marketing question

spivey13(zone 4/5 IA)May 28, 2005

Hi to all--

Im one of the many new folks that reads a ton of posts, asks a few questions when IÂm stumped, and generally gets more out of this forum then I put in. IÂm hesitant to add anything because I have little experience, and it feels presumptuous to add anything when there are the many talented, hardworking flower veterans out there. But, I realize IÂd better add to if I want to get more out of it (kind of like adding compost to the garden!). The two biggest sources of info and inspiration I seem to find (beyond very supportive family/friends) is Lynn ByczynskiÂs book and you folks! I wish I had researched this forum more over the winter timeÂI know it would have influenced my planting choices this springÂbut there is always next year!

I live in rural Iowa, but only ½ an hour from the second biggest city in the state (ok, thatÂs not saying a lotJ), and 15 minutes from a nice sized college town. I started a flower garden last year, and was amazed by the amount of flowers it produced, and the # of bouquets I could put together. I only went to farmerÂs market in September, due to other circumstances, and did okÂitÂs a pretty small market. IÂm planning on more markets this summerÂmostly small town onesÂIÂm not ready to spend the money to get into the big market, because IÂll only have about 16 weeks of flower production this year. I do a lot of direct seeding, and have only started the perennials this year. I would love to get my name out enough that I could skip the markets and only do subscriptions, pick-your-own, and some special events. I like the markets, but I have three kids 6 and under, and I donÂt want to have to get a babysitter. My husband works weird firefighter hours, so itÂs a hard to commit to markets every week. We live on gravel, but I have a relative who lives on a very busy highway, so we could maybe put a stand there. Anyone have luck with farm stands? Are they unattended, or are you only open at specific times?

IÂve got business cards, and when IÂm officially producing flowers, IÂm thinking of running newspaper ads, or asking a couple local newspapers to do articles. My problem with marketing is thisÂmy plants are between an inch and 5 inches, and IÂm scared to advertise that IÂll be open in July and wonÂt be ready! On the other hand, I really donÂt want to have a ton of flowers ready, with no one to buy them! I know my best advertisement is going to be a quality product, which I donÂt have yet! Any suggestions on marketing?

We were lucky enough to drive to ClinkÂs garden in the spring. What an inspiration! ItÂs beautiful, and getting more so every year, it looks like. We plan on going over for her ACS fundraiser next month, and I can see everything in bloom. When I tell my kids that this is the kind of garden Mom is trying to doÂI can already see their faces ("But Mom, our place doesnÂt look like this!" "I know, keep eating and growing, kids, weÂve got work to do!") . I hope Clink does another extensive update when she has time, posts pictures, etcÂit is a beautiful spot.

I hope I havenÂt gone into too much detail, given you too much information, etc. I just wanted to thank everyone for the time they put in here, and all the excellent information. IÂd appreciate any marketing tips, things that work/donÂt work. Anything anyone regretted doing/not doing when you were starting out? Or something that worked well for you? Thanks in advance, Cathy (the other Iowa Cathy)

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Noni Morrison

Cathy, How about an ad campaing like "Now coming to ______road...." With maybe an occasional update so people will watch for it. IF you can use humor, so much the better. How about a plywood plant shape by it that is on a slide and ou can slide it up each week to show how big the plants are getting...witha bud that can be added on top, and then a full flower when you are ready to open?

See how creative I Can be for other people?

Keep the dream firmly in mind, it is a good one! Keep your kids dreaming along with you and your hubby in between fires!

I look out today on the garden I have in it's 6th year since we moved here. IT is even better then I imagined, THis morning out of my window I am looking at white iris,Abraham Darby roses climbing an arbor with polka roses, coral and pink and the tannish iris, white peonies, varigated comfrey, and light golden hostas, all blooming in front of a fence covered in ENglish roses (Teasing Georgia,Pat Astin,WIndrush) and honeysuckle. Oh yes, and in front of me a pond with 5 yr old goldfish swimming among the white waterlilies.

