TFWF#43: The great sales conundrum.

Its been busy on the farm since the flood. Not only has there been lots on fencing to be done we have also changed our structure for feeding, sorting and weaning the grower pigs, in addition to this we have also had eight litters in two months and increased the breeding herd to 22 sows.

Whilst we have been busy many of you might have also noticed that we have been absent from the markets, the cafes and the restaurants. Our disappearance from the outside world is due to, what I shall now call, the great sales conundrum (or GSC), brought about by a lack of good free range pork producers and a plethora of supportive customers.

The GSC is basically an over demand of product and whilst I know I am lucky to be in that situation I really don’t like letting people down, turning down opportunities or being sporadic in supply. In order to explain my conundrum in more detail I thought I might outline all the potential sales channels that we have, each with their own pros and cons and then I thought it might be nice for you all to give me some advice and feedback, via a comment on here or on Facebook.

Farmers Markets.

When we started the business we always planned to attend farmers markets, we chose Fielding and Thorndon because they appeared to be authentic grower markets. Unfortunately as time went on we found ourselves competing with a butcher from Wellington in Fielding and a general retailer selling meat from the store in Hawkes Bay at the Thorndon market. Despite this I really enjoy the markets, I get to meet a great deal of lovely customers and characters, I get direct feedback and its a great opportunity to grow business opportunities. I have also been able to try lots of different cuts of meat to see what sells best and showcase the quality of the meat. On the downside the markets take three days of valuable time on the farm, a day to prepare and two days at the markets, and the success of the day is very dependant on the weather. Financially the markets work for us because we sell direct to our customers and the only extra costs are the market fees and the fuel.

Hill St Farmers Market (Wellington)

Hill St Farmers Market (Wellington)

Online Sales.

We had always planned to sell product via the website but we never had enough stock to attend the markets and sell online. The flood changed all that when we were unable to get to the markets and had a trailer full of meat to sell. We thought it best to trial online sales and managed to sell out in 49 mins. After that first trial we continued attending the markets and also selling small quantities of meat packs online. In August we took a break from sales to focus on the farm and came back in September with a greater focus on the online side of the business. The packs have been selling very well, I have enjoyed the customer feedback from all over the country and without any middle men we make a full margin (less the costs of sales). Obviously it takes a day to prepare and pack and we worry about the delivery arriving fresh but so far all has gone well and we have successfully delivered over 800 packets of bacon and sausages. I do miss getting to meet my customers face to face but the gain in time on the farm is, at this point, much needed.

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Restaurants and Cafes.

I love working with the owners and chefs of restaurant and cafes. These are the people that challenge the preparation of food and have the experience to truly grade the quality of our meat against others, it is their feedback that helps me to provide better quality product to everyone. I have been lucky to work with some excellent restaurants who have respected the way we grow our meat and promoted Woody’s to their customers. But, with only limited stocks at the moment, we have to manage our profitability and therefore we focus on our direct sales via the markets or online. This means that we are not able to supply the chefs on a regular enough basis, or large enough quality, and will often loose out on opportunities.  My goal is to be able to work regularly with a small number of restaurants around the country as soon as our stock levels rise.

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Speciality retailers.

Without a doubt the best way to promote your product and your brand is to have product in front of customers all the time. Unfortunately markets are only once a week and selling online relies on customers to find you, not the other way around. Putting product on the shelves in speciality stores who promote quality, niche products associates our brand with theirs and  encourages sales on a daily basis. The downside is again that retailers also need to make money, to pay their associated costs, and with limited stock we simply cannot afford to be on too many of those shelves. Additionally, whilst speciality retailers are very good at explaining to their customers about the provenance of the food they sell we, as the grower, do not get to talk direct to our customers, something that I think is very important.

Supermarkets.

In my previous life as a consumer electronics executive I spent a lot of time selling to supermarkets. Unfortunately supermarkets have all of the bad elements of speciality retailers with none of the good elements. They are not willing to take the time to talk about provenance, they do not fairly share profitability and over time they gradually reduce the value of your product in the consumers eyes, normally by heavy and unwarranted discounting. Any farmer who works with the supermarkets knows that the vanity of a high turnover of stock is not a replacement for the low profitability. Of course nationwide exposure and a single point of delivery is attractive to some, but not us.

