Dec 18, 2023
Farm Market & Agritourism: Know your customers

I was talking with a new owner of a farm market store. He had purchased the business from an organic farmer who owned the business for five years. Along with selling their produce, the organic farmer focused on health and organic products.

Over time, the market had regular customers purchasing these products, which was the core of their business. The new owner is also an organic farmer but decided to focus more on food and not on health products.

Fast forward 1.5 years. The market owner tells me that all of the customers who purchased under the previous owner were no longer shopping at the market. All of his customers are new. The market is doing well, but as the current owner tells me, “I would have been better off starting from nothing. When you buy a business, you are purchasing a customer base that we were not able to hang on to.”

Farm-Market dots-poll
Learning about your customers can be as easy as a simple poll. Photo courtesy Brian Moyer.

In both cases, the new and previous owners built a market based on their value system and what they thought was good for the community. That’s fine — except no one asked the community what they wanted, particularly the new owner. He purchased a business with a customer base that he needed to become more familiar with, and in the end couldn’t hang on to those customers. Perhaps he could have kept those customers if he engaged with them.

According to Small Business Trends ( and LinkedIn, 68% of customers who leave your business leave because of “perceived indifference.” These former customers don’t know if you care if they shop at your market or not.

The first thing the new owner should have done was to get to know the existing customers and why they shop at the market. Do a simple survey with multiple-choice questions: How often do you shop at the market? What products do you regularly purchase? What product would you like to see at the market?

Make it fun. Put the questions on flip charts and have customers stick dots on their appropriate answers. It’s amazing! People love putting dots on things! It’s better than someone approaching them with a clipboard.

Most importantly, share the results with the customers when the survey is over. Give a free apple to everyone who takes the survey. It would be the cheapest price you’d pay for a focus group.

With a different customer base 1.5 years later, the owner should ask these questions of current customers and share the results. It gives the customer a sense that you do care if they shop at your market, and why. By sharing the results, everyone is on the same page. The market management and the customers understand what the community wants from the market.

Then it’s our job to provide it for them.

Brian Moyer is an educational program associate with Penn State Extension. As founder of PA Farm Markets LLC and founder and manager of the Skippack Farmers Market, Moyer specializes in assisting farmers markets, retail farm markets, direct-to-consumer sales, new and beginning farmers with marketing, business and regulatory issues.


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