“Pandemic fatigue” is real for millions of people all over the world, including your two humble columnists. We’re still easily grumpy and generally exhausted. Our normal routines are within reach now as vaccines become available, and while we wait for fatigue to fade, we try to focus on the positive. Let’s all enjoy the good days and celebrate the wins, however small!
EF: For the first eleven years we were in business, we perfected the saying, “We don’t use roses because they aren’t grown locally.” I’ve probably said those words a thousand times or more. Three years ago we met a Baltimore City grower (Florxeight on IG) who was interested in growing roses as cut flowers. I was skeptical. All the growers we knew in our region who had tried roses as cuts gave up after a season or two. The process was too difficult, the costs were too high, and the rewards were few to none. But Lauren, “the rose girl”, as we affectionately call her, was not deterred. We said we would buy all the roses she had that first year. “All” the roses she had was no more than a couple dozen over the season. Truth be told, we mostly kept those stems for ourselves and our team because we didn’t have a lot of them, and we weren’t really even sure how to use them. While sales were slim, they were sales. Lauren took her earnings and bought more roses.
Year two, Lauren produced more roses. We were buying about a dozen or more a week. We started using them in bridal bouquets and arrangements ordered by our VIP customers. We liked how they looked and smelled…but…what about vase life? What about learning all the names? Would our customers like them? We still had a ton of questions but we were committed to using them rather than just keeping them for ourselves.
Here we are in year three, 2021. Over the winter, Lauren asked if we still wanted to buy all she had or if she should start offering them to other people. She had increased the number of plants she had and would have many more stems than in past years. We agreed to buy all she had for the third year in a row. Just a couple weeks into the season, and we have bought hundreds of stems of the most beautiful roses. We had so many stems we had to make a plan to get them out into the world. We put them in our subscription buckets, special event arrangements, wedding bouquets, boutonnieres, and more. And then…people started asking for them! GAH! Our clients loved them! There is no better feeling than that. Lauren and I are both giddy whenever we see or hear a customer’s positive feedback. And while our team is still learning about the best ways to design with them, we can truthfully say, “We now DO use roses, because they are grown locally.”
LB: We offer a Farmer’s Choice mix to florists. Typically this works best for our customers who rarely buy local flowers. These customers aren’t familiar with many of our offerings, so it’s easier if we just pick a nice assortment within their given budget. It’s hugely convenient for us because we can harvest whatever we want.
It took me years to get Farmer’s Choice right. We’ve done it with lots of different customers, and more often than not, I lost customers because they weren’t happy with what I picked out for them. Eventually I discovered a few tricks that make our selections more likely to please. This year, I finally feel like I understand how to nail it each time!
Here’s what we’ve learned:
● Although they’re so pretty, ornamental grasses like river oats are too wispy for Farmer’s Choice. We include only larger foliages and blooms that will have an impact.
● Lots of communication up front pays off. I always make sure to put in writing by email to the customer that Farmer’s Choice works best if they let us know what they liked and didn’t like. We can serve them better only if they tell us how!
● We try not to squeeze the flowers into the fewest buckets. Spreading the flowers out among more buckets makes the order look its size. It’s a small thing, but it helps with presentation.
● We write out what the customer got, including how each item is priced, and hand that over with the flowers. That way, the customer knows how to price the flowers in the shop.
● We ask before we include really expensive items like peonies that might eat up the budget quickly.
● We also ask for guidance on how much foliage vs. blooms the customer wants, and what kind of stem length they’re looking for. Most of our Farmer’s Choice customers are doing mixed bouquets for retail, so they need some good length.
● Finally, we ask if there’s anything the customer doesn’t want. Some don’t want bells of Ireland, since they’re easily available at the wholesaler. Others don’t want mint or basil, or anything that will be finicky in the cooler.
● We occasionally check in to ask how it’s going and see if there’s any feedback. Our customers are busy, and they might find it easier to cancel the order than take the time to give us constructive criticism. Best to ask!
Farmer’s Choice works only with certain customers, and I try to be aware of florists who ask for Farmer’s Choice but clearly have too many specifications for us to succeed. For example, if the customer wants us to choose the flowers but wants only “fluffy” blooms (this is a real request!), then I suggest the customer chooses her order from our availability list. What the heck is a fluffy bloom?!
EF: Before COVID we made only a handful of single order/subscription deliveries. There was nothing streamlined about our process. We were running all over the city each day with only a couple of orders. We were not making money but felt like this was a service we couldn’t easily ditch.
During COVID, we ramped up single order/subscription deliveries to about 80 orders a week. This service became the only safe service we could provide to our customers and the only work allowed for our staff while things were locked down. As a result, we were forced to become more efficient and maximize our economies of scale. First, we stopped offering delivery to zip codes that were far away or a pain to get to, or did not produce many of our orders. Next, we organized orders by neighborhood and delivery day. For instance, we offer delivery to Canton (a neighborhood in South Baltimore) only on Thursdays. If you want flowers in Canton on another day, we can offer you a pick-up appointment Tuesday through Friday when our staff is in the shop. This allowed our delivery drivers to maximize the orders to one neighborhood on one day rather than going to Canton (about a 15-20 minute drive) each day.
This might not seem like a breakthrough, but it really was. It alleviated a lot of stress for our delivery people, allowing them to make more deliveries in a shorter amount of time. This in turn has allowed us to actually make money on deliveries.
LB: I tried to grow campanula for years without success. I know, it’s not a hard one, but for some reason it stumped me. We started our own seed one year and had bad germination. Another year we planted too late in the fall, and it bloomed short and late in the spring. One year we forgot to net and had major floppage.
Last fall, we ordered plugs (both ‘Champion’ and ‘Cup and Saucer’) and got them planted in the unheated hoophouse in early October. On a tip from Love n’ Fresh Flowers, we planted one plug every six inches. We used landscape fabric, and in the spring we pinched any that didn’t look branchy as they started to grow. We put metal mesh netting on the minute the plants reached 6 inches.
We didn’t grow any white campanula because we’ve had issues with thrips on our white spring blooms in the past. We also had Neoseiulus cucumeris shipped every two weeks for thrips control. We did have a small disease issue in one part of our campanula that was particularly dense and bushy; I attribute it to botrytis from lack of air flow. I pulled out any plants that looked brown and mushy, and stopped watering that bed. That seemed to prevent the spread of the disease.
The campanula bloomed right when we had record highs of mid 90’s in mid May, and I was worried that they wouldn’t hold up well—would we get browning or wilting of those tender blooms? But thankfully they looked amazing despite the heat, and I’ve been thrilled with the tall stems and perfect bells. We’ll repeat this process in the fall!