Developing Your Farm’s Image
When we started our farm six years ago, we spent all our time and energy thinking about what we wanted to grow and how to grow it, and no time on how we were going to present our business to our customers.
We’re willing to bet this is a very common and honest mistake for people starting a business, no matter what your business. But we were not new to being in business. As we’ve mentioned before, Joe has owned restaurants for nearly twenty years, and Charlotte comes from a corporate background as a marketing director. But the business of growing cut flowers is unique. It’s a business where enthusiasm plays a large role in getting started, enthusiasm for cultivars and varieties, and all of those flowers we want to grow simply because we love them. And developing a marketing plan, or rather, our farm’s image, got tossed aside in the early stage of our growth.
But we soon learned that building an image for the farm was going to be key to building sales. And, what we mean by “image” is, besides our flowers, how will the public view and remember our business?
We see this building process in three steps:
1.) Creating Your Image
2.) Communicating Your Image
3.) Reinforcing Your Image
Creating Your Image
First, we need to “create” our image, and by this we ask: What defines you? What feels like you? And, what do you enjoy promoting about your farm?
When we first started our cut flower business, Joe’s mother felt strongly that it should be named for Joe. He was going to be doing the majority of the work and he would be the “face” of the business, and, after all, she is Joe’s mother. So we looked at using Joe’s name in the creation of our image.
“Flowers By Joe”, or “Caputi’s Flowers Worldwide” just didn’t sound right; they either looked too feminine or grandiose— sorry, mom. We decided to name the business, “Charlotte’s Garden”. Charlotte’s Garden seemed to be more connected to our audience: educated, upper-middle class women with disposable income, who were looking for a little romance in their flower purchases. Charlotte’s Garden says that, and Joe had no problem with the business not being named for him, especially if it meant making MORE money!
The next step in creating our image was to design a logo. At first we went looking for images on the internet and went through thousands of our own photos, but nothing looked quite right. So we hired a professional graphic designer, gave him the challenge, told him we wanted to make it professional looking, stylish, and still be easy and inexpensive to deploy.
Let’s talk about logos. Your logo is probably as important in building your image as your flower are. The typeface, the design, and the overall effect is what makes the ultimate impression on your customer. And it needs to make an accurate impression, that is, the logo needs to communicate who and what your business is.
It may be tempting to grab some clip art off the internet, but is it memorable, is it professional in a positive way?
Consider this: When you walk into any Starbucks your eye will see (consciously or unconsciously) as many as 700 Starbucks logos. This is entirely intentional. The point is, when you leave the store with your coffee in hand (with its logo blazing on that steamy cup of mud) you are immersed in Starbucks culture, and the next time you think of having a cup of coffee you’ll seek out Starbucks.
This type of logo penetration exists everywhere. Just think of the brands you recognize instantly without seeing the name of the business in print.
This is the logo that our graphics designer came up with.
We felt that this logo communicated exactly who we are and what we’re about. It wasn’t feminine, so Joe could easily wear a tee shirt with the Charlotte’s Garden logo. It also had a strong, memorable image, not unlike those of Target and Starbucks. And, it was easily transferable to all of our marketing material, which brings us to the second step of developing our farm’s image, communicating it.
Communicating Your Image
When you’ve decided on the image you want to project, and you’ve decided on your logo, it’s time to communicate it. That means deploying it across everything you do. Primarily we’re market growers, but everything we do can easily translate to selling to florists, supermarkets, and wholesalers.
Like the Starbucks experience, when you walk up to our stall at the farmers’ market you immediately see our logo on everything: our van, banner, our tee-shirts and hats, and each and every sign in our flower buckets. We have learned the lesson of logo penetration to communicate the brand that is Charlotte’s Garden. The point, you ask? Just as it is with Starbucks and coffee, when our customers think of flowers, we want them to think of Charlotte’s Garden.
