“Relationships take time and effort to develop,” says Robert Spencer, commercial horticulture specialist at the Alberta Ag-Info Centre. “Relationships are founded on trust, shared experiences, common interests and mutual needs.”
“Throughout the growing and harvest season, whether it is 3 weeks or 6 months long, producers spend a significant amount of time building and refining relationships with their customers. It happens with every transaction and every market interaction and contact. Those who sell to wholesalers or other markets may connect less frequently, but those interactions are no less important.”
In-season contact might include a face-to-face conversation, social media updates, a phone call between buyer and seller, daily/weekly/monthly emails or newsletter updates on crop status, or any number of other forms of contact.
In some – if not many – cases, contact between producers and their customers might only happen once a year, maybe less.
“To state the obvious,” he adds, “the longer the time between meaningful contact, the more likely the relationship will erode or be lost, and the less likely it is that the customer will remember the producer. This leads to the question – how can producers keep their business anchored in the memory of their customers, particularly in situations where contact is extremely limited?”
While face-to-face and direct, involved contact may be ideal and preferred, Spencer says that can be fairly challenging to accomplish in the off-season.
“Realistically, it does not have to be that deep or involved, but there needs to be some reminder, where appropriate. Too much contact can move you from a preferred producer to stalker quickly, so balance is important.”
Off-season contact can include:
- periodic social media updates
- pop-up winter markets/farm stands
- seasonal events
- regular emails or newsletters with stories about you and your farm
- future planning calls or emails with an outline of projected production plans for the coming season
He adds that a big part of maintaining contact in the off-season will be in those contact networks or mechanisms cultivated during the growing season.
“Set things up so you can stay in touch with your customers’ permission, of course.”