Direct marketing your beefalo by quarters, will limit the contact you have with your customers. There are actually quarters customers that we have never met in person. If selling through your own on-farm store or at farmer’s markets, you should be prepared to, and even enjoy meeting and talking with the people who come by. You can start engaging them by asking “How are you doing today? Would you like to know something about our beefalo meat products?” Make eye contact. Many will ask you what beefalo meat is. Don’t be surprised if they think that it is literally some bison meat and beef smooshed together. We always have a few pictures of our beefalo laid out on our display board and have a diagram showing the three generational crossings that ultimately result in a full-blood beefalo. We also include a display of the nutritional facts where beefalo was compared to beef, pork and chicken. All of these things help to educate the customer and can assist in making sales. But your display alone won’t make the sale; you need to be willing to talk with them.
THE FARM STORE: As part of our direct marketing setup, we have opened a farm store on our farm. Fortunately for us, it is located on a fairly heavily traveled road just south of a lake resort area that gets lots of visitors during the summer months. Many of the lake visitors come from surrounding towns anywhere from 15 miles away to 2 hours away in the Twin Cities area. We are only open on Friday afternoons for 3 hours and all day on Saturdays (6 hours). In just that short amount of time, we can generate several hundred dollars in sales per weekend. That fact in itself, makes it worth our while to have the farm store open 10 months of the year.
The other benefit of the farm store is that people get to sample your meat products in individual packages, choosing from burgers, roasts, steaks, jerky, snack sticks, and summer sausages. By tasting our meat, they often find it so much to their liking that they are interested in purchasing larger quantities such as a quarter or half. And again, word of mouth spreads which brings in others to try our meat and either return again and again or to buy larger quantities.
LEGAL STUFF: For an on-farm store, you will have to check with your county to see if there are any permitting or licensing requirements. We built our 8’ x 20’ farm store on a hay wagon base so that it can be moved (with a tractor). That eliminated the need for a building permit. As we already had a “mobile handlers license” because we used to take our meat products to the local farmers markets (more on this idea later), the farm store was also covered under this license. In order to sell our meat through the farm store by individual packages, we need to have the meat “state” inspected. We made sure that the butcher that we chose for our processing was able to do this. He cuts, wraps and freezes our meat to our specifications and then using labels that we provide with our name and logo, he labels each package, weighs it and applies a sticker showing the weight and price per our instructions.
THE FARM STORE SETUP: We purchased a large commercial freezer in which to store a quantity of our meat products. A simple countertop, a chalkboard listing our products and prices and a calculator and cash box were all that was needed to do business. We added some little extras and a portable sign that we put out at the road when the store is open to attract attention. Over the course of 10 months, we typically will sell 3-4 beefalo through our farm store and at retail prices slightly higher than those in the grocery store, we make a much larger profit than if we sell them by quarters. But then we have to because we have to factor in the time that we spend in the store, the cost of labels, and the cost of maintaining the meat in our freezers so that it is always available. The end benefit to selling in individual packages is that you will very often get a quarters customer in return.
SELLING WITHOUT THE FARM STORE: Depending on your location, a farm store may not be feasible. Before we built the farm store, we maintained several commercial freezers where we stored a couple of quarters worth of meat at a time. Through word of mouth, we had several regular customers that would come to the house to buy meat from us periodically. The sales income generated this way was less than the farm store sales because we found that people are reluctant to come to “someone’s home”. Even though we work on the farm all the time and don’t have “off-farm” jobs, people somehow felt that they might be interrupting us by just stopping buy. The farm store tells people that we are setting aside this time just for them and it makes them feel better about coming to buy.
FARMER’S MARKETS: The alternative to a farm store would be a small, portable trailer setup that you take to local area farmers markets during the summer months. Before we had the farm store, we tried this for a couple of years. It definitely helped to get the word out to the locals as to who we were and what we raised.
Our setup had to be portable. We purchased a small trailer. We secured a commercial chest freezer in it. It was large enough to hold a folding table, a couple of chairs, some signage that we put out including items for sale and pricing, and a collapsible tent just in case the weather was wet. We put together a covered box that contained several large batteries and an inverter setup to power our freezer for at least 5-6 hours. This was needed so that we were sure that the meat would stay frozen from the time we left the house until we returned. The trailer had to be inspected by a representative of the county and we had to purchase a mobile handlers license from the state. None of this was terribly expensive.There was also a fee that we needed to pay to be a vendor at each of the markets. These fees can vary widely from $25 per season to hundreds of dollars per season. My advice after this venture is to do research before jumping into this. All farmers markets are not created equal and do not produce the same results. Before signing up to become a vendor, visit each market that you are interested in several times. Pick a spot where you can see most of the vendors and just sit there for a couple of hours. Watch the customers. Look to see what they are buying or not buying. Are they consistently skipping over some vendors and going to others? Look at the pricing of the various vendors. Take particular note of other meat vendors as they could possibly be your competition. What is their setup like? What are they charging and what are they offering? What are the overall prices like? Understand that with many fruit and veggie farmers, they will start out the day with one price but will offer lower prices towards the end of the day or weekend just so that they don’t have to take all that stuff back home with them. When selling frozen meat, though, you will not have to face “certain spoilage” so should not even consider discounting your meat.
Talk to the various vendors at the farmer’s markets. What is their overall impression of how the market is run? Is there adequate advertising? And are the fees being used to purchase advertising? What do they think of the customers; are the customers looking for quality or are they just looking for a bargain?
CONNECTION TO YOUR CUSTOMERS: Many people want to be able to connect with the farmer. A farm store also provides this benefit. They want to know how their meat is raised and treated. They want to be able to experience even just a little bit of farm life either because they were raised on a farm many years ago or they remember stories from their grandparents about life on the farm. It provides a connection to their food that makes them appreciate it more and therefore are more willing to spend a little extra on what they will be eating. We have some of our beefalo pastured right next to our farm store so that people can view the actual animals and make an even better connection to their food. They see them grazing in the pastures and can see how healthy and contented they look and this helps to make the sales that much easier.