As pathological encouragers of small agricultural business, Rachel and I are occasionally asked a variation on the following question: “Can I survive on a cottage business that sells scented candles? How about Merino wool, lavender oil, or bee’s wax?”
The answer is: “Maybe.”
Consider the following: How many dollars does the average American household spend on your future product? The answer to that question will help you figure out how many customers you need. For example, if you plan to sell pastured meat to customers who spend $500 per year, you need 400 customers to gross $200,000, netting a decent living wage after expenses are paid. That’s 400 names, addresses and Christmas cards you need to keep track of.
Meanwhile, a purveyor of fine candles might be lucky to sell $50 worth of product to a given household, requiring instead 4,000 customers to make a living wage. That’s a lot more Christmas cards.
Local cottage business is easier with products like beef, dairy or jam, items that represent hundreds of dollars spent in a typical household. Scented candles and other products that claim a smaller percentage of household income will require more customers, either from a high-volume store-front (think city) or a story-based online store with great photography. If those appeal to you, you’re ready for the candle business. If you would rather sell to friends and family at the farmer’s market, you’re better off making cheese or bacon.
(PS. Thank you all for following along with our ag-ventures on this blog. We’re happy to see the growing crowd subscribing to learn from our mistakes instead of making the same mistakes at home! Rachel and Christian)