Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Best Small Business to Start: Manager, Online Farmers' Market

USNews.com had a great article today about new types of farmers’ markets – online markets.

Manager, Online Farmers' Market
Online farmers' markets cut out a chunk of fuel costs, plus the time it takes to set up and display locally grown produce. They've been popping up as a 24-7 alternative for "locavores" and customers looking for anything fresh, from grass-fed beef to freshly picked apples. Successes include mypersonalfarmers.com (Westchester County, N.Y.) and farmersmarketonline.com (central Idaho). Customers place orders online, and then these companies drive what's been ordered to the customers' houses.

The key is to maintain a product base while introducing new discoveries to keep customers coming back. Unlike many Internet-based jobs, this one involves a lot of face-to-face interaction and outside work. The hardest part of the job is keeping up with and juggling the many farmers who supply the business. They change throughout the season as different crops come to harvest at different times and often have full schedules that need to be worked around. The biggest costs are personnel to man the warehouse, for example, and rent for space.

What does it pay?
The idea of an online farmer's market is quite new, so it is difficult to find wage statistics. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual wage for purchasing managers at farm product raw material wholesalers in May 2007 was $99,950.

What kind of background do you need?
The main requirements for those involved in managing online farmers' markets are some culinary knowledge and basic tech savvy. Licenses from your state department of agriculture are required, as is a basic knowledge of marketing and promotion.How do you get started?It takes about a season to survey a region and make connections with farmers and bakers. Once established, a company can differentiate itself with specialties. One online market might offer more varieties of honey and cheeses or different organic meats. To operate an online farmers' market, you need a couple of cars, a warehouse, a website, and an ever-changing list of farmers in the area. A big plus is that the driving covers a relatively small area, which keeps fuel costs relatively low compared with other produce businesses. Mypersonalfarmers.com's founder, Maryanne Hedricks, says, "Gas is not a make-or-break thing" for her business.

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