Eight years of farming has led me to one very simple conclusion: To be a successful farmer you need to be able to grow your food, of course, and do so profitably. But more than anything, you need to be able to develop customer relationships. This, above all else, will keep your business afloat.
What defines a “good relationship” is different for every farm and every farmer. That said, today I offer some methods to develop customer relationships that will keep people wanting to support you year after year. On our farm, making sure that we maintain relationships with our customer—be they chefs, home cooks, or retailers—is as important to operations as planting or harvesting. This all starts with one very important qualifier:
1. Be Genuine
Don’t build customer relationships like an algorithm would. Rather, be sincerely interested in your customers and their lives. Learn the names of their kids, take a second to chat with them at market or at drop-offs. Not only will you give them a personal connection to your food, but you will gain a personal connection to where the food goes every week. Perhaps from that you can also gain new ideas for how to better conduct your business and serve all customers. It’s worth noting that this embodies what agriculture was historically all about. For years before grocery stores, people who couldn’t grow their own food had relationships with the people who could.
2. Respond To Email Messages
This might sound obvious, but it can be difficult in the busy season to set aside the time to thank someone for a message,or to acknowledge that you read it. Taking the time to make sure sure they know you got it helps build customer relationships.
3. Respond To Social Media Comments & Messages
Again, people like to know they were heard, and social media is an effective channel for this. If you can make responding to comments on Facebook or Instagram part of your work day at least once or twice a week (maybe more for bigger farms) that will help improve your customer relationships tremendously.
Refrain from revealing too much about the financial struggles of your farm or anything that will make your customers feel uneasy, but when you speak with people, offer facts and anecdotes from your life that might better connect them to you. You can be reserved at first, but if a customer asks questions, feel free to keep talking. Putting a story with the food they buy will help them to appreciate it all the more and also build customer relationships.
5. Show Up
For many larger farms, it is hard for the farmer to be at every CSA drop, restaurant delivery or market. But the face of the farm should try to be there sometimes, maybe rotating through the markets and talking to the people who support the farm. If it’s hard to imagine scheduling that into your days, think of it as an opportunity to learn how best to serve your patrons. You can also try to bring people out to the farm more often so they can meet you and know you better.
6. Start A Facebook Group For Your Farm
It is such a simple thing, but starting a Facebook group for your farm—especially if you run a CSA—is a great way to have exclusive interactions with your customers and for them to have exclusive interactions with each other. They might share recipes and stories or ask questions of you. Don’t hesitate to engage with them. “Like” their contributions, comment often and start discussions. Building customer relationships in these ways increases the value of the product and increases the quality of it as well. All that’s required from you is to care about those who support you—not a difficult task for a passionate farmer.