From Two Cows to an Online Store
Business Growth – Delivery Methods
Over the years, the business growth of Family Friendly Farms has evolved relative to our delivery methods. At first, many years ago when the seven kids were aged between two and twelve, we did mostly farming with a little selling and delivering. Then we grew towards selling more and more meat, which required us to devote more time to the sales and distribution of our healthy meat products. And now we have found a balance of farming, selling, and delivering that offers the highest quality meat with the best customer service since the beginning. For those of you who have continued to purchase from us over the years, we hope the following stories will put some smiles on your nostalgic faces. And for all of our new customers… Welcome to the family ☺
The Early Years – Family and Friends
When first starting Family Friendly farms, I didn’t really plan on an actual business, but simply creating some outdoor activities for the kids. We had purchased a 160 acre parcel of land in Grass Valley, California, with lots of sunshine, grass, and irrigation water, and I was determined to use that land for something bigger than myself. So over twenty years ago we started with two cows that became four, eight, and sixteen. When it was time to start harvesting the meat from this little herd, I simply asked around to family and friends, church acquaintances, and basically any one I knew. A few folks wanted to buy a side of beef, which was the old program back then and for centuries before. So we sold a few of those that first year, but only a few because most people aren’t equipped to receive 200 lbs of beef. And the other comments I received were that even for the people who bought that much at a time, they didn’t know what to do with all those strange cuts.
So after that first year, I revised our sales program to include smaller packages of beef, like a 50 lb pack and a 100 lb pack. I also custom packed those for people, so they could get the cuts they knew how to cook. Now, this new sales program is normal for many companies now, but back then it was the first of its kind. Most farmers/ranchers were not only selling exclusively sides or quarters, but they would confuse the buyers by making them pay the butcher directly, and they didn’t yet know how much meat would be included because every cow is a different size. That old program seemed ridiculous to me, so I basically rewrote the script so people could know what they were buying. I stated the specific amount of meat with the specific cuts with a specific price so everyone knew what they were getting. We still use this same system today so that our customers can purchase smaller quantities while still receiving a “bulk discount.” In addition they get to know up front what cuts are included, with the option for substitutions so they get exactly what they want.
Believe it or not, many ranchers still only sell beef according to that old method. But it’s not really their fault. You see, technically, they have to sell beef by selling a live animal, and then only coordinating the butchering for their customer. So in fact, they are selling a one half or a one-quarter share of the live animal. (That’s where we get the term Beef Share.) They have to sell beef that way because that is the law for their local butcher, as opposed to a USDA certified butcher. With a USDA program, we can sell beef in whatever size packs we want, including the individual cuts that you now see on our website. Incidentally, the USDA stamp does not depend on how you raise the animal but how and where it is butchered.
The Next Step – Farmers Markets
During the first two years of those little sales, most of our friends who tried our all-natural grass-fed meat just went absolutely nuts. “This is amazing,” “I’ve never had anything so good!” “This hamburger is like a steak – It never made it to the kitchen… we just ate it off the grill.” Then a few friends told us about farmers markets and that we just had to get our products in there. Well, it’s strange that even then, only about fifteen years ago, I had never yet been to a farmers market. So I loaded up the kids and went for a good ol’ fashioned “look-see.” As it turned out, it was a really nice outdoor market in Grass Valley and they didn’t have anyone there selling beef. So we put together the paperwork right there on the spot and got an exclusive sales agreement with the market manager.
Two weeks later, four of the kids and I showed up with some ice chests full of meat, a few tables, a pop-up canopy, and guess what else… a barbecue! I still laugh about that first year at the market that almost felt like cheating to me… Those nice folks were smelling that barbecue smoke every Saturday and asking all the other vendors where it was coming from. They literally lined up to taste our samples, every time leaving with a smile and some new cut to take home with them and cook that night for dinner. Even as little as twelve years ago, most people hadn’t yet tried authentic grass-fed beef, and it was so fun for me to see those heavenly expressions on their faces as they enjoyed their first bite ever.
One of the local ranchers that I used to consult with, who was still selling beef under the old program, told me I was crazy for trying to sell small packs and individual cuts. He warned me that the last guy he knew who tried it went “belly-up” after only three months because he had too many left-over cuts that he couldn’t sell. But I just smiled and said, “What do I care, I’ve got seven kids to feed!” But actually, he was a little right so we planned for success… Whenever we started piling up on a certain cut, that’s what we put on the barbeque for samples that week at the market, and yup, that instantly solved the problem as we would actually sell out of that cut by noon.
After a few years, we started a food booth at the market and sold cooked hamburgers and other outdoor meat delights. It was a big hit and all the kids took turns learning how to cook and sell and visit with all kinds of people. Some well-meaning friends would tell me that home-schooling was such a problem for socializing kids… until they greeted one of mine and received a firm handshake with a look in the eyes, while responding to any question they dared to toss out there. One friend actually came to me with eyes so big that I thought he saw a rattlesnake or something. When I asked him what was wrong, he confessed that he would never question homeschooling again. Then he said that what shocked him was that his last half hour of conversation was with my seven year old. Apparently, the little whippersnapper was teaching him about farming and selling meat ☺
The Local Delivery Host Locations
By the fourth year of selling at our local farmers market, we had started raising and selling not only beef, but pork, lamb, and chicken as well. We were making quite a ruckus on the local scene, and even though I wasn’t looking to expand, new places invited us in. There were a few regular customers who lived in the Bay Area and visited Grass Valley on the weekends. So they naturally asked us if they could buy our meat in the winter when the market was closed. One person even wanted a large beef pack and asked me to deliver it to him in San Francisco. It was just not a big enough order to justify the long delivery trip, so I asked him to persuade a few friends to also buy some meat, and he could have a little “Tupperware Party” at his house on the day of delivery. He politely agreed and sure enough, we sold about seven more beef packs through his referrals.