"IF you don't have a dream, how ya goin' to make a dream come true?"

    Bookmark   May 28, 2005 at 11:04AM
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susiq(NW AR 6B)

Liza! Send Pooch your pics so we can see! Sounds Beautiful!

Spivey--You can run an ad one day in July when your flowers are ready and the next day SOMEONE will call you.

I ran a gardening services ad TWO times in mid-February, and had a call the first day after the ad ran. Several more calls later in the week. Turns out the callers were looking for more of the mow-n-blow yard services than what lil' ol' me by myself could do, so I lost several jobs. One person is not manpower enough to do big weeding yards--for the price I'd like to be paid. Anyway, I've had cold feet ever since about advertising ---cause it works so good!

BTW, my ad only cost around $50.00 for two days. It was a small bsns card sized display ad in the classifieds. Our town is 15,000+. I have no idea what a big city paper's prices would be. I thought the price here was VERY reasonable.

I forgot I could, and, am actually afraid to advertise my flower bouquets feeling the in-my-head-imagined pique' of the one florist I sell to occassionally, and the fear that I'll get more business than I can handle! I forget the age-old reply to that "what will I do w/ more business" question is: Take it to the bank! LOL

I'd say let your flowers grow til late June, then, if any will be ready for a 4th of July weekend delivery, buy an ad in your local paper the Sunday & Wednesday before the 4th weekend, advertise "locally grown flowers for your 4th of July parties". That could be WONDERFUL advertising, and make TONS of moolah! Only YOU need to know that there are ONLY this many of this's and that's. If you've got enough to put together a handful to a dozen or more bouquets, you've got enough to sell.

(Now I need to get over my "yes-buts" & do the same!).

But what if you run out, you say/fear. Just tell the next caller, "I'm sorry, we're out of flowers for that weekend, but I can put you on my list for the "nth" of July/August and schedule a weekly delivery then....." Being "out" of something isn't necessarily a bad thing--if a customer wants something bad enough in other retail businesses, they either get a rain check, or keep asking the vendor when the next shipment will come in! Being "out" creates a demand! Remember Cabbage Patch Dolls? LOL!

If the flowers won't be ready til later in July, advertise then.

My oh-so-cute & delightfully subtle mailer didn't bring in hardly any business this spring, and I'm dismayed, but the mail-ee's tell me "Oh yes, I got it, it's on my refrigerator or around here somewhere." Well, that's nice, but not cost effective for me. This is the 4th year or so of sending my direct mail, (this one was the shortest by far--maybe I should have been long like usual? LOL!) and may be the last. I've GOT to get more flowers sold, I may also have to advertise in the paper again. I'm not in a position to do farmer's markets--not enough quantity & I work on Sats, except today, as today is "after-day" after youngest daughter's HS graduation and all night chaperoned pary.

Now that I'm up, I've gotta get busy w/ tons of flower chores!

Good luck,


    Bookmark   May 28, 2005 at 12:13PM
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GrassIsEvil(z6 TN)

Cathy, you're getting some good ideas.

Here are a couple of more ideas--whether they're good or not is up to question.

It seems that you have one ready made market. Firefighters, being action-oriented, tend to forget those mundane things like birthdays, anniversaries, and, oh, yeah, Mother's Day. Offer a subscription--bouquets for his wife, grandmothers, mother-in-law, and mother on Mother's Day, on their birthdays, on his anniversary, anything that falls within your season. Add bouquets for children's birthdays.

Keep track for him so you can send him a reminder so you can supply flowers for graduation, prom, etc.

If you can extend your season, you can extend your subscriptions. Consider dried arrangements for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Grow shamrocks in pots for the Irish. Grow potted lilies to have for Easter.

Next year you might want to put up flyers at the station--"Mother's Day is May 7th"...Mother's Day is Tomorrow"--"Did you forget it's Mother's Day Today?"--"You forgot Mother's Day? Don't call 9-1-1--call Cathy, for the most beautiful bouquets in town!"

