Need help with watermelon carving business model

Discussion in 'Growing and Managing a Business' started by mmcarvings, Jan 4, 2013.

  1. mmcarvings

    mmcarvings
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    I own a custom watermelon carving business. I design and carve watermelons to fit in with the customer's theme and provide a unique centerpiece for their fruit display. You can learn more about the watermelons at markmillercarvings.com

    I am currently trying to figure out the best way to get my offerings out to the local public. I realize I need to have a good business model to offer my carvings to caterers and banquet facilities. Should I be looking to use them just for contacts and do the entire sales process myself, or give them a bigger cut and have them help promote my business, including me in the design phase of the sale? How much should I be paying them to offer my product? I'm not sure what will work best, or if there's another way that will be better. Anyone have ideas?

    I'm not sure my product would ship very well, although I would love to offer these nationally. It just seems like the shipping costs will be too high. For that reason, I am concentrating on local customers. If anyone has ideas on how to ship 5-10 lb watermelons across the country inexpensively, I'm very interested to hear your thoughts.
     
  2. Fergal

    Fergal
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    It might be worth concentrating on building relationships with the types of business you mention such as caterers and banquet facilities. You could also work with other business types such as party planners, wedding planners, restaurants, hotels, wedding venues, etc. Do you think you could sell to these businesses directly, rather than selling directly to your customers?
     
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  3. Ted

    Ted
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    I would create a sample watermelon carving for some local catering companies and deliver it to them personally. Carve it with that caterer's logo or business name or whatever. Then I would offer to do five free carvings for that caterer (1 carving for each of the caterer's next 5 events). Tell the caterer you are willing to do this so that way the caterer can get feedback about whether people really like the watermelon carvings or not. Then suggest to the caterer that if there is demand for the watermelons, you would be willing to work out a discounted deal for them for any future work.

    More advice... because I am not in your line of work or in the catering field, I am completely ignorant about costs for such things. I would make this suggestion to you.....if people are telling you that your prices are too high, rather than cut your prices, I would suggest you offer to carve a second watermelon for only $10 more or something like that. Or maybe carve 2 more for $10 each. I am sure that the reason you charge what you charge for your melons right now is because you feel like you have to make a minimum amount of money for it to be worth your time at all. That is how most of us think. So therefore, rather than cut your prices to increase value, I would recommend you simply add more value to one sale so that it feels like the customer is getting a better deal.
     
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  4. mmcarvings

    mmcarvings
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    I guess the question about selling directly to the businesses is part of my quandry. I need to be in direct contact with the end customer so I can talk to them about their design and make it personal. I somehow need to be involved when the planner is meeting with the customer after they've ordered a carving. Does that mean I sell directly to the planner? I don't know. For billing purposes, it would probably be easier if I make my products available to the vendor at a reduced price, then let them collect from the customer. However, I still need to meet with the customer. So, how would that work? Like this maybe? :

    1. Vendor offers my product from a brochure or other sales materials
    2. Customer adds my product to their order with the vendor
    3. Vendor sends me customer contact information
    4. I meet with customer (with or separate from the venue?)
    5. I deliver finished product to the vendor
    6. Vendor pays reduced price
    7. Vendor collects payment from customer

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    Ted, interesting thoughts. I like the idea of taking a small sample to them and about free starters. Let me ponder a little, then get back to you.
     
  5. Ted

    Ted
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    If you were doing corporate work, then I would think a corporate logo would be fine for the carving. You could probably get most of those by simply Googling the company name.

    If you were doing a private function like an anniversary party or birthday party, then I think you ask the caterer to get a photo from the client or else just go with a standard carving that is a little less personalized. For instance you could just engrave, "Happy 50th Wedding Anniversary Marge and Tim" instead of putting the image of the people on there.

    I think people will be very happy with either the image of the person or just seeing their names engraved in a fancy way.

    Do you already have an established customer base for your business or are you still trying to feel out the market to figure out what kinds of clients would want your watermelons?

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    Another way to get your name out there......

    Contact your local Rochester area or Monroe County Republican and Democratic party chairmen.

    Tell them that you are a local business man who is trying to make a name for himself. Offer that chairman a special centerpiece for their next fundraising event. Then make a nice little display advertisement that you can place next to your watermelon.

    That chairman or chairwoman might not be the person you really need to talk to about it. Ask them about it. They might put you in touch with their campaign manager instead or maybe tell you who caters their events.

    Campaign fundraisers would be a good place for you to advertise because there are a lot of corporate people and generally affluent people.

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    Visit some of your local high end restaurants that do banquets. Carve a sample for them in advance just like you would for the caterers. Make sure you visit them in person. Take a brochure of yours along with your sample.

    Another thing...

