1 August 1997

LOCATING THE BENEFITS OF ALWAYS TALKING SHOP

Promoting farm shops more effectively could put extra money in the tills of some businesses, say marketing consultants who advise the Farm Retail Association. Mike Stones reports

LOCATION, location and location. Those are the three most important retailing assets, according to Gareth Jones and Rita Exner; partners in the marketing agency Lloyds Europa which advises the Farm Retail Association.

But regardless of site, theres much more farm retailers can do to promote their businesses more effectively, says Mr Jones. He highlights four key pointers that could attract more visitors to farm shops and Pick Your Own outlets and encourage them to dig deeper into their pockets once there. Those include:

&#8226 better communications with customers and the local community,

&#8226 promoting the unique benefits of farm shops,

&#8226 knowing customers requirements

&#8226 using special features to attract visitors.

"Theres no substitute for communication with customers," explains Mr Jones. "Its a two-way process; letting shoppers know what you have to sell and, perhaps more importantly, helping to tailor your goods and services to their requirements."

Telling potential customers what crops will be ready at what time of year helps to maintain interest in Pick Your Own businesses, says Mr Jones.

It helps to build customer loyalty by letting then know that the season for vegetables often begins with asparagus and spinach in April before moving through crops such as peas, cherry tomatoes, beans in mid summer and ending with pumpkins in November. Why not tell customers the fruit season often begins with strawberries from June and July before progressing to blackberries and raspberries from early summer until September and October?

Communicating with customers also helps to identify what products and services they want. Is there a local market for organic produce or speciality crops such as garlic?

Personalised service

Strong selling points of farm shops are the personalised service and high quality taste that they are uniquely placed to deliver, says Mr Jones. So he recommends farm shop and PYO owners to emphasise those unique selling points.

"Go to a farm shop and you receive a personalised service compared with the anonymous atmosphere and long queues that supermarket shoppers often have to endure," he comments.

"It pays to make visiting a farm shop a leisure activity so recruit sympathetic staff who can offer the high quality service – not the smash and grab raid that supermarket shopping has become."

Promoting the top quality taste of farm shop produce is another area where even the smallest farm shop can compete in the battle with the largest supermarket chain. "Farm shops can offer products with taste superior to most supermarket products. Take strawberries for example."

"Multiples sell the variety Elsanta which, although has a long shelf life, lacks the taste of the less durable but more flavour-some types such as Cambridge Vigour or Honeoye offered through PYO outlets or farm shops."

Special features can be a useful way of drawing customers to farm shops. "Many successful farm shops are always trying to think of new ideas to attract customers," says Mr Jones. Examples include childrens shows or cookery demonstrations designed to make farm shopping a day out for the whole family."

So with important messages to share with customers and potential customers, whats the best way to go about putting them across? The days when promoting your farm shop meant simply getting a good sign have long gone, says Ms Exner.

Word of mouth is often the best means of communication but you can help the process by using mailshots, advertising and arranging coverage in local media.

"Sending out postcards and newsletters letting customers know about which crops are ready for picking and what special events are taking place, helps to attract customers to your shop or PYO," explains Ms Exner.

Advertising in local newspapers and on local radio is another means of putting your message across to potential customers. Costs typically are about 20-50p per 1000 readers or listeners.

More effective than advertising is arranging coverage in the local Press or radio. "Persuading your local radio or TV to do an article about the first strawberry picking or a cooking demonstration youve organised will often be more effective than advertising," advises Ms Exner.

But far simpler promotional tools can be used. "A simple tub of flowers outside a farm shop costs next to nothing and says a big Welcome."

Better communications with customers always helps to promote farm shops, according to Gareth Jones and Rita Exner pictured with FRA planning guide.

John Secrett shows the strawbs, rasps and redcurrants that have attracted visitors to the farm retailing business. Right: Cookery courses conducted by BBC Masterchef finalist Elaine Ford help to attract visitors.