Nov 15, 2012

Wholesale? Who me?

Every week we stand in our tent at farmers markets in Houston and Austin handing out samples of what we believe is the best, freshest goat milk, yogurt, chocolate milk and cheese.  We are proud of our products, we work hard to bring them from the woods and fields to dairy and then to market and we love sharing what we do with others.

It is a rare week that passes without one of us at market being asked "do you sell wholesale?".  At first we were excited to be asked that question.  It meant not only that the person trying the product liked it--it also meant that they liked it well enough that they wanted to share it with their own customers at their store or restaurant.  This was a heady feeling at first because it seemed to indicate that we were on the right track with our products but it wasn't terribly long before that question failed to elicit excitement.  You see, we have decided that we do not "do" wholesale.  What we "do" is relationship selling.

Wholesale is a product of the industrial age.  It refers to a reduction of price on items that are bought in bulk, usually to be resold in some form or fashion.  Picture Walmart and widgets, if you will.  Walmart buys widgets in bulk and gets a great deal on them because they buy kazillions of widgets.  The manufacturer of the widgets can sell at a low price because they are saving time and labor by manufacturing widgets to one set of specifications--Walmart's.  They also can sell at a low price because they bought the individual components of their widgets at a great price because they were likewise buying kazillions of widget components.

We do not make widgets.  We do not make kazillions of anything and as a small business we cannot buy kazillions of anything that has enough of an impact on our costs to allow us to reduce our prices.

We buy feed for our animals--at retail.  We buy bottles for our milk--at retail.  We buy our cheese ingredients--at retail.  We simply do not make enough to be able to buy wholesale as we could not go through the feed, or ingredients quickly enough to keep it from going bad.  What do we do with all of this retail buying besides supporting other businesses?  We hand-craft dairy products in time honored fashion, batch by small batch. 

So when a well-meaning chef or buyer for a store asks for wholesale we are left with nothing to offer.  They cannot buy enough of our products to allow us to reduce the price and we cannot buy enough feed or supplies to allow us to cut costs in order to reduce the price by any significant amount.  If we were to enter into a contract with a business such as this it would likely leave us unable to meet the needs of our "regular" customers at market.  There is simply no way that we can sell wholesale without harming ourselves, long-term.

Thankfully this has not left us with unsold product because while we do not sell wholesale, what we do is sell on the basis of relationship.  We forge relationships with people who know that we will do what it takes to bring them their milk and cheese each week.  We develop relationship so that we will be able to explain when supply is low and cost may be headed higher.  We get to know our customers and their needs so that we consider their needs when planning product.  Customers know that they are not supporting a faceless farmer or label on a store shelf, they are supporting a family.   Many of our faithful weekly customers have been buying week in and week out for years, now--which adds up to higher quantities than any store or restaurant ever wanted--and for full price. 

Our farm is built on the backs of our individual loyal customers, so wouldn't selling wholesale to a business be telling them that a "contract" means more to us than their loyalty?   

This does not mean that we would never sell to a restaurant or store, we have done both over the years and will continue to do so--but we do so on the basis of having developed relationship with the chef as an individual.  We appreciate and respect what they are doing in their restaurant and they appreciate and respect what we do on our farm.  We do not sell to them on a wholesale basis, we sell to them on the same basis as we do to every single other customer, that of relationship.

Works for us.

1 comment:

Jonathan H said...

Maybe you could test potential wholesale customers by having a contract/ wholesale price ABOVE your retail price - after all, you have to do extra work to make sure batches are ready when the contract calls for; it should be worth at least an addition 20%, right?