Lessons from Wood Prairie Farm

I had the unique pleasure of spending this weekend in picturesque Bangor, Maine with a group independent farmers interested in how they might further grow their business through word of mouth marketing. Independent is indeed the key word here – these folks all run very different types of operations and take great pride in doing things their way. The independence also means that each individual grower is responsible for both the agricultural and the business sides of their operations.

sampler2.jpgOne of the growers that I had the pleasure of spending time with is Jim Gerritsen who, with his wife Megan, runs the remarkable operation at the Wood Prairie Farm in Bridgewater, ME. Wood Prairie Farm is an organic family farm offering seed potatoes, tablestock potatoes, and a host of other grain products and organic gifts to farmstand proprietors, backyard gardeners, and gourmands all across the country through his catalog and website. Jim has forgotten more about potatoes than anyone currently reading this could ever hope to know, but that is not the sole reason for his success. He also brings a great amount of savvy and creativity to the marketing table.
Top Lessons from Jim:

KingHarry.JPGPotato postcards (a.k.a. Design Matters) – Jim realized that while his dozens of varieties of potatoes have different characteristics, they could look indistinguishable to the untrained eye so putting a picture of the end product on bags of seed was not enough. To differentiate between the offerings, each has an informative and beautiful “potato postcard” that is attached to each bag that goes out. These unique cards are so popular that they are also sold separately here.
Kowledgable frontline employees are part of the experience – When growers – either backyard or professional – call Wood Prairie Farm, they want more than quality organic products. They want to hear a little “Maine speak”, talk about the weather, and be able to seek counsel from someone who knows what it is to grow something themselves. Jim also understands the power of surprising a customer by personally picking up the phone and hearing what the customers have to say. After all, they aren’t just calling for products & advice, they’re calling for a piece of Maine and to be a part of the Gerritson’s extended family.
Testimonials work 2 ways ” We often say that customers don’t trust your company, they trust people like them.  This is the origin of the power of testimonials. What Jim has tapped into is that by incorporating scores and scores of testimonials into each of his beautiful catalogs, customers have become more and more inclined to send testimonials in and then look for themselves in print!
‘Sow 10,000 seeds’ – This is one of Guy Kawasaki’s lines to refer to doing good things wherever you go, because you never know which of your time and energy investments may flower. Jim practices an even more literal and productive version of this! When customers place and order, he will include a packet of seeds for one of his other product lines (lettuce, zucchini, pepper, squash, melon) that he know will grow in their geography. It is a low cost/high delight way to spread the word about a new offerings while giving customers something to talk about or share with a friend.

I want to give a hearty thanks to Tessa at the Heart of Maine, John from the Maine Department of Agriculture, and all of the growers who were so generous with their time and wisdom in contributing to the day’s workshop!

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