Over the years if strangers asked me what I DO? I’d reply; ‘I grow flowers.’ I do. I grow peonies. Originally, I grew sunflowers. By default I became a florist. My bunches were bountiful; I loved being able to stuff them full with the colourful flora I’d propagated and picked, often in my nightie, that morning.
Peonies are cool climate perennials. Their pink tips peek out of frozen soil in winter and their first flush of sappy growth shows in spring. By late November, elegant stems with golf ball sized buds, are waiting to be picked. Peonies bloom in a hurry. Over two or three weeks, depending on the weather, my 200 plants times their 10 blooms, await. Picking is the easy bit.
Selling is not new to me; I’ve sold Gold Coast timeshares. I’ve sold supplementary Amex cards. Why, at the height of my business career in the early 90’s I WAS, a Senior Sales & Marketing Executive. I passed Allan Pease Selling 101. I read the ‘Sales Success Motivation’ books. But selling fresh produce is different.
Last year, when my regular outlet said, ‘no thanks’, I was stumped. As sales continued to hiccup and the children refused to do a roadside stall, I looked at my buckets of rapidly opening blooms and thought, bugger it, I’ll do it myself. I wasn’t proud. Much. And hey, I wasn’t really trying to make some tax-free cash on the side of the road. I was making-up bunches for the supermarket. My excuse anyway, if the three cop cars doing random checks 50 metres ahead of me, when I pulled off the highway the next morning asked.
I put out my PEONIES sign and my buckets of pink, cerise and white blooms. Then with by back to the oncoming cars I looked busy. Cars slowed beside me as soon as they saw the flashing police lights ahead. But no one stopped. Laden trucks shook the asphalt under foot. My skirt flapped flag-like. A gust of wind knocked over my bucket of bunches wrapped in brown paper and raffia. The paper went soggy before I could rescue them from the gutter.
I’d been there an hour and a half. Sale-less. I tried facing the traffic and smiling. Motorists passed unblinking. I’d brought my accounts to do and my laptop. I thought I’d sit and write this story - as it unfolded. I’d lost the urge. When sun hit my hatch back, it was time to go.
Then, like Jesus making the blind man see, a miracle happened.
A car pulled alongside me. ‘How much are they?’ asked an elderly woman in startling pink lipstick.
‘$5.00 for six,’ I said. She backed up.
‘I need some for a bereavement,’ she spied the brown paper. ‘Can you wrap them?’
‘I’m a gardener. Did you pick them this morning?’
‘Can I select my own?’
‘Go for it.’
‘I went to the supermarket first thing. They get their flowers on a Tuesday, but they hadn’t come in. Are you allowed to sell here? They cleaned up all the road side sellers last year, moved them on. I’ll take two…’
She handed over ten bucks. I shut the boot. Then another car stopped.
‘Are you leaving?” asked a pretty young blond woman.
‘I’d like ten dollars worth. I like those pink ones,’ she said, reaching into the boot. ‘Are you going to be here next week?’
‘I don’t think so.’
‘Oh, but you don’t HAVE to sell them I suppose,’ she said.
I don’t? ‘I picked them, so I’d like to sell them,’ I said calmly.
‘Hey you’ve given me way more than ten dollars,’ she yelled from her car.
‘I know,’ I said and waved her off. ‘Enjoy.’
I took a bunch into the old people’s home. Another grower had got there before me. Their vases were bursting. ‘Oh you’re very kind thank you,’ said a smiling Irish matron. The lunch lady just looked flustered.
I went home via the supermarket produce manager. Pablo’s face brightened. ‘They have a smell,’ he said and inhaled deeply. ‘How much you want?’
‘Look, I want to sell them, you want to sell them.’
‘$4.00,’ he said.
‘Is that inclusive or exclusive of GST?’
‘Exclusive.’ What the hell, it was bound to be a bulk purchase. He’d run a special. We’d both be happy. It would be a pick and win situation.
‘Deal,’ I said.
‘I take five bunches,’ he said.
Right? I tried to up it to seven, but nothing doing. A $23 sale. Whoop whoop.
That afternoon a florist ordered 20 stems. The following day, I summoned my inner-saleswoman and another florist took 20 bunches. I was on a roll.
Next thing, I received an email from Bonus Bonds. OMG, it could only mean one thing. I was winner. Not this time. They’d just updated their website. I’m a petty gambler too. But that’s another story…