Joy Flowers: Our First Year with the Donkey Approved Flower Club
Above: A mountain of bouquets ready for their Flower Club members early Saturday morning at the Dardanelle Farmers Market.
Every Saturday morning flower club members come to our booth and pick up their weekly "donkey approved bouquet." Their weekly flowers come with a card detailing an update on the farm such as "recent duck drama," "what's in bloom," or "a spider web tale." I love being able to tailor bouquets to regulars customers, adding a story or a shade I know they'll love. And, of course, I take a lot of pride in knowing each bouquet is lovingly approved by our resident donkey, Jenna.
Above: A sorghum, amaranth and zinnia bouquet.
Offering a flower club has been a wise decision. But it wasn't informed by a lot of research or market analysis, at least not in the typical sense. Like pretty much every aspect of our small business, we're learning as we grow and trying things out to see what works.
The Flower Farm's Beginnings
We've been growing flowers on a small scale—occasional bouquets at our local farmers market and occasional bouquets for delivery—for a few years now. I absolutely love growing blooms, and have routinely daydreamed about becoming a flower farmer for probably a decade. But selling them was often an afterthought. I had way too much going on at home and work to focus on marketing flowers, even if growing them was my dream. I knew I wanted to someday sell to regional florists, but it takes A LOT of flowers, a lot of experience, and steady stream of weekly high, high quality blooms to break into that market. And right now—with other jobs and a family—I simply don't have the time or financial resources to grow on that scale (yet!).
Scaling Up the Flower Farm
This year we went into the spring season with the intention to really push our flower farm. We'd spent money on high quality seeds and bulbs. We'd prepped the soil all winter with donkey manure and green waste. We'd set aside large tubs of our own insect frass to supplement our red clay soil. In short, we'd put A LOT of labor into the garden.
In the past I loved bringing flowers to market, and occasionally they'd be profitable. But making speculative bouquets that might not sale was a real drain on my energy and resources, not to mention morale. Yet here I was with A LOT of flowers, a small pocket book, and a donkey highly trained in the art of flower approval. How could I make it work?
Above: Joy flowers on an early Saturday morning.
Early in the spring we started selling at the Russellville Community Market, a weekly online market with in person pickup. This went surprisingly well, and I quickly realized selling bouquets to pre-orders made the work *so* much more rewarding. I didn't have to put a lot of work into something that might never sale. I also started to realize that being able to know ahead of time how many bouquets I would need to make each week—and having very clear and set dates that I made them and got them to the customers—really, really helped balance my truck patch work with my other jobs that bring in our solid income. I started to wonder, how could we grow this approach?
Above: Dark purple gladiolas for a Flower Club member
I knew that people loved the flowers. And I knew they were worth a good price and were high quality. But buying them on a regular basis wasn't a financial possibility for most people I knew. Likewise, I wasn't ready to sell in bulk to florists yet; I simply didn't have the bulk they needed nor the time to go traveling around to each florist to make deals. But I had a LOT of flowers planted that needed to go to good homes. And I sure wasn't in a financial position to just give them all away. I didn't want to undercut my labor or resources but I needed them to be out into the community in a way that didn't zap all my time or put me in a financial hole.
So I started wondering: Is there a way I could both make the flowers affordable while also building in some predictability to our income?
One evening I was fretting and endlessly running the numbers, trying to figure out exactly how much I needed to make a month to break even. I looked at the numbers closely. I started thinking about my customer base. I thought about Were there hypothetical people out there who could pay $15.00 a bouquet per week somewhere out there? Maybe.
Did I know them? NOPE. Was I gonna meet them anytime soon? Probably not.
So started thinking about how I might could lower my prices on the flowers IF (and only IF) I had a somewhat regular and dependable income flow attached to them. When you're strict budget people like we are, knowing you have a certain amount coming in each month is worth a lot. It gives you some degree of predictability from which to take other risks; it allows you to plan your base cash flow months ahead of time, and it makes it painfully obvious what is and isn't profitable. And for me, a base income on flowers meant waaaaay less time having to endlessly advertise a product that might or might not sell.
What if I could grow a steady customer base with a small group of local people paying a very affordable rate?
Above: One of our first Flower Club Instagram ads
So I did the math and came to three different sizes of bouquets (sizes based on number and content of flowers) and started promoting the club. I had no idea if it would work, but I knew if could reach six members I'd consider it a win, at least for the time being.
Above: I spend Friday nights getting ready for market the next morning. Here is a row of bouquets ready to fly!
It started slow, but within a few days we had our first customer. Wonderful human that she is, she shared pictures of her bouquets and helped me spread the word. That led to another customer and then another. I took pictures of the flowers before they were handed over to the flower club members, and that led to still more customers. People could pick up their flowers at the market which led to people asking about them and I would direct them to club information.
Above: One of our first Flower Club members
Above: Another Flower Club member (and esteemed farmers market manager!)
Above: Another Flower Club member
And, of course, there's Jenna. Jenna is our donkey in charge of quality control on all flowers. I consider her my own personal therapy donkey. She listens to my problems; she heehaws good morning, and she basically is the magic behind every bouquet we make. She's a somber creature, but her heart is full of love. And also she's a little cantankerousness.
Above: A recent ad for Jenna "The Approver"
We decided to make some "calling cards" for the flowers. They're based on those old "While You Were Out" memos. Bryan is an excellent designer and so he put this together. I love writing notes to regular customers. I think they get kinda weird sometimes, but if you're looking for standard floral etiquette, I'm probably not who you're looking for.
Above: Each Flower Club member gets a personalized update each week (side 1)
Above: Each Flower Club member gets a personalized update each week (side 2)
Jar Return, Pay it Forward, and More: The flower club's beginnings are running fairly smoothly! I do think I'll need to increase my prices next year, but not by too much. I think next year I can include more easy to grow varieties to fill out some of the bouquets and I'll be do some seed saving this year, which will also help.
About a dollar goes in to each jar or vase we use, and so we're trying to figure out the best way to implement an effective jar and vase return, similar to those milk jug programs. If you have any ideas about this, we'd love to hear it!
Above: Another Flower Club ad
If you're interested in joining the flower club, you can still do that! We'll have plenty of flowers until at least September possibly even November. We also offer bulk sales for people planning or parties. You can sign up here.
We'd be happy to add an additional day and location if we have add enough additional customers! So, if you have a great idea, please reach out! We'd love to hear from you!