Spapium Little Prairie Farm Case Study
SF’s challenge is to attract locals in the area to use the farm to buy food, as well as encouraging visitors to the area to stop, participate, and even spend the night. Given the remote location, that is challenging.
Current and Past Approaches
Apart from the “no-go” year of 2020 due to COVID-19 and associated lack of marketing, SF has marketed themselves through social media, mainly Facebook. They also use Instagram, but the highest number of followers is on Facebook, which they also actively promote when out in the communities (e.g., using business cards at farmers’ markets). The farm also maintains a website, accessible at , that provides information about the farm, the market schedule, a small online shop, and information on camping, farm tours, and contact information.
Brochures were printed in the past, but given the environmentally conscious approach of the farm, they moved away from paper-based advertising. This also affects the use of business cards and handouts at markets with their “About Us” story on it.
We don’t need to print on paper to let people know about our business, and it doesn’t really go along with the low-waste thing we’re trying to do.
To avoid the use of paper, they plan to focus mostly on online promotions through paid advertisements on social media via Facebook and Instagram. They hope to increase traffic to the website this way. In addition, there are plans to include radio ads in their marketing approach as well.
Paula enjoys meeting customers face to face—at markets and events—to have the opportunity to tell them about the farm, their business, their products, and to answer questions in person. This kind of “self-promotion” works well and can be followed up by sending interested customers to the website or Facebook. To date, SF has not kept track of where customers heard about them.
SF is a marketing stakeholder with the Indigenous Tourism Association of British Columbia (ITBC). SF has worked with the association to participate in a cruise shore trip, and ITBC also provides online media training that SF takes advantage of to learn more about the online promotion opportunities and skills. Currently, Brianna manages the online presence, incorporating her skills and ideas, but Paula would like to learn more about it to increase her involvement. Ideas are typically discussed between the two of them; Paula might write up the wording, and then Brianna posts it or creates a paid promotion.
During the uncertainty of COVID-19 times, SF focuses more on story telling and staying on their customers’ radar, rather than promoting products or services and being unable to deliver. Ever-changing restrictions and closures have made it hard to deliver what is advertised, and people are looking to learn what is happening at the farm, what the plans are, how everyone is doing, and so on. Besides social media, this is also accomplished through the channels provided by ITBC.
Besides ITBC, where Paula was formerly a director, Spapium Farm is also a member of the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC), Gold Rush Trail BC, and the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast Tourism Association (CCCTA). Paula volunteers for the board of directors for the CCCTA, the Lytton Two Rivers Farmers Market, the 2 Rivers Remix Society, the Sto:lo Business Association where she was the founding president, and the piyeʔwiʔx kt/Beeya.wEE.hh kt Language Foundation Society.
As for many other small businesses, word of mouth is critically important and valuable for SF. The owner wants customers to enjoy their visit, have a great personal shopping experience, and then share that with others. Paula mentioned that customers get referred by previous visitors quite often. Sharing of social media posts is also a goal; Brianna makes sure that every post looks professional and is visually pleasing, always including pictures besides the text. Posts are typically of the farm and its products. Currently, they are trying to increase excitement about the 2021 season and spreading awareness of the business.
In the past, Brianna has looked at success metrics provided by Facebook (e.g., views, engagement, etc.) but hasn’t been able to compile comparisons and long-term trends. ITBC does not provide such metrics from their promotions. Website metrics are also not used to inform decisions, even though Brianna has looked at them in the past. The current COVID-19 situation, with less exposure of the business in communities and at their location, has resulted in reduced website and social media traffic.
Other marketing approaches of the past include a video production of cedar weaving that was promoted by the Tuckkwiowhum Village, which is south of Lytton on the . The village has worked with Paula in the past to provide cedar weaving workshops. Other assets include a feature in the Vancouver Sun, based on a concierge event at a Vancouver hotel that ITBC organized and promoted. All of those appearances will be consolidated on the website.
I think that the community of Lytton is really supportive of each other. Everybody wants everybody to thrive.
Another marketing opportunity was realized when SF worked with Meghan Fandrich of Klowa Art Café in Lytton. The café carries the farm’s cedar weaving in their store, and Paula suggested that they work together on a farm tour using the café’s patio.
For us, it’s good to partner with people who are interested in working together.
The website is currently not a big contributor to sales, in part because some products cannot be easily shipped (e.g., jams). Most sales are direct, even if customers would check the website first before purchasing products at the farm or at an event (e.g., pow wow or conference). SF does not intend to focus on increased selling through the website and instead uses it to introduce people to the business, its owners, and the location.
