Developing a solid strategy for marketing hay is complex yet essential, says Gordon Groover, Virginia Tech University Extension economist and farm management specialist. He offers the following points to consider as you develop or review your operation’s marketing plan:

Research the market. “Knowing your customer is the most important factor in marketing,” says Groover. If horse owners are your target market, spend time visiting with them and local feed-store and tack-shop owners. Ask what hay type and quantity they want, as well as what services are important to them. Do they want a forage test? How often do they want hay delivered? What kinds of equipment and labor do they have available for unloading deliveries?

Follow up. He suggests sending customers thank-you notes after each sale and including self-addressed, stamped postcards. “Ask for comments about your service and products and suggestions for what you might do better or differently,” he says. “If your customers are savvy in their use of technology, consider using social media like Facebook or Twitter to follow up on sales.”

Focus on repeat customers. “If you don’t create and maintain a customer base, it is unlikely that you will survive in the hay business,” Groover notes. Satisfied, existing customers can be a valuable asset. “Consider offering them a discount if they help you get new customers.”

Set fair, competitive prices. Knowing your variable, fixed and breakeven costs is a starting point to establishing prices. But you’ll also want to factor in local market prices. Check newspaper ads, talk to local hay brokers and feed-store owners and scour the Internet to get a better idea of what hay is selling for in your marketing area. “Keep in mind that the asking price may not be the same as the selling price, so you’ll want to check as many sources as time allows.”

Write down your business practices and give them to all potential and new customers. “The idea is to head off any misunderstandings that may develop,” says Groover. “As part of the statement, explain your payment policies and how you’ll address customer dissatisfaction with your hay product or service.” Come up with a statement on what you expect from customers, he adds. “The old saying that the customer is always right is true. But that doesn’t mean that you have to sell to everyone who wants to buy hay from you.”

For more from Groover on this topic, read How Much Does That Hay Cost And What Should I Charge? It’s a free, downloadable publication from Virginia Cooperative Extension.

To contact Groover, email groover@vt.edu.