Selling plants on the internet
Specialty crop growers are finding the internet to be fertile ground for sales of live plants and plant-based products such as crafts. For the first time in history, growers and crafters are enjoying a national marketplace instead of the traditional local craft fairs and Saturday markets that require being there in person to sell. No more. You can now display your products 24/7, capture more prospects and boost your income with a “virtual booth” to help you.
What to Sell
Most growers are selling value-added products with high markups online. For example, flower growers are selling dried flower wreaths, bulbs, seeds, dried flower bundles and dried flowers for wedding confetti, just to name a few. Lavender growers are selling lavender sachets, lavender soap, dried lavender wreaths and bunches, lavender oil and lavender buds. Tree growers are selling live trees, bonsai trees, tree seeds, tree bark and wood to woodcrafters, willow shoots to basket weavers and figured wood to guitar makers.
You get the idea – the possibilities are almost unlimited here, as a micro-niche that might have only two potential customers in your town could have thousands across North America and beyond.
By far the easiest way to get started selling on the internet is to use an established site, such as Etsy.com, eBay.com or Amazon.com. Etsy, for example, is a cooperative site which offers items from thousands of crafters around the world. At first glance, you might think there are too many other people selling what you plan to sell. But remember, the fact that there are so many indicates a strong demand for an item and lots of buyers. If there were no demand, sellers would stop listing those items. Try to look at items displayed there as idea generators. How could you do it differently or better? What’s special about your crop or product?
To find up-to-date listings of more online craft malls, visit www.similarsites.com and enter “etsy.com” in the search bar. Their search engine will find dozens of other sites like Etsy.
Another option that requires a bit more work is setting up your own site to sell online. having your own site means you won’t have to share the profits, but you’ll have to invest quite a bit of time setting up and maintaining the site.
Selling your plants and value-added plant products online is about the closest thing there is to a free lunch in the advertising world. No expensive display ads in magazines and newspapers. No expensive booth to set up at the craft shows, no travel time to attend distant shows. Why not ride the coat-tails of an established successful internet site like Etsy or eBay to profits from your plants.
A well-designed logo, or symbol, is one of the best tools in building recognition for your growing business, even if you’re just getting started. A log helps people remember your business. When they see the logo in advertising, on a sign or package, on your stationary or on your web site, they make that visual connection to you. A well-designed logo helps establish that your business is legitimate and credible. If you have a logo, people tend to believe that your business is here to stay and trustworthy.
The cost to create a logo for a small business can run from free to $1,000. There are dozens of web-based designers that can create, or provide the tools for you to create, a logo for under $100. To see what’s currently available, do a web search for “free logo maker,” or “budget logo design.” If you’re on a really tight budget, start at www.fiverr.com, and search for “logo design.”
Here are a few points to remember about planning your logo:
- A logo should be timeless, so it can be used for your business for decades.
- A logo should be simple, easy to understand, and not confuse people.
- Never, ever copy or design a logo similar to another, as it’s an invitation to a lawsuit, as well as just plain lazy.
- Will the logo still make sense as your business expands and grows?
- Is the logo easy to see in all sizes, from a sign at the farmer’s market to a business card?
Be a Winning Grower With Contests
Almost everyone loves a contest, as it promises the chance to win something for free. As countless growers have learned, they can be a winner as well, by setting up the contest to do one of four things:
1. Get people to try your product.
2. Make people aware of your product.
3. Get names for your mailing list.
4. Get free publicity.
Whatever your goal, you should try contests because they really do work, for any of the four goals listed above. All four goals are important for any business owner on a budget, as they can help build community awareness of your business and convert prospects to paying customers at almost no cost.
Prizes should closely tie-in with your business. For example, if you grow dwarf fruit trees at your nursery, a fruit tree, or several, should be the prizes.
The next step is to promote your contest, using mostly free resources, like flyers, signup sheets at your business or farmer’s market, free ads on craigslist.org, even a special e-mail from other non-competing growers to announce your contest. You may even be able to get a free announcement in your local paper or community web sites, so be sure to ask. Use your imagination, and give yourself extra points if it’s free!
On the day your contest closes and the winners are announced, send an email to everyone who entered, announcing the winners. Mention that, although they did not win the free first prize, they did win a second, or “consolation” prize of a 25% to 40% discount off the price of the same item, that fruit tree, for example. One grower who runs a contest every year at his nursery reports about 15% of the “runner-ups” purchase a discounted tree, which gives a solid boost to his profits at a normally slow time of the season.
After a contest, lots of people will be more familiar with your business, and you’ll have the ability to stay in touch via e-mail to let them know more about your plants, events and sales. Everyone, including you, can be a winner with a well planned contest.
