Friday, 20 July 2012

Who will buy .... ?

Poised for imminent relocation
I'm now, at long last, in a situation where I have a decent supply and variety of flowers in the cutting garden. They look great blooming en masse but I haven't sown and planted so much for my visual delectation. So I need to start selling more than I currently do. This throws up all sorts of problems and questions such as what, how, where, to whom, and for how much!

General selling options for flower growers as far as I can see are: direct to customers either as individual orders or at markets and fairs; wholesale to market or florists; to shops as bunches for resale; to establishments such as hair salons, bed & breakfasts, restaurants/cafes for prettifying their premises. All of which give different levels of returns, of course.

Early summer mixed bunches ready for sale
The options for me personally are individual sales or selling large amounts to shops or other businesses. I had wanted to grow flowers that would be suitable for florists but - due to a degree of naivety on my part - that isn't going to happen this year in the way I had hoped. Florists want excellent vase life and excellent quality; there is wariness about buying from a local grower, it seems, as the florists I've spoken too like the guaranteed longevity that comes from buying imported flowers. I've been told that Dutch tulips last far far longer than British grown, for example. When a florist's reputation and therefore trade are at stake these kind of things are important. In addition, I simply don't have the production technology to compete in this area. I have sold some stems to a freelance florist who wanted cottage garden type blooms for a situation where vase life wasn't an issue. So that side of potential sales will need either rethinking or dismissing. Similarly, selling to wholesale flower markets isn't going to be realistic yet as I don't have the space to grow in large enough quantities and anyway, I want to grow a wide variety of annuals, perennials, bulbs, woodies, foliage and dried flowers.

I have to concentrate on finding retail outlets to sell on bunches or places who want to use fresh flowers on their premises and on getting my name known in the local area for direct sales. These may be the most difficult options as I have to do all the legwork, getting posters and flyers out into the world, passing on business cards, giving away freebies to friends and visiting what I think are businesses who fit the customer profile. Many people say how pretty the flowers are, how interesting the business sounds and wish me good luck but 99.9% of the time the compliments don't translate into sales, regular or one-off. Which is a little disheartening. It doesn't help that the product has such a short shelf life, I suppose. However, last week I had two orders for bouquets, one from a previous business card & freebie recipient and the other from a person who'd bought a bunch of my flowers at the local shop I sell to. Which is more than a little encouraging!

A precious direct sale! 
I suppose to be truly competitive and enter the market I will need my own website and may need to offer flowers delivered outside of the local area. At the moment I can't imagine getting into that complicated territory! However I must mention the Flowers from the Farm website. I'm a member of this organisation and as such have a page with my details and information on. It's been well worth the membership fee as the vast majority of orders and enquiries have come after people have visited the site. Obviously someone who wants what you're selling and has sought you out is more likely to buy as opposed to me approaching endless not-quite-interested-enough businesses.  It's those who want local grown British flowers versus those who want cheap supermarket flowers. At present I've provided buckets of flowers for one wedding and have a potential 4 more lined up with enquiries starting to come in about next spring too. Unfortunately owing to the poor growing season this year I've had to turn down a few early requests as I didn't have what was needed at the time. And it seems that once you've had to turn someone down they don't call back.

A wonky stemmed bunch posing by the back gate
The other major dilemma is how much to charge. It's all very well looking up current wholesale prices and going in a little cheaper but I think it's worth stopping for a moment and considering what I'm actually competing against. Again, the flowers on wholesale markets are from large scale commercial growers which are on a completely higher level than my flowers. That's not to put my flowers or myself down, it's just a fact. My casually loose, occasionally wonky-stemmed flowers are just different - beautifully different though. The bunches I make up are stunning in the sense that they are so unusual compared to supermarket bunches. But is that beautiful difference worth charging for? Well, yes it might be, as long as people - enough people - are prepared to pay....

I also have to consider the market I'm selling to. My corner sweet shop takes a few bunches of sweet peas two or three times a week for which I charge a minimal price because it's no effort for me to deliver and because it's a local corner shop - people don't go in to spend big money. The wholefood shop likes stocking my flowers because they're attractive outside the shop but there is a limit to how much the shopkeeper is prepared to pay because he knows how much he can sell a bunch of flowers on for. In direct sales it's hard to know what to charge. I'm not a florist so I can't charge florist prices and anyway, the point is that I am a local grower selling to the local area. It may well be that I underprice and overfill but so be it! I'd rather people were happy with getting value for money and maybe that will encourage word of mouth growth of business.

While I ponder on all this, this song from the distant past seems suddenly relevant : If I grew them, who would buy my sweet red roses?

1 comment:

  1. An excellent and thought provoking blog - really enjoyed it.