Quality, Consistency, and Collaboration
Great relationships take work, and the bond between a florist and their farmer is no exception. The more humility and mindfulness each can bring to the table, the better the outcome. Seriously—after nine years of working together, we feel the flowers get more beautiful all the time, and our communication is stronger than ever.
We’re lucky to have this same trust and understanding with other farmers and florists, too! The same principles apply across all of these vendor/customer relationships. We’ve laid out our top principles here; we hope they help you form stronger relationships with your local partners!
Ellen’s Top Three Qualities That Make a Farmer a Reliable Supplier
Having high-quality flowers is probably the most important thing for us when deciding to work with a grower. As a florist selling to end users, especially for weddings, the flowers we put out in the world have to be the best quality possible. If a grower has other great qualities but has poor-quality blooms, they’ll never be more to us than a backup supplier. Additionally, if you are a grower selling to conventional florists who normally buy from a wholesaler, you are unlikely to be able to compete on price or ease of ordering, so you must compete on quality. Quality is what will set a grower apart from their competitors in the florists’ eyes.
Here is a partial list of what we’re looking for when we talk about quality:
- Unblemished blooms: Blooms that have bug bites, bruises, or missing petals can’t be used in design. Some designers will argue this point, but blemishes on flowers add to the myth that local blooms are somehow inferior to conventionally-sourced blooms or that they are somehow less “professional”. Additionally, no wedding client wants to spend thousands of dollars on their wedding photographer for them to take photos of flowers with bug bites and bruises.
- Proper harvesting stage and postharvest care. Harvesting at the right stage is critical to ensure what I talk about above—unblemished blooms. Take sunflowers, for instance. In the ASCFG book Postharvest Handling of Cut Flowers and Greens, the advice is to harvest when “1-2 petals have lifted off the center disk. The majority of foliage should be removed as it fades quickly and often looks ragged.” If a grower isn’t educated about when to harvest, they may be harvesting when the flowers are totally open, and leaving all the foliage on. When transporting open blooms, there is a high risk of bruising, petal loss, and damage. These blooms would then be unusable to a florist. Additionally, harvest time and postharvest care is going to directly affect vase life. If a grower is selling to a florist who does retail sales, rather than event work, a long vase life is critical to attracting and keeping happy customers. Flowers that are not properly harvested and cared for after harvest will have decreased vase life and can lead to complaints by customers.
- Consistent product. Florists want and need to count on a product. We want a quality, consistent product each week (barring emergencies) that we can rely on.
Prioritizes Florist Sales Over Other Outlets
We buy from all types of growers—growers who sell mostly at markets or grocery stores, growers who only sell one crop to us one time of year, growers we buy from only in the winter. We need to have this depth of relationships to ensure we can sustain year-round work with local flowers. Our most valued suppliers, however, those we buy from every single week, are growers who prioritize selling to florists over selling through other outlets. These farmers customize everything they do to create the best experience for the florist, from growing crops that florists like and can use, to communicating what’s available, to making it easy to access the flowers. These growers give their florists priority when offering blooms, rather than offering them the leftovers after their weekend markets.
Willingness to Deliver
This is a hot topic between farmers and florists. I spent the first seven or so years of my business picking up from farmers at their farms, farmers’ markets, and on the side of the road. I did this while having a full-time job and running Local Color Flowers. I did it because I was committed to sourcing locally and the growers I was buying from did not offer delivery. Most of these farmers sold the majority of their flowers at farmers’ markets. This is important to note because it makes sense that they didn’t have the time, energy or interest in spending time or money delivering to a small florist, without a lot of buying power, when florists were not their main customer. What we learned through this process is that we need to find farmers who prioritize selling to florists. Making it easy for us to get flowers makes us want to work with a grower more.
Laura Beth’s Top Three Qualities That Make a Florist an Awesome Customer
Ordering on a weekly basis is the way to my heart! We have about 6-8 florists who order every single week, sometimes twice a week. I don’t mind if they’re little orders, so long as they’re consistent. These orders lessen the scary unpredictability of owning my own business.
Have you ever had a new customer enthusiastically promise to order tons of flowers, and then buy very little or nothing? As a business owner, you’re likely going to get ghosted from time to time. (To “ghost” means to disappear with no explanation or warning.) It happens to all of us, and it’s never personal. I just make a mental note to put that customer lower on my priority list.
For example, one of my customers reaches out a few times a year, always wanting my best and most valuable crops, and always last minute. If she ordered consistently throughout the year, I’d go out of my way to help her. But because she drops off the face of the earth for months at a time, I feel she isn’t worth the effort. I’d rather give priority to those who buy from me every week, even if it’s with small budgets, than prioritize random and unpredictable orders.
We give our very best service to those who order every week, even during the slow summer season. That service includes giving early access to our availability lists, taking last-minute orders, and even offering discounts. It’s so worth it to know that we’ll have somewhere to send our product each and every week!
In my other life before farming, I wanted to be an orchestral musician. I loved being in a room with others who all had a common goal: to make the most beautiful music. When I finally made it to conservatory after high school, I was surrounded by other musicians all the time, but it was different than I expected. Most people were focused on their own individual practice; there were thousands of us all vying for just a few spots in a professional orchestra. The hard truth was that to succeed, we needed to best each other, not work together.
Long story short, I dropped out of conservatory and eventually found my way to farming, where I rediscovered that orchestral spirit. Farm teams have to work together to get it done; we help each other lift heavy things, we care for each other on hot or rainy days. We inspire each other to do better, work harder, and find meaning in the tasks of every day.
In our customers, I look for that same sense of we’re-all-in-this-togetherness. Our florists need us to grow amazing flowers, and we need them to share our harvests with the world. Our best customers offer ideas, express gratitude, show their support, give constructive criticism, find ways to connect; we do the same for them. Together, we make it happen—and it’s that focus on collaboration that I find most rewarding in our best customers.
New customers are often also new to the floral industry. That means they need our help understanding what’s in season, navigating our ordering process, and even knowing how to take care of flowers and foliage. We’re always happy to see more people join the community, but these are not great customers for us early on; they typically have small budgets and need a lot of guidance.
Our best customers, then, either already have experience buying local blooms, or they’ve worked with us long enough to know the ropes. We can then start learning from them about quality standards and new varieties we should grow! About half of our best customers already had experience when we began working together, and the other half were new to local flowers and we held them by the hand a bit at first.
One of the best things about having experienced customers is that it saves so much time! They don’t put the basil in the cooler and call me about brown foliage. They don’t ask me lots of questions about what will be available on any given week. Instead, they know what to expect and they communicate just the right amount to get what they need.
The Take-home Message
Each relationship is different. Every business is different. What we value in a supplier or customer may be different than what you value. The takeaway is that if you figure out what is important to your farmer or your florist, you’ll be better equipped to sustain a relationship that is a WIN-WIN