    Your website is okay, but I think you could upgrade your image a lot by getting a much more professional looking one. You should have a picture of yourself on there as well as this builds trust.

    Remember, with the kind of business you are in, you aren't advertising a regular store front. People will base their impression of you on how professional your marketing materials look. That means you need to have an especially professional, business card, website and brochure. That is my opinion anyway. Your site should have an "artistic" feel and look to it.
     
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  6. Ted

    Ted
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    Watch for upcoming events in Rochester where you could maybe get a watermelon or two on display...

    For example....

    I know that a lot of the wineries in the Finger Lakes region have special wine tasting events all the time. Most of them have one event per month if not more. Some have big barrel tasting events or big parties for case club members.

    You could visit the wineries one by one and offer to create a free carving for them for their next wine tasting event. Then leave them a brochure and a business card. Collect the names and email addresses of the person who would decide whether to buy one of your carvings or not. Assemble them into an email list. Contact them once every few months and show them a photo sample of a recent carving.

    I bet you could drum up a lot of business from those wineries.
     
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  7. MarkTaylor

    MarkTaylor
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    Great post MM... I'm old school here... Load up with some samples and go and knock on the doors of target businesses - what you offer is surely an impulse purchase - I can't help thinking direct is the only way to do this!! M.
     
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  8. Ted

    Ted
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    Another suggestion....

    Look around and see what other artists in your area do carvings of other things such as ice sculptures or chainsaw sculptures or wood carvings or whatever.

    Contact them and tell them what you do. Ask them if they have any advice for you on how you can promote yourself. Maybe most of them will ignore you. But, all it would take is one of them to respond to you in a positive way. They might have the inside knowledge that you need to know in order to make a real breakthrough in your business.

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    Another suggestion..

    Pick out three or four of the most popular morning radio shows in Rochester. Visit their websites to get pictures of the radio personalities who are on those shows. Carve a watermelon specifically for each one of those shows. Deliver the watermelon to the station real early in the morning before the radio morning show starts. The radio personalities will be so impressed that they will mention your name and maybe mention your website for free. That is awesome publicity that you can get all for the cost of one measly watermelon.

    You could also time this around one of the radio personalities birthdays. Deliver the carving on their birthday and hopefully get the same results.
     
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  9. Ted

    Ted
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    By the way....I noticed in your one response that you like the idea of taking small samples to them...

    I wouldn't take small samples to them....I would take large samples to them....

    Make it a great big gift to them......

    The more generous you are with them, the more reciprocity you will instill in them. That will make them want to do a big favor back for you in return. That is the goal here. Guilt them into doing something nice for you which results in you getting business.

    People don't remember the nice little things others have done for them, but they do remember (and talk about) (and tell their friends about) the great big nice things that other people do for them.
     
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  10. mmcarvings

    mmcarvings
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    Wow, Ted. You are a wealth of great ideas. I wish I'd connected with you a few years ago when I decided to start doing the carvings. I'm going to definitelly try some of your suggestions.
    Mark, I think you're on the right path too. I need to make personal visits.
     
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  11. mmcarvings

    mmcarvings
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    As far as the business model goes, what is a fair percentage to pay vendors to offer my product? I'm thinking like 20%-30%, which could be anywhere from about $20 to $90 per sale. Is that enough to energize vendors to work with me?
     
  12. mmcarvings

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    Actually, the US Open golf tournament will be held at a Rochester area country club. I'm hoping to get some corporate business from that, but had not been sure how to go about getting them. I will now plan on visiting businesses with sample carvings. Who should I contact there? Just ask for the person in charge of corporate events? Should I make an appointment with them, or just show up?
     
  13. Ted

    Ted
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    You would have to ask the vendors that question. Or maybe try to figure out how much profit them make per item when catering and use that as a guide to help you judge whether or not it would be worth their while.

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    I would call the country club and ask who is charge of planning the US Open golf tournament to be held there next. Get that person's name. Then get in touch with that person and ask how to proceed. They might put you in touch with their chef or maybe it is a decision they will handle on their own.

    When you get people to take you up on your offer of doing a free carving for them, be sure to take a picture of the finished product. Take a bunch of pictures on a digital camera. Make sure the setting is done just perfectly. Then use those photos as marketing materials in the future.

    For instance, you can create a one page sheet that shows - "This is what our carving looked like for Chateau Lafayette Reneau's spring barrel tasting event in 2013" Here is what owner had to say about our carving........

    He also said that the watermelon paired nicely with their 2011 vintage of Dry Riesling......
     
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  14. mmcarvings

    mmcarvings
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    Thanks again, Ted. I'll contact the country club.

    I take pictures of every watermelon I carve. I've archived them for advertising, as you suggested. I had not thought of tying in the comments with the photo, so will work on that.

    You've been a great inspiration.
     

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