Computers aren’t Linda Neal’s thing.

Neal, from Patterson Farms Maple Products in Sabinsville, Pennsylvania, along with sugar master and namesake Richard Patterson, have been doing fine without the internet and its many social media offerings. In fact, the maple operation, located in north central Pennsylvania, has gained a following overseas due in part to exposure at farmers markets in Washington, D.C. Patterson’s sister would host a booth near the buildings of the Departments of Agriculture and Transportation.

“His sister went to Washington, D.C., for 17 years. When people came to the Capitol, they would come there to visit,” Neal said. “That’s where we got our overseas market that ships privately to over 35 countries.”

From left, Danielle Wanner, Richard Patterson and Linda Neal of Patterson Farms

Business was good; however, the times have been changing. Patterson Farms knew that using the internet will bring them into the 21st century, but it took some persuading. Here’s their story.

Sell it to the boss

Not the savviest of tech people, Patterson wasn’t sold on the idea of going online. Patterson Farms was built on personal interaction with its customers and word-of-mouth-type of marketing efforts.

“It was a hard pull to have him understand this and try it. One of my friends started up our website for us,” Neal recalled. “He still wasn’t convinced how well it was going to do.”

Neal admitted there were some growing pains as it took a year to get going. The site started as a hub to gather information about customers to later inform them via email about promotions.

Throughout the process, one of the things Patterson insisted on was keeping the customer’s trust. Their website, www.pattersonmaplefarms. com, is a simple design with a page for tour information, syrup grades, recipes, history and product information. Its order page, however, is different than the ordinary online commerce transaction.

“We don’t take a credit card over the internet. [Richard] won’t do it. That was one thing I cannot get him to change, but our customers appreciate that,” Neal said.

On the order page, a customer fills in the item they want and the quantity. Then, they are instructed to call if they wish to pay by credit card. Customers can also fax or email orders.

“They can send their order first, then we bill them and they can send us a check. A lot of companies don’t do that anymore,” Neal said. “It’s old school. That’s the way we like to do business — with a handshake.”

The next level

Patterson Farms has been successfully using online commerce for the last 10 years. The time spent on the web has taught Neal and Patterson new tricks. For example, Neal has utilized the power of bloggers to help with online sales.

“With computers, there are so many things going on. For example, [blogger] moms with kids who have allergies reach out to us,” she said. “Most of the time when we ship, we use packaging peanuts. After talking to folks and learning about their allergies, we tailor-make packages for them. Now we ship jugs and packaging, and nothing with corn products is mailed out. We pack that with paper.”

Also, the sugaring operation has plugged into social media. Patterson’s granddaughter, Danielle Warner, runs the Patterson Farms Facebook page where customers can interact with the operation and view posts about the farm’s goings-on plus photos of Patterson Farms’ sugaring process.

“The Facebook page is great. We have an open house in March (showcased on the Facebook page) where we make free pancakes,” Neal said. “People are starting to know about this as we keep the page updated. [For] a lot of the bus tours we do in the fall, the people on the buses get the information about us from our page.”

The more things change, the more they stay the same

With “Dani” — as Neal calls her — taking the reins on all things internet, Neal has breathed a sigh of relief. “She is a fifth-generation Patterson,” Neal said. “It is a lot easier for me. She can update, and I can still talk to customers.”

Patterson Farms has enjoyed success by adding a digital dimension to their sales, but the real accomplishment is keeping their identity that made them successful in the first place.

“Richard tries to run the business the way his father and grandfather did. There’s a lot of handshaking here,” Neal noted. “A lot of new sugarmakers go in and buy all this high-tech stuff and go into debt for this. You really don’t need that if you market the product yourself. Get out there and talk to your customers. That is the most important thing.”