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Tips for Building a Successful Herb Business
by Lynn Byczynski, Author & Founder of Growing for Market
Successful marketing of herb plants at farmers' markets, farm stands, or retail nurseries starts with high-quality, healthy plants and benefits from an attractive, informative presentation. If you want a favorable return on your investment, you should visualize your marketing plan before you plant seeds or start cuttings, because your greenhouse production should be tailored to your final presentation.
The first thing to consider is how you are going to transport and display your herb plants. That will determine the size and type of containers you will use, which will determine the prices you can charge. With that decision made, you will know how to schedule your plantings to have the right size plants for the price points you want. In other words, marketing and production are so closely interrelated that they should be planned simultaneously.
Here are some addtional ideas and tips to consider as you plan your herb plant sales:
- Press-fit trays, which hold the pots securely in the tray, are a good choice for plants that are going to be transported to and from market several times. Another benefit of these trays is that when a customer removes one pot, the others won't fall over. Press-fit trays and the pots that fit into them are available in several sizes, square or round.
- Are organic products big in your market? You might want to offer organically-grown herbs in the OMRI-approved, biodegradable Fertilpots. These fiber pots are available in round, square, or strip pots in a range of different sizes.
- Whether biodegradable or plastic, pots can get bigger as the season unfolds, with sales of the smallest pots high in early spring for veteran gardeners and 4" pots a month or so later, when less-experienced gardeners decide to buy herbs. They are more likely to achieve success with a larger plant, and therefore more likely to buy again from you next year.
- Try mixing up culinary herbs in a six-pack. It's a good way to introduce your customers to the many interesting kinds of basil, sage, or thyme. Or, put together other compatible herbs such as Italian parsley and basil; chives and garlic chives; rosemary and thyme.
- Don't display your flats of herbs on the ground, where they may not be noticed; put them right at waist level (or up to eye level), where customers can see, touch, and smell them. Fragrance is a strong selling point for herbs.
- Provide variety information and cultural hints, either with purchased plant tags or handmade tags. Create more detailed planting instructions on cardstock or paper to offer customers along with their purchases.
- Make prices sensible and easy to understand. Separate plants according to their price points. You know you need to get more money for the slow-growing, hard-to-propagate herbs like rosemary, lavender, or lemon verbena than you do for easy annuals like basil. Since customers don't necessarily understand the distinction, use different pots or at least different locations for the higher-priced herbs. And if you offer the same herb in more than one size, make sure the higher-priced plants are noticeably larger than the smaller ones.
- Don't try to sell herbs that have become seriously rootbound in small pots. Instead, try moving them up into gallon pots or making mixed-herb containers in larger, decorative pots. Herb sales can continue across seasons — if you keep the plants looking healthy.
- Provide recipes for culinary herbs, or note key attributes on the price signs. A flat of Genovese Basil, for example, could have a sign that says Makes the best pesto! and the oregano sign could say True Greek Oregano — Known for its aromatic & flavorful leaves. Let customers know why your herbs are special.
- Finally, inform customers what, where, and when you can provide them with your herb products. Time spent reaching out to communicate your offerings and knowledge via a blog, website, email, or social media can pay off by building brand recognition and community.
Byczynski and her family have been growing vegetables and cut flowers since 1988, selling through CSAs, at farmers' markets, to chefs, grocery stores, and florists. They currently grow cut flowers and hoophouse tomatoes on about 2 acres of their 20-acre farm near Lawrence, Kansas.
She is also the author/editor of two of our favorite books about market farming, The Flower Farmer and The Hoophouse Handbook.