10 Ways to Improve Your Ag Greenhouse Plant Sale

September 21, 2015

A common theme among Ag teachers is the administration expects their Ag Greenhouse Plant Sale to support all or at least a large part of your program.  This is quite a feat when you consider that this is a business that has to run head to head with national corporations who have entire staffs dedicated to marketing and merchandising every item they have in their nursery section.  There's no way to beat them on price and still support your greenhouse.  The big box stores have a business model designed to sell through product quickly but at a less profitable price.  However, to do that these big boxes have to make sacrifices and it usually sacrifices on variety and size.  These sacrifices and a few other tips should help give your Ag greenhouse a stronger position in the local plant sale market.  Here's a list to get you started as always any tips you have will help serve your fellow Ag teachers.

  1. Boston Ferns are a classic here in the south, but you can choose your own plant to try this idea.  Either in the standard hanging basket or slightly large one, plant either 2 or 3 plugs per pot.  For a slightly larger cost (extra plugs, larger pot, extra medium) you get a larger, fuller plant.  Try 4 or 5 of these for your next sale and hang them next to single plug plants to illustrate the difference to your customers.
  2. A slightly different angle but using the Boston again.  If everybody loves a hanging fern, then try a different species such as a Macho Fern.  Wide, long fronds that grow way larger than a Boston.  As with #1, try 4 or 5 this way and see how they sell.
  3. Everybody scream at the same time "SOCIAL MEDIA!" but wait let me explain how to do it right.  85 pictures on a single day and friending everyone you know is not the answer.  Think of social media as a method for getting a first date with the customer.  You have to show all your good qualities and blasting "Plant Sale!" everyday for 2 months won't get you many dates.  Post pictures of the students planting, watering, and arranging some planters with a few of the items at the sale, but only mention the plant sale in passing on a few, but not all of these posts.  You want these folks to buy from you so make your greenhouse and students endearing to them.
  4. If you don't have the planting arranging thumb, then enlist a friend or local gardener to create a couple of planters with plant species you carry.  Many customers have no clue what to do with the plants when they buy them other than sticking them in a hole in the flower bed.  Provide your customers some inspiration and this will help encourage them to come buy your plants.  If you have some unique colors that the big box stores don't, then that will increase your chances of them buying from you.  Post pictures of these arrangements in #3.
  5. How involved is your chapter with local civic organizations?  Do you take them for public speaking opportunities, to demonstrate parliamentary procedure, or to receive awards?  If you do, then make sure you are making friends with the local movers and shakers in town.  Speak with a few members directly that have businesses with walk in traffic .  Ask them if your students can place a few Boston Ferns with a display card advertising the plant sale?  Or how about a unique arrangement?  These groups all want to encourage the growth and development for students and this is one way to can do that.  But you have to ask them.  Go ask, right now before spring get here.  Take a picture and post that to Facebook and Twitter and tag the owner and/or the business, it's endearing to you and them.
  6. Ask!  Talk with members of the local garden club and even local landscape companies.  What do they buy and why?  Don't give them a guilt trip for not buying from you.  How often does a guilt trip date work?  Rarely.  You want them to want to come buy and buy your plants.  Find out what will point their car toward your greenhouse.  Do they want lots of blooms, really cheap, something no one else has, or easy care?  There is some way your sale can appeal to them other than price.  So figure out what that is.
  7. Check out the competition.  See what they are selling.  For example, in the plumbing section you'll notice the big box stores have plenty of 90 degree elbows and similar pieces, but I've rarely found that one specialty piece to fit the weird circumstance under my house.  However, the local yokel hardware store always has it.  How is that?  That's how he stays in business, he has what you need.  He just doesn't have 1,000 of them in stock.  Big box sells popular because they need to sell 1 million of them to make money.  However, I've never found a Viburnum in stock and when I asked the "nursery expert" she said, "Oh you mean Verbena".  No, I don't I want to see your Verbena and none of the staff have ever heard of a Viburnum.  The local yokel place had one of a very specific variety. 
  8. Have you tried contracting with a local nursery or landscaper?  You won't make a ton of money this way, but your greenhouse/shade house will be full of stock.  Pick a species they use a bunch of and see if you can grow a set quantity at a price they can manage.  This is also a great lesson in Cost Accounting and business management.  Let your students figure out how much it truly costs to grow a single plant based on all the input costs.
  9. Do you have a annual fair, country club, or other gathering place locally?  Can you grow and provide one, two, or all their plants they use each spring/summer display?  Will they give you a try?  See #5, remember those civic groups.  Those people help with fairs, go to country clubs, and are generally at places where people gather.  This is another reason why they should know your name and be ready to help your students succeed.  This access advertises not only your plant sale but your chapter as well and success breeds success.
  10. Short story...In forestry school we discussed why you rarely find a millionaire logger.  It's economics.  The equipment is expensive, you need a bunch of them, it's hard to move, and when the equipment is idle then the logger isn't making money.  Same goes for a greenhouse.  To make money you need to be growing all the time.  If it isn't in the greenhouse, then build a shade house or two for hardy plants and fill it up.  Maximize the space you have (school yard), the labor you have (students), and the time you have (class).  If the greenhouse is empty or half full, then it better be due to a mass die off, someone buying all your stock in 1 afternoon, or the plug truck is late.
  11. Extra, extra...what fruits and vegetables do you sell?  I know of an Ag teacher that went wild on berries.  He found every possible berry that could be grown in Georgia and grew a few.  Some sold great and some sold okay.  Find your taste and grow some unique vegetables that Mr. Big Box won't grow.

Okay, so I can't count and I gave you 11.  Make sure your students and parents are making these contacts too.  You'll continue to be amazed at who some of these parents know, went to school with, or happen to be related to.  If you aren't a people person, then start being one today.  It's a self fulfilling prophecy.  When you start saying I am a people person, then you'll start becoming one.  You need this skill to promote your greenhouse and your students to everyone in town, plus all their friends.   

As always, please let us know what we overlooked and we'll update the blog so that every Ag teacher can benefit from your knowledge.  Please follow us on FacebookPinterest, and Twitter. Send us your Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest handles and we'll be glad to follow as well. You can also contact me at brian@onelessthing.net



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