The day of delivery at his house in the “Big City” turned out to be a wonderful event. Everyone was super interested in our farming practices along with stories about the kids. Then in the Q and A time we talked a lot about cooking and everyone got really excited to share all the recipes and ideas with their family and friends. And that’s how our Bay Area local delivery “Host Locations” were formed. With all those first referrals who told their family and friends, we received enough orders to return the next month, and then the next. Within a year, we had expanded to over fifteen host locations that we developed a delivery route for each month. We drove through Sacramento to Fairfield, Benicia, San Francisco, and then right on down the peninsula to hit Palo Alto, San Mateo, San Jose and everywhere in between. Then we came up the other side to catch Livermore, Danville, and Walnut Creek, sometimes going back through Tracy and Stockton as well. It was a really good system that allowed for a small delivery fee, which we waived for the host. That system worked for many years, until it was time for a weekly delivery program that began with our new online store.
Our Online Store and Home Delivery
As we began raising and selling more and more of our all-natural, grass-fed, healthy meat products, I kept up with the demand of emails and phone calls, but that began to really sacrifice my time with the kids. Every night after dinner, I would be swamped with three hours or more of correspondence. Something had to give beyond just my sleeping time. So with some help from a good friend, we designed and built a new web site that included an online store. Now we could post our pricing right on the website and customers could purchase directly online without me having to make each and every sale through an email or phone call or both.
This new shopping experience was readily accepted by our customers who found it informative and convenient. And now the orders came in a little faster, so how were we going to get all this meat to them in an efficient way? I really liked the pickup/host program we had, but many customers started asking about home delivery and we couldn’t do both. We were also limited to a once a month system that really needed to be once a week in order to properly service our customers.
So that came immediately next with a big announcement to our expanding customer base. NEW WEEKLY HOME DELIVERIES, every Tuesday of every week! We started with a “Free Home Delivery” special that first week to help everyone get used to our new program and sure enough, they did. Most people loved the convenience of not only a home delivery, but the weekly opportunity as well. To help ease the burden of our necessarily higher delivery cost, we started our “Memberships” with the Gold and Silver options to purchase special benefits along with reduced home delivery costs. If you’re not a member yet, you’re welcome to check out our Healthy Meat Buyer's Club at any time.
Our Online Distributors and Health Food Stores
Somewhere along the line of that progress, we had a few online organic-food distributors ask us to provide meat to their growing audiences. We worked out some wholesale pricing for them and now we enjoy their ability to distribute our healthy meats in a way that is convenient for their customers, who are now our customers too. Our first and largest distributor delivers to over thirty-five locations in the Greater Bay Area through a “Host/Pickup” program that is similar to the one mentioned above. Their name is Real Food Bay Area (RFBA) and the owner is very particular about the food they distribute, keeping it only to top shelf health. I’m happy to say that we started with them about eight years ago and for the last four years, we are their only healthy meat producer.
The other online distributors that we continue to service are the Farmers Marketplace, for the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys, including a walk-in store in Auburn. Then we have the Tahoe Food Hub, for those mountain folks that are wanting to eat only healthy meat. We have also found our way into a few health food stores, including Sunrise Natural Foods, in both Auburn and Rocklin, California. And just recently we started supplying a family owned store in Cool, California called, Lokl General Store. We’re happy to announce these distributors and stores, giving them a shout out, while welcoming all of you to shop with them for the convenience of purchasing and delivering any of your healthy food desires.
Our West Coast Shipping Program
Ever since building our first website, we have received numerous inquiries from people hoping to find a reliable source of healthy meat that could be shipped to their area. Frequent requests have originated from people living in the cities of Los Angeles and San Diego in Southern California. Several years ago, in an effort to finally service these good people, we started working with a small shipping company (GLS) who gave us an overnight delivery service at a cost that our customers could afford. GLS has continued to expand their service area, so we continue to expand ours into the neighboring states of Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington.
Our Future Plans
Well, I’m no longer trying to keep the business small because it’s now clear that the more healthy meat that we raise and deliver equals the more healthy people we can service and help. We have received many encouraging emails and notes over the years from good customers like you who thank us for all the love and hard work that we put into every ounce of meat that we deliver to you. And that is where this little family business becomes a lot more than a business. I can speak for myself and my wife, along with my kids and all who work here with us… We really like producing good food, and we especially enjoy the relationships that have developed into a wonderful community of caring people like yourselves.
So our future plans are to build and grow and continue to service your healthy meat needs with the right kinds of products that are delivered to you in the most convenient way possible. The farm has expanded to 250 acres, while the personnel has expanded to reach beyond our immediate family, and the facilities are expanding to soon have our own butcher shop right here on the Ranch.
We continue to host farm tours and small homesteading retreats, and we plan to continue the ministry of healthy love through healthy food. We’ll continue to keep you apprised of our family farming events, including an Olive Harvest that we have planned for next Saturday, 11/25.
Wishing you all health and happiness through the upcoming holiday season ☺
Blessings and Peace to you,
Philip and Karen Zeiter,
Family Friendly Farms