Country Road Bees at the 2022 Fremont Craft FairDecember 22, 2022
Ahh, honey, the sweet and golden elixir of pure joy. The hive you started as a hobby three years ago has morphed into six. Honey flow was heavy, and you have 800 pounds sitting around in sixteen, 5-gallon pails (food grade of course). Family, friends, and neighbors still have a jar or two from last year’s bumper harvest. Now what? That was the dilemma facing Vicki and I last summer, what to do with the honey from the growing number of hives. Our answer was to start a small business. Without access to a commercial kitchen, direct sales to a customer under the Cottage Industry standard was our only option (interstate online sales fall within this domain}, distribution by wholesaling requires bottling in a commercial kitchen (that is a Nebraska standard, your state laws may differ).
This summer we went to two local Farmer’s Markets and were able to sell about half of the year’s production, one jar at a time. Spending an afternoon chatting with and getting to know a potential customer is a great way to spend a day. Selling honey was icing on the cake so I didn’t mind the time spent even on a slow sales day. I’m quite confident that this is a good, albeit old fashioned way, of building sales long-term. Many customers are now repeats, or someone will call saying they heard of us from a friend that bought honey at the market. But what to do with the other half? This year we extended the sales season by attending the Fremont NE holiday craft show, but with very little planning. While it was well worth the 5-hour investment, we could have done better at presenting our product. Here is some of what we learned.
1. Curb appeal. Our display was okay but wow, nothing compared to the seasoned professionals. Lessons learned?
a. Have a seasonal table covering and backdrop.
b. Have a backdrop that hides what is behind you (in this case a coat hanger and cinder wall).
c. People are attracted to bright, warm colors, and accent lighting.
d. Organize your display; it cannot be a cluttered mishmash of stuff.
e. While some people like choices, others don't. Have offerings that are grab-and-go.
2. Sell to the season. The craft show was December 3rd and whilst Christmas was not the only theme, it was dominant. Lessons learned?
a. Tablecloth and signage next year will be the colors of Christmas; white, red, green.
b. Market honey as a gift for others; stocking stuffers, gift bag, gift box.
c. Find a bottle design that goes with the holiday.
3. Know your customer. Women were far and away the largest demographic. A subgroup were grandmothers. Lessons learned?
a. Grandmothers may enjoy honey, but love spoiling grandkids even more.
b. Offer more than just honey (see learning 4).
c. Folks over 60 may communicate with friends and family on a phone or computer but not for commerce. Business cards and take-home promotional material still matter.
4. Make the most of your time. Not everyone buys honey but everyone in attendance (likely) bought something. Lessons learned?
a. Offer other honey related items, bees wax soap, candles, branded merch.
b. Flavored or creamed honey will expand the potential market. In Nebraska, both require a commercial kitchen.
c. Based on requests, comb, flavored, and spun(creamed) honey are in vogue.
5. Payment options. Cash was far and away the payment of choice, but credit cards would have expanded sales. Lessons learned?
a. Find a method of accepting credit cards.
b. Not many folks in our area are NOT keen on using online payment methods such as Venmo or PayPal.
c. Folks of a certain age really appreciate it when you accept a check, well worth the risk of a few bouncing - none did.
6. Say hello to as many people as possible! This takes a bit of courage as it is akin to a sales cold call, but it is an opportunity to sell honey when someone otherwise not looking for it. I was surprised by the number of booths that I walked up to, looked at their goods, and no one said a word. Lessons learned?
a. Saying hello is an opportunity to sell your product to people that otherwise would have walked on by.
b. There is an art to saying hello and it takes practice. I find it works best when someone breaks their stride near your booth or is glancing at it.
c. When customer B walks up to the booth but you are talking to customer A, acknowledge the new customer while staying focused on A. Customer B is more likely to wait so long as they know you know they are waiting.
7. Provide free samples. Our honey is a premium product, and we ask a premium price. A sample entices an otherwise hesitant customer. Lessons learned?
a. “Would you like to sample our honey today,” can be a more effective greeting than “hello, how are you.”
b. Provide samples of the most unusual honey. Although we had five different varietals of honey, only the buckwheat honey was offered. Next year we will likely include a sample of a varietal of lighter honey. To many choices can start confusing the customer.
Selling honey can be overwhelming but sales is essential for any business. If starting a small honey business is in your future, I hope these ideas were helpful. The list is by no means exclusive or the only way to sell honey at a craft fair. Remember these three things: be authentic in everything you do, smile at everyone around you, laugh at your mistakes.