Having a number handy means the firefighters can send flowers for births, condolences, get-well, retirement--and because your husband is one of them, they can feel free to call you on Sunday, or at midnight, or whenever they remember these things. :)

There must be a college newspaper--Next year put an ad for Mother's Day there. For this year, get some fall flowers going. As soon as you can call the flowers, send a flyer to any sororities and fraternities on campus for flowers for Rush Week, Homecoming, Greek Week, whatever. Deliver a small, but spiffy arrangement to each house to say "Here I am." You'll be making contacts for later on. Follow up each month with a flyer.

Can you bake cookies, muffins, cupcakes? The week parents are dropping off their kids, post in the dorms "Send your kid a dozen cookies on his/her birthday". Deliver the cookies (which you can buy from a bakery--the extra charge for delivery will cover your costs), put a flyer inside with "Send your mother flowers...because her cookies are much better than these". Or whatever. It can be a nice sideline.

Put up flyers for Mother's Day, etc., in the dorms also.

As for this summer--If you have plants that aren't ready and customers will see them--just put a sign next to them saying something like "Growing Beds--Banana Plants, for sale on July 21" or whatever.

If you only have two bouquets of roses--when they're gone, next to the sign that gives their prices--put a "Sold Out" sign. No one needs to know that you only had two bouquets to begin with.

Post notices of what flowers will be available later on.


    Bookmark   May 28, 2005 at 10:08PM
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Noni Morrison

Ray. I LOVE your "SOld Out" sign idea! Today I was so bummed...haD 12 GORGEOUS BOUQUETS oF English roses, white foxglove, sweet william, and other things. Nne of them sold until after 5 PM! ENDED UP SELLING 5, FOR $25. APPARENTLY THEY ALL WENT TO FOLKS ON THEIR WAY HOME. (SORRY MY CAPS ARE ALL MIXED IN TONIGHT. I keep hitting the cap button by accident.)

SO hard to know how many to put out and when. Our stands are open from about 9 or 10 Am until near dark, Last year I could count on selling about 6 @$5 ON MOST DAYS. THIS YEAR THEY ARE HARDLY MOVING, though that was probably starting more in July or Aug. IF I don't put them out until eveing then folks complain that we didn't have flowers. But if they are just going to enjoy seeing them there until 5 then I would rather put them out fresh at 4:30!

FIckle folk!

    Bookmark   May 29, 2005 at 1:18AM
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I think the relative that lives on a busy highway would be a good start with a stand. Mine is sort of like Lizalily, sometimes they sell, sometimes they don't, and it's hard to figure. But a friend of mine who lives on a busy road can sell just about anything in her stand. She has offered to let me put some bouquets there, and I think I'll take her up on that this year. It would be a good start for you, and would also get your name out there. I like everyone elses ideas too. Pretty funny Ray, "Don't call 9-1-1". I liked that.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2005 at 2:42PM
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spivey13(zone 4/5 IA)

Thanks so much for the inspirational ideas! I had my husband read Ray's suggestions, just so he knows what may be in his future! And the college idea--the University is too big and spread out, but I could use the small, private college that's 20 minutes in the other direction. On the same vein--any black flowers that are still blooming in September, to go with sunflowers, to sell to Hawkeye fans as they go down that busy highway? (can of spray paint:))

It sure is fun to see everything finally warm up, and see some actual plant growth! And I love going out to "work" and just feeling happy--not too many jobs out there like that.

Your ideas pushed me to offer a bouquet to the country church down the road, for their annual Memorial Day event. I do not have a lot blooming, but I did it anyway--now I can put up the "sold out" sign! Had a nice mix of bearded iris, peonies, wild phlox, columbine, honeysuckle, etc., and already received two calls from people who saw it and my card! I'm sticking my cards up everywhere, and have talked to the sister on the busy highway--we're trying to come up with plans for a stand. Since they just planted 400 apple trees this spring, I think they are on-board.

