True Grit

Whether you call it moxie, gumption or backbone, true grit is part of what makes people successful, and it is often an underappreciated secret weapon. Grit is tough to embrace in today’s culture which mocks perseverance and scoffs at persistency. It’s true: quick fixes, never-ending options and game-changing are far more prevalent than dogged tenacity. Many people label grit as an old-fashioned trait, sometimes even calling it a hard-headedness.

What’s the difference between hard work and true grit? For one thing, they are not synonymous; both are admirable, but in definition, single-mindedness better describes grit. Take the word to Webster and you get “firmness of mind or spirit; unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger.” Wiki gives you “endurance in the pursuit of long-term goals; the ability to persist in the face of adversity.” Growers, if you’re reading, I hope you are sitting tall!

Today’s prevailing business culture seems to be focused on speed, discovery and innovations. It’s impossible to use words like sexy, flashy or exciting when describing grit, yet all growers, by the nature of their profession, have a generous helping of grit in their makeup. An example at hand is the process of bringing a product to market. Every flower, branch and pod carries a genetic code which predetermines cycle time and vase potential. Through trial and error, growers discover best practices and fine-tune techniques to maximize that potential. Grit in action.

I’m just coming off the International Floral Exhibition (IFE) in Miami IFE, where there were examples of the continuing metamorphosis of the grower/shipper model morphing into the grower/shipper/bouquet-maker model, especially obvious with but, not limited to California growers. Mellano is the newest grower to enter the bouquet-making arena. Not too surprising since supermarkets continue to capture consumer dollars over flower shops and ecommerce. Simultaneously, the wholesale market channel struggles with continued attrition.

What opportunities do these new bouquet production centers present for ASCFG growers?  Bouquet makers, even those who are tied into a growing operation, must secure additional products from “feeder farms” for a full complement of menu items. This need opens doors for growers to organize their crops by quantity produced to cover several sales avenues: direct sales at farmers’ markets and to retail clients, as well as large volumes of crops grown specifically for bouquet makers.

Working with bouquet makers can be advantageous, but requires an open-eyed awareness of possible pitfalls, too. If you intend to provide bouquet makers, plan to sit with them to map out program needs by month and by week. Bouquet companies present programs to supermarket buyers at least six months in advance so everyone must know which crops are available when, volume expectations and color mix. Programs allow for some flexibility, but color mixes follow holiday needs. Yellow is never the dominant color featured in December nor red in March. One of the advantages of the “buy local” trend is the emphasis on offering blooms during their natural growing seasons rather than everything available year-round.

If you’ve tried supermarket sales in the past without luck, don’t be afraid to revisit the possibility. Floral directors change.  Stores constantly try to hook customers with variable product mixes. Cut flowers are a huge factor in setting the “freshness” appeal of other items, and consumer interest in all things local has not waned one bit the past few years.

Another tack is to approach local area stores with locally-grown product. Chain stores continue to embrace corporate buying as a way to maximize efficiencies and cut costs, but many local chains are finding a strong niche with their consumers by emphasizing “locally-grown” product. Farmers’ markets are thriving under this umbrella, but almost every metro area is also served by a small chain (2-10 stores) featuring local cheeses, baked goods, wines, and meat. Why not flowers?

Here are a few guidelines to save time when supplying a small local chain. First, visit an active store in the chain and talk to the floral person. Find the name of the head floral director who approves vendors for the program. Ask how many flower deliveries they receive every week and how the stuff gets there. Often small chains lack central distribution centers and work with local wholesaler(s) for store distribution. This works several ways: you sell your products to the wholesaler who resells to the store, or better, you receive approved vendor status from the chain which means you invoice the chain directly. This sales method eliminates double-dipping. Strike an agreement with said wholesaler to cross-dock the products. This arrangement means you and the floral director decide how many buckets of what go to each store each week. Product is delivered to the wholesaler on the day prior to store delivery. The wholesaler cobbles together each store’s order and delivers product directly to them while charging you a drop fee (usually $5-10.00/box.)

Once you have the cross-docking part organized with the wholesaler, go directly to floral program manager and present your program. You must be an approved vendor to get paid. Sometimes this is not clear because individual store floral people love to purchase products under the wire without getting head office approval first, but to be paid, you have to be on the “approved vendor list”. That approval is granted only by the floral director, and it includes standardized quantity per bucket, UPC codes, pricing and stem counts.

Now you must decide the best way to deliver the goods—wet or dry packed? First price the elements included like cardboard, sleeves and buckets, then decide what best fits your logistics. Pitch the program in a manner most advantageous for you. Include all costs in your bouquet prices because buyers prefer to talk “landed” prices rather product + service costs. An advantage of wet packing is the elimination of store labor required to process your flowers. Wet pack allows you to avoid carrying a box inventory, but keep in mind individual bunches and bouquets must be sleeved and then the entire bucket of goods should be dropped into  a sturdy outer sleeve (Kraft paper or plastic) to protect blooms during transit.

Wet-packed means bunches arrive hydrated and ready for the sales floor. Advantages of dry pack include ease of storing finished bouquets in your cooler and better protection in the delivery process. The grower always takes the credit hit on damaged goods, so be sure the wholesaler inspects and signs off on the delivery should disputes occur down the line. The popularity of receiving product wet packed or dry varies from chain to chain, depending on how much labor is allotted to floral at store level. If your arrangement is pay by scan (you are paid only for product they sell), wet pack is by far most advantageous because you are not solely relying on store help to process and display your goods in a timely manner.

If you’ve tried super-market sales in the past, but without luck, don’t be afraid to revisit the possibility. Floral directors change. Stores are constantly trying ways to hook customers with variable product mixes. Flowers are a huge factor in setting the “freshness” appeal of other fresh items, and consumer interest in all things local has not waned one bit the past few years.

True grit is an under-appreciated secret weapon in the pursuit of long-term goals and the ability to persist in the face of adversity. I think of it this way: grit is the tortoise, breakthrough the hare.

Gay Smith

Technical Consulting Manager

Gay Smith is the Technical Consulting Manager for Chrysal USA. Contact her at [email protected]