We Asked, You Answered

We asked for your questions about relationships between farmers and florists, and you gave some good ones!

What is the best way to start a relationship with the florists in your area in the off-season? Sunnyside Florals, Maryland

Ellen: I would definitely recommend making first contact with a florist in the off-season, and by email rather than with a phone call. This first email is a chance to introduce yourself and your farm, and explain what you have to offer in terms of flowers. Let them know that you’d like to send them an availability list once you have flowers ready for sale. You can also tell them that you’d like to meet them in person and drop off some samples when the season starts. For us, there is no real benefit to meeting with a new grower until the season begins and we can see samples of the flowers.

When the season starts and you have flowers, reach back out to the florist and request a time to come by to meet and show them some samples. At this meeting, you should be prepared with the following:

  • A list of what you’re growing for the season.
  • A short description of your policies on ordering, delivery, communication, and payment.
  • Your business card and contact information.

I have several meetings lined up with florists who contacted me through Instagram. What are some of the “must-ask” questions I should ask them? Everbloom Fields, Texas

Ellen: When starting new relationships with florists, several things will be important to understand as you move forward. These questions will help you best serve each client.

  • How often do they buy local flowers?
  • What methods do they use to sell flowers (weddings, events, funerals retail sales, other ways)?
  • What are they NOT getting from their other suppliers?
  • Are they looking for specific items?

Laura Beth: Also, don’t forget to have a few “must tells” lined up. It’s your job to educate florists who aren’t familiar with local flowers about how it works. Set realistic expectations right away. For example, be sure to tell them:

  • You won’t have dahlias in March or peonies in September, but when you do have dahlias and peonies, they will be outstanding.
  • Weather deeply affects your yields and crop timings, but you will do your utmost to communicate well if weather is threatening your oncoming crops.
  • Certain crops cannot be held in a cooler: basil, lemon verbena, zinnias, and apple mint don’t do well under 42 degrees.

Once the meeting is complete, follow up with an email and your availability list, or a specific next step.

This will be our first commercial growing season as we try to bring flowers to market. What do you know now that you would recommend to those starting a new farm? Franklin Flower Farm, North Carolina

Laura Beth: Oh, man! Some things that I wish I had known when I started working with florists:

  • Wait until your quality is awesome to work with florists. Start out with easier channels like farmers’ markets, CSAs, farm stands, or grocery stores. I can’t tell you how many times Ellen had to tell me that my stems were too short, that foliage was wilty, that I was cutting something at the wrong stage; most florists would be over me by now, don’t count on having an Ellen in your corner!
  • Don’t be cheap. Once you have a strong product, set a minimum where you think it should be. Respect your work enough to charge the right amount for it.
  • Once I lost my temper at a florist in a heated moment and she started crying! Confusing situations will come up often. You might feel completely befuddled and have no clue what to do. If that’s the case, stop and think about the person you want to be before you take action. Let your personal values guide you, not your emotional reactions.

This is my first year selling to florists. My small farm cannot meet their entire weekly needs. How do I manage their expectations but at the same time encourage weekly purchases to produce steady sales? East End Farms, Riverhead, New York

Laura Beth: If I had to pick one most important thing to remember as you start working with florists, it’s that quality is king. Florists can easily ignore emails and phone calls, but no way can they ignore gorgeous, tall delphinium, or fresh lisianthus straight from the farm. Start working with florists only when you feel confident that the quality of your stems will wow them. That’s the best way to encourage steady sales!

Once you have quality blooms, then thoughtful communication is the best way to grow your relationships with florists. The idea is to show your commitment and excellence not through just your amazing flowers, but also through the care you put into your emails to and meetings with your florists. Explain to them that you’re small, but have plans to be a great asset to their business, so stick with you! Make sure they understand that starting a farm is a learning curve, and you’ll give immediate refunds if anything you bring them isn’t up to their standards. Ask them to give you constructive criticism—ask them regularly, because they’re busy and will probably forget. Try to think of creative ways to show them you appreciate their business. If you’re growing figs, bring them some free fruit! Treat them to a coffee when it’s convenient for them. Give them samples of your oncoming crops.

The reality is that not every florist will be patient with you and cultivate that relationship. I have a florist now who is frustrated that she isn’t getting our winter greenhouse flowers, but she barely bought from me when we started out. She doesn’t understand that I’m prioritizing those who believed in me when my business was young. That’s okay; some relationships will be stronger than others, none of us can jive perfectly with each and every florist. Nor should we! Communicate who you are and what you do, and if a florist doesn’t seem to “get” it, then find others who do.

When dealing with shorter-stemmed flowers like anemones or smaller flower bunches (like scabiosa) do you sleeve them in clear sleeves before you deliver to your florist? It seems like even the smallest sleeve size would dwarf them. Everbloom Fields, Lancaster, Texas

Laura Beth: We don’t use sleeves or any packaging when we sell to florists. To me, one of the many great benefits of buying local is NOT having to deal with all of the packaging that normally comes with wholesale flowers. We bunch all of our flowers in 10-stem bunches with a rubber band, put them in a bucket, and that’s it! For short stems like grape hyacinth, I’ll pack a little mason jar in a box for safe transit.

Ellen: As a florist concerned with our business’ environmental impact, we would prefer our flowers not be sleeved. Removing sleeves and disposing of them is an extra step that we don’t want to spend time on, and it creates more unnecessary waste. We have worked with growers to stop sleeving flowers they deliver to us, and have been willing to stop buying from growers who will not make this change..

Ellen Frost

Local Color Flowers

Ellen Frost is owner of Local Color Flowers. Contact her at [email protected]

Laura Beth Resnick

Butterbee Farm

Laura Beth Resnick is owner of Butterbee Farm. Contact her at butterbeefa[email protected]