Tech Corner: New App for Farmers Offers Incentives to Customers
By: Simon Huntly, Creator of FarmFan Posted On: March 5, 2014
It is Saturday morning, and Nathan Holmes is driving to the Pittsburgh Public Market when his phone lights up with a text message asking him what he is going to have to sell at market that day. Nathan manages Clarion River Organics, a cooperative consisting of 10 Amish growers in Clarion County, Pennsylvania about 75 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. They sell four days a week at the recently-moved Pittsburgh Public Market, seasonal outdoor markets, through wholesale channels, and a CSA.
Nathan arrives in the Strip District of Pittsburgh, a short walk from downtown Pittsburgh, and before setting up the stand, he texts back to the earlier message, “$1 carrots for all farm fans + Soup Nancy’s serving up our tomato basil soup.” In a couple minutes, this text message will be sent out to all his FarmFan customers – hopefully getting them down to the market to buy carrots!
Nathan started using FarmFan, a new app from Small Farm Central, in late January to increase winter market sales. It is currently being beta tested by 20 farms around the country for a wider release on May 1st to coincide with the main market season.. The app aims to improve farmers market sales for individual vendors through a loyalty system and text message notifications to customers immediately before the market.
“Customers have been really interested in joining the program and they love the idea of getting points and rewards. We’ve taken it slow as we learn about the FarmFan program, but we have our Saturday text message list built up to 35 customers in just a few weeks and will continue to increase that number as the season goes on,” says Nathan from Clarion River Organics.
As customers shop at the market, they get points each time they shop. The points are entered into the farm’s smart phone or other mobile device and FarmFan lets the farmer know if there are any rewards for the customer. Rewards are set up by the farmer and are as individual as the farms that use FarmFan.
“There is certainly a place for monetary rewards, such as spend $200 and get $10 off the next order, but there is room for a lot of creativity. For example, during tomato season, a box of canning tomatoes can be a reward. We had one farmer who talked about having a VIP farm tour and cook-out at the end of the season for customers who accumulate 500 points”, explains Simon, developer of the FarmFan app.
One issue is getting points recorded in the FarmFan app when the market is busy. Roxanne who sells at the indoor Flint Farmers Market says, “We are still learning about the most efficient way to get the points into the system. When I’m really busy now I write the customer’s phone number and points on a whiteboard and enter it in later.”
“All the farmers who are testing FarmFan agree, the extra hassle of getting points entered will be worth it if people come to market more often and spend more when they come. It becomes this special club and people are excited to get text messages from their farmer. It is more intimate than social media and email”, says Simon.
FarmFan also provides materials to use at the market to communicate with customers about the program such as t-shirts that say “Are you a FarmFan?”, spiral bound notebooks to write down points when the market is busy, signs, buttons for customers, and more.
FarmFan will be widely available on May 1st. In the meantime, visit http://farmfanapp.com/about/forfarmers for more information.