Asking for Money

Asking others for anything, let alone money, may be one of the hardest things for human beings to even consider.  Yet, as flower growers, and by extension, marketers (read “salespeople”) we enter into the fray of the give and take of the money exchange weekly, if not daily.  The point is, if we don’t get paid for what we grow, we don’t eat.  And as pretty as our flowers are, they aren’t that tasty, well, not most of them.

How Do You Know What to Charge for That Flower?

One way is to ask what other growers are charging for their flowers.  The new ASCFG Price Index is a great way to start. We try to keep in mind, however, that all markets are not the same—if you’re lucky enough to be selling in a large urban area (we aren’t), prices are going to be higher. We can’t compare ourselves to New York City or Washington, DC prices, or we’d give up and go get that day job.  So we do some local research, too. For example, just this past Saturday at our farmers’ market in Charlottesville, Virginia, the vendor across from us was selling his zinnias for 50 cents a stem.  They were pretty, and worth every cent, at least.  And just down the hill another vendor was selling their zinnias for 50 cents a stem, as well.

The night before we go to market and sometimes during our (groggy, 5 a.m.) ride to the market we discuss pricing.  How much are we going to charge for this, and how much are we going to charge for that?  It’s not rocket science to understand what you should want to get for your effort, but it is science, of a sort, to know why you should get what you charge for your stems.  And, there’s a little psychology involved, too.

Know What it Cost

When Joe was in the restaurant business, he knew that what he charged for each dish wasn’t an arbitrary act of wizardry.  It was a process. One that required knowing what went into each dish: its ingredients, the labor, a share of the overhead, and oh yeah, profit.  Before, let’s say, putting the Rack of Lamb with Caramelized Root Vegetables and Zinfandel Reduction on the menu, Joe had to know how much the lamb cost, how much the garnish and sauce cost, and what his labor costs were before even considering the dish.  If the dish went on the menu for $30, then he knew that at the most, 33% would be the cost of the raw food, 33% for labor, and 33% as its contribution to overhead and profit.  (Apparently growing flowers and being in the restaurant business is not going to get you rich fast!)  Still, it’s simple enough, right?

So back to the zinnias…  If the cost of the zinnia seed is a fraction of a penny each and that seed grows into a plant that produces, let’s say, 30 stems, then, hey, wait a minute, we are going to be rich!  (Thank you, Pam and Frank Arnosky.) But zinnias are just one flower, and let’s not forget to consider everything else you’ve put into those zinnias: the amendments that went into the beds, support netting, your equipment, cost of delivery, and were they started as plugs or directly seeded.  And how’d you get those stems cut?  Did you pay someone to do it, or did you do it yourself?  If you’re smaller and on your own, how much is your time worth?  None of this is free. It all costs something, just ask Joe’s back.

With that unromantic reality in mind, we decided to ask for 85 cents a stem for our zinnias. But when we saw our neighbor’s pricing, we looked at each other and reconsidered.  We had about 400 stems that we did not want to bring home, at least not most of them.  So what to do?  Do we match their price, go lower, or do nothing?

We did nothing.

Know Who You Are

The dog days of August are brutal on so many levels.  Day and night it’s hotter than sin, our brains are toast from a season that has been grinding on since the beginning of time, and every tomato-cantaloupe-pepper-corn-gourmet veggie guy has a big spackle-spattered, five-gallon bucket full of zinnias and sunflowers, each of them— yes, you’ve guessed it, 50 cents a stem!  Charlotte calls it the time of “mason jar wars.” This is when it’s time to remember who we are. We’re flower growers, and professionals to boot.

Know Who Your Customers Are

If our customers and potential customers are coming to buy flowers, then they’ll look at our flowers, our service, and our display as a whole. If a 50-cent zinnia is what they’ve come for, great, there are plenty of buckets out there to choose from.

But if they’ve come for the overall experience of shopping for flowers, being seriously schmoozed by a couple of cut flower wackos who eat, sleep, and breathe this stuff, then they’ve come to the right place.  Eighty-five cents a stem is our price and we’re sticking with it. That’s the customer we’re after—the one who loves flowers, wants value, and appreciates what we offer. The price-hounds are out there, we know—and we’re happy they’re out there cruising the farmers’ market—but they’re not our target customer.

Keep it Simple

Asking for money is also about how you go about the asking.  We offer single stems, but we encourage multiple stem purchases, too.  If we only asked for 85 cents a stem, we’d be giving lots of 15 cents change back on each dollar handed us—or in most cases $19.15 change back for each crisp, newly printed twenty freshly plucked from the ATM that morning.  But we’re not asking for 85 cents per stem.  Not really.  Eighty-five cents is just a starting place.  It is our assumption that most of our customers are intent on buying several stems of flowers, so we give them every opportunity to do just that.

Our zinnia pricing goes like this:  85 cents per stem / 7 stems for $5/15 stems for $10.  We have found if we only ask for 85 cents a stem, that’s what our customers think we’re asking them to give us.  But most of our sales are 5 and 10 dollars—just for zinnias.  Granted, if you’re doing business in a larger market, say, New York City or Washington DC, you can get more per stem or bunch, but for us, we’re satisfied to get more than 50 cents a stem, and we do, each and every week, because we ask for it.

Beef Up Those Bouquets

When we go to our farmers’ market we don’t arrive with ready-made bouquets.  We make everything on site. When we get to market we set up our stall and let the carnival begin.  Making bouquets at market is part of the festival atmosphere that people come to farmers’ market to experience and be a part of.  Making bouquets is contagious.  You might think everyone wants an original piece of art, but in fact it’s just the opposite.  This past Saturday alone we made a large bouquet of Pee Gee hydrangea (not the easiest flower to begin with), a couple varieties of celosia, asclepias, and some of those 85-cent zinnias, and voila!  We made the exact same bouquet six times in a row —”Can you make one just like that for me?” — each for $20 a throw.  It was a fast and furious $120 take near the end of an exhausting market, but it was worth it.

We’re not saying make bouquets bigger and charge the same price.  We’re saying make them bigger and charge more for them.  For the longest time our standard market bouquet has been priced at $10.  They were pretty and generous and we sold a lot of them.  Then one day it occurred to us to ask (there’s that word again) for $15 and $20 bouquets, and guess what?  We got it.  Ten-dollar bouquets sit in buckets next to  $15 bouquets, and the more expensive ones sell first.  This tells us our customers wanted to buy more from us, but needed to be asked.

Asking the Question

Typically our customers will ask to have us make them a bouquet.  Besides asking which flowers they might like, or what colors they’d like to see in their bunch, we must also raise—nicely, of course—that necessary question, “How much would you like to spend?”  It’s an awkward moment for both the customer and us.

Worst-case scenario, their reply might be, “I don’t know, five or six dollars.”  If so, our first inclination is to steer them toward at least a $10 purchase, showing them a bouquet that is already made, giving them an idea of the true value and abundance our flowers have to offer.  If they don’t go for the $10 bouquet we show them, they quite often say, “Make me one like that, but add a couple lilies to it.”  Perfect, a $15 dollar sale —50% more than it might have been.

Simple Creativity

Most recently we’ve stated asking for money in another way, with a new sign, not our standard pricing “menu”.  It simply says this: “Yes, we would be happy to make a generous, beautiful bouquet for you: $10, $15, $20 or the sky’s the limit!”

Hey, we’re idiots; we need to keep this simple.  It is simple, and it works.  We make more 15- and 20-dollar bouquets than ever before.  And do you know why?  Because we asked for it.

Please send us your comments, questions and ideas about marketing cut flowers to flower [email protected].