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Using Social & Online Media to Market Trash as Treasure

Using social media to market trash as treasureI bought a house last year, an accomplishment noteworthy, because it took me more than three years to find the right one. And the right one was actually completely wrong, but I fell in love. Which probably explains why I haven’t been married in a while, but I digress.

What I didn’t notice in the Montana April when I first saw my wannabe farmhouse was the 100’ high cottonwood trees that ringed it. Without leaves, the trees barely caught my attention. With leaves, they wrapped the house in a soothing rustle on summer nights.

That should have been a clue. Because when I returned from vacation at the beginning of October, the green lawn was flecked with gold. And then checked with gold. And then in danger of being wrecked with gold as the leaves piled up. I went off to buy lawn & leaf bags and choose between plastic and metal rakes. As it turns out, I’d need both.

Because 28 bags of leaves later, I still wasn’t done raking. Nor did I have a plan for getting rid of the leaves. I could take them to the dump. I could dump them myself on a far corner of my property.

Or I could sell them to the highest bidder.

OK, maybe “sell” is an exaggeration. But the problem did pose a test of my marketing skills. Let’s see, what were the four Ps again?

Product: That’s easy. Leaves. No, not just leaves. 28 bags of slightly damp, golden leaves from unsprayed trees, hand-packed into heavy-duty bags. Ideal for a compost pile.

Price: For my first venture into leaf sales, I chose a low price. Nothing. So a 100% discount on whatever price I would normally charge.

Place: An isolated farmhouse in the shadow of a mountain. No, strike that, a charming country cottage along one of Montana’s most scenic drives.

Promotion: I had my other Ps. But how could I wage a campaign that would turn prospects into customers?

I decided to try social media. I started with my inner circle on Facebook first, with a fetching photo of the first 22 bags. Anyone need leaves for compost? I asked. Apparently no one did, because I didn’t get one like, let alone a whisper of a comment.

So then I tried Craigslist, Farm & Garden section. I suppose that’s really more of a classified ads site coupled with a social network, but I wasn’t picky.

To my shock and delight, I saw an ad that said “Wanted Bagged Leaves.”  I sent an email and received an immediate response. The ad poster’s daughter was using the family truck, but my leaf customer would get back to me when she could make a pickup.

Two days later, after no response, I checked again. The answer was a bit cryptic: “Talked to my daughter today and she doesn’t have much gas in the truck. I don’t want to fill her tank to get free leaves:)”

So would she fill the tank to get leaves she’d pay for? I could arrange that.

I didn’t ask. But I had learned that 1) she wanted the leaves for compost and 2) she didn’t want sprayed leaves.

So I created my own ad and put it on Craiglist Farm & Garden:

Bagged Leaves for Compost

30 bags of freshly raked leaves from non-sprayed trees. Use them as a great base for your compost pile.

You’ll notice that’s a bit different from what I said above—but that was before I truly thought about my product’s unique value proposition.

Not long after, I received two emails inquiring after my leaves. One asked where they were; the other asked how soon they could be picked up.

So on Halloween night, I waited for a man named Mark who was driving 20 miles through the darkness to get bags of leaves.

Did I mention I live in a lonely farmhouse? Fortunately a (tall, tough) male friend was bringing dinner over.

When Mark arrived, he seemed as unlike an axe murderer as anyone you could imagine. Handsome as Ted Bundy, I’d say.

But apparently he killed people with thorns, because he had a large garden with raspberry bushes and other plants in want of mulch. And a yard with nothing but pine trees.

So even though I’d targeted the wrong audience (compost pilers), I’d hit on one that worked (mulchers). Mark not only picked up those leaves but came back a few weeks later to pick up 20 bags more.

Problem solved, at least for one fall. Mark even offered to help bag leaves from my large permanent pile. And to check in with me for more leaves in the spring.

But I have a new tactic: U-Bag Leaves. Sure, I’ll have a Craigslist ad and probably a large cardboard sign on the fencepost. And I’ll go ahead and post it on Facebook.

Because Mark can’t be the only guy out there with no leaves in his yard. And somewhere there’s a family that wants their kids to experience the joy of raking leaves and jumping in piles and bagging them up and taking them home.

I bet I could even charge $1 a head.