Farmers may be the ultimate independent, small business people. While many farms are owned by corporations, the family farm remains the backbone of most countriesí agricultural sector. Itís a group that is embracing the Internet, although in a more conservative manner.
Launched in July 1999, farmbid.com is an online marketplace for buying and selling equipment, crops, supplies and pharmaceuticals. The site also has sections for Future Farmers of America, research tools and employment opportunities.
farmbid.com tested a wide variety of techniques to drive site traffic and online sales says founder and CEO Ted Farnsworth. These included:
- Appearing at 35 to 40 trade shows last year - Sponsoring a number of state fairs - Direct mail campaigns - Online refer-a-friend programs - T-shirt and hat giveaways - A major PR push to trade and business press - Blast email campaigns
The marketing push has worked. Today farmbid.com has over 120,000 registered farmer members. Best tactic? Email marketing! The company receives a 15-20% return on its email promotions and has been converting 2.8% of those returns to sales. Worst tactic? State fairs that proved to be an ineffective way to reach farmers as most attendees were non-farmers.
NOTES: Farmers remain reluctant to buy heavily over the Internet since thereís mistrust that the right product will be shipped at the right time. For instance, if the wrong seed is shipped, it can cost the farmer dearly by delaying planting. Farmers donít want to risk their livelihood.
Internet access is also a challenge and perhaps the biggest obstacle to overcome in reaching the farming community. The company is looking at wireless as one way to solve the problem. In addition, farmbid.com has just hooked up with EarthLink to provide Internet service to farmers.
NEXT: About 15% of the siteís traffic is from international visitors, so the company is branching out overseas. A six- person office is being opened in Amsterdam to serve the European agricultural market. There aren't many opt-in lists on the European rental market yet, so Farnsworth plans on launching a number of direct mail campaigns to get the word out as well as affiliating with local cooperatives.
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