Service with a Smile

Thank you, Quinton Tschetter! Your Bulletin Board message in the marketing thread about buying a farm and writing a business plan gave me the inspiration for this article.

In case you missed it, here’s what Quinton said (slightly modified):  “As with any business there are keys to success, and three principles apply. 1. Quality: there is NO substitute. 2. Service: ditto. 3. Marketing: if the first two are maintained, then the key to success or failure is that intangible thing called marketing. Find a niche. Selling yourself as a reliable, quality commodity makes buyers WANT to support you. Sell happiness, fulfillment, contentment, hope—all those things that the public is looking for, especially in time of economic downturns.

Well said, Quinton!

The concept of quality is ubiquitous in all aspects of production, starting with variety selection to postharvest treatments. It’s an important aspect of display aesthetics, too. I took a quick Google look at definitions for quality and found one entry that grabbed my attention. “Quality is the ongoing process of building and sustaining relationships by assessing, anticipating, and fulfilling stated and implied needs….Why do we try to do the right thing right, on time, every time?  To build and sustain relationships….The focus of continuous improvement is, likewise, the building and sustaining of relationships.  It would be difficult to find a realistic definition of quality that did not have, implicit within the definition, a fundamental express or implied focus of building and sustaining relationships.”  Richard E. Winder and Daniel K. Judd. 

It is tough for consumers to quantify flower quality. They usually don’t know the different flower types and have no idea of what to expect. People need to experience firsthand the performance and longevity of your goods before buying into your story. Therefore it is important to provide details: tell and show them what steps are included in handling practices at your farm to ensure top quality blooms. One idea is to promote a consumer guarantee. Not just a general product guarantee, but a focused program in which you categorize different flowers into groups corresponding to number of vase days consumers can expect at home. Of course, we industry geeks know lilies last longer than tulips, but the general public lumps all flowers into one big category. And worse, they lump flowers from all sources into one big melting pot.

A commodity attitude is obvious when you look at consumer surveys which repeatedly indicate that Joe-Bob thinks flowers last an average of 2-3 days. If selling directly to consumers, you have a terrific opportunity to build a sustaining relationship by including longevity information in signage, sleeves and invoices, all of which helps dispel convoluted perceptions. Another stepping stone to building a sustaining relationship with customers is to provide flower food with purchases. Consider it a nickel insurance policy. There is lots of research proving that blooms in flower food last 50% longer than flowers in tap water. Existing supermarket consumer guarantee programs denote 5-, 7-, 10- and 14-day guarantee categories, depending on flower type. This concept is not new. Potted plant growers use similar messages indicating “sun lover” or “shade preferred” on pot tags. Everyone wants to be an expert and today’s consumer is hungry for information. Today’s consumer is interested to learn how to care for flowers and wants to know how long they will last.  

Service is Quinton’s second point in which he emphatically states there is no substitute for good service. When selling to wholesalers, a few points to remember will ramp up the service quotient tenfold. Ask your buyer the best time to catch him or her and then try to stick with it. Buyers are time-crazed so be prepared before you call or email. Provide the quantity available of each product. Give a few details to support asking price, including stem count per bunch, stem length per grade and bud count per stem (lilies). Everything you do to make it easy for them to buy your products makes you more valuable. Write legibly on invoices, and label bunches that are not common. Product ID is important because the buyer makes a price list for sales staff. If salespeople do not know what your cool product is or what to call it, it does not get mentioned in their call.

Remember that 90% of wholesale sales are via phone, not walk-in. Retailers cannot reorder if they don’t know the name of the product. Flower identification is critical when orders are pulled. There is a huge price difference between Matsumoto asters from Colombia and China asters from an ASCFG grower, but chances are both will be listed as “aster” on the price and pick sheet.

Finally, Quinton reminds us about the magic of marketing. Marketing is everything and anything that tickles consumers’ desire, making them want to buy your product. Don’t be ashamed to remind customers of the many benefits flowers bring into our lives. Quinton reminds us we are selling happiness, fulfillment, contentment and, of course, beauty! Check out for a variety of  marketing ideas to use as a springboard for signage, sales ideas, workshop topics, etc.

Marketing is not all fluff and glam: scientific studies conducted at Harvard, Rutgers and Texas A&M prove flowers and plants positively affect our attitudes when they appear in the workplace, home and community living centers.

Another source of information on marketing ideas is the presentation Kate Sparks gave at the 2011 Growers’ School. It features lots of variety information, beautiful photos and a resource list. Find the link on the ASCFG web site and on the Bulletin Board.

Welcoming in the New Year is a good time to evaluate where we’ve been and where we are going. Are you satisfied with the standards you have in place to measure quality? If you were your own customer, would you be happy with the service offered? Think about clever marketing ideas that grabbed your attention in the past few months. How can you integrate them into your business to strengthen your niche? A new season deserves a new outlook.

Gay Smith

Technical Consulting Manager

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