. We're looking at software these days.
Probably pretty easy for them to log in, add a product type in a price per unit and type in an inventory. I don't think that's going to be too over the head of most people.
Jordan MacPhee: [00:31:16] Exactly. Yeah. And, it's. It's not the way that I would start out of the gate. I've got, two or three years of experience running a no, I got five years of experience running CSA under my belt. Now I know how the process works. I know how to communicate with people, how the setup is going to go and what food safety precautions we're taking. If you're not. If you don't have that kind of experience, please do not set up a multi farm CSA with zero experience.
You're just going to overwhelm yourself and frustrate your customers and possibly ruin the reputation of that kind of model for other farmers. If you're going to do it out of the gate, was your experience find someone who does have experience. I can hold your hand as he goes through the process. if you're a starting farmer and you don't know anyone, just start it with your own farm.
Get your bearings with maybe, five or 10 customers. That's not going to overwhelm you give yourself like an hour per customer, so you're not taking any chances with the setup. And then once you get how it goes, you'll be able to ramp up your business, get more sales, and then use that track record of sales to go around to other farmers and start shopping around your distribution and aggregation.
As a model that they can supply into. So like years to put all that theory into an actual example, this is what I did three or four weeks ago at the market before COVID 19 blew up. So early February, I was standing at the market. I know I have this online store. I'm trying to make plans to get ready for June.
I turned to the 75 year old, like basically crippled farmer next to me. And he's usually complaining about how it's hard to make a living of farming and how he has to worry. He gets at the end of the day. even though the market ends at two, they usually let him leave at 12 because he just can't stand anymore.
And that's someone who needs to. Have someone on their farm, just distributing forearms. So he was the first person I went to. I said, Paul, do you wanna just sell your stuff into my online store? And I'll do my best to sell everything on your behalf. Like you grow a bunch of stuff that I don't grow, so it's not going to be competition.
And he said, yeah, sure. That sounds great. And I told them that in the previous years I've done. $20,000 a CSA sales and then a few side orders of online orders per week. And it's something promising to have that track record. It's not like I was saying, Hey, Paul, I don't have any experience running an online store.
How would you like to start one together? That's not going to be as good of a sale. So then when he said, yes, I went down to the lady who makes soap and the lady who makes soup. And I went to the people who sell the pickles and the people who sell the salad dressing and the coffee, and a bunch of other things that were just nice add on for the store.
And I kept on getting people to sign up. Then I was going to go to veggie producers the next week, but that's when COVID 19 started to blow up. And, I held off on making plans. Then three or four weeks later, it really started to blow up. And that's when the market closed. And I already had the plan waiting in the wings.
So that all just goes to say, Don't do this. If you don't have experience and start small and build it over time, I know that we're in a crisis, but don't add to the crisis in your personal world, by taking on more than you can chew. Like we were lucky we had 60 people, 24 people signed up every single one of those 24 people were willing to volunteer that day.
The one thing we had too much of was human resources and 24 people in a single market is not okay when you're trying to do six feet of social distancing. So we actually had to keep people away from the market. that was a luxury that a lot of people are going to have. If you can tap your social network and get people to volunteer in exchange for veggies, but they're going to follow your food safety precautions.
That's important, especially today. if you can get the group of farmers that you're selling on behalf of to help. You out for not hourly pay, but for, increase in the wholesale rate that they're getting, maybe you said 80%, the offer them 90%, maybe instead of 60, you offered them 75 something to recognize the time and effort that they're putting into to help you set up.
So you're not doing it by yourself. There's so many options to do it in the physical world. Just make sure that what you're promising in the online world, when you're marketing this on Facebook or through your email list, whatever, make sure that what you're offering in the online world is 100% without a doubt in your mind, doable in the real world.
Diego: How do you handle customer issues? Somebody buys button mushrooms. They don't like them. Their experiences with the online market, not that individual vendor. This is where one area where I see a potential complication, where if you're distributing it, every product that comes from a vendor, maybe it's got a tag, let us know what you think of this product.
And it's that vendor's contact info versus contacting the store. Like how. Invisible. Do you want to be to the customer or how a parent are you to the customer?
Jordan MacPhee: [00:36:37] Yeah, where my mind goes immediately is a preventative measure, but that's a good question. It hasn't actually come up yet.
we've only done one pickup so far. someone just to request a refund earlier this morning because an item was missing. So the process in that case, I'll get into quality in a second, but this is one that I actually have experienced with. So I'll start here in the case where the item was missing and they just wanted a refund for that item.
