You have bought your bulbs, tubers, shrubs, and seeds. Your planting schedule is entered into your calendar. Every article and post you can find about being a flower farmer has been read, re-read, printed and saved. You are ready to jump into your new life’s calling. You are going to be a flower farmer! But where are you going to sell your flowers?
I think it is just as important to know your customer as it is to have the most desired varieties. Your sales outlets need to be on your planning board, too. Where are you going to sell the beautiful blooms you have worked so hard to grow?
There is a traditional sales outlet like the farmers’ market. Being a farmers’ market vendor is a lifestyle. You have to be okay with the early mornings every Saturday. There are also the mid-week and evening markets but the same rule applies. You NEED to be there EVERY time the market is open. There also must be flowers available throughout the whole season. Market vendors concentrate their abundance for each market opening. It can be very rewarding. If you are lucky enough to have a busy morning market you can make $600-1000 in 4-5 hours, pack up, and still have the afternoon to spend with the family. The flip side of markets is that you can’t go away during the market season.
Markets are also very weather dependent. If you have a trailer full of flowers and it’s a cold, rainy morning, chances are you won’t sell out like you would if it was a beautiful, sunny day. Some markets have permanent buildings or structures and some are in open air, or you have to bring your own tent. Markets are a great way to meet people and get the word out about your farm.
We have been doing farmers’ markets for nine years. Our children have grown up at the market. We tease my oldest son that he has been at the market every Saturday except the Saturday he was born. Our customers know our family. They are excited to see how much the kids have grown over the winter. We are sad that we have decided that this will be the first year that our kids will not spend all morning with us at the market. At ages 7, 4, and 2 they are a little too busy for us while we are helping customers. They will still come and help us set up—it is a tradition for them and they love it—then they will go home and a neighbor will come and watch them. It seems funny to think that they were easier when they were babies. In a couple years they will come again. Who knows, someday they may be doing the market on their own?
f you are close to an urban center or on a busy road you could consider putting a flower stand or cart at the end of your lane. This can be a great way to sell flowers to people who may not normally go to a market. It may be an impulse buy. You want the cart or stand to catch people’s eyes. Make sure the flowers are colourful and bright so they are seen. The negative of this is unfortunately some flowers may leave without leaving money. You have to be prepared for this. Hopefully it doesn’t happen often but it probably will. Also make sure your money box is secure; you don’t need the whole box growing legs. A farm lane stand needs to be checked on often and refilled as needed. This option is best if you are going to be around the farm the majority of the time.
Direct florists sales can be a great model for you to sell your flowers. Once you have met and formed a relationship with a florist in your area you can call on them and let them know what you have available each week. Sometimes it may take a few instances of introducing yourself and taking in samples of your flowers. It’s a change in mindset for them. They may not be familiar with non-traditional flowers. You may have to educate them on what you can offer them. They may be used to ordering something months ahead and it just magically appears from whatever corner of the world on their specified date. The truly hardcore traditional florists may be hard to break into. You need to find someone who is open to being introduced to the wonderful world of locally-grown flowers.
Flower CSA and bouquet subscriptions are a great way to use flowers throughout the week. You also get some much-needed cash in the early spring when you need to buy more seed and more tubers and then more seed again. When we introduce our bouquet subscription most people are impressed and say “Oh, what a luxury.” or “Oh, if I won the lottery.” but educate them that it really isn’t an extravagant thing. Our subscriptions are priced very reasonably and a great gift amount. We have had a granddaughter order a subscription for her grandma for the last two Christmases. However, logistics can be difficult with subscriptions. You need to plan the delivery route or drop points. If you have a large number you may want to spread it out and do 25% every week so there is a constant flow, not 40 bouquets in one day. It’s so fun delivering the bouquets, the smiles are almost instant. It’s definitely a pick-me-up for the day!
“I do’s” or not? The wedding business can be awesome for a flower farmer. It can also be very overwhelming. You need to be able to handle every type of bride and decide if she is your type too. If you do weddings, you will learn very quickly how to spot the bridezilla. The flowers that you grow may not be a match for every bride and that is okay. You need to work with people who appreciate and desire your flowers. Don’t try to do every wedding that comes your way. You will regret it in the end. Start small with weddings. To the bride she is the only person (other than the groom) who matters on that day. You need to be able to let the bride know that you are totally there for her. Do not tackle more than one wedding in a day until you are experienced.
I am going to outline how I do weddings. I am by no means an expert. I do many weddings through the season but I am always learning how to do things better. In the initial contact I have the bride tell me a little about her wedding ideas and have her send me some pictures. Their picture selection tells a lot about what they are wanting. If the vision seems doable we meet at a local coffee shop and discuss the vision and the quantities. I make notes of flowers they like and don’t like, colour choices, and shape of the design. I don’t promise flowers and I let them know what to expect from our weddings. I bring my digital portfolio of some of our past work. Do not talk prices at the table; you will always sell yourself short. Make good notes about what she says and key points she liked. After the meeting I have a form storyboard on which I fill in the information. I attach pictures of my work that showcase the style or colour and add inspirational pictures from them. The quote is part of the storyboard.
have only recently introduced a contract; I would have continued without one but this year I found who a bride tested me and I decided to make one. I keep files for each wedding and go over the storyboard several times before the wedding. During the week of the wedding I go over the wedding details again, and start to form ideas in my head of what the plan is. Wedding prep is done on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. I deliver the flowers to the bride, then to the venue and set up. A good tip is to make notes of what the bride looks like. Trust me, they all look the same when you walk in where they are getting their hair and makeup done—you want to make sure you are talking to the right lady! Instruct the bride again on proper care for her bouquet and the direction you intended it to be held.
I always suggest that there is a mom or a responsible adult present with the men. I had a groom forget all the bouts! Also instruct them on how to wear a bout—it is the first time for many of them. The best compliment from a wedding client is having them refer someone to you. It’s also fun when you do the bridesmaids from a previous wedding.
There are many different business models for selling your flowers. Just make sure you have a plan of what yours will look like. Plan to attend the tour this summer in the Niagara Region of Ontario where there will be a showcase of many different business models. There will be tours and discussions about large-scale wholesale growers with many acres in production and many employees, to a 1 ½-acre plot managed almost solely by one person.
There is so much we can learn from each other. If you are driving to the event there will be a list of farms that will be open for you to visit. Dust off your passport, exchange some money (for a gain!) and come to Ontario and see that “Good things grooooow in Ontario”.