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Scott and Sue Bachman of Bachman Cattle Farms and Bachman's Farm Store

Farm to Retail: Chillicothe Business Expands Beef-Eating Customer Base during COVID-19

Just months after Scott Bachman opened his brick-and-mortar store in historic downtown Chillicothe, Missouri, the coronavirus pandemic hit.

But Scott had an ace up his sleeve.

A project that he finished just weeks before businesses were ordered to shut down ended up opening new doors for a new part of his business, expanding his business’s customer base to reach across the nation and doubling his sales every month.

But before we get to how Scott accomplished those amazing feats, even with the disruptions caused by COVID-19, we have to start at the beginning.

See, Scott is growing a business in a place that he, in his youth, says he probably didn’t imagine he’d return to, especially after a successful corporate career that had him traveling the world.

Returning home to build a business

After his 30-year career in cable (part of that helping build Europe’s cable, telephone and satellite systems), Scott says he heeded the call to return to his roots in Chillicothe to run Bachman Cattle Farms, his family’s farm, which helps produce top-quality angus beef.

After running the farm for a while, he saw an opportunity to reach a new market. So on Sept. 15, 2019, his farm operation opened up Bachman’s Farm Store, a brick-and-mortar location that sold his hallmark angus beef and other meats right in the heart of Chillicothe.

In the months that followed, he expanded his offerings by connecting with the Mennonite community to sell artisan cheeses and partnering with a local producer to sell local honey. But as his products grew, he kept facing the same question: Now that we have a physical presence, when and how will the business go online?

In March 2020, the pandemic and subsequent lockdown orders would fill in those blanks for him and his family, and he’d have no choice but to navigate the obstacles.

A DIY approach to going online

Scott, who worked in the corporate world and who says he didn’t have a lot of experience with traditional retail, did see the boost that online sales could bring to his beef sales, even months before COVID-19 hit.

So in 2019, he started on his plan to build his site, and instead of hiring out the work, he put in late nights and early mornings figuring out how Square could interface with his Weebly site or how to increase the compatibility of his future site and Facebook. There were a lot of kinks to work out for sure, but like he’d learned from working on the farm, he rolled up his sleeves and toiled tirelessly until he got his website and online store where he wanted them.

“Some nights, I was up until 5 a.m. trying to get the site just right,” he says. “I just figured it out myself. I didn’t want to hire anyone. See, the benefit is if I ever had problems, I could fix it and knew what the best solution was for what I wanted to do. Plus, it saved me money, but it wasn’t free; I did pay for it with the time I spent on it.”

And then on March 1, 2020, his site went live, weeks before his physical store would have to close.

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Show-Me national sales

The day that Scott launched his business’s website, 100% percent of his sales were coming through Bachman’s Farm Store’s physical location, as they had since he opened the brick-and-mortar location a few months before. But, as you might guess, online sales would make up a bigger piece of the pie during the initial COVID-19 lockdown. Soon, 90% of his total sales were online, a drastic and sudden shift to say the least.

What spurred that major switch wasn’t just a change in Scott’s mindset but also a change in his digital tactics. Originally, he had a defined marketing circle for the products his store sold, and he pushed targeted ads only to potential customers in Missouri and some neighboring states.

But when the mandatory stay-at-home order went into effect, he changed his thinking. For one, his marketing initially didn’t target grocery shoppers, but with a tweak, he included that segment and expanded the geographic area he marketed to. Soon, he was eying the entire country, not just the state.

“The online store just exploded,” he said.

He started taking orders across the U.S., shipping products to customers from California to Maine, and says sales were doubling every month. In just five weeks, Scott says he added almost 300 customers. In fact the growth was so explosive for his small store that he says it put a strain on production. (Not a bad problem for a small-business owner during a pandemic.)

And he’s tying the whole experience together with branded packing that echoes the design on his website, so when customers are ready to grill up some beef and need some more quality meat, it’s that little extra reminder of where they can shop online to make a purchase.

A light during the pandemic

But all those sales haven’t been without growing pains. Scott says supply chain issues have dried up the supply, but that, too, was a blessing in disguise. That forced him to create new relationships and increase supply with other operators.

For local orders, he says curbside pickup (a now classic pandemic delivery staple) has been the go-to to keep his nearby customers’ fridges stocked with beef. Curbside pickup cut down on store traffic and also allowed his physical location to remain open and serve the community and the people who helped build his business from the start.

“COVID-19 might be closing some doors, but it’s opening others,” Scott says, “doors that we probably never would have walked through otherwise.”

Scott Bachman spoke during a digital series created by Missouri Main Street Connection, a Resource Partner in the MOSourceLink network, that aims to enhance the economic, social, cultural and environmental well-being of historic downtown business districts in Missouri. You can watch Scott and other entrepreneurs and experts on the organization’s website.

Photo courtesy of Bachman Cattle Farms.

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