Thursday, April 22, 2010

Is A Farm Store In Your Future?

I've been published!  Not because I've set out to be a writer, but because I was asked to contribute to the brand new magazine that the Ohio Alpaca Breeder Association has put out, called Ohio Alpaca Life.  

On-line, on-the-road, or brick-and-mortar?  For me it has been all three.  I do feel blessed to have this sustainable natural resource, renewed each year at shearing time, gorgeous alpaca fiber and fiber products that I can actually derive some income from, especially at a time when alpaca sales are at a lull.  Let me share a little bit about my journey...

Is A Farm Store In Your Future?
By Julie Petty

Brick and Mortar
I'll start with the brick and mortar, because that is where I started.  I am a hands-on kind of person.  I knew I wanted to do something with the fiber, I wanted to be able to show people how alpaca fiber could be used, and I wanted to realize some income from this venture.  About three years into the alpaca business, we put up a small building next to our barn.  My husband and son did the wiring, and hung some track lights.  My dad and I put up some wallboard that looks like brick on the inside walls.  We left the floor as-is, just the wood planks that formed the subfloor, so it is fairly rustic looking.  It's a good thing because we have occasionally had alpacas in the store.  I hung some curtains, and we had a farm store!

The next step was to get a vendor's license.  In the state of Ohio, there are two types of vendor licenses, "Regular" and "Transient". A "regular" vendor's license is issued to vendors with a fixed place of business and is only good for one location. It may be obtained at the County Auditor's office or on-line by clicking Application for Vendor's License.  The Transient license is required for the retailer who transports goods to temporary places of business in order to make sales. The license is issued by the Department of Taxation and valid throughout the state or on-line, click Application for Transient Vendor's License. I am then required to report sales semi-annually and pay the tax collected during the preceding six-month period.  You may want to consult an attorney about what licenses or permits are required in your state.

Next I needed merchandise.  I had fiber, plenty of that, which I bagged by the pound in drawstring bags.  I made labels, pictures of the alpaca contributors, our logo, website, and price, and I had something to sell!  That was easy.  I was learning how to spin at the time so I also had some of my hand-spun yarn, again with a nice label, picture of the alpaca whose fiber the yarn was spun from, and all the pertinent information.  I was learning to spin and had my hands full with that, I knew I did not also want to do the processing, so some of my fiber I sent to a mini-mill and had made into rovings.  Now I had fiber that was ready to spin and another product to sell.  Once I learned to dye, I then had hand-painted rovings to sell.

I also bought product.  Several vendors that I used at the time were Peruvian Link, Andean Art, and America's Alpacas.  There certainly are others that can be found easily by doing an on-line search.  I bought some sweaters, blankets, gloves, socks, and scarves.  I had two display racks from America's Alpacas which I used for the sweaters.  My store was filling up quite nicely.  

Purchasing at wholesale prices requires you to have a tax identification number.  If you don't already have one, they are available at no charge, click Online Application.  Purchasing wholesale usually requires purchasing a minimum quantity.  It is easy to get a lot of money tied up in inventory, if you're not careful.

 Retailers in most industries need to make "keystone", that is a 100% markup between what they pay and the retail price to cover your cost of doing business, make a little, and discount as needed. Discounting as needed is exactly what I ended up doing with the high priced alpaca sweaters, in a non-retail location, in a small town, on a farm.  I later found that smaller, less expensive items, sold better especially when during bus tours.  People just wanted a little souvenir from an alpaca farm.  The exception was this Christmas, I sold sweaters!  Sometimes it is anybody's guess and it is a challenge, figuring out what will sell and where.

I didn't expect to have much retail traffic with a farm store.  We have a long gravel driveway at the end of a residential street.  You don't drive by and see alpacas.  That was okay because I didn't want to keep retail hours.  The store has been very nice for farm events such as National Alpaca Farm Day, seminars we've held at our farm, tour groups, farm visits, and the holidays.  I occasionally have a customer at other times, but not often.  If I were to advertise and spend time promoting the store, I could have more business, but that is not what I've chosen to do.  My work is at home on the farm so I tell people to just call ahead.  I'm open if I'm home.  In case I miss somebody driving past the house on their way back to the store, I have a sign with my cell phone number on the door asking that they call me to let me know they are here.  I keep it fairly loose.

I do sell to other alpaca breeders, though they are busy with showing and watching the show.  The majority of my sales have come from the public and traffic is usually good if the show has been well promoted.  I usually have my spinning wheel in my booth or my carder and I usually am demonstrating which always attracts attention!  It also gives me something to do if I am slow, I don't sit still very well.  I end up talking to people that are interested in getting into the alpaca business, because I am a captive audience, and so I have also made some good contacts by vending at alpaca shows.  Setting up and tearing down for a show is a job, so I'm always thinking about how it can be done more efficiently.  Alpaca shows have always been worth my while, just seems like breeders ought to get a break on those big vendor fees!

