Story & Photos by Art Petrosemolo
Three of Monmouth Country’s popular “farm markets” have made the transition to the 21st century big time. Behind the pies and produce, they have a strong web presence and are taking on-line orders from across the country, as well as communicating with customers through social networking platforms including Facebook and Twitter.
These days, when most of us have friends and family spread across the globe, it’s nice to know that we can send them a taste of home with just a few clicks of the mouse.
Sickles Market, Little Silver
Bob Sickles, Sickles Market, runs his family’s 103-year old specialty food market and garden center in Little Silver. The market sits on family land that dates back to a Kings Grant in 1663 and his dad, 84 is still working. He farms the land and the results – both fruits and vegetables – are sold in the market.
Sickles went from a seasonal operation to year-round in the mid 1990s and added a new building to support its growth. It sells local produce, baked goods, gourmet groceries, meats, artisan cheese, flowers and gifts and, during the growing season, has a very large garden center.
Some 130 employees keep Sickles a customer-focused store and Bob sees that both his sales people and managers are trained in service and empowered to make things right.
To separate itself from the competition, Sickles likes to sell unique, local products both in the store and on-line. One of its recent successes is Mazi Piri-Piri hot sauce developed by a local chef Peter Mantas that was featured in Saveur magazine and on the magazine website.
Bob recently returned from a buying trip to Italy and the market as well as the on-line store will feature many, non-perishable, authentic items from different parts of Italy including cookies, candies, olive oil and the like.
“Business is still seasonal,” Bob says, “ but on-line sales, fresh produce, and the other unique offerings of the market, keep the operation busy during the slower times and allow me to maintain a trained staff year round.”
James Davidson runs the Sickles on-line store and Jackie Hall, a recent edition to the team, oversees the market’s customer service program. “We have the greatest respect for Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor (MI),” Bob says, “and the way they go to market and service their customers with a variety of focused businesses. We learned a great deal from them that has been personalized for our operation.”
On-line sales are still a small but a growing part of Sickles business and Bob emphasizes, “We are learning what makes sense for us. Our customers want unique items they cannot buy elsewhere and although the goods may not be the lowest in price, they recognize the ‘value’ and quality and that’s what keeps them coming back or ordering on-line.”
Besides Bob’s dad who works every day, his mom handles the mail, brother Ted runs the nursery, daughter Tori does marketing and wife Leslie handles some gift sales. It’s just the way Sickles retail and on-line customers want it.
Delicious Orchards, Colts Neck
Bill McDonald, owner of Delicious Orchards, Colts Neck, met his wife when they worked for DO for the Barclay family as teens. Bob’s daughter Keri says once her dad got his hands on produce, he knew what he wanted to do. “You can still find him, most mornings, stacking tomatoes and talking to customers,” she says.
Like Sickles and Dearborn, Delicious Orchards was a small farm stand at Eastmont (Route 537, Colts Neck). Owner Carroll W. Barclay began to move from its traditional farm, wholesale roots to a mix of wholesale and retail after WW II. He opened a small stand in 1959, built a 1200 foot site the following year and added three additions as business grew to its current size. The Barclay family (which still operates Eastmont Orchards) sold to a management team including Bill McDonald in the late 1970s. Bill’s partners retired during the last decade and Delicious Orchards is now all McDonald family owned and operated.
Keri , who does some of the marketing and handles gift boxes and baskets, her sister Erin and brothers Chris and Mike are all part of the Delicious Orchards management. “We all worked here growing up; we went to college, came back and pretty much asked our dad if he would take us into the business,” Keri says. “This truly is a family run operation.”
Some 200 employees keep Delicious Orchards running and it prides itself on high quality, no preservatives, baked or made on premise goods. People come from far and wide for the apple cider, pies, bread, cinnamon or powdered donuts and they leave the store with a lot more. More than 2.5 million people visit DO every year, many during the peak fall harvest months.
DO has sold through catalogs since the 1980 and mailings reached their high in the early 1990s. “Increased cost of printing and postage has made mass catalog mailings impossible today,” Keri explains, “but the growth of the internet and on-line sales has taken up the slack.”
“Food always has been a good gift or thank you,” she says, “for people who have just about everything. And, if they are quality goods, something remembered from their childhood, attractively packaged (box or basket) and wrapped, it continues to make an impression.”
DO handles its on-line and catalog order fulfillment from the original Eastmont site employing a number of customer service and fulfillment people seasonally to meet order demand. DO communicates with its customer base through Facebook and Twitter and has made the transition to servicing a clientele with changing purchasing habits.
Keri says that customers favor boxes rather than baskets in on-line ordering and lean toward assortments of fruits, cookies and brownies. The DO boxes are printed and wrapped with a special ribbon for presentation.
Delicious Orchards is celebrating its 100th anniversary this season and recently printed its second cookbook with many traditional recipes used at the store for decades, some of which feature DO items exclusively.
Dearborn Market, Holmdel
Dearborn Market, Holmdel, formerly Dearborn Farms, is the Luccarelli family and has been since 1925. The land on the corner of Centerville Road and Route 35, was farmed by current marketing director Emily Luccarelli’s great grandfather, Frank Sr. and grandfather Dominick.
Frank Luccarelli , Emily’s dad, is the market’s president and oversees the operation with his brother DJ. Dearborn has been on the same site for 86 years and started its retail operation in the 1960s.
The deli and greenhouses were added in the 1980s and the market continues to be a destination for fresh produce, baked goods, gift baskets, garden plants and supplies even as the farmland that dominated the Holmdel area turns into housing tracks, condominiums and commercial enterprises.
“Besides our base produce, grocery, and baked goods day-in, day-out business, there are seasonal spurts,” Emily says, “with our garden center busy during the spring/summer growing season, and our gift business picking up during the holidays.”
Dearborn also works closely with schools, clubs and groups who sell their homemade pies as fundraisers and have done so for years.
What sets Dearborn apart, Emily says, is its Italian food and specialty items. It’s Italian sampler basket of non-perishable salami, cheeses and antipasto items is a popular item for locals and area residents who move out of state. It can be ordered and picked up in the store or ordered on-line as a present or even a gift to yourself.
Emily smiles when she tells the story of a customer who moved to Seattle and could not get Dearborn Italian sausage they were accustomed to. “They called and begged us to ship the sausage,” Emily says; “ they would have even taken it frozen. But, “she continues, “we found a way to pack and ship overnight for them and they could not have been happier.”
Dearborn has done catalogues and direct mail but finds, like Delicious Orchards and Sickles, word of mouth and repeat customers are the best advertising. Dearborn reaches out to its internet savvy customers through Facebook and Twitter and is in the process of a major upgrade to its website and on-line ordering.
“Our new website will offer customers a lot more flexibility in what they order, how it is packaged and shipped,” Emily explains. “However, today,” she points out, “ Holmdel and the surrounding communities are pretty mature areas where shoppers are use to, and enjoy, traditional ‘go to the store’ shopping experiences. “It’s our job to maintain that side of the business,” she says, “and also to prepare for the future where web savvy customers want to order on-line and have their food or gift items delivered or shipped.”
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