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Start your engines, the season has arrived! Seed catalogs start gathering dust on the shelf from the plumes of soil as we frantically plant all those seedlings that were once sparkles on a page that caught our eye. Now we let the flowers do their thing while we kick into high gear, getting our buyers pumped up and excited about the amazing blooms coming their way. Most farmers I know love growing flowers but view selling them as a necessary evil, and one of their least favorite jobs. I have embraced selling the flowers as much as growing them. I knew right off the bat that I’m a people person so it makes sense for me to look at direct sales marketing. If I wasn’t a people person or growing one specialty crop, wholesale might have been the perfect outlet for me. The only thing I like as much as growing cut flowers is talking about cut flowers, and that’s the key to our sales.
Recently I read an Instagram post that said “People do not buy goods and services. They buy relations, stories, and magic. Seth Godin.” This statement struck a chord with me because it expressed something I have never been able to put my finger on. I love selling our flowers because I love the relationships that I have with the folks who buy them! The freshness of our flowers, the unusual varieties, the local interest in local products, and our transparency about our sustainable growing practices are the “magic” and the flowers sell themselves. Sometimes it feels as though it happens almost without me; they just need me to drive to the florist or the market. I bring the “story” and that builds the relationship.
The key to our successful marketing is a combination of offering a long-lasting, high quality product coupled with a compelling story. And we have an awesome story. Our urban flower farm is in the heart of St. Louis. It was a flower farm dating back to 1870, and is now restored to production. Two women, one black and one white, are farming in a city recently rocked by race-based violence. Our growing practices are eco-conscious, meaning we use stainable practices on our farm such as planting cover crops that attract beneficial predatory insects. We are beekeepers, and the sensitive, threatened insects are our on-farm auditors, proving that methods support sensitive life. We view the farm as our experimental research station to broaden the palettes of flower products our customer can choose from. Oh, and did I mention most of our flowers cut and delivered within 12 hours?
Every single self-help book in the country says the key to building successful relationships is communication. The first step is building a relationship with our customers in person. We show a genuine interest in their business and lives. It sounds elementary, but it’s not! Consider keeping a note card about each of your florists in your delivery truck with important professional and personal information on them, if you can’t remember it all. We use Facebook and Instagram (this year we will be adding Pinterest) enabling our customers and florists to follow us over the winter (November to March, and we are closing the gap each year) so they have literally watched the crops grow. Participation builds anticipation! This also allows them to have a more in-depth view of all the work we do before arriving on their doorsteps with bountiful buckets of flowers.Maybe this also helps explain the cost of the flowers, which are always higher than what they can get from our local wholesaler.
Last winter, we visited our florists,bearing gifts of a sample jar of our honey with a laminated list of our year flower availability identified by month. What a success! The unintended outcome was they loved the list, which hangs prominently on the walls of several shops with our logo on it big as day, and they requested that the honey be added to the weekly delivery route, with offers to sell our honey in their shops.
During the season we communicate with the florists with a weekly availability and price list which is emailed on the same day, and very close to the same time of day, each week. We deliver the flowers the same day each week, and the next step will be to deliver at the same time each week. The more dependable you are, the more dependent they become.
Last year we hosted a field day in the spring, and tour in the fall, for our florist and market customers. During these events we teach the group about farm operations. We enable them to be a part of our “team,” our network, so that they are as invested in the success of the farm almost as much as we are. Does this translate into more flower sales? Yes, it does.
Farmers’ markets are similar to florist sales, but it is much more physically and emotionally demanding. We have only four hours once a week to sell as many flowers as we can, and you must be a people person to do it! We develop personal relationships with the people who frequent our booth. Now I must admit that have a harder time with this one! Miranda has a real knack for remembering customers and facts about their lives. I hear her say things like, “Susan! How did the fava bean and carrot recipe turn out for your dinner party with the physicists from Azerbaijan? ” That really happened! How she keeps it straight I’ll never know.
It really makes a world of difference when they realize you took a minute to remember and care. Some basic market booth etiquette really helps on those hot summer days when we are worn to the bone: 1.) No sitting in the booth. 2.) No eating in the booth. 3.) Greet people waiting in line. 4.) The only cell phone we are looking at is the Square card reader confirming the sale.
All of these create an atmosphere of attentiveness. Farmers’ markets are the perfect locations to advertise our wedding services. Wedding work is new to us and so far the bulk of our weddings has come from our market customers. This year we will print brochures and photos of our designs to keep at the booth to share with our prospective clients.
Finding bridal customers through our farmers’ market has been perfect, as it allows us to enter this “Brave New World” slowly, and at our own pace. We carefully select which brides we feel confident in our ability to facilitate her dream wedding. For example, if a bride requests garlands dangling from the ceiling, or out-of-season flowers, we are quick to give her a referral to one of our favorite florists who buys our flowers. It may sound crazy to turn down money, but we are clear about our current abilities and no money in the world is worth the incredible stress that would cause in our lives. At this point, anyway, but I don’t see that changing any time soon!
Florists and market customers are hungry for information about plants and gardening. When I first started in this business 25 years ago I was shocked by how little florists really know about the care of their flowers. We are constantly finding ourselves educating our peeps about this. They are so appreciative of the information and that puts us in the “Experts in Our Field” category in their mind’s eye. Does all this translate into more flower sells? Yes it does!
This also helps get paid speaking engagements at conferences and education events. This past winter we presented to seven different groups in the span of two months. These organizations included organic farmers, members of the state nurserymen association, and beginning farmers. The topic is usually cut flower production, but we also present on business planning, beekeeping, and the impending changes to the urban agriculture legislation in St Louis. Both Miranda and I are educators so this is a natural fit for us, it helps promote sustainable farming, and gets us even more involved in the community. What can you to this season to build better relationships with your customers?
I wanted to give you an update as promised from last Quarterly. The oats cover crop indeed winter killed, and the photo is the bachelor buttons growing up through the residue. This worked really well, and I love the idea of not having to get in there with our stirrup hoe! Every time I can save on labor just puts more money in our pockets.
Mimo Davis Duschack
Urban Buds City Grown Flowers
Mimo Davis Duschack Urban Buds City Grown Flowers Contact at [email protected]