Tips for staying open for small producers

During the COVID-19 crisis, more and more people are turning to local farmers and smaller “mom and pop” producers for their basic needs. Trying to take care of the new influx of customers can be daunting, especially with limited staff trying to abide by all the parameters set forth by the need to social distance and still operate an essential business.

Ohio Farm Bureau’s Mandy Orahood, organization director for Ashtabula, Geauga, Lake and Trumbull counties, recently spoke of one member who was ready to close the storefront of their small meat processing facility because of the increase in foot traffic into their facility. 

They have been incredibly busy and can’t even get most of the orders fulfilled,” she said, noting that they are in a unique situation. Their store is located in a tourist area in the state and people are coming to “quarantine” away from people they are close to who might have been exposed to the novel coronavirus. The member is concerned about the health and well being of themselves, their employees and other customers entering the store.

Knowing the unique needs of their small business, Orahood gave them some tips to proceed during this trying time.

“The tips I gave them aren’t anything new and creative,” she said. “They are just so overwhelmed that I think having ideas come from an outside source is helpful.   It is critical to our food supply that those essential employees producing, processing, shipping and stocking shelves remain healthy. Don’t ever feel bad about implementing practices to keep you, your staff, customers and families safe and healthy.”

These tips are good for all small producers to take into consideration:

Increase awareness/Get your point across

  • Use STOP signs on the door with statements such as: Please do NOT enter if: you or any of your family members have been exhibiting signs of illness (coughing, sore throat, runny nose, fever, difficulty breathing, etc); you or any of your household have been around others exhibiting the above signs; if you have been out of the state/country in the last three weeks, etc.
  • One person at a time in the store (or whatever a safe capacity for a specific space is).
  • Limit customers from coming too close to the sales counter by placing crates in front of the counter.
  • More signage – big and bright so customers can’t miss it. It also shows you as a business owner are very serious.

Other ideas

  • Change or limit store hours.
  • Shut down in the middle of the day or early to take a break during the day to catch your breath, sanitize, etc.  Close early to prep orders for the next day, etc.
  • Limit what you are offering and focus on demand.

Use curbside only – Lock the doors; no customers can enter

  • Nobody in the store at all and post the business phone number on the outside of the store
  • Customers must call with their order (either ahead of time or from the parking lot) – if possible, have them pay with a credit card ahead of time
  • People must stay in their vehicles and staff can deliver the order to them to maintain social distancing 

Connect with customers

  • This is a good time to explore the use of social media channels to connect with your customers in new and different ways.
  • On any signage, provide your social media information for customers.
  • Post any changes in store hours and how you have changed operations to accommodate health concerns.
    • Are you offering special hours for high risk populations or front line/first responders?
    • Can you take orders by phone? Email? Any other methods?
    • Are you still taking cash or just credit/debit cards?
    • The more information customers have about how to access your operation, the more likely they will do so.
  • Give customers ideas on how to use some of your products.