I said, Oh, Hey, sorry, that was missed. It's our first time doing this. And we were still working out a few kinks. If you put that item. In your order notes, we'll make sure it's included in your next order, free of charge since you already paid for it. if they respond back and say, no, I don't want it next week.
I wasn't gonna order next week. I just want a refund. Then I'll just submit the refund. I go into Stripe, which is the online payment processor that, Both the store I'm using uses and developing uses it's like visa, but online. So I go into Stripe, I find that customer's name. I hit refund for the amount that they put.
I type in the amount say $7 for the button mushrooms that they didn't got. And I send the reason to them and it's automatically processed back. So they get their money back. And now it's about who pays for that? We know that we got the mushrooms from Paul, so that's not going to come from his pocket.
That's just going to be a hit of the market. Okay. So that's something that comes out of our pocket. Now let's move on to the quality. question if the it's been two days and the button mushrooms were in the fridge and they already went, that customer says, Hey, these button mushrooms were already kinda soggy.
When I got them. I want a refund for these. Again, I would start with the question or the suggestion. Hey, put them, I'm really sorry about the quality of those. Put them in your cart for next week. We'll make sure that the quality is better and we'll send it along in your order for free, If that, if she takes us up on that offer, Paul brings them and he did it.
Doesn't get paid for them because they were already bad quality when he brought them to us. And if they, no, the mushrooms were disgusting. I don't want to get another bag of those mushrooms. Just refund me. We'll refund them. And Paul will be invoiced for 80%, the charge of those mushrooms. Cause we already took her 20%.
We're going to be paying out of our pocket. Paul needs to pay out of his pocket. so that's an that's, I guess that's a benefit of us waiting eight days to pay the vendors for what they provided. If I'm still holding onto that cash. Saturday has distribution until Sunday payments. Eight days later, I can use that bank of money to refund any customers who are dissatisfied with their order.
And that way maybe we don't have to send the invoice DePaul. again, this hasn't come up yet, so I'm just making up this process on the fly. But I think that would be a suitable thing. Like we're holding onto his Monday for eight days. Yeah. we have that money to provide refunds.
Diego: [00:39:43] And to do this, you're using a website local line. I'm looking at it. I've never been to the site before today. The display looks okay. I don't think it looks amazing. It doesn't look terrible. What's been your experience with it so far?
Jordan MacPhee: [00:40:00] Yeah. Local lines, like a solid standard kind of set up for how an online store should work. In my opinion. they're a small company based out of Ontario and, they've had a lot of success in the last week.
Cause like a lot of local farmers are signing on, in the same predicament that we are. Overall the setup, process is pretty clear. You put in the details about your store, you upload your products, you input your supplier names, you input your locations, delivery zones, your days, it's all pretty straightforward, on that side.
And like you said, the, The front end that the customer looks at when they're ordering, it's pretty straightforward to you see products, you see a plus button minus button. If you click plus on the kale goes in the cart, you press plus twice on the tomatoes, two tomatoes go in the cart, you hit checkout putting your credit card info.
You're done. it's a pretty straightforward flow through, and we've been pretty satisfied with it. in terms of, that just workflow. The one thing that was a major pain point that was not solved for us was what I mentioned before with like how the orders are exported. And we had issues with both the pickup, options and the delivery office.
one thing is nice here. You're able to filter out. So your pickup is being exported by itself and delivery for different zones are being exported by themselves. we made the mistake of exporting them all at once. They were printed out basically in the order that they, the orders came in. and that's why we had so much difficulty physically separating the orders in the physical space.
one thing that would have solved that for us, if there was just a simple way to organize alphabetically or numerically, the number, the order number or the name of the customer, but the way that the information displays is displayed, that wasn't possible. And we had 207 orders. come in between Tuesday and Wednesday.
So we weren't able to manually copy and paste 207 orders in the arrangement that we needed. we just had to muddle our way through, and we didn't discover this until three hours before the packing began, because like I said, we were running on a really limited time schedule. When you're working with a new software, you want to give yourself a buffer period of a day in case there are any hiccups like that.
Diego: [00:42:19] So it's good to hear that it's functioning well for you. Now, one thing that everybody is going to be wondering is it's one thing to set up a store online. It's another thing to actually have people find out about it. If the store exists and nobody knows who cares, how did you. Make this public to existing farmers, market customers, or your local populace to get it going.
