Creating customer bonds with presence, abundance, and generosity

Traditional retailing wisdom says it is of the utmost importance to give customers exactly what they pay for. Any less, and you are cheating the customer; any more and you are cheating yourself.

Being rather non-traditionalist myself, allow me to offer an amended view.

Many markets and farmers have a budget for what they refer to as promotion. This consists of getting the word out about them, their products, how to find them and so forth.

I have always felt that there are two very important parts of promotion that many marketers ignore. One is presence, the other generosity.

Early in the season, or if a market is in a new location, actually being there at market, set up ready to sell, can be one of the best forms of promotion of all. There is nothing like your actual presence at market to promote your farm or market to passers-by and early season shoppers. Although this takes some money, it mostly takes commitment and time on your part. People who stop to buy or just to look, and even those who only notice you as they pass by, have made a mental note that you are there and ready to sell. And this message, after all, is a large part of any paid advertising campaign. Yet you have done it “on the cheap,” and with authenticity, not hype. You have accomplished a great chunk of promotion through “guerrilla marketing” instead of going through traditional and costly channels. And you have “subsidized” your costs through any sales you made.

Now let’s hold a magnifying glass to the sales transaction itself.

Once you have brought shoppers into your market arena, the next step is to create a bond with them which goes beyond the food-for-money sales transaction. I am not saying that this transaction alone does not create bonding. It certainly does—and quality of the product and cheerfulness in the process go a long way toward strengthening that bond.

As any wise merchandiser knows, abundance of the display makes purchasing more likely. We all like to pick from a big display rather than from a tiny one. Some of this comes from a sense of greater choice, but some comes also from partaking in that abundance.

Yet at the actual point of sale, where the sales transaction is taking place, there needs to be an alternative to the cold calculus of money-for-food. When the scales read a little over two pounds, I call it two pounds, whether the customer is watching or not. When they are watching, they realize they are getting a gift; and since they soon learn that I always do it that way, they don’t feel as though they owe me anything. That’s just a generosity with which I do business. And it becomes a generosity, like abundance, they enjoy partaking in. I see the few pennies of produce this costs me as part of my promotion budget—and I believe it is a few pennies well spent. I like, too, that this part of my promotion budget is going directly to the people who keep me in business, not to an advertising agency or commercial media.

From the customer’s point of view, that personal interaction between buyer and seller, although it may only take a few moments, makes the difference between satisfaction and mediocrity; feeling good about shopping at market, or just doing another chore.

From the seller’s point of view, the interaction between buyer and seller is a re-affirmation of our livelihood, a shopper’s vote by dollars that we are doing the right thing by them—and with our lives. We need to feel we have brought a little happiness into people’s lives by the interactions we have with them.

Why do we do all this? One reason is to make more money at market, for sure. I won’t deny that. If we don’t do well at market, we won’t be back. But if that is the only reason, then we are not only shortchanging our own spirits, but betraying the culture of agriculture itself. We do it to counteract the poisonous dominant culture that separates farmer from eater. We do it to create bonds between ourselves and the people who rely on us to keep doing what we do.

In today’s world of shoppers separated physically and emotionally from their needs, sales transactions are mercilessly exploited by a greedy corporate paradigm that all too many sellers follow like it was gospel. The selling transaction is reduced to its profit value, and shoppers become simply consumers of goods. As a retailer, I have the power to display the same joy in selling that I feel in farming. And joy, like love, grows the more you give it away.

About Tom Roberts

When I started attending the Brewer Farmers’ Market back in August of 1983, my sole concern was being able to sell the produce my farm was growing at a good price. After attending market for a year or two, I began to realize that how the market was organized had a great impact on my sales. And how the market was organized also influenced how it made decisions about dues, new members, what could be sold at market, and how it promoted itself—and this, too, had an impact on my sales. So I got involved in the market’s steering committee and began to understand how various market members thought the market should operate. Some wanted a market czar, some wanted everyone to be allowed to do their own thing. But everyone seemed to agree that if the market as a whole did well, then so did they.