Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Harvesting Green Marketing Tips from the Farmers Market

Over 20 deep on a typical Saturday and more than 50 deep on the 4th of July -- not counting the kids and friends tagging along -- shoppers line up to buy corn at the local farmers market. It goes on like this all morning, until the corn runs out or the market closes.

This corn business is fascinating. Who would wait in a line reminiscent of Soviet Russia or the launch of a new Apple product, when corn is available from many other vendors? Was this corn so much better? What if anything could I learn about marketing from the corn-selling champ?

Lines are an anathema to me. I typically abandon my shopping efforts when forced to wait. But in the interest of marketing, I stand in line and wait my turn to buy corn.

How is the corn-selling champ creating this sales extravagance? Let's review his tactics using the traditional marketing P's: Product, People, Place Promotion, Price.

Product: Best of class I purchased corn from several other vendors to do a test taste with family and friends. All agreed. The corn-selling champ's product was incredibly sweet. The others, although eaten with no complaints in previous weeks, tasted bland in comparison.

The corn-selling champ represents G&S Farms of Brentwood, Calif. G&S is a family farm that specializes in corn. Their maniacal focus on corn leads them to hybridize and test hundreds of varieties to find the best. Ghiggeri and Stonebarger -- the G & S -- are also hailed as "geniuses at timing when to pick the corn."

The corn-selling champ only sells corn. And only one or two varieties of corn are available at any one time. By focusing, the corn-selling champ is able to claim the mantle of "specialist."

People (service): Corn Steward John Blasi represents G&S farms. Blasi is a retired chemistry teacher, who along with his son-in-law runs the stand.

When shoppers reach their prize, they are forbidden to touch or even select their ears. A large sign requests, "Please don't tear down the corn." Blasi asks how many ears and then selects for the customer.

Blasi focuses on efficient service rather than self-service. It is part of his strategy to ensure the highest quality product. The customer is not a corn expert and may not select the best. If a customer tears down the husk to inspect the corn and then tosses the ear back, the product is ruined.

It is unnecessary for a real expert to pull back the husk. When Blasi selects the ears, he does a final quality check and rejects any that are too small or other defect. This focus on quality led to only one customer complaint last year.

Place (channel): Anchor location The corn-selling champ has an end row location making his stall more visible. When asked how he came by this coveted location, Blasi replied that "My line was blocking the other vendors, so they asked that the corn guy move."

Popularity leads to higher rankings whether in search results, anchoring a mall, customer recall or the farmers market.

Promotion: A long line speaks volumes No catchy name, just a small sign declaring "Brentwood corn."

But the long line was an even more effective advertisement. It's what got my attention. Most people assume that the most popular brand has good reason to be number one.

Price: No markdowns supported by superior inventory management Although he supplied a superior product, Blasi did not charge a premium. All vendors sold corn for the same price.

However, Blasi does not discount as many vendors do as noon approaches and their fruits and vegetables are still piled high. He has no patience for the bargain hunters sniffing around.

His son-in-law is tasked with inventory management to ensure just the right amount is brought to the market. The goal is to sell out by closing. He tracks units sold by variety by week at different markets where they sell. The week prior was July 4th when they sold 100 boxes. The subsequent week they sold out after 76 boxes at 6 minutes until close. John teased his son-in-law about "messing up and losing sales."

After 10 minutes in line, I reach Blasi and request six ears. As he hands me my corn, the corn-selling champ smiles broadly and says, "See you next week."

In Part 2, we will discuss 3 Ways to Apply Lessons of the Farmers Market to Any Green Marketing Program. Read more >>

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