… The operation has recently expanded, and now includes 600 acres plus an 8,000-square-foot on-farm market with a full butcher shop, commercial kitchen and 4,300 square feet of retail space. This new space means they keep more profit on many of their direct-marketed products, especially beef…
Transparency and trust key to on-farm retail
The McKay brothers have leveraged years of direct-marketing experience into an expanding family business
By Mona Howe, Canadian Cattlemen
September 10, 2019
Direct marketing has always been part of brothers Jordan and Alex McKay’s business model. As kids, they sold strawberries from their mother Marlene’s u-pick strawberry fields. They clearly took those early lessons to heart. Today they run an impressive direct-marketing operation near Port Perry, Ont., and were named Canada’s Outstanding Young Farmers in 2018.
The McKay family has been involved in agriculture for many generations. By the early 1990s, Rod and Marlene McKay had built their first on-farm market to accommodate the wider range of produce they were growing at Willowtree Farm. Their start in the beef industry also came in the early 1990s, when they liquidated their dairy business. The transition from a dairy herd to a purebred Limousin herd came with a steep learning curve. Neighbour and family friend Glen Kerry has been a key mentor on the beef side, especially since Rod’s passing.
With the onset of BSE in the early 2000s, the family business faced many of the same issues plaguing the rest of the industry. Fortunately, the McKay family was already selling their farm produce at local farmers markets and out of their small on-farm market space. With some experience in direct selling and a growing customer base, they were able to add some freezer beef to their list at the on-farm market and pocket that little bit of profit on their beef animals.
Today, Jordan and wife Alyson work with Alex and his wife Kelty to run Willowtree Farm. Alyson and Jordan work on retail and marketing, and Jordan personally takes care of Willowtree Farms’ customers. Alex handles the day-to-day farm operations. Kelty fills her plate with the farm’s community-supported agriculture program, kitchen and farm work, and child care.
The operation has recently expanded, and now includes 600 acres plus an 8,000-square-foot on-farm market with a full butcher shop, commercial kitchen and 4,300 square feet of retail space. This new space means they keep more profit on many of their direct-marketed products, especially beef.
The best part of this recent expansion is that it has allowed them to connect with their customers on a deeper level, says Jordan McKay. This customer connection is a key element in the foundation of any direct-marketing venture, he adds, and is one of the things that Jordan himself is most passionate about.
The McKays and their staff strive for the highest level of transparency with their customers. This creates a level of trust that Jordan feels is greatly lacking between producer and consumer throughout the agriculture and food industries. Their focus on transparency and the level of trust it creates is one thing that keeps their customers coming back on a regular basis.
The wide variety of products on offer has also helped the McKays build their customer base and retain customers...