Jordan MacPhee: [00:42:48] I guess I actually, I started, the Facebook, app. I went on Facebook and I did an advertisement for $75 a day, but I didn't do that until I had the landing page set up through MailChimp so that they would actually. Get the information that they need before they order, because look at local line, you go to local line.
And the first thing is a bunch of products and you see the business name. And a profile photo you don't see, and you wouldn't see that on wagon either. You w you would just see the product, the name like, and the profile photo. So if you go to wagon like your online store and customers are just seeing products, but they don't know what the background of the businesses are when they're going to get their order.
You want to explain all that. So that's what we did through the Facebook advertisement. We put a link to a landing page that explained the who, what, when, where, why of the store. So you just want to use those five basic questions, start with the why actually, why are we doing this? Because in the face of COVID-19, we're being recommended by healthcare professionals to be socially distant from one another.
And this is the way that you can still. access to local food that you need. This is an essential service we're providing and we're making pickup and delivery free for this week. That's the gist of what we said. And then I went into details about like order by Wednesday to pick it up Saturday, you can do a pickup where you pull up in your car, pop your trunk.
We put your order in, just going to the ABCs of how it all works. The landing page. It's just explains it. And then there's a shop now button, and then they click shop now and then they see the store and all the products. So we had 3000 people view that ad for 75 bucks over 36 hours. So it cost me like a little over a hundred, 200 twenty-five dollars.
And, I also sent it to my mailing list. So 3000 people actually viewed the landing page and 95% or more actually clicked through to the store. After they went to the landing page. And then from those, 2,900 people, we had 207 orders come in, but that's what you're expecting, like a 10%, a 10% conversion rate.
for the first time someone's exposed to a new product is really astounding. So with 207 had a 2,900 people actually paying an average 50 bucks. it just goes to show that like the reputation and the brand of the farmer's market really worked in our favor. If we were a farm that nobody was familiar with, we probably would have had to work a lot harder to get that kind of attention.
Diego: [00:45:23] So really just blasting your network. All the farmers who participated I'm sure are also reaching out. You have the Facebook ad. And this is something now that you are running on a third-party platform, but coincidentally, you are a farmer and you're also developing your own set of software wagon. W a G O N.
What is that? And how can that work and fit into the new online landscape of farmers looking to take a farmer's market online or the farm online?
Jordan MacPhee: [00:45:59] So wagon is basically a sales channel for your firm. We want you to be able to simply post your products for your own farm or on behalf of other farmers, sell it either through an online store.
The way that my market currently is, or in a CSA, the way my arm has for the last three years using wagons, you can find email@example.com it's, w a G O n.ca the old English spelling. and. We've had really great success using it for our CSA customers. you could let your customers view your product catalog, see who the producer is that they're buying from.
And if it's a CSA, there's no cash payment at the end, they've already paid up. you could have them buy your CSA using wagon at the beginning of the season so they can put their 300 bucks down. and then throughout the season, they're just using points. If you go to wagon.ca today, and it's not ready, there'll be a place to just leave your email and you'll get the one month free trial, when it is ready.
So you're going to be able to use the platform at whatever level you want for that month. And then you can decide at the end of the month, if it's something that you want to continue paying for.
Diego: [00:47:10] I love the idea of it. Just more software out there to potentially help customers, maybe sometime in the future, we can talk about all the CSA features of wagon.
It's something that I'm sure you'll continue to evolve and improve over time. People can check it out. I'll be sure to link to it in the notes for this one, but I want to thank you for coming on today, Jordan and sharing everything that you're doing at this time to help make not just. You're far more resilient, but also your customer, but also the other farmers. In your area, more resilient. Thanks for sharing.
Jordan MacPhee: [00:47:45] Thanks Diego. I really appreciate being on and thanks for everything that you do for the local food movement. It's a amazing impact that you're having. And with paper cocktail, he revolutionized our farm.
Diego: [00:47:59] There. You have it. Jordan, make fee of maple bloom, farm and wagon.
If you want to learn more about his online sales platform wagon, be sure to check them out, using the link in the show description for this episode. I hope you enjoyed this episode. I hope it planted that seed in your head. What if our local farmer's market was online or what if we just sold products that other producers made in addition to ours?
Would that increase your sales? Would it help? I think it would obviously there's more work involved, obviously. There's more logistics involved. The big question is, does the return outweigh the work and the logistics? Let me know what you think, and if you're somebody doing this and you've had great results doing it, hit me up on Instagram and let me know at Diego footer.
Thanks for listening until next time. 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.