What does it take to get noticed? Let’s face it, as flower growers we’re a group of small boats in a sea of bigger boats, each of us competing for the dollars that buy flowers.
What it really boils down to is we’re in even smaller boats than we imagine. So small in fact, that if we measured our efforts compared to, let’s say, a national average, the amount of flowers sold in the United States, the amount of flowers we as individual growers sell wouldn’t move the needle at all.
So what does this mean? First, we collectively do quite well as a small boat. We grow first-quality flowers. And everybody knows small boats are fun and fast, and can move around easier than a big boat. We sell flowers and compete quite nicely. However, we can do more, but what and how? And what’s all this about moving a needle and what the heck is the needle in the first place?
The needle is an indication of movement in terms of how much business we can generate within a competitive environment. For example: if, like us, you sell at a farmers’ market, getting noticed isn’t always easy— talk about a sea of boats! But what if we can get our stall noticed even though we’re selling the same iris, peonies, tulips, zinnias and sunflowers as every other grower? And, how do we gain the loyalty of our customers, and keep them coming back week after week?
Here are the five things we do to get our small boat noticed:
Whether you’re running a bucket truck from florist to florist, or setting up camp at a farmers’ market, presentation may be the single most important direction you can focus your energy.
When we speak of presentation, we mean, “What is the first visual impression your customer has of your business?” If you’re making stops to a florist, can your client easily see what you have to sell? Are your bunches uniform and hydrated? Are your buckets clean? Is your van clean, or is the cab littered and overflowing with fast food containers and papers? Are you wearing clean clothes? And can your clients easily move around the buckets of flowers you’re asking them to buy?
We try to go for visual “punch” in the crowded Charlottesville, Virginia farmers’ market, where there are up to 100 vendors on a given Saturday, all of whom seem to be selling flowers! We spend a lot of time thinking about the set-up, making sure the signs are interesting, clear, and quick to read, and arranging buckets so they create an impression of color and abundance.
We use matching tablecloths and our tent has a clean white cover. The buckets we use are the same as the ones our florists use: black and uniform. And, we make sure we’re wearing clean, presentable clothes. Our tee-shirts have our logo silk screened on the front, and our ball caps have the logo embroidered on them.
There’s a banner across the front of our tent, and our van, which is parked behind us, has our logo emblazoned on its side. In other words, we reinforce our brand at every turn.
Know Your Customer
Who is your best customer? Simply defined, this is the person who buys your flowers week after week. Whether they spend $5.00 or $50.00, loyalty means money. These are the people on whom your business should be focused.
When we first started growing and marketing cut flowers, we’d see the customer in the expensive Kaminski hat and straw basket approaching…and we’d panic. How could we meet her fantasy of buying market produce? What if that hat was so costly that she didn’t have enough left to spend on flowers?
But we soon discovered that this was the person who was going to buy our lilies, hydrangea, and tuberose. This customer was dialed into the current trends and style, and we learned that this was the person who was ready to buy— every week.
We aim to give everyone who wants to give us their money a great experience. But we also know who our ideal customer is: in our case, the person who buys flowers every week, doesn’t mind spending money on them, and appreciates good quality and variety. When it comes to adding up the sales, your loyal customers move the needle.
Location, Location, Location
Where you sell your flowers will make all the difference between true love for what you’re doing as a grower and hating yourself.
We’ve recently undergone some very significant changes with our business (see Joe’s Regional Report, page 18). We downsized Charlotte’s Garden, and streamlined the way we grow and market our flowers. Our egos—the most delicate plants of all—took a beating but we’re the better for it. And so are our customers.
For example, we used to sell at three farmers’ markets, but found that by choosing the most lucrative of the three and minimizing our overhead (travel, staffing, time) that we can probably sell nearly as many flowers as we would in those three markets. In Charlottesville, the closest (read: least amount of time on the road!) market, we were given a new, more visible space. Our new location puts us at the corner of Hollywood and Vine, as opposed to being tucked away in a dark alley. By making these changes our biggest challenge is now having enough flowers to sell, not what to do with what we might otherwise be bringing back to the farm.
As a grower you’re a marketer. Embrace that. Marketing is creating demand for your product—and your personality is part of the equation. Your job as a grower is to produce great flowers, and your job as a marketer is to make people happy to spend money on your product. You want them to feel that their money has been well spent.
While it’s unrealistic think we can win the affection of everyone who crosses our path, we do turn on the charm at the farmers’ market. We try to make as much eye contact with as many people as possible, and always, always, greet them as they walk by our stall. Saying “good morning” takes no effort at all, and even if that person isn’t at first attracted to our flowers they may be next time, or the time after that. Being friendly counts for a lot.
We’ve made actual friends through the farmers’ market, and look forward to chatting with our regular customers. Some of them in Kaminski hats— imagine that!
The phrase we love to hear as the sale closes is, “I feel like a movie star!” That’s what we go for in our final hand-off: flowers are wrapped in florist tissue paper, tied with a big raffia bow, and carry a Charlotte’s Garden sticker. Even the puniest of purchases gets this treatment. (We just try to set the pricing so we don’t encourage puny purchases…but that’s a topic for another column.)
When we hear that “movie star” statement, we know we hit the target. Yes, it costs us money for that packaging. But we decided it’s a standard for us—and it has worked to increase sales. Packaging is key; some of the most successful retailers (think Apple Computer, Crate & Barrel, Target) have focused not only on the product and pricing, but in that final packaging that makes you, the customer, delighted with your purchase.
People are always walking up to our customers asking where they got those flowers and are pointed in our direction. And that, dear friends, is what moving the needle is all about.
Please send us your ideas, suggestions, and questions about marketing cut flowers to: [email protected]