And it’s not just a logo that communicates our image. Cut flower marketing is a people business, so we strive to give the ultimate people experience. Of course our flowers are of the highest quality, otherwise we could not promote them as aggressively as we do. So we’re out there engaging with everyone we can make eye contact with, whether or not they buy our flowers. Potentially, EVERYONE is a customer, so why not treat them that way?
Because our logo is so easily transferable to so many media, we’ve put it on our trucks, tee’s and caps, our invoices, business cards, and the stickers that go on each and every tissue-wrapped bouquet and bunch, and our branded bouquets in cellophane sleeves in grocery stores.
Aside from our physical presence, we have a very strong virtual one as well. Do you have a web site? We do, and we use it to communicate our image to our customers and the world.
On our web site you will find our logo clearly at the top of the page, our mission statement, lots of flower photos and photos of us (smiling) at market, our affiliation with the ASCFG, our “Virginia’s Finest” designation, and the text is all about our business, what we do and who we are. A web site is, as Joe is so often heard saying, a way for our customers to continue the experience after the sale. It’s where they can learn more about Charlotte’s Garden and the flowers we grow.
When choosing a URL, your “www” (your domain name), think of a combination of words that make sense for your business and are easily remembered. When Joe built Bob Wollam’s web site for Wollam Gardens, it was easy to use wollamgardens.com. But when we went to fetch charlottesgarden.com, it was owned and used by a punk rock band in England! So, taking a lesson from Pamela and Frank Arnosky (their web site is texascolor.com, not using their business name, Texas Specialty Cut Flowers) we decided to go for virginiaflowers.net. Later charlottesgarden.com did become available and we bought it. We use both addresses to get to the same web page. The process of redirecting web addresses is simple and your web host will do this for you.
In a much more simple way, we communicate our image by using so-called vanity plates on our vehicles. For a mere ten dollars each, we put “VA-FLWRZ”, “VA-FLWRS”, AND “VA-FLWR1” on our trucks. That, combined with our logo and web address on the side of each vehicle, creates and communicates Charlotte’s Garden.
Reinforcing Your Farm’s Image
Now that you have a sense about how to create your image and how to communicate it, you need to reinforce it, keep it in the public’s eye for as long as possible, if not forever!
As we’ve mentioned so many times in the past, we reinforce our image by the way we engage with people at the market or with florists. It’s worth mentioning this over and over, because it’s true, AND IT WORKS!
We reinforce our image by the way we present our flowers. We use clean, unified buckets, and clear, informative signage and a thoughtful display as part of our image. We use clean, matching table clothes to cover our tables, and group flowers by color for a stronger presentation. We’ve overheard other farmers saying that we’re kind of fussy. Maybe we are. We’re about quality, and that, too, is part of our image.
Reinforcing your image is possible even by how your van arrives when it delivers to a florist or a market. If your image includes “clean, fresh” then your van had better look clean and fresh. Or is your van a health hazard—littered with used coffee cups, burger wrappers, and other trash— reinforcing the brands of someone else’s business? Would you buy flowers from an operation like that?
Reinforcing your image includes constantly finding new ways to draw people to you. Don’t hesitate to be shameless promoters of what you like about your farm. As we said in the beginning, knowing who you are and what you like about your farm is key to building an image that’s believable, that’s easy to communicate, and that makes sales.
Your farm has lots of opportunities for building your image. We found in farmers’ market sales that people really respond to pictures from the farm. We use our dogs to sell flowers all the time.
And, we’ve used props such as Charlotte’s VERY pink bicycle with its wicker handlebar basket stuffed with hydrangea to sell—you guessed it—hydrangea! By taking a photo of the bike and flowers and enlarging it and placing it next to the buckets of hydrangea our customer imagined themselves in that setting and it encouraged them to buy hydrangea. We encourage you to be shameless in these ways.
Creating, Communicating, and Reinforcing your image means delivering a consistently appealing experience, whether you’re selling to florists, farmers’ markets, grocery store chains, or wholesalers. And when you’ve created your image, are communicating it across all your materials, and reinforcing it constantly in everything you do, then you will have built a powerful —and profitable— image for your farm.