Sharon McGukin

Smithers-Oasis North America Design Director Sharon McGukin, AIFD, AAF, PFCI enjoys sharing floral tips and techniques for celebrating life with flowers.

When Advertising and Marketing Art Director Lia Fleming discovered her budding passion for flowers she dug in deep. For the past three years, Lia's flower passion has taken root. The family farm is now growing a field of flowers.

Photo: Flora Fields Farm

Lia and her family began selling locally-grown flowers from Flora Fields Farms New Franklin, Ohio. With great anticipation, they planted 6,000 tulip bulbs the first fall. As luck would have it, Covid arrived during their first spring growing season. “You can imagine when I saw pictures in the floral industry where people everywhere in the world were throwing flowers away,” confides Lia. Flora would have 6,000 tulips in bloom. “How was I going to sell them?”

Photo: Flora Fields Farm

Advertising and Marketing Art Director turned flower farmer

Lia’s Triad team worked closely with Smithers-Oasis North America’s Kelly Mace and the Design Directors team to create marketing materials for retail and wholesale customers. In the process, Lia developed a passion for flowers.

“When I have a client, I absorb myself in learning everything about their industry,” Lia explains. Following social media accounts, blogs, podcasts, and searching websites to gain a better understanding of their customer’s needs.

Lia’s expertise in marketing, branding, and social media helped her promote the new flower farm.

“You can get caught up in the beauty of flowers and who wouldn't get caught up. But, to be successful you need to have a blueprint and a business plan that will work.”

This required a combination of things:
• Her new understanding of flowers and farming
• A family commitment to becoming flower farmers
• Creativity and entrepreneurship
• The ability not to be fearful

Lia had an advertising background, the land, and a college age daughter who was a business major. She thought the process of opening a business would be very educational for her daughter. After their first growing season, Lia realized they had a beautiful product that spoke for itself.

Photo: Flora Fields Farm

Creating the brand

Lia used her branding expertise to establish an emotional connection by telling the Flora story, giving customers an experience, and becoming a destination.

A creative brand needs:
• To be clean and simple
• A product that speaks for itself
• A name that could be shortened
• A mark (logo) that is recognizable
• Consistent typography
• Similar colors used throughout

As with most new businesses, naming Flora Fields Farm was not an easy process.

Consider important details:
• Be sure there is an available URL
• Choose social handles that match
• Name fits a flexible business plan
• Has a mark (logo) that fits a variety of shapes

“Flora came from a children's book that my daughter had when she was young called Flora’s Blanket.” The URL is long - the name is long, but it can easily be shortened to Flora.

Unsure of the direction the business would go, Lia didn’t establish a logo or icon. The mark (logo) especially needs to be flexible and applicable for ten different mediums. Does it work horizontally? Vertical? Does it work in a circle?

Photo: Flora Fields Farm

Marketing your product

After learning how to establish the farm, Lia had to learn how to grow and sell the product. “I woke up one day and had all these beautiful flowers, a website, and an established social media presence.”

To market your brand:
• Know your product
• Who your customer is
• How to best sell your product

Sharing your personal story helps people connect emotionally. Social media was building her audience. Lia shared more of the journey than the hardships. “Showing them the pretty part,” she adds.

Branding focuses on the beautifully fresh, locally grown, farm flowers. Social stories make a human connection through looks behind the scenes. “I might get up early, show a picture of a beautiful sunrise, and share the joy of the work we’re doing,” she explains.

Initially, Lia wasn't open to people coming to the farm for retail sales. She planned to sell to florists and wholesalers. She discovered the challenges of working with traditional florists used to ordering from wholesalers.

Her suggestion?
• A seasonal flower list with current pricing
• High-quality specialty products
• Dependable stem counts
• Updated customer list for emails
• Time for frequent communication

“I soon realized that coordination took a lot of time and commitment. We needed something that worked with our family’s schedules.”

In the second year, Lia realized her online audience really wanted direct access. “Which was great because that's when COVID hit and the demand was overwhelming.”

“We had an oasis here, almost like a respite,” explains Lia. “People were working from home. They wanted to get out, get fresh air.” Customers were coming up the drive surprised to see flowers growing. We positioned our farm stand next to the garden.

Learning to farm flowers

While Lia didn’t take classes or workshops, she did a lot of reading and surfing the internet. Learning the hard way, sometimes failing, made her a better grower the next year. “There are plenty farming classes and I would probably recommend them,” Lia says. “At some point, you just gotta get your feet wet.”

Her advice?
• Create a crop plan
• Get out there; do the hard work
• Get a soil test; amend the soil
• Start the seeds
• Go with the flow
• Let your project evolve

“Once you get started, you can get hooked easily,” she laughs.

Photo: Flora Fields Farm

A self-service farm stand

My husband suggested we put the tractor out there for our stand, with the flowers in the bucket. 

“It’s a beautiful John Deere tractor and a big investment for the farm. People love it! It’s a hot spot for photos,” Lia explains.

How can you collect money at a self-service stand?
• Pay via a commerce website
• Visit the stand with cash or check
• Venmo or PayPal accounts by phone

Lia suggests price points in increments of $5 to lessen the need for change. $20, $25, $35, etc.

Photo: Flora Fields Farm

What flowers are grown at Flora?

“We have a seasonal product. We tell people “it's available when Nature tells us it's available.” 

They grow a long list of flowers that includes snapdragons, dianthus, feverfew, bupleurum, peonies, zinnias, amaranths, sunflowers, and dahlias. Each year they eliminate some varieties and add others. Relying on Floralife flower care products for added freshness.

Lia suggests that within the flower farming movement, you can have 1 acre, 10 - 30 acres, or grow in your backyard and call yourself a farm. Flora is a little over a quarter acre.

“It's not about how large of an area you grow. It's really about the soil. A lot of people underestimate the work and effort that goes into getting the soil where it needs to be to grow a large volume of quality flowers.”

Flora currently doesn’t offer a ‘you-pick’ option, though lots of customers ask. “There's times where people come to the stand and we'll bring them out to the garden to cut a few more flowers. There's something special about walking the rows and seeing the wildlife, butterflies, and insects. Realizing how this changes the flower farm experience, they are considering the option.

Connecting with others

When Flora first started, they often showcased flowers in boutiques and markets. Lia used an online geo-fencing technique for targeting potential customers by location.

She would develop a Facebook or Instagram post. Create a radius around the location where the flowers were selling. Anyone driving into that area would be fed the ad. Letting them know which products were available and where.

The farming learning curve was steep. Irrigation. How to read a soil test. Everything was new. Lia joined some farming associations including Association of Cut Flower Growers and Slow Flowers Society. People were open and generously shared their advice.

While we tend to focus on flowers, Lia learned that it’s really about life in balance. Selling an experience others can share. “There was a lot of gifting going on during COVID. I really felt happy to be part of that. It was therapy for us as well,” confides Lia.

 “Every day I see people sharing and caring for others through flowers.”

Do you have a flower farming story to share?