Another challenge is to not have an empty store when I pack up to go to a show.   I almost needed double the merchandise so that the store looked presentable in case we had a visitor while I was away.  That has gotten better.  I didn't have much money tied up in additional inventory and found that bags of fiber nicely displayed, filled in some of the empty spaces.  I also now have more hand-made items and fiber kits, that don't all need to be taken to a show.

Fiber festivals have also been good.  Two that I have gone to are the Great Lakes Fiber Festival in Wooster, Ohio on Memorial Day Weekend and The Wool Gathering in Yellow Springs, Ohio in September.  This year I will be traveling to a show I've not done before, the Midwest Fiber and Folk Art Fair in Grayslake, Illinois.  These shows are fun to do, though you have competition if you are trying to sell fiber and yarn, because so is everyone else!  If you are a fiber artist, these are fun places to shop.  Finding a niche, selling something different than everyone else, is the key!  There is a list of fiber festivals on the Knitter's Review website.  Looking for art shows - click Zapplication.

My most recent venture was to try out farmer's markets, and that has been quite successful!  Farmer's Markets seem to be gaining popularity and springing up all over the place.  Buying local and hand-made is a trend that seems to be on the rise.  For me it has involved getting up very early in the morning to drive several hours to get set-up in time for the market to open at 8am.  It wouldn't be for everyone!  I have attended markets locally that were big flops.  Finding established markets, usually near a bigger city, has made my efforts  much more productive.  Customers have actually started to look for me, but that comes from going back repeatedly, and becoming a familiar vendor at the market.  We've been asked to bring alpacas on opening day at two different markets and that is always a huge success!

It can be fun traveling to shows, getting off the farm some, seeing new places and meeting new people!


When I decided to sell products on-line, I started with a farm store on Alpaca Nation and did a little bit of business.  The next step was a stand-alone website with a farm store and on-line shopping cart.  Building a website was a huge undertaking, not for the faint of heart.  What I then learned is that it is one thing to have a nice website, but it is a completely different matter getting people to visit!   I was fortunate enough to find several vendors who were willing to let me put their products on our website, and then drop ship for me when I received an order.  This was huge because it meant I didn't have to carry inventory.  For this reason, I have been able to branch out into fiber equipment such as spinning wheels, carders, and accessories.  You can view our website at where we are open "on-line anytime".

When funds were low, and now as well, I learned there are many places on-line to post classified ads for free!  There are Yahoo groups and forums to get involved in as a way of promoting business.  There is Facebook.  My kids are on facebook, I never imagined I would be, but I have taken the plunge and found there are lots of alpaca breeders on Facebook and that it can be a valuable marketing tool!  I have a business page at - "keep up with what's new at Alpaca Meadows - become a fan today!"  Facebook can be a valuable marketing tool.  

There is Twitter, though that is really new for me and I'm not real sure how productive it is.
Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that enables its users to send and read messages known as tweets.  It is an information highway.  If you're a Tweeter, you can find me at I have still have much to learn in the social networking arena, but from what I read, I need to get on board and ride.

I'm also blogging, not clogging, blogging!  Blog is short for web log, and is actually a web page that serves as a publicly accessible personal journal for an individual.  It is like a website but it is active in that the information is frequently updated, versus a website that is static for the most part.  My blog is at  The spin on my blog is "Sharing Life as a Fiber Artist Living On An Alpaca Farm".  I am including lots of pictures and how-to's in an effort to make it interesting and engage the reader.  It is yet another way of networking with prospective customers and allowing them to see me in a more personal way.

I am on Flickr, an
online photo management and sharing application, and another way to connect with people with similar interests.   Ravelry, of which I am a member, is a community site, an organizational tool, and a yarn and pattern database for knitters and crocheters.  There are many groups available to join and forums to post in, to learn new things and promote products.  Both sites are free!  I am AlpacaLady on Flickr.

Last, but not least, I have a shop on
Etsy, like Betsy, without the B.  Etsy is a website that provides the general public with a way to buy and sell handmade items as well as vintage items and craft supplies.  My shop is AlpacaMeadows.  ArtFire is another online marketplace and it is free.  What has been very helpful with Etsy is that there is help!  There is a community of helpful people and lots of information from pricing your products, to photographing, to tagging, to marketing, and lots, lots more.  Again, this is a marketplace for all things hand-made so this is not for everyone either.

So, is a farm store in your future?  I've shared with you what I have done, but there are many ways to go about selling.  I am no expert, and I still have a lot to learn, but I've been successful because I work hard and I'm not hesitant to try a new approach.

I hope you'll visit The Farm Store at Alpaca Meadows!

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1 comment:

  1. Great marketing tips, no matter what sort of craft business a person has.

    Congratulations on becoming an author!