In a recent issue of The Capital Press, our Northwest weekly ag newspaper, the front page article was talking about strawberry growers who were faced with $0.35 per pound prices at our local cannery. It costs between $0.28 and $0.35 just for the labor to pick them, then they need to be delivered to the cannery with docking fees, not to mention production costs. Farmers were faced with the decision of if they are even worth harvesting.

I began thinking how thankful I am that I do not produce a commodity product, but rather a specialty crop of flowers and bulbs. I set my own prices. I am in charge of quality control. I am in control of my own destiny.

I then thought back to the wonder years of farmers’ market 8 years ago. We were the only ones in the entire state with calla lilies and artichokes at the markets. My wife and I were the Calla Queen and the Artichoke King of our respective markets. Today there are probably over 10 different vendors selling the large white calla lilies at my market alone. If people see you making money, trust me, they will do their best to follow.

Producing specialty cut flowers does not give us amnesty again competition. What will keep us ahead of the curve? What will allow us to set our prices and enjoy good profits, despite competition?

If this was a motivational talk I could say that “innovation, technical knowledge, and ambition are just a few of the keys toward success.” I’m sure that many of the long list of strawberry growers in Oregon that have gone out of business the past decade have had these qualities.

The key is setting our product apart in the marketplace. Does a New marketplace. Does a New Yorker know that an Oregon strawberry is many times sweeter than a California strawberry? Does your customer perceive your zinnias to be better than your neighbors’ at your farmers’ market? Hopefully they are; however from a sales standpoint, perception by the consumer is sometimes more important than reality. Someday our specialty flower products will no longer be a specialty. What can we do to keep them special? Branding.

According to Webster’s, branding is “an identifying mark or label.” Yes, branding does include a label, but I prefer to think of branding as more of an implant into the mind of your customers. A brand represents your business and sets your product apart from similar product around you.

What’s the Buzz?

Branding is a buzzword of late, and I think a lot of us can be intimidated by the national branding efforts we read about in our favorite trade magazines. We read about large conglomerate nurseries and their extensive branding programs, which can do more to scare us off branding than actually motivate us. The reality is that branding can be useful for any size and type of business.

Branding is made up of two components, the label and the image. All branding begins with a label. It can be as simple as a logo or an extensive graphic that represents your business, values, and character. This label needs to be attached to everything that you do—from brochures, to fax cover sheets, to sleeves and flower boxes as they head out the door. Consumers need to identify this mark as yours and the minute they see this mark they know the product comes from you.

Secondly, and most importantly, is the image that your product and brand portray to your customers. A label without a message is nothing more than a tag. How is your product perceived by your customers?

Let me give you an example. In Tillamook, a coastal community in Oregon, white callas lilies are overgrown in most yards in the county. In fact many people have tried to get rid of them and can’t. People often ask me how they can kill them. I tell them that they can dig all the way to China and not get all the rhizomes. Calla lilies are a weed, and I’m lucky I don’t depend on local clientele to make a living.

However, with the use of my website and retail garden shows, I portray my calla lilies as a premium, coastal-grown product that everyone needs to have in their wedding. So rather than being paid to remove calla lilies from yards, I’m paid to ship the best quality Oregon-grown calla lilies throughout the nation. Even at the wholesale level, I advertise my products as coastal grown. For example, on my price list I list “coastal hydrangeas” rather than just “hydrangeas.” There really is no difference between a good quality hydrangea and a good quality coastal hydrangea other than perception.

Perception is Everything

The ASCFG board has talked about how we can help members of the association brand their products. Of course I would like the ASCFG to change their logo to a calla lily, however, that’s not going to happen as long as the rest of you continue producing sunflowers, peonies, or an endless amount of other specialty cuts. We came to the conclusion that it would be best to help members facilitate the branding of their own products.

This can be accomplished by the sharing of ideas. Many ideas for branding are currently being used: from flower sleeves, bucket stickers, or box labels to uniforms at farmers’ markets and an endless amount of other creative ideas. The ASCFG board would love to hear about your creative branding ideas. We may be able to find a supplier who is willing to offer discounts to members for some of these ideas.

One of the best ways tools I’ve found in branding my products is the use of banners at garden shows and farmers’ markets. I have a different banner for various seasons throughout the year I even have an 18-foot banner on the side of my Isuzu. By using a variety of images promtoing and describing my business, I begin to build an image for my business. Today’s full color digital banners allow us to inexpensively show off our business.

We have secured a graphics company that will offer discounts to members for the creation of full color digital banners. Just a simple photo of your farm or flower of choice can turn into a life-size advertisement. We encourage members to place the ASCFG logo in a corner of the banner, thereby branding the association as well. If enough of us throughout the country begin using the ASCFG logo on our advertisements, the association will be seen as a tool that other growers just won’t be able to live without.

Start now in branding your products, setting them apart from others. Start with a label and build on an image. Remember, perception is everything.