We just closed out the weirdest month in the history of our company. Every company in the entire world is probably saying the same thing though.
We keep very meticulous records of where our sales come in each month… web sales, wholesale, or “in person” retail sales (farmers markets and craft shows). This helps us when it comes time to submit sales tax but it also helps us plan for the future. At the beginning of the year we set a goal of growth in each of these categories and make plans for reaching a sales goal each month. From year to year March is a relatively slow month for us. We didn’t have extremely high expectations for last month, but as craft shows around the state started to postpone and we finally got word that our farmers market (the largest part of our income) was closing for the foreseeable future we were faced with trying to recover all that loss in a different way and all the sudden these “low expectations” seemed like an impossible hurtle. It was completely overwhelming, but it forced us to think fast and adapt. We decided to lower our threshold for free shipping to help our customers who usually pick up their soap directly from us at the market, so they could still get what they need without the additional cost of shipping. We also started focusing extremely hard on our social media. This event shone a huge light on the areas in which we had become complacent. We were comfortable with our markets. Posting on social media a few times a week had been enough to bring in a steady trickle of web orders. We got into our routine that was predictable. We could depend on it, plan around it, and we had no reason to deviate from it. We were just… comfortable. This virus took all of that away in so many different ways, as it did for each and every person in the world. Like everyone we had to change the way we do everything; personally and professionally.
When it came to the business, looking at our numbers, I didn’t think there was any way we would make up for the lost markets… but then you guys stepped up. You supported us and guess what… We reached our overall goal for the month of March. I still can’t believe it! We have the most amazing customers. We cannot thank you enough! You made up for the loss of three missed farmers markets and for a large portion of the stores/businesses that carry our soap temporarily shutting down. Now we are moving forward… April and May are two of our four biggest months each year (December and November being the other two). Normally, all of our markets are starting back up, the weather tends to be amazing, and people are ready to get out after a long winter. Looking at the situation as it stands now I think it is doubtful that we will be back at the markets until mid-June. It’s for the best, safety and the health of community absolutely comes first. We don’t expect to totally make up for the loss of the markets like we did in March (because it is the loss of two big markets each weekend, not just one), it feels like too much of a mountain to climb, but we are going to continue to work hard and try to get there. We are incredibly grateful for the support we have received so far and hope you will continue to come to us when we you are in need of soap, lotion, and laundry detergent.
We are hoping to continue to offer additional ways to pick up our soap as we learn to navigate this new (temporary) normal. If you are local you are welcome to pick up your website order from our pick up station in the farm’s driveway (we are not allowing anyone to visit the animals at this time) and we will continue to provide free shipping on all orders $30+ until the markets open back up. We are still stocking our soaps at Ellwood Thompson’s, the Short Pump Whole Foods, and Union Market. Our products are available to order every weekend on Fall Line Farms. It’s a great way to pick up all your farmers’ market needs in one place without the crowds. Starting in May RVAgriculture is offering an online marketplace for all six of their Central VA farmers’ markets (Manakin, Cumberland, Goochland Courthouse, Powhatan, Midothian’s Urban Farm House and On the Square in Richmond). It is run on the same system as Fall Line Farms. You place your order, vendors drop the filled orders off to the market managers, then you pick up everything from the market manager at your chosen market. We will return to South of the James when all of this has passed and we are back to our normal schedule. We do not know how the Charlottesville City Market is handling markets at this time, but I know they are working on a plan.
For the time being we are not participating in markets that require the vendor to come in direct contact with customers. As of right now our whole family is healthy and we are taking extreme precautions to stay that way. If we get sick the farm and all of our animals still need to be taken care of (about eight hours of farm chores are required each day) and Kevin’s asthma puts him at a higher risk. Also, if we get sick we have to shut the business down (web orders and all) until our ability to spread the virus has passed and to say we can’t afford to do that is an understatement… so we just can’t get sick (knock on wood). We will continue to keep everyone informed. Please stay healthy and take care of yourselves… and wash your hands!
Finally, keep an eye out! We will be posting a blog in the next week or so outlining how you can support some of our favorite local small businesses (any specials they are offering and how you can get their products). We are living in a really weird situation right now but we are all in this together.