From the phone files
Had a call in November from a young man, let’s call him Abel. He’s a farmer in the Southeast. He grew up on the farm his father owned and then handed down to him and his sister. Now, Abel and his sister and his wife make a pretty decent living growing and selling specialty grains and vegetables. They bag the specialty grains in plain bags and staple labels to them. The veggies are either bunched and tagged, placed in plastic bags, or “put up” in jars. The bags, tags and jars have hand written labels. The stuff is just unique enough that it sells like crazy at the local grocery and area farmers markets. They even have a small group of delivery customers.
Seems that Abel and the family are thinking about kicking things up a notch and they are wondering how much things like a logo and custom product package art would cost. They had been talking with a regional “fresh” food chain and the buyer (who had already heard about and sampled the products) suggested they might want to invest in the look and feel of their packaging. Up to this point, their marketing efforts consisted of handing out free samples of their grains, produce and canned veggies and then relying on word of mouth and social media postings to get the word out. People would go to their booth at the farmers markets knowing what to ask for, and then maybe try something else while they were there. The locally owned grocery in their town picked up on the gaining popularity of the grains and produce and made room for them in his produce section. There’s a small display shelf at one end of the produce case where the “put up” items are merchandised. No signs, no POS, just jars with hand written labels on a shelf.
And it all sells out.
While it’s a good thing the family is thinking about its brand and how it looks and feels, the question that came to my mind was, “How big do you want to grow this thing?” Are we talking the surrounding counties? The entire state? Surrounding states? The Southeast states? The Eastern seaboard? Nationwide?
How much larger could they get before their land was producing all it could, and then, was there a plan to accumulate more farmable land? Was the additional land close by? What was it going to cost, and then, did they have the additional hands to work it properly? What processes did they have in place, or were they planning to have in place to clean and package and can the products as the company grew.
Unlike a number of small businesses I speak with, Abel and his family had a plan. The growth plan did include more land and they had already worked a deal for it. Additional equipment had already been purchased and, once up and running, they figured they would be able to quadruple their production at a minimum. Therefore, they were looking at statewide distribution to specialty grocers. Another part of that plan was the brand’s visual development. The plan called for packaging that would allow the products to ship and keep properly, display neatly and visibly on shelves, with a look that is unique, easy to find and recognize, and imparts the feeling of hand picked goodness.
I was impressed with the amount of work they put into their plan. It seems that companies like ours often get calls to fix things clients thought they could just wing it on – without a plan. And, where it probably would have cost them less to make and work a branding and marketing plan from the beginning, fixing things always costs more. Either work on your own plan, or pay someone to help you, but have a plan. And, if at all possible, start that plan when your are planning your business – before start-up. Use it like a road map and refer to it regularly . Make tweaks along the way. It’s easier to gently steer a ship than it is to stop it, turn, start it again, stop it, turn, start it again … you get the picture.
Abel and I discussed how The MAD House works with clients like them and we worked up some estimates and timelines. Turns out we were competing with a company in the Denver area specializing in organic consumer package goods, a small design shop in North Carolina, and a “full-service” ad agency out of Atlanta. The Denver area bunch was a bit out of touch on pricing (or maybe they really didn’t want the business?). The Atlanta agency, “Didn’t hear what we were saying and tried to sell us all sorts of crap we would never use” – Abel’s words.
Turns out the North Carolina group and The MAD House were comparable in price, talent and approach. In the end, North Carolina won out because of their proximity to the farm, and they had done some similar work with a local honey operation.
Abel has a plan and he’s working it. I’m excited for Abel and his family and have a good feeling about the future of their venture.
Some folks know exactly what they want, others need a little help figuring it out. And that’s why we’re here.