Spapium Farm is used to pulling their own weight when it comes to promoting their business via social media or their website, but they also encourage partnerships. For example, the previously mentioned Kumsheen Rafting Resort is a competitor when it comes to activities in the area (e.g., rafting vs farm tour) but could also be a partner (e.g., farm tour after rafting!).
And that [local] family’s big on reaching out to try and work together to get some experiences happening.
The YeKm Food Hub might be able to assist in packaging and shipping additional foods, avoiding the need to plan around excess food for the markets, or they could purchase products to sell through their channels. The small community of Lytton is a supportive environment, where competition is replaced with care about your neighbour and the wish for all to succeed and thrive. Residents prefer to support each other than to source it from elsewhere.
Watch Video Clip 3 – Community Support (Transcript Available) (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0):
Additional and continued activity through the social media channels could be used to spread the word about Spapium Farm. The owners are learning WordPress to update and upgrade the website themselves (e.g., adding testimonials, photos, and destination information). Ads have focused on the local community in Lytton but could target a broader area in the future.
Opportunities for sales through the website still face the issue that some products cannot easily be shipped (e.g., jams, pickled items, etc.). An option would be to focus the website on teas and cedar weaving products, both of which can be shipped cost-effectively.
Another option would be to start an email database and email subscription, as a way to collect information from the customers and also to share stories about the farm or local knowledge keepers. This would enable SF to communicate with customers and vice versa, keeping their name in customers’ minds. Collecting email information could be paired with a contest or discounts and would be most useful when SF can offer more products and better shipping abilities. Invitations to workshops (e.g., weaving) can be added. To date, there have been no surveys or formal feedback collection from customers, beyond the in-person comments.
People are happy with their good food—their happiness, their expression—that sort of feedback. Them inviting us back to do something else.
There is no local TV station, which could be considered for any plans of TV advertising. Radio ads could be an option if it is deemed suitable and effective.
Expanding on their already embraced approach to run the business in an environmentally friendly way could attract new markets and customers. It appeals to a section of the population that is growing and more determined than in the past. These customers are willing to spend time and money to buy the products they fully believe in.
The previously offered veggie subscription boxes could be reassessed for viability. While originally offered in Chilliwack and Agassiz, a new plan would most likely limit the delivery to the local Lytton area, reducing transport costs and issues, at least until enough subscriptions could be collected from other areas to make the transport worthwhile.
SF would like to work with more tour companies and add local partners with formalized and regular arrangements, such as repeating the use of the Chinese History Museum for basket weaving workshops. Cruise shore trips could be accommodated by setting up in a beautiful local setting and being part of the customers’ circle loop from Vancouver. Train tours currently only stop in Kamloops for overnight stays, but partnerships might be possible for a side trip to Lytton.
Partnering with accommodation providers like lodges could also increase the bookings for workshops, and SF started creating a workshop package following the Destination BC standards that can be offered to these providers. There are also other associations that can support the marketing efforts, such as the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association (TOTA).
Last year or the year before, [TOTA] had some kind of a travelling marketing bus that they brought around to festivals and events, and our cedar weaving was part of that.
Currently, operations have to fit into the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic. Paula and her family are adjusting and thinking of ways to access the cultural tourists and provide programs and products safely. No major changes are being considered until it is clear what the growing season and potential restrictions will look like.
Spapium Farm summarized their marketing challenges as being able to access higher-income markets. While locals choose them to buy the food they have to buy anyways, they would like to target higher-income customers for their experiences and tours (i.e., the non-necessity items offered).
Watch Video Clip 4 – Targeting Customers (Transcript Available) (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0):
Besides the growing awareness of environmental issues, such as water consumption and waste reduction, which Spapium Farm is already addressing in their operations, a trend towards buying local has also been observed. For Lytton, that involves the YeKm Food Hub.
YeKm, the planting food hub, is meant to enhance opportunities for local growers and processors to develop new products and new ways of preserving foods to extend the life cycle of the food and get it out to the community.
Watch Video Clip 5 – Consumer Trends (Transcript Available) (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0):
Efforts to preserve foods and choose organic foods have also grown in recent years.
With regards to activities, SF notices a lot of outdoorsy people around in the area who kayak, hike, or just explore. With technology at their fingertips, they seem to be looking for the “Instagram-worthy” experience that is visually appealing, ready to be posted on social media. The farm and its setting are ideal for those pictures.
During their 5–6 years of operating the farm, the owners noticed that visitors are more and more interested in and respectful of Indigenous traditions, culture, and values. They strive to learn, creating opportunities for the Indigenous communities to share and explain.
You know, they want to take people for a hike in the Stein or take them for a hike to that special berry bush up on the mountain.
Spapium Farm is motivated to expand business and bring their authentic farm approach to more customers and be a part of the tourism market in BC.