one big step

Last year I began to seriously consider the fact that my business had a bit of an identity crisis.  When I began Stems my intention was for it to be a flower farm selling to florists and at farmer’s markets, maybe an occasional wedding. Well that occasional wedding turned into a nearly every weekend occurrence and it soon became evident that I was running two separate businesses. It eventually seemed like a good idea to officially make it two separate businesses. And after much deliberation Wood Violet was born. Being that the wood violet is Wisconsin’s state flower it seemed an appropriate name for a business that is focused on using locally grown blooms.

Why in the world would I walk away from a name I have spent years branding? Well there is the accounting aspect. I am hoping to actually be accountable to myself for the flowers that I am growing and using. Realistically I know that it is not going to happen this year. I am hoping that if I can get the systems in place and scrape by this year, that moving forward I should have two sister companies which are both fending for themselves. Now this really can be done by setting up Quickbooks properly and without creating a different entity.

Which leads to the main reason, the big motivator behind taking this plunge was marketing. I was having a hard time targeting my audience. I realized I had a few different audiences with varying degrees of overlap. I have done fine with marketing the farm. But I have decided that I need to make more money and I feel like a flower shop is more feasible than a farm for my life right now. In these parts no one calls a farmer for flowers in the winter time, or even in the late fall. People also don’t generally call a farmer when they want fancier wedding flowers. So there you have it I decided to really push the limits of my sanity and begin another business.

There is a third reason for this new business and it may not be a good reason by itself but given my supporting arguments I will mention it. I really am excited for a new beginning. Stems has sort of consumed my life for the past few years in good ways and in bad ways. I feel like my own personal momentum behind this new venture is greater than if I just opened up a shop under the same name.

OK fine, there is another reason. Since this is apparently a denial free post we’re going to jump right in there and put it all on the table. Gramps is not getting any younger and when he goes I do not know what will happen to the farm. I do not know if I will be able to buy part of it. I do not know if I will want to buy part of it. I do not know if I will want to pick up and move it all somewhere else. This uncertainty used to cause me a great deal of anxiety but I have made my peace with the situation. That being said there may come a day when the flower growing part of my business ceases to exist (and that day is likely to coincide with the loss of my last grandparent). I think separating the two aspects will make that day a little easier…. Easier as far as the business is concerned. I’m not sure anything will make it easier on a personal level.

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a look back: year seven

2014 was year number seven for me as a business owner and cut flower grower. It was not like I had hoped it would be. None of these years were as I had hoped that they would be. I have heard that year seven really is where things start to get easier. I have also heard (usually in a more hushed tone) that year seven is where a lot of businesses loose momentum. That was me last year, lost momentum and I did not seeing it coming. Though I probably should have realized that since I had already been stretched to my limit the year before, there would not be room for more stretching.

I should have hired help at the beginning of the season but I did not. By the time I realized that I would have to turn away business because I physically could not handle anymore, it was too late. There was no time for finding or training an employee and by the end of July I was exhausted. As in what am I doing with my life, I could work at Starbucks and be a lot happier. Well we all know that’s not really the truth but I was seriously fed up with my situation. For the first time since I started my business, it did not grow from the previous year. It stayed the same. It would have made me panic had I not been so exhausted, I sort of felt defeated. I love to grow but I don’t love the heat and humidity of July, I don’t love sunburns or bug bits. I don’t love my 45 minute drive to and from the farm. I especially don’t love not earning a living wage. I mean a girl has got to eat!

You know what does pay a decent wage for me? The design work. Which I like. I really like it a lot. I don’t much care for all of the office work that comes with it but you have to pick your battles. So that was it. I had decided to quit growing flowers and just be a designer. That’s right, it was August and I knew I could not continue to live my life this way. I was done.

So that was that, the decision had been made…. But if I was going to be a designer a whole lot of peonies sure would come in handy. And if I’m going out there to tend to my peonies I may as well plant some iris. And I do love ferns. And I did have a bunch of hydrangeas out there already. And I could plant a prairie…. This situation really snowballed on me. In September, less than a month after I had decided to stop growing, I had spent $5000 dollar on plants and shade structures. It was at this point that I realized maybe I needed a 12 step program.

I put in a lot of perennials and I put them in landscape fabric. I ordered some more for this year (plants and landscape fabric.) By the end of this spring I should have about half of my field in landscape fabric with perennials and woodies. This was the plan that I had started the year before and it was still a good plan, I just need some help in executing it. Also I need to make some money in the off season.

So clearly the solution to my problems was not going to be quit growing flowers. I decided that the solution to my problem was going to be to start another business… hmmm… and I better hire a couple of helpers. Yes that was the choice, to separate the farm and the weddings into two different brands. My hope is that this will have a huge impact on my marketing and my identity as a designer. Stay tuned… big things are coming this way!