Johnson discusses retail, special event marketing
NORTH BRUNSWICK — Wes Johnson of the Johnson’s Family Farms in Jobstown shared his insights and expertise with retail and special event marketing to a small gathering of farmers at the recent New Jersey Farmers’ Direct Marketing Association conference, held at the Middlesex County Earth Center.
Johnson is the full-time farm manager at Johnson’s Locust Hall Farm in Jobstown.
“Everyone on your farm should be aware of everything that’s going on on the farm,” he told the group.
He confided he doesn’t spend much time on the computer or the Internet due to his demanding work schedule, but these tasks are usually handled by his older brother Will.
“We recently bought a second farm and I’m pretty much full-time on the new farm now,” Johnson said. “I’m going to try and throw some things at you guys that you might not have been thinking about.”
Wes is involved in farming, weddings, special events, you-pick operations and farmers’ market sales, as well as administering their 15-week CSA program.
“It’s a lot that I’m involved in and I can get pulled in a lot of different directions,” he said, but added farmers always need to keep marketing tasks well in mind.
“Being a weather-dependent business, it takes some stress away to have weddings and special events on the farm, because they’re not weather-dependent like your you-pick operations,” he said, adding that employees struggle trying to accommodate families and kids that visit and on busy fall weekends, “and with a wedding at 3:30 that same afternoon, there’s often a lot happening at once.”
“Our brand identity on our farm is having the highest quality customer service, quality products and a beautiful historic farmstead,” he said. “It’s just as important to have a logo, we’ve always had the sunflower as our logo and my grandmother Betty Johnson designed this; they see that sunflower out on the road and they recognize we’re in Jobstown,” he said.
Betty Johnson also hand paints all of the signs for the Locust Hall Farm.
Johnson stressed educating a staff is critical.
“Expressing to them what you want them to tell your customers is important,” he noted, adding “your staff is responsible for keeping the people coming back, so we take the time to teach staff and host job fairs and get people who actually want to work.” The Johnsons also hold an employee appreciation party at the end of each growing season, using their on-farm facilities.
As always, “word of mouth is the best marketing that can be done, and we do the work to get people on the farm, but once they’re there, your staff is responsible for getting them all to keep coming back.”
“It’s very important that you’re accessible to your customers in the right way, when that phone rings, it’s very important that call gets to the right person.
People might not think it’s that big of a deal, things like phone manners, answering e-mails, messaging, voice mails, these are all things that everyone should be aware of and it’s important to [respond to people] in timely fashion,” he said.
How your farm is listed when a potential patron is doing a Google search is also a concern, “and where you get reviews, you want to see the five stars,” he said.
The Johnsons and their staff use Constant Contact to stay in touch with CSA customers, and they have been diligent about steadily building an e-mail list over the few short years Locust Hall Farm has been open.
He said Johnson’s Locust Hall Farm also uses Facebook and Instagram to promote available produce and on-farm activities.
“We market differently on Facebook and Instagram,” he noted, “on Facebook we tend to post more information about things happening on the farm.”
“As much as we have a presence on Facebook and Instagram, you always want to have a hyperlink back to your website, everything should be pointed right back to your website where most of your information should be. That is your home base.”
He recommends a revolving banner at the top of your farm’s website to display what’s in season.
It’s also worthwhile to have it designed in such fashion as it displays correctly on smart phones, which everyone has nowadays, he argued.
People can now sign up and pay online for the Johnson Family Farm CSA program by credit or debit card.
“In summary, our goals for our farms is to create memories and traditions, and by doing so, we get many repeat customers,” he said.
“A girl signs up for a summer camp, comes out and picks pumpkins later that fall and later on she realizes, ‘Wow, I love this farm so much I want to get married here.’ That’s kind of our goal as to what we’re trying to be.
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