Selling Plants on the Small Farm and Homestead

The following information on selling plants on the homestead or small farm comes from Five Acres and Independence by M. G. Kains. Five Acres and Independence is also available to purchase in print.

Have you ever noticed the spindly, pale, discouraged-looking plants offered for sale each spring by drug, grocery, hardware, and “general” stores? Of course, everybody has! Have you ever wondered how anybody with even a smattering of garden knowledge could be tempted to buy such futile stuff? If so, has it ever occurred to you that in the very towns where these plants are displayed are good opportunities to make profitable sales of really well grown plants of good varieties for transplanting?

Those italicized words hold the secret of success in making first sales, repeat sales and developing a profitable business. Here’s an instance: One year when I was planning to grow several acres of late cabbage I paid $10 for a pound of seed of the very best strain of Danish Ballhead I could locate, though I could have bought general stock at $6 or even $5 a pound.

The nursery bed was made where the sun reached it all day in sandy loam, not rich but well supplied with humus, and the seed was sown very thinly, the drill being tested on a floor to drop only two or three seeds to the inch in the rows because I wanted to have as sturdy plants as possible to avoid the work of thinning and the loss of valuable plants as would otherwise be the case.

Just before the plants were ready for transplanting I inserted an advertisement in the local paper to the effect that I had well grown, stocky plants of this specially fine strain for sale, invited buyers to call and see them and quoted a price no higher than for ordinary stock. Next day a man called and bought enough plants to pay for the ad! The day following another came and bought all I was willing to part with! Half a dozen others arrived later—too late! Among them I could have sold 10 times the quantity I had grown. It would have been more to my interest that first year to have sold such good plants in smaller quantities to these or a larger number of buyers because the stock would have advertised me better and would have led both to repeat sales and new business in subsequent years.

Instances like this prove that even when one does not have a greenhouse, a hotbed or a coldframe (as I then did not have) plants may be profitably grown if they are stocky, of good color and of choice varieties or strains. Still further, it is easy to sell such plants even when the price asked is a little higher than that of ordinary stock. The small difference in cost of best over medium or low grade seed is far more than offset by sales of stock due to the reputation of the variety and the plants themselves.

When one has coldframes the scope is increased considerably. Hotbeds widen it still further and a greenhouse, even though a small one, used in conjunction with these two accessories gives a field limited only by its size, the available hands and the means of disposing of the plants while in prime condition.

The following instance* will dictate how well a greenhouse, hotbeds and coldframes may be made to pay in a small town, especially when there is no similar establishment in the vicinity. On a property of which I had charge for a couple of years were greenhouses and coldframes which had not been paying their way because the man who operated them had not been giving them his undivided interest and who had been dismissed in consequence. Yet within 15 months a competent man whom I engaged made them pay all expenses, including his salary, and yield a worth-while profit—the first in four or five years. As some of the ways this was done may help you I shall outline them. [*Much of the following paragraphs is condensed from the author’s articles in the Florists’ Exchange.]

Preliminary to starting operations the new man surveyed the town; first, to get an idea of the possible area of gardens and the quantity of vegetables and flower plants that might be needed during the first season; second, to estimate how many house plants, bulbs in flower, and forced vegetables might be sold; third, to make a similar estimate of the cut flowers that the community might use; and fourth, by inquiry to learn about how many balls, dinners and other gatherings would likely occur and at about what dates. With these data in hand we made production and sales plans.

Without going into details let it suffice that these plans included a series of “special sales attractions”; for instance, cineraria, cyclamen, narcissus, tulip, gladiolus and geranium. Besides these we bought a few plants of striking interest, not for sale but solely to pique curiosity and serve as “bait” to lure the unwary public to the greenhouses when we had something else to sell and which our visitors would buy on sight because of its high quality!

Whenever one of these remarkable plants reached its showy stage we would put a news item written in editorial, not advertising, style in the local paper. It would tell something about the plant and suggest that the people go to see it.

All attracted visitors, many of whom bought house plants, bulbs in flower, cut flowers, or forced vegetables all of which, when they arrived, we made it a point to be working with as if to fill outside orders. The high quality of the plants and the freshness of the vegetables contrasted with store stuff and therefore sold themselves on sight.

We also advertised in the local paper, but two or three days before any “ad” was to appear we mailed postal cards inviting our best patrons to come and choose the best stock before the general public arrived. Such plants we always sold at somewhat higher prices than those to be advertised and patrons were always pleased because they felt that they really got the full value of their money.

Our sales were usually advertised to continue one week, the date of starting and closing always being stated. Toward the close when there were odds and ends we sometimes announced a bargain sale of “remnants” or of “surplus stock,” but whenever possible we scheduled such sales for the same periods as the advanced sales to select patrons were to occur. Our reason was that we wanted to let the “bargain hunters” see what really good stock is like and thus, if possible, teach themselves to appreciate higher qualities and values.

Among other ways by which money may be made by growing plants for sale are by propagating special varieties, strains or stocks of plants from seed or stock which patrons supply. Agreements in such cases, always in writing, might be at set prices for the delivery of specified numbers or percentages of plants so grown to certain stages of development, the grower to own the balance. This plan has worked especially well among people who come to the country from the city only in spring or early summer and who want to have plants of specified kinds ready for them to start their gardens.

Where there are local garden clubs or where a large enough number of amateurs can be brought together, it is a good plan to invite them to visit the establishment on a specific day—always when it is looking its best and when timely topics of special interest at the time are to be presented and discussed. On such occasions the owner should outline ways by which he may serve the gardening community, especially in the propagation of stock for their gardens as already outlined.

For such reasons as those sketched in this chapter, “glass” may be made one of the most profitable departments of the small farm, especially in localities where no such equipment is already established.

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Selling Plants on the Small Farm and Homestead

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