Many new growers, and some old ones like myself, get taken in by the new and unusual. Savvy suppliers know well the consumer weakness for novelty, are quick to market the next new cut to swarm the marketplace. Researchers, too, love novelty, as seen in the perpetual quest for the blue rose, the blue tulip, the fragrant but longlasting rose—anything new and different.
We’ve found, though, that the rare and different don’t always translate to sales. And of course it’s simple to understand why: the rare is often rare for a reason, only a few want it. Those few may want it badly, but they remain the few. Others may like it, but if it’s not affordable and usable—sizeable if that is the need, long-lived if that’s the requirement—it’s just another product.
When you see something new and exciting, first take into account its cost and its marketability. What will be the difference between added sales and the extra cost of the material? Will there be added sales, or does the new line just replace an old one with a slightly different hue, slightly different size, but not enough difference for the buyer to pay a higher price or buy more product?
We’ve often drooled over new, unusual offerings from Van Bourgandien, but the wholesale prices often reach over $4 a plant, requiring us to sell roughly five stems just to break even. Because you can’t really test a market with one or two plants, instead must have enough to give a look of prolific wonderment, we’d have a hundred dollar investment for just a minimal test drive—not including our own time and labor. And one never knows if a new plant thrives in a local climate and soil, so we back away from our desire, knowing our addictive tendencies. Hence, we’ve missed a lot of possibilities that may have had good results, others that may have had bad ones.
Sometimes, if you have an adventurous designer who buys heavily, you can grow a rare plant that few clients buy. We had a client way ahead of her time, open to local and different decades before it became popular, who purchased twenty and thirty bunches of knautia at a time, equal amounts of scabiosa ochroleuca, even though other clients ignored them, perhaps because of their small bloom size. But when she slid out of the business, so did those species move from our plant list.
We bit at double tulips and parrot tulips, since our clientele serves the richest people in the world and we figured they’d not only be interested in unusual but willing to pay for it. And while we did sell a number of the unusual varieties at a price 20 percent higher than for regular French tulips, our clients primarily still wanted the standards: pink, white (lots of white), yellow, orange, red. And they didn’t care what the varieties were, or for that matter, the exact shade—though each client often had a preference, it wasn’t a great enough one for us to cater to it.
We still plant a couple varieties of good doubles (some, like Renown Unique, have a tendency to break heads) and a couple of parrots (always tall ones, though there are some nice short varieties that are marketable to a limited number of clients---you can always cut tall flowers down for short arrangements, but you can never lengthen short flowers to fit in tall ones (unless you have a technological fix, which drives your cost up in time and material), but only ten percent of our tulip sales go to the oddities: the standards still hold sway, even for our high end clients.
A large city wholesaler came by one spring and saw a bucket of our Gudoshnik French Tulips, a double form of monster size that he said he’d typically sell for 39.95 but we sold at $14. You might think we underpriced them, and perhaps we could have sold them at his price, but almost certainly not n so many—as price rises, clients drop away, be it flowers or houses or jewelry. We unloaded all ours at our price, but could we have sold a third as many at his—the amount required to match our sales?
If you’re a designer, can use new things in your work and want to get a cutting-edge reputation, you can be less hesitant about incorporating expensive and new products in your field. You’ve taken the guesswork from the sales, since you’re the farmer AND the buyer, so can use whatever you grow and charge what you want—so long as your clients comply with your whims. But if you’re just a grower, don’t expect clients to jump on your bandwagon, to match your lust for the new.