Here’s a letter I sent out to my mailing list last night:
Hello again! It’s Eric, the fellow working on the on-line farmers’ market software you were at one time interested in.
It’s been a few weeks since I’ve written you, so I though it was time for an update. The system has come a long way since the last time. It’s not fully functional, but you can right now do a lot of the “grunt” work of getting your market online. I’m still on track to move my own market completely to the new system in early to mid January.
Here’s what you can already do using my system::
* You can create your market at a unique locally grown address (i.e. http://myfarmersmarket.locallygrown.net )
* Your market comes with a welcome page, an Frequently Asked Questions system, and a weblog (news page), all out of the box and all fully configurable and ready for your own content.
* Users can create accounts at your market. There are three levels: Market Manager (you, and anyone else you want to promote), Growers (all sellers through the market are called growers), and Customers.
* Any number of growers can join the market. Unsolicited requests require approval from a market manager before they are listed and can begin selling.
* Growers get their own “About” page and a photo gallery, with unlimited photos and captions.
* Market Managers and Growers can organize product categories and list products, giving them full descriptions, images, prices, etc. You can build your product category structure from scratch, or just automatically use the categories I’ve been using at my market for the last five years and go from there.
* Market manager and growers can quickly adjust availability, pricing, and other items at any time. Growers can only edit their own products, but Market Managers can edit everything.
* Membership is flexible. You can charge customers an annual membership (you set the amount). You can charge growers a fee to join the market and charge a fee to sell their products (either as a variable percentage of sales, set per grower, or as a flat fee per item).
* Pricing is flexible. Growers set their own prices. The market can tack on a surcharge for each item. The customer sees the total of the two. The Grower gets the sales price, minus any surcharge, minus any sales percentage. It’s hard to succinctly describe, but should be easy in practice.
All of that is working as of right now. Here’s what I’m still working on:
* Automatic sending of the availability email. Each week I send out an email to our customers with a little chatty news section followed by the complete listing of products for that week. They go to the website to place their orders, but they enjoy getting the email as a reminder. So, the new system will allow you to type the chatty news section through the weblog, and by checking a box it will email all your customers the weblog entry plus the product listing.
* Ordering system. This should come online very soon, probably within a couple days. Customers can place their own orders, and market managers can place orders for customers unable to do so themselves. Confirmation emails go out to both the customer and the market manager.
* Order processing. The market manager should be able to edit and adjust individual orders and individual items within the order. This includes price adjustments, credits, etc.
* Grower harvest notification. The growers can see the orders for their products in real time through the website, but at the end of the ordering window, the website will automatically send emails out to the growers letting them know of the orders, what needs to be harvested, etc.
* Label generation. Labels for each grower will be automatically generated as PDF documents formatted for printing to several standard Avery label sizes. The growers can print them on their own using their own printer (or the market manager can do it for them).
* “Delivery Day” reports. PDFs will be created for processing grower drop-offs/pickups, invoices for the customer, and packing lists for those putting orders together.
* After-pickup adjustments. Customer orders can be adjusted after the fact to account for rejections, shortages, credits, etc.
* Minor stylesheet issues. Internet Explorer, always difficult for web designers to work with, is not displaying some pages as nicely as it should. This is particularly true of the photo galleries. I’ll fix that.
And that about sums it up.
You can see what we’ve done with our market at http://athens.locallygrown.net — feel free to look around, “tour” our member farms (They’re used to me doing everything for them, but I’m walking them through uploading photos, etc.), and browse our product listings.
Some other markets have already begun putting their markets together using what I have in place so far. Cumberland Co-op in Tennessee is the farthest along — you can find their site at http://sewanee.locallygrown.net
Feel free to create a site for your market to get the ball rolling and see for yourself how it works. Just go to http://www.locallygrown.net and click on “Our Markets” to get started.
And as always, if you have any questions, feature requests, etc., please let me know. Over the last five years I’ve seen how our system has revolutionized marketing for small growers and farmers markets in general in our area, and I know it can do the same for yours.
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