Note: This post is from one of the first newsletters the NFA sent out way back in 2012. Part 2 is available here.
Every day we talk to firewood producers about their business. Last week I ran into a man named Dave who said he didn’t need help marketing his product — he doesn’t do any. This is his third year of relying on word-of-mouth alone, and working six days a week to keep up.
I wondered why, then, wasn’t he growing his business? Was it a problem with supply? Did he feel the market was saturated? Problems with employees? Market prices too soft?
The bottom line is that he’s happy making what he’s making, doing what he’s doing, and reluctant to take on the further responsibilities of more employees and equipment. If anything, he’d just like his Saturdays back.
We certainly don’t recommend not marketing your business, but Dave’s methods are sound, tested and true. The disadvantage to his approach is the time it takes to build your customer base. Nonetheless, they are practices we all should follow.
Dave gave me a long list of his secrets, and he wasn’t the least bit shy about sharing them. He knows the hard part isn’t knowing what to do — the hard part is doing it.
First, the golden rule underlies all his business dealings. He treats his customers and suppliers as he would like to be treated. Like many firewood producers, he had a difficult time reliably sourcing logs when he first started eight years ago.
Now loggers and truckers call him, because they know Dave will be there with a big smile cash in hand when they arrive. They appreciate the thoughtful layout of his landing, where unloading is easy. They jump out of the truck with measuring tape in hand, ready to help Dave verify the load.
He also uses business intelligence. That means he reads the local paper to see what the mills in our area are doing, which helps him identify trends in logging operations. He keeps an eye on which way trucks and equipment are moving through an informal network of friendly truck drivers and loggers. It’s remarkable what you can learn just by talking to people.
Next time, I’ll share what Dave had to say about building a customer base on word-of-mouth alone.