Having broken down the pros and cons of all our potential retail outlets I am keen to hear what you think we should do, and who we should focus on. At the moment our limited stocks means that we can only afford to concentrate on the markets and online store but we hope to be able to continue supporting the restaurants, cafes and small speciality stores that we currently sell too. Moreover the chiller trailer is currently out of action so we have to concentrate on online sales until some work has been carried out on the trailer, when that is fixed we intend to attend one market a months and sell online twice a month. Maybe one day we will have greater exposure across the country.

9 thoughts on “TFWF#43: The great sales conundrum.

    • Thanks for your comments Grant. The truthful answer is that we simply have to get bigger because at the moment we don’t make enough money to pay for the day to day running of the farm and certainly not a wage. I fully understand the returns will come in time. As for staff, we have started to look for someone to help on the farm and have already taken on a veterinarian nurse to help with animal health. The only way is up, I hope!

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  1. It’s a toughy..and I find myself in a similar situation with chocolate. Well, I guess I don’t have exactly the same production constraints as you, afterall with time and raw ingredients I can always make more. But currently it’s still a delicate mix of markets, retailers, businesses such as hotels, restaurants, event venues and online. I’m of the opinion at the moment that I need a piece of all of those routes to market, to get my name out there and product in front of customers whilst the business grows. But I plan to switch the mix over time. Phase 2 will probably be more direct sales, a few specialist retailers and topped up with a few direct to business opportunities. Ultimately I see a shop and somewhere in the middle of all that will have to be investment in additional equipment, space and maybe even an apprentice chocolatier! All better than working in an office though?!

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  2. Manakau is close to Otaki.
    Otaki is a “destination” for a lot of Wellington, Hutt, Kapiti visitors. Is there a way you could think of tapping into that passing “carriage trade” with direct or “on commission” direct sales?
    Logistically SH1 is problematic,
    Heading north there are only three or four nearby business sites you could utilise. Highway drivers are focussed on destination. How do you get them to stop and start thinking your pork? (internet).
    Otaki does not look promising, no obvious space,and competition.
    Heading south could you persuade punters to “step aside” into Manakau to visit Woody’s or a Woody agent/outlet?
    Agents or outlets could be pick up (or pre ordering) sites.

    I live north of Levin. Our rubbish is collected on demand every 6 to 8 weeks when we telephone (a lot of our stuff is composted fed to stock or recycled). We pay the account at a dairy in Levin as and when I drive past the shop.
    The wheeled traffic on weekends passing Manakau to and from Otaki presents possibilities. Pick up and drop off points onthe way to and from a destination may be worth considering.
    Cheers.

    I admit to conflict of interest, I would love being able to criuse down to Manakau and visit Woody’s.

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  3. Sounds like you’re changing your sales mix to suit your needs at the moment i.e. markets once a month (I think it’s an important part of your mix that you should stick with though, takes time and energy to set up but it sounds like you enjoy it), increase direct sales and maintain a small supply to restaurants and cafes.
    Careful what you wish for though in terms of becoming national, you’ll get less sleep than you do now! Sounds to me like the business is developing/adapting well.

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    • Cheers James, definitely growing and only restricted by my ability to grow more pigs. If only I could pop over to China and pick up a container of cheap pigs….dont worry that is never going to happen. Take care.

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  4. I’ve been a Woody’s customer for a year, starting at Thorndon Farmer’s Market. Now that I know the back story, I’m happy to spend most of my annual meat spending online with Woodys (in preference to other types of meat and other shops). In that way, markets are a good showcase for producers. However, purchasing from the market is a total drag for me because its limited to a very brief time window (and now that Woody’s tends to sell out early the time window is too small to bother). Online is absolutely fantastic, saves me so much time and I can see what is available. Only dissappointed by current range … can’t live on sausages and bacon forever! Looking forward to other cuts becoming available.

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    • Thank you for your comments Sarah. It really is very useful to get honest feedback from a customer. I fully understand and agree with your comments about the markets and we will continue to attend markets every now and then in order to showcase the products and the farm. In the meantime I take on board your comments about product selection via the website, this week I will start to sell some meat packs to see how well they sell and we will work from there. I hope one day to have a totally flexible site so you can choose anything you like but I will still need a min purchase in place because we have to half fill the delivery boxes to ensure temperature efficientcy. Once again, thank you.

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