In my blog Marketing 101 I identified the different markets. In this blog, let’s talk about which avenue will fit the small farm program best. I’m assuming you have a website, business cards and all the fundamental start up steps have been completed. Bryan Zak from the SBDC can help with start up packages and the service is free.
For our illustration a small farm will be 3,500 plants in the field. I won’t go into all the steps and history that has taken place before you start to harvest but be sure you are ready. That means a mature peony. Maybe 2 or up to 5 years old, depending on your growing conditions. Coolers and good cold chain management is in place. Assuming your peonies are mature, you could get up to 35,000 stems for market. Usually that takes several years so let’s say you have 15,000 stems. Who is your market?
Keeping in mind, if you don’t deliver, it’s the kiss of death. When you say you’ll send 100 stems a week for the season (4 to 6 weeks) to a florist, you better do it. Don’t obligate yourself for more than you can deliver. Florists are loyal and fun to work with once you have an established relationship. There are ‘occasional’ florists who order when they have a contract secured and there are florists that have weekly standing orders. How do you find your florist customer?
- Go online. Doesn’t cost anything. Once you get started you’ll find never ending sources. Look at Instagram and see who is most active, get a feel for their mode of operation. Contact them.
- Keep up with all the floral institutions such as SAF (Society of American Florists) and when you see a florist has received a commendation, send them a warm e-mail of congratulations. And of course, tell them about your peonies.
- Subscribe to all the magazines related to the cut flower industry and list serves. When someone writes a story about their floral shop or business, again with the warm e-mail. Remember it takes usually 5 contacts with anyone before success and also, for every 10 contacts, you will be lucky to get one order. It’s hard work but will grow on it’s own once you get established.
- The most successful marketing method is showing the prospect what you have.
A. A sample box shipped is one way although we’ve never done that. If you decide to do this use the small free box from FedEx that hold 10 or 12 stems nicely. Explain that isn’t the way you normally ship but at least they will see your product.
B. Pack up your peonies and hit the road. Knock on doors. Go to the flower markets.
- Caveat. We’ve attended quite a few shows without our peonies (out of season) and totally been a bust. You HAVE to be able to show them your superior Alaska peonies. Expensive lesson to learn.
- Florists share. Once you get your foot in the door, ask for testimonies and share them with other florists. It works.
Are you into talking to the DIY, holding the hand of your brides? We have a photo on the wall one of our earlier customers sent to us with a picture of the bride at her first fitting. We wrote on the picture ‘don’t forget’. Yes, ‘don’t forget’ this may be the most important day in the life of your customer. I know farms that love to work with brides and their Moms. You’ll get the most $$ per stem from this source, but also the most service needs.
Where do you find DIY and brides? Where do these users go to find their flowers? Where do they ‘hang out’ to find information to make their decisions. Of course, they buy the Bridal magazines and spend hours looking at the gorgeous photos, but advertising in these rags is very expensive and we’ve not found it to be productive. So where else do they search out information? Yep!! Online!! And the best place to start is on Instagram. It’s time consuming. Grab your favorite drink and settle in for the long haul. When you see something that may have prospects, go to their websites and familiarize yourself with their operation then–you got it–warm e-mail.
There are a huge number of drop shippers that love our peonies and can move a lot of stems for you. Unfortunately, many have no loyalty. They go where they get the best price. Caveat, stick to your price structure where you can make money or forget the whole thing. You have to know your costs and what you can sell for and still make a profit. Being reliable and great service will help with the loyalty or lack of issue.
Again, go online like you were a bride and looking for cut flowers for your wedding. See all the sources and then start contacting those sources. Offer to send a sample box. Or if possible, take your peonies to them in person. A face to face also helps with the loyalty problem.
It’s time consuming, it can be expensive but you have to market yourself aggressively to get started. Word of mouth will help in the future, but to start, pound the pavement (or the internet). Good luck.