Marketing Tool: Merchandising

Marketing your business and your products doesn’t end once you get customers to come to your farm or stand. When merchandise is displayed neatly, creatively, and attractively, sales increase and customers have positive associations that will bring them back. Research done by Point-of-Purchase Advertising International found that 75% of purchasing decisions are made in the store. You have a lot of control over what people buy if your merchandising is effective!

Curb Appeal

Make your site appealing from the moment customers arrive. Hang a visible sign and clearly mark the entrance. Make sure there is ample parking and keep the parking area free of mud and snow. As people approach your stand, home, or tent, the general appearance should be neat and clean. Keep the grass mowed, and put in some plantings or flowers.

Make Shopping Easy

Think about the accessibility of your space and the ease with which customers can shop. Remove any obstructions to traffic flow and make sure your products are easy to see and reach. People are more likely to purchase items that are placed 30-38” off the ground, and to pass over items they have to bend to reach. Have boxes or baskets available – customers will buy more if they can carry more! Make sure you have the tools to sell the product based on your pricing structure. If you’re selling by the pound, have a scale. If you’re selling by volume, have pint boxes or bags available. Make sure your system is convenient for customers.

Grouping, Contrast, and Abundance

Display related products together: greens on one table, root veggies on another, and herbs near the register. Pairing commonly-associated products, such as tomatoes and basil, can also be effective. Think about contrasting the color, texture, and shape of products that are displayed together to increase visual impact. If you have several varieties of brown-skinned potatoes, display them interspersed with colored potato varieties to create a real sense of choice and variation. Keep your display looking abundant and promote items when they are bountiful. People appreciate choice and are more inclined to buy when they are surrounded by abundance. Remove empty bins and tables as products sell. Put false bottoms in containers once supplies get low, so that they still appear full. Supermarkets use red cloth under tomatoes and green under lettuce, which creates the illusion of fullness. It’s also important to continually freshen displays so they don’t look picked over– in addition to refilling boxes, straighten stacks of vegetables and keep the display tidy. If you sell fresh produce, spray vegetables with water to keep them fresh and remove anything wilted.

Signage

Your products must be labeled legibly with a clearly marked price. Put signs above produce so that they are visible even if another shopper is standing in front of a bin. Signs with information about the product can be a useful tool for shoppers. For example, label apples as best for cooking or eating, or indicate which plants grow well in shade and which need full sun. Sign materials should be consistent. Regardless of what medium you use (blackboards, card stock and markers, or computer generated text), make sure they are consistent throughout the store or stand. If you are a member of the Local Hero program, use CISA’s Local Hero materials! Our market research shows that 82% of consumers in Franklin and Hampshire County recognize and trust the Local Hero logo.

Customer Service

Be real and Honest, but Put the Customer First

Phoniness is an immediate turnoff, so be yourself and be straightforward with your customers. People often choose local because they want to feel connected to local farms, so be honest and clear about your production techniques, pricing structure, policies, etc. At the same time, remember that the interactions you have with customers should really be about them, not you. People don’t want to hear a sob story, so be authentic but positive.

Create a Customer Service Policy

Provide your staff with written customer service policies. It sets the standard for all your staff to follow, and ensures that customers have a consistently positive experience, regardless of which staff member serves them. Ensuring that all staff can provide excellent customer service will free you up to do other work.

Be Responsive

You will enable a good shopping experience when you greet and make eye contact with every customer. This opens up the lines of communication. Always take feedback to heart. If you hear anything negative about your business or any of your employees, immediately take measures to correct the problem. People are far more likely to pass along a negative experience to friends than a positive one.

Case Study #1: Robin Hollow Farm

“We sell beauty,” says Polly when asked about the importance of merchandising. Flowers, with their inherently alluring qualities, are a great starting point, but they don’t sell themselves. Polly sells plants, individual cut flowers, and premade bouquets at various farmers’ markets in Rhode Island. Robin Hollow Farm has the benefit of being the only farm of that exclusively sells flowers in their marketing region. On the other hand, flowers are a specialty item, so Polly estimates that one in ten people at any given farmers’ market are potential customers. She says that her customers tend not to be too concerned about price: people tend to have already decided whether or not to spend money on the luxury of a bouquet. Her task is to make her offerings as irresistible and easy to select as possible to the people who are potential customers.

Signage

Because flower varieties are often unfamiliar to customers, Polly makes a point of labeling each bucket of flowers, and then the price of each stem is on a large blackboard. The prices of individual stems do not vary much, but it is important to give customers pricing information, rather than forcing them to ask.

Case Study #2: Crow Farm

Most of Crow Farm’s marketing happens at their farm stand, and they have many years of experience with selling through that medium.

Customer service

Almost everyone that works at the Crow Farm stand has been with the farm for over a decade. The women that interact with the customers are very familiar with the farm’s products and growing practices, and they are more than able to answer any questions that come up at the stand. They all have plenty of cooking tips for the vegetables and can give advice about gardening and which plants to select. Many of the long-term employees contribute their own stamp to the stand: one sells handmade Crow Farm tote bags, while another has a special skill with making bouquets and will make one to your specifications.

Merchandising

The Crow Farm stand leads with whatever is the strongest aesthetic offering of the season. When you pull up to the stand, there is always a bounty of colorful products to pull you in. In the spring, the benches out front are loaded with a riot of colorful plants. As the season progresses, mums, pumpkins, and corn stalks take the place of the greenhouse plants. Another savvy merchandising decision is actually related to the crop plan. The cut flower beds are always placed behind the farm stand, creating a stunning backdrop to the stand scene.

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This material is based upon work supported by USDA/NIFA under Award Number 2010-49200-06201.

In accordance with Federal law and US Department of Agriculture policy, this institution is prohibited from discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability. (Not all prohibited bases apply to all programs.)

To file a complaint of discrimination, write USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20250-9410, or call (800) 795-3272 (voice), or (202) 720-6382 (TDD).

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