Every grower who sells their products to retail customers should be using this proven low cost source of new customers. Your only expense is the cost of printing the gift certificates and the signs announcing their availability. Offering gift certificates makes it easy for existing customers who appreciate your products to share that appreciation with others. It can be difficult to pick a gift for some people, but giving a gift certificate makes it easy for the giver.
Using simple software, like Printshop, or even the services of your local copy shop, prepare a series of small signs that read “Ask about our gift certificates.” Next, print the certificates on either parchment paper or heavier paper stock. You can even find large and small certificates at Amazon.com, by searching for “blank gift certificates.” The printed certificate should have your company name at the top, and a line for the amount of the certificate, and the person authorized to sign the certificate.
When customers ask, tell them the certificates are available in any amount, and good for anything you sell. Do NOT use an expiration date – everyone hates them! You will be amazed at the number of people who purchase a gift certificate. And why not? A gift certificate is a perfect gift, especially for hard-to-please people, and as affordable as the customer wants it to be.
The best time to promote gift certificates is at the peak gift-giving times, like Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. If you have an e-mail customer list or a newsletter, be sure to mention your gift certificates in your next mailing.
Free Classified Ads on Craigslist
Craigslist has grown in popularity among plant growers and consumers as the first place to look for plants for sale. Growers can find new customers that are looking for inexpensive plants. There is no need to pack and ship plants, as ads are sorted by location, so customers and prospects are local. Plant buyers benefit by finding a wide range of plant material at affordable prices, and they can inspect the plants in person before buying.
It’s easy and free to start selling your plants on craigslist.org. Start by entering www.craigslist.org in your web browser, and you’ll see the home page with a list of all the states and towns you can choose. Live in Montana? Locate your state and then the nearest metro area, such as Kalispell.
Click on Kalispell, and you’ll be taken to the “post to classifieds” page. Now, locate the “for sale” section in the center of the page, then “farm & garden.” In the post form, list the plants you have for sale individually, so your listing will be easier to find. For example, if you have potted shrubs for sale, list each species and variety separately. Include a price and your location (your town). If you have a lot of plant stock, consider a quantity discount, such as $15 each or 2 for $25, to encourage larger purchases.
Be sure to include a description of the plant, and an image. A photo of the plant helps, as customers often do not recognize a plant name, but can connect it in their brain when they see the picture. Although you can post anonymously on craigslist, it’s a good idea to include a phone number in your ad so prospects can contact you if they have questions about the plants.
It is amazing what sells on Craigslist. Other growers have reported success selling trees, shrubs, bamboo, vegetable and herb starts, exotic plants like orchids and related items like garden art. If you’re selling plants retail, you must give craigslist a try. Free is good!
What works for your business 24/7 and costs just pennies a day? A sign to alert customers and prospects that you are open for business. If you have a roadside stand, you want signs that alert motorists that your stand is ahead. Customer surveys have found that about three-quarters of the customers learn about a farm stand from a highway sign. Remember that passing motorists have only a few seconds to see your sign and make a decision to stop. Here’s how to make a sign that works:
- Keep the message short. Six words is all most people can read while passing a sign.
- Symbols and pictures are easier to understand than words. A single good picture or illustration of your crop is better than words.
Letters should be large enough so drivers can read your message. The headline should use letters 8″ to 12″ high, and the “subhead,” if any, should use letters 4″ to 6″ high.
- Choose colors that are visible. A white background is best for visibility. Reds, oranges and yellows convey warmth, blues and greens are cooler colors.
- Make sure your sign is safe and legal. It should not block visibility, and it should meet local zoning ordinances for setback and sign size. Growers with seasonal stands often use folding “sandwich board” signs that can be placed and removed easily.
- Use an advance sign 1/4 to 1/2 mile from your stand or main sign to give drivers ample time to think about stopping.
Sell more with recipes
If you grow an edible crop, recipes could help you increase sales for just the cost of printing a recipe handout sheet or “mini” cookbook. Recipes are one of the best ways to educate your customers and promote your product. According to one grower, “Recipes can sell produce by the bushel and keep people coming back for more.”
Recipes can be used to explain the nutritional qualities of your product and teach customers how to use your crop in new ways. A local mushroom grower who specializes in gourmet fresh oyster and shiitake mushrooms put together an 8-page recipe book of easy to prepare recipes using his mushrooms. The “cookbook” is simply two 8-1/2 X 11 sheets folded in half and center stapled. His local copy shop makes them up in batches of 500 for only fifteen cents each.
He passes out the recipe books at farmer’s markets and demos at grocery stores, and maintains it’s the best, and cheapest advertising he’s ever found, creating loyal customers who enjoy cooking with his mushrooms, and boosting sales.
If your marketing budget is extra-lean, put these frugal, proven marketing methods to work, and watch your sales grow. To discover even more low-cost ways to market your crops and value-added products, read Sell Your Harvest, a free bonus ebook when you purchase any of our growing guides.