KNOW YOUR (FARMER'S) MARKET

Back when we were starting our flower farming venture, we decided that we would do a farmers market. Steven and I loved farmers markets, especially the ones in Omaha and Kansas City. What’s not to love? Fresh produce, fresh flowers, delicious baked goods and jams and honey and hand knit dog sweaters and rustic yard art and really everything you could ever want. Besides, everyone seemed to say that selling at farmers markets was the way to start out. We decided then and there that we would sell gorgeous bunches of locally grown flowers in brown paper sleeves.

 

The day before, we harvested a gorgeous variety of sunflowers, amaranthus, bachelor buttons, basil, Queen Anne’s lace and zinnias, twisting them into premade bouquets until our buckets were stuffed full. We butchered our field, but I was so excited at the idea of selling these flowers that I had babied for months, having started from little tiny seeds and grown all the way into these beautiful blooms.

 

That morning, we  hauled our buckets into the large warehouse that served as the market building. I was practically shaking with nervousness and excitement at the idea that we were going to be selling at a farmer’s market.

Me. The guy that had sucked selling candy bars as a kid. We had a huge box of them, and my parents I think ended up buying all of them because I was terrible about getting people to buy them. It was a pity buy, and something that I remember, but I was never good about approaching people about product.

These however, were no candy bars. These were gorgeous, amazing flowers that looked like nothing else these people had seen before. They would walk by, freeze in their footsteps, then stampede the stand to grab bouquets as fast as we could make them.

We were waiting until the market opened. I caught myself pacing back and forth in our little space, and had to stop myself.

“Do you think we’re going to sell a lot?” asked Steven.

I nodded firmly. “Yes.”

After all, these flowers were local, grown without pesticides or herbicides, and were just so amazing. They even smelled good, thanks to the purple Aromatto basil that we had included into each and every single bouquet.

Finally, the market started, and people slowly started trickling in. People walking by would give us very kind comments on our flowers.

“Oh, these are so beautiful!” exclaimed a middle-aged woman with the Ina Garten haircut and large purse. She leaned in close to smell the bouquet. “Oh, that smells wonderful!”

I grinned at her. “Glad you like it, that’s the purple basil that smells good.”

She looked up sharply. “Basil? You’re kidding me!”

I shook my head. “Yes, when it flowers like this, it is a great addition to a bouquet.”

We talked a little bit more before the woman bought the arrangement and wandered off into the farmer’s market

That was only one of the two arrangements we sold that day. As it got closer to end of the market, we started getting nervous. Maybe it was because people didn’t want to carry flowers around? Or because people didn’t want them to wilt too soon. Surely some people would draw closer, and want to take one of these bouquets home.

That was not the case. At the end of the market, we glumly looked at our very full buckets and our very empty cashbox. We had to dump out eight buckets of flowers that day, both fully assembled bouquets and bulk material. It was so frustrating to have to toss gorgeous bunches of flowers onto the compost pile, already drooping from the heat, months and months of blood, sweat, tears and investment having culminated into this one moment, suddenly lying broken and discarded.

 

We felt terrible. All the hard work and pride we had in our flowers, gone in a moment. As if the entire world had rejected our flowers. That pain and that sense of rejection ruined that weekend. We sat and asked what we could have done differently or better. We weren’t quitters though - we would go back the next weekend with a bigger, better display, a better plan, and the will to sell our flowers.

 

The next weekend, we did the same thing - cutting, conditioning, then premaking bouquets and filling bucket with water. We hauled the buckets over to the market, setup our table and stacked crates and mason jars.

That market was even worse. We only sold a single bouquet. Same thing.

After cleaning up, driving home, and again dumping another eight buckets of flowers out, we had a very long talk between the two of us. At the end of it, we decided that we were not going to be doing the farmer’s market anymore. It just wasn’t worth it for us, wasting our entire weekend to lose money and be humiliated.

It was around that time that we got a call from our friend Emily. Emily was a boutique wedding florist, a former flower farmer, and big supporter of Slow Flowers and local growers. You may know her better as Floriography Flowers.

Emily was interested in seeing what we had available for sale. We invited her over and toured the field and chatted about growing in New Mexico, how to condition basil, and popular colors of the season. Emily was wonderful to us that day, giving us subtle direction that only now we understand was actually direction, giving us her experiences as a grower, and her experiences with selling materials.

Emily ended up buying millet and zinnias from us. It wasn’t a big order, but it was a big deal for us at the time. It was a huge deal. And we were thrilled. She also told us to inform her when we had more flowers for sale. We did, and she bought a huge order from us.

This was it. We had found our market. We were excited that we had finally found it!

We proceeded to inform other florists in town that we were selling floral material, and were immediately flooded with requests for basil, dahlias, scabiosa and coral fountain amaranthus and well, pretty much everything else we were growing. The rest of the season was spent delivering buckets of local flowers to florists, who could not say enough about how beautiful our materials were.

 

***

 

You see, we had planted everything that a florist would want. Rare, beautiful, subtle, boutique materials that florists would love to get their hands on. But for a farmer’s market, the flowers were too subtle, the textures too soft, the species too antique.

We were so obsessed with growing our flowers, that we had no idea who our market was. The most important thing is if you are going to be growing flowers as a business, you need to ensure that you know exactly who your market is.

We didn’t understand our market. We didn’t understand necessarily who we were even growing for. That was our biggest mistake, but one that quickly was reversed once we understood our material and located the perfect market for them.

On the flip side, if you want to be in a certain market, then you need to grow for it. If it’s florists, understand what their design style and need is. One florist wants all the blush and white we can grow, while another one loves our reds and burgundies, while still another wants herbs and interesting foliage, and everybody wants all the dahlias.

If its a farmer’s market, chances are you’re going to want to be growing eye catching colors that pop across the room with classic crowd-pleasing flowers like sunflowers, zinnias, marigolds and snapdragons.

Once you understand who you’re selling to and why they are going to buy the things that they will buy, the rest of it is a lot easier. It will prevent you from growing things that there is no market for, or from having a lack of sales. Remember, understanding your market is the keystone upon which everything else is based.

Kee-ju