Liza, your gardens are incredible-What great pictures! I still need to make a sign for our gravel road, thanks for the ideas! I like the display at the coffee shop! The think I worry about with a highway stand is the sun and CONSTANT Iowa wind, and how hard that is on the flowers. I'd be tempted to wait until the evening rush hour to put anything out.
Thanks again for all your suggestions. I know I'll be incorporating a lot of them! Cathy

    Bookmark   May 31, 2005 at 7:55AM
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Im not ready to spend the money to get into the big market, because Ill only have about 16 weeks of flower production this year.

Field production on flower crops is approximately 16 weeks for our climate as well. If a market stall is $650, that is $40 per week. A half table would be $20; and, well worth that amount. I don't know where one can go to sell flowers, produce, or whatever and have crowds of people. Everything is in direct proportion -- the larger the market, the bigger the crowd. Anyway, back to the 16 weeks. One of our markets runs for 29 weeks. This is the reason we as flower farmers must use hoophouses for season extension on both ends of the season in order to have a presence at market.

I just reread one of the publications of GFM. One of the articles was written by a gentleman who sells vegetables and flowers at farmers' markets in Missouri, in addition to being a full-time firefighter. Busy man. The article didn't mention children which would be a huge factor. Actually, the article was in regard to solar powered hoophouses. That's what caught my attention.

Good luck with your growing and flower stand. You will learn many valuable lessons along the way...........

    Bookmark   May 31, 2005 at 9:16AM
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Belgianpup(Wa/Zone 7b)

The "Sold Out" sign is brilliant!

If I were passing, not even looking for flowers, I would think: "WOW! She must have some great stuff! I'd better check back."

Someone above said that it's been a funny year.... I just finished a plant sale for a cat non-profit I work with. Two days, plenty of advertising, a reader-board right on a busy street (10,000 cars per day). It was mainly a bust, the worst we've ever had (5-year track record in the same place). Collecting the unsold plants, I saw Dierama, yellow butterfly bushes, varigated willows, and a ton of other desirable plants. Oh, well. I'll just keep them going until next year. But it was depressing, all the same.


    Bookmark   May 31, 2005 at 1:01PM
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We're doing farmers market tomorrow. Do you suppose if we set up just our display with a Sold Out sign sitting on an empty table or crate that will work for us? It sure would save alot of work unloading the truck. People do always seem interested (as in they think they are missing out on something) when reloading unsold plants at the end of the market.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2005 at 10:19PM
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rubyb(z5/6 MO)

Dark flowers to go with sunflowers --- there is a woman in mid-Missouri who uses the seed pods of Baptisia...she said the florists in her college football town loved them in the fall because the seedpods resemble little brown footballs.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2005 at 1:32PM
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I took the plunge yesterday and signed up to be a vendor at our newly opened downtown farmers' market. So excited and making plans. This site is great. I know I'll find out many helpful tips here.

Where can I find Liza's pictures which were mentioned?


    Bookmark   June 4, 2006 at 8:39AM
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Also, I meant to ask whether anyone was selling flowers by the stem in addition to bouquets. Thought I would start out selling by the stem, bouquets and arrangements in vases to get an idea about what sells, but any advice is welcome. Flowers I'll mainly be selling will be garden roses, hydrangeas, phlox, salvias.

    Bookmark   June 4, 2006 at 8:45AM
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If your closest farm market isn't too expensive and/or has very few flower vendors, that still might be best place to gain recognition.

For example, if your market allows single day vendors. You might go for two-three-four times (if you can get a free sitter, etc.). At each market, hand out your cards and indicate that you would be willing to have pick ups at your home (or the potential stand) for special orders. That might draw customers TO YOU rather than GOING to them. This might help keep you closer to home and the children. Just a thought.

    Bookmark   June 4, 2006 at 9:30PM
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Jeanne_in_Idaho(z5 N.Idaho)

Trish, that was funny, starting market day with a SOLD OUT sign! Could get in the way of making money, though --


    Bookmark   June 16, 2006 at 3:04PM
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