A neighbor posted on our community page looking for a bouquet without having to drive to suburbia. She had lots of options to choose from, including a retired teacher giving away small bouquets as part of the Free Little Flower movement, a prolific gardener who invited her to come cut a bouquet and a vegetable farmer with a bouquet bar on their farm stand.

One woman just started selling but leaves them out in the direct sun. The closest florist, 10 miles away, was mentioned, as was the college student studying horticulture who orders in traditional flowers. There were a few more options – and a friend mentioned me.

By far, my bouquets are the most expensive, but the customer chose me because this bouquet was a surprise for her teenage daughter. Over the years I have given her daughter extra flowers in the form of small bouquets just for fun, so they have an emotional connection to me. But importantly, I understood that these flowers needed to stay healthy out of water for three to four hours and needed to survive being crammed under a seat. I swathed the stem ends in damp towels and a baggie, then wrapped a bit tighter than usual to keep the stems from shifting. The flowers were a hit.

As the number of people starting flower farms increases dramatically each year, concerns about competition emerge. As long as everyone starts out making mixed bouquets and sells them on cute farm stands and through CSAs, we are going to keep tripping over each other. Almost everyone starts with these two outlets.

We have influencers setting trends and those leading the educational opportunities have turned it into a monolithic culture. There are currently two Facebook groups for cut flowers in Upstate New York that each have over 1,000 members, all added in the last three years. (One group is dedicated to dahlias so of course everyone is competing with each other for this short specialty season.) But I believe there are more opportunities, including edible flowers for farm-to-table restaurants, co-ops and distribution centers.

Every farmer needs to work harder to identify and market to consistent and loyal customers. For several years I ran robust CSA, but when my driver graduated from college and got an adult job, we discovered that the convenience these customers wanted was delivery. This was something I didn’t have time for in my schedule. I haven’t found anyone as dedicated and conscientious to take on this role since. So, we dropped it and lost half of the orders.

At this point I decided it made the most sense to switch to wholesale sunflowers as my main crop. This still requires delivery, but it’s a set route with a two bucket minimum that can be started in the early morning that better fits my work rhythm.

We are selling to real people who buy what they value. The psychology of marketing fascinates me and challenges me to evaluate my choices to improve the customer experience. Adapting Robert Cialdini’s “7 Principles of Persuasion,” we can identify triggers of certain emotions to connect with customers. In terms of cut flowers, we can differentiate ourselves from the other growers surrounding us with tangibles tailored to our business.

Let me break down the seven triggers and how they manifest specifically to cut flower growers:

• Reciprocity makes people feel obliged to purchase. The classic tangible is a free gift. That can be as simple as giving every customer a flower food packet and a card with flower care instructions. To reward my subscription customers, I had cardboard coasters printed for their vases.

Honestly, Sunflower Selections has my loyalty because all of the magnets they send with my orders (on my refrigerator). They are always my first thought when crop planning. My husband gets giddy every time a machinery dealership gives out hats. If it’s comfortable and designed well, it will be worn on a daily basis.

• Commitment leads to consistency that can be manifested by an experience. People who take a class with me are more likely to use my design services when a need arises. They are also more likely to trust my design experience. This includes add-ons such as delivery – especially punctual delivery.

We worked out a contact system that reduced orphaned bouquets and vases not left out. It was that level of service that customers loved. Another one I offer is “Fill a Vase.” They drop off vases and I create a design just for them. A couple of years ago, during a community historic house tour, one host invited me to create an arrangement for each room of their Victorian home and it was magnificent.

The bouquet created for a young lady celebrating the last performance of theater camp. This one worked because we carefully chose flowers that would hold up out of water, wrapped the stems in damp paper towels with a baggie and used a tight butcher paper wrap so they wouldn’t shift. Photo by Betsy Busche

• Liking builds a connection that can be shared with a story – or a history. The obvious is the flower history in a family. These are the flowers our grandmothers grew. I host free classes specifically on how to grow flowers at home. Attendees discover flowers they’ve never heard of. The moment a gardener gets a stem of Bupleurum in their hands, they experience a wow moment – every time. This does not just need to be in person; it can also be blog posts and social media links that engage and encourage people to discover cut flowers and their mechanics and design.

• We trust authority as that leads to the bond formed above. This can be knowledge- or design-based. Teaching people how to care for their flowers, showing them how to design or having a heated discussion about dame’s rocket as an invasive biennial demonstrates that you know what you’re doing and builds that trust. Short-form videos on trendy platforms from influencers generate a lot of enthusiasm. The rest of us need to be educated in both the science and art of cut flowers to rise above the noise.

• Social proof develops bias. Flowers are already pretty – what you do with them sets you apart. This is where design is important in all aspects of marketing; create best sellers or exclusive collections. The most popular are the most likely to sell out first and are what bring people back week after week.

• Scarcity makes something special. Our focal flowers are our best sellers – especially those with a short season, like peonies or lisianthus. Seasonality is our secret weapon to encourage impulse purchases, especially in spring and early summer when many plants are one-and-done.

It’s great to create a waiting list for a special flower combination. Also, I offer a service (mostly for men) where I keep a calendar of important dates (birthday, anniversary, Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day) and send a message 10 days before so they never miss an event. They love that it makes them look thoughtful. I do include delivery with this service. This is my club of big spenders.

• Unity promotes loyalty. Specific branding around shared values creates community. Customers seek out philosophical belief in environmentally friendly practices. Organic is always in vogue, but no-till, native species and heirloom varieties are also sought. Also included are ordering from U.S. and Canadian farms when local are out of season.

I’m grateful for this list to be able to evaluate what works for me and what is actually impeding my business growth. There is so much room for cooperation over competition during this unprecedented boom in local flowers by moving beyond the market bouquet and exploring ways to build hubs and delivery systems. There are many conversations to be had, but first we need to know what we are willing to do ourselves so we’re not running after every (seemingly) good idea.