Keeping my tradition of singling out particularly smart business models, I’ll shift my focus away from the previous article’s burgeoning ice cream chain Kilwin’s and, this time, return my camera’s lens to an old standby: a roadside produce stand off State Route 1 (Coastal Highway) in southern Delaware. I say “return” because I visited this same produce market a little over a year ago, back when I was taken by the unusual juxtaposition of the word “sexy” with produce, and the less unusual juxtaposition with “sexy” and a moderately obscure reference to Gonzo journalism.
After a turbulent and often tragic year, it’s still got the sexy produce. But it’s found a new spokesmodel. Or two.
In the place of the two-thumbed fist, we have a tough-looking tomato making a sort of most muscular pose. Did the owners of this roadside market get in trouble for using a copyrighted image (belonging to the estate of Hunter S. Thompson) and the courts forced them to change their brand? From my perspective, it doesn’t matter. Whether Gonzo or Venice Beach, it’s an idiosyncratic feature that helps distinguish what otherwise from the highway would like look like a run-of-the-mill produce market—which are in abundance in Southern Delaware, or in all of the heavily agrarian Delmarva Peninsula for that matter.
The building itself is nothing distinct. So it’s all about that sexy produce and the means of provoking. The tomatoes here have got muscles.
Getting out and walking around the premises, it’s easy to spot other whimsical distinguishing features. The grounds still feature a BBQ food truck, apparently permanently perched at this location; it was here last year.
And I don’t know if there’s a name for these things, but I’ve pointed them out before in another rural setting. I like them. The choice of locations on these directional totems usually reflects the idiosyncratic preferences of the proprietor. No doubt the same applies here. But this isn’t a detail a motorist is likely to see zipping by.
The interior offers further embellishments that are both irrelevant to the business’s mission and irreverent. Like a wall of old vinyl featuring 1960s soul and 1970s funk greats:
And another wall with more vintage albums:
And, inexplicably (at least from my perspective), an entire wall of sun-bleached media clippings of Patrick Swayze:
No explanation needed. The owner doesn’t owe us one. But it gives us something to look at while we’re perusing that sexy produce. And, for what it’s worth, we get more body building veggies, like the corn to the right of the photo below.
And a number of signs referencing tiki bars. No tiki bar is present.
I offer such an admiring account of this purveyor of sexy produce not just because I patronize it whenever I’m in the area. It gains my respect because it makes such a blithe, whimsical, unashamed effort to distinguish itself through personalized touches—something a small business can do far more easily. Sure, plenty of corporate ventures come to mind that deck their walls with various tchotchkes; I can think of a few chain restaurants (now shadows of their former selves) that were huge in the 1990s that did such a thing. But the interior decorations to these “free-wheeling” places involved such deliberation, a calculated effort to appear spontaneous, that the aesthetic approach became predictable and eventually devolved into enough of a cliché that the 1999 movie Office Space effectively parodied them…with a fake establishment called Tchotchke’s.
This Delaware vendor of sexy produce makes it all seem fresh again. Which in part explains why I am wiling to devote a second blog post, and (something I rarely do), include the establishment’s name and weblink. To avoid making this post seem likely simply an advertisement for Fresh Connection, I go back to the sexy produce for a more vigorous analysis.
None of these bodybuilding fruits and veggies were present a year ago; last summer it was Hunter S. Thompson. But Gonzo journalism’s two-thumbed fist almost certainly explains the presence of sexy produce this time around. These new images have become Fresh Connection’s de facto and de jure logo, avoiding copyright violations and turning into another source of revenue: the merch!
Magnets and t-shirts were available with bodybuilding corn, tomatoes, and (if I recall correctly) watermelon. I wouldn’t be surprise if tote bags, mugs, or key chains might be an option as well And merchandise has become an easy, popular way for small business to both generate additional revenue and to promote their brand, especially critical when the product is as perishable as produce. Sure, the various pickled vegetables and canned fruit preserves available at Fresh Connection are much more endurable, but you can’t reasonably tote spicy dilly beans around everywhere you go. (And the canned goods come from other local farmers, from whom Fresh Connection purchases their output.) With the merchandise option, proud customers can signal that they shop at Fresh Connection not just through the sexy produce but through durable goods. And the estate of Hunter S. Thompson won’t threaten litigation; these cartoony veggies are unique to the store. For the owner of this produce market, it’s an unprecedented win. Would a large business be willing to take such a risk, reaching out to a huge array and potentially inviting controversy in these easily offended times? Spend fifteen seconds in a Kroger or Costco and you have the answer to that question.