Benny & Courtney Pino of Loblolly Farm talk about the challenges they are facing growing their flower farm with the resources that they have available – labor, markets, and capital. How can they work through these challenges? And when it comes to growth how big is big enough?
Hitting the Growth Wall
Every business has the risk of, especially if you are a solopreneur, to reach the point where growth is maxed out.
“What do you do when your business can’t grow anymore with the resources you have?”
What are Loblolly’s limitations?
- Burnout – The amount of work is surpassing what Benny and Courtney can maintain on their own while maintaining a quality of life. Weekly work hours keep creeping up and eventually, they find themselves unable to maintain 100+ hour work weeks.
- Harvesting – The most significant portion of the workload on their flower farm, followed by designing arrangements. Harvesting can take 20+ man-hours on the farm per week, and often needs to be done during the early hours of the day when it is cool enough to keep the flowers from wilting. This means getting out in the field as early as 6 am.
- Heat – In S.MD during late June through mid-August, almost two months, it was over 90F during most days. This heat stress is affecting the quality and speed of work possible, not to mention hours in the day tolerable in the sun.
- Earnings per Customer – Per purchase at a farmer’s market. Loblolly only sells a single bouquet option at the market. Sales to local florists entail 10-20 flower options per week.
Climbing the Wall
Loblolly is looking to hire two employees for next season, diversify their product offerings, and diversify sales outlets by attending an additional farmers market.
What are Loblolly’s solutions?
- Attend another Market– To limit the most time-consuming aspect of farming; harvesting, they will only consider markets on Sundays, the same date as their other markets. That way they don’t have to harvest or process bouquets an additional day.
- Hire 2 Full-Time Employees– While they don’t need farming experience, they need to be personable and outgoing people to manage market stands by themselves. Self-starters, so they can be on their own sometimes. The farm will be paying one employee’s salary and the weddings will be paying the other.
- Diversify Production– Foot traffic is not being increased in a lot of these markets so how do you increase sales?
“We have to turn up the sales per customer.”
New product offerings
- Diversify Bouquet sizes – They only offer one standard medium-sized bouquet traditionally for $10. Now they will also sell a large bouquet for $15.
- Herbal Bouquets – An arrangement of 8-12 common household culinary herbs, some of which have flowers, sold for $10.
- Solo flower Bouquets – Lavender, Hydrangea, Sunflower, Dahlia, Celosia. $10
- House & Bedding Plants – Flower starts for landscaping. Shade-loving plants for indoors. $TBD
- Lettuce mix with flowers – Four varieties of Salanova lettuce blended with flowers on top. Nasturtium, Snapdragon, Pansy. $3 or 2 for $5.
- Honey – With floral focused marketing and labeling. The only product that will require investment in materials and education. The last one to be trialed. $TBD
Will these product offerings be adding complexity to your operation?
The majority will not, and that’s important! We don’t want to go right back to overwhelming ourselves and our new employees. We already know how to produce bouquets and have a process for going from seed to finished product. We have also grown, cleaned and packaged greens for the market before.
“All of these new products will be introduced on a trial basis. If they aren’t working they get cut right away.”
With all these new product offerings are you concerned about going off-brand?
Everything will have flowers tied in one way or another, with a focus on branding and labels to keep the product cohesive. They will use the same brand designer they have for all other product labelings, Rhiannon Hare, throughout product development.
How will you transition from a family and a predominantly lifestyle business to a more corporate infrastructure?
Let the employees know they are entering into our marriage. “Couples stuff” may come up! We are frank with employees about this. Look for employees that can become our friends and part of the farm family by being friends with them outside of work. Invite them to social occasions.
Do you want a lifestyle or an achievement-driven business?
We are looking forward to maturing along with the business and keep business hours with some flexibility. Earn more money to live comfortably while keeping burnout to a minimum, don’t want to take on debt, bring in enough income to keep employees satisfied to focus on retention.
“We have always been a lifestyle farm. First, we detail our personal budget for the year and that dictates earnings, never the other way around.”
How scary does this feel?
We have our personal finances in order but have fear of earning enough to cover employee salaries. We do need to earn more to have savings and money for kids and to have time to give back.
Are you thinking about having kids?
Diego: Let me speak from my experience. While they are not as expensive as some will have you believe, they are a time suck! You need to consider that at least two years in advance. Having Courtney indoors with office work would help with children.
How is the off quarter of Winter used to monetize the farm? Or is used for rest and recovery?
We took smaller trips during the warmer part of the season this year. We are pushing towards the shoulder seasons, especially towards holidays with season extension. Considering decorative gourds and pumpkins for fall, paperwhites, amaryllis, and conifers as wreaths for holiday decor. We want to protect a month to take a larger trip. Benny will continue working an off-farm job during the winter to finish paying off debt over the next 3-5 years.