Two entrepreneurial college students saw a consumer need along the bucolic, affluent Route 52 corridor, and after a month of planning, they recently launched a thriving new business to address it.
Regular Kennett Pike drivers will have seen the farm stand stationed at the historic property known as Twin Lakes, the home of the Hobbs family who have variously offered the beautiful site for family ice skating and beer tastings at the home of the Twin Lakes Brewery previously based there.
Now Twin Lakes is hosting the brainchild of Parker Swanson and Will Gatti, good friends and college students who envisioned the business as an opportunity to capture an untapped market of Greenville passers-by hungry for locally-sourced fresh fruits and vegetables. Gatti, Wilmington Friends ’17, is studying business at the University of Delaware. Swanson, Charter School of Wilmington ’17, is studying history and business at Duke University.
TSD recently stopped by the stand to pick up some delicious local tomatoes and corn, and asked Swanson and Gatti about their venture into the produce business.
TSD: How did you come up with the idea of offering a farm stand in Greenville?
Will Gatti: Last summer when I was driving down to the beach, I noticed farm stand signs on a good stretch of land (Route 1) where there’s a lot of traffic, and that’s exactly what Route 52 is right here. That’s when I came up with the idea for Greenville. We don’t believe anyone has ever done a farm stand along the Kennett Pike before.
Parker is someone who’s always trying to do crazy business ventures, and he has a great opportunity with this road right in front of his house (Swanson’s mother is Maggie Hobbs and their family lives at the property). So, it all kind of fell into place. But we planned it out for a while. We actually didn’t know if it would work.”
Parker Swanson: All of June was basically the planning stage. We had to find where we were going to get the vegetables and produce, make all of the signs, determine whether people would actually stop, think about social media and marketing.
TSD: How did you make decisions about sourcing your food?
Swanson: We wanted to get as much local as we could from Delaware farms. The squash, zucchini, onions and cucumbers are local – grown on a farm just up the road from here. Then we source things like green beans, strawberries, blueberries, corn and tomatoes from local farmers in New Jersey, and we fill in the other things people like to see at farm stands from wholesalers. Our local farmer has more food items, like corn and tomatoes, that he will be providing to us throughout the summer.
TSD: And what about pricing – how do you know what to charge?
Gatti: We drove around a lot, actually, to get a feel for pricing. We went up to farm stands in Pennsylvania to see where they got their product and how they sold it, and we went to Mexican supermarkets, a few ACME’s and of course Janssens, which is right down the road. Once we figured out the prices for our produce, it came down to just doing the math and making sure everything was profitable but fair for the customers.
Swanson: We make sure that we get all of the top line stuff. What we care about most is the freshness of our products. We mostly just have the same offerings every day. We get small amounts of new, fresh produce and vegetables and try to get the nicest stuff, and some of it might seem a little more expensive, but it will be the absolute freshest available.
Gatti: Some farm stand operators buy a ton of produce on one day and sell it all week, but we think our customers appreciate the fresh items we pick up every day.
TSD: What’s it like to work together?
Swanson: We’re up early – in the car together at 6 am most days. So we spend a lot of time together even before we start greeting customers when we open at 11. I think we’ve been working really well together, and we have our heads on straight. We take breaks and organize the workload pretty well. It’s actually very useful to learn so much about running a small business.
TSD: There has been a constant stream of customers stopping by just in the short while we’ve been here interviewing you. So would you say your business has been a success?
Swanson: People do love having something this close to them. And that was our main idea – having a neighborhood farm stand because there are no other places like this locally. And we’re excited that more local produce is starting to come in. We’re excited that it can be a good place for the community.
Gatti: We’ve had a lot of people come through, and there’s been a really wide variety of people who shop from us. We had a guy from Maryland who was just driving through Greenville — got our corn one time, and he loved our corn, and he came back from Maryland a week later to get more corn for a cookout. I respected his loyalty to us!
Swanson: One thing that was interesting to learn was how much people really care about getting local produce. We didn’t really understand that at first, but now we have a good idea of the importance of offering as much local produce as possible and giving people what they’re looking for.
Gatti: We are sold out of corn now, and we started at 11 am with about 100 ears, and we have only been open for two hours. When we first started our farm stand, New Jersey corn wasn’t available. So, we sold Georgia corn, and people really didn’t want that. They love the Jersey corn now.
TSD: It’s been one heck of a hot summer, and you are out here for hours every day.
Swanson: We are very happy. It’s been a lot of work, but we’re glad we followed through. It’s been exciting to do this on our own. I’m really happy how it turned out.
Gatti: It’s cool to be able to do something on your own from scratch and see it really pan out because for while we didn’t know if it was going to work. I think it was well calculated and well executed, and our families have offered some great support, too.