ROCK ISLAND, Ill. — Cathy Lafrenz started a pick-your-own flower business on her small farm in 2002.
Miss Effie’s Country Flowers is located on Lafrenz’s two-acre farm near Donahue, Iowa.
“Now u-pick flower farms are the hottest trend, but I was ahead of my time,” said Lafrenz during a presentation at the Women in Agriculture conference presented by Illinois Farm Bureau.
“I started with $1,000 that I took out of my savings account and a 20-by-20 plot,” she said. “The big thing I did when I started was to write a business plan.”
Lafrenz’s business plan focused on what she would sell, whom she was going to sell it to, where she was going to sell her products, how much it was going to cost and how much money she aimed to make.
“You really want to pay attention to who your customers are and that changes over 20 years,” she said.
“I thought my customers would be women 45 to 60 that are empty-nesters who like to entertain and have flowers in their homes and I thought churches would be a customer for bouquets on their alters.”
A few years later, Lafrenz discovered her customer is a lady in her 30s with three kids under the age of 5 and she wants to take her kids to a farm to see agriculture.
“I had a chance to share that and I knew I could do it better with flowers than green beans,” Lafrenz said.
“Figuring out if you will make a profit is really hard because we have a lot of things against us like market conditions, environmental conditions and weather conditions,” she said.
“In 2008, it rained and rained and my flowers rotted in the field,” Lafrenz recalled.
“And in 2008 and 2009, we were in a recession and I panicked because flowers are a luxury item,” she said. “Nobody needs flowers but they need food.”
However, the farmer discovered her customers needed to visit her farm.
“They couldn’t go on vacation, but they needed a break from life and my $20 bucket of flowers was a way for them to spend some time away from the world,” she said.
Technology changes have impacted the flower business.
“When I started, I sent out postcards and now I can do a social media post that says I’ve got lilacs or five bouquets available,” she said. “The technology changes have made a big difference and it doesn’t cost me 55 cents per postcard.”
Lafrenz also writes and emails newsletters at three set times — 8 a.m. on Monday, noon on Wednesday and 6 p.m. on Friday.
Changing market trends alter the products Lafrenz grows on her farm.
“I grew dahlias one year and they were gorgeous, but I didn’t sell one,” Lafrenz said. “Now dahlias are the big thing.”
“My neighbor went from growing strawberries to sunflowers because people use to buy boxes and boxes of strawberries, but those customers aren’t there anymore,” she said.
“Strawberries take a lot of time and labor so they decided to do sunflowers which are much easier and they don’t have to worry as much about the weather conditions.”
For years, Lafrenz had a shop on her farm where she sold items such as eggs, homemade jam, handmade aprons and knitted items.
“I made everything and it got to the point I couldn’t do it all, so I closed the shop and turned it into a she shed,” she said.
During a Practical Farmers conference a couple of years ago, Lafrenz learned several flower farmers had glamping facilities.
“I turned my she shed into a glamping facility,” she said. “It brings women out to the farm and connects them to early morning sunrises and my rooster that doesn’t shut up.”
For women who are thinking about starting a business, Lafrenz encourages them to watch Pinterest, go to conferences and talk to other people who have businesses.
“People in agriculture don’t always connect because we’re so afraid of competition,” she said. “But I see an increase in sales when the sunflower farm is open because what I have to offer is different than what she has to offer.”
Three years ago, Lafrenz’s husband died.
“I lost my head groundskeeper, the guy who made everything work and I didn’t have a lot of energy,” she said. “Fortunately, I had a couple of friends who said they would help me through it.”
In addition, there was a pandemic and one of Lafrenz’s friends sold flowers to florists.
“She didn’t have any customers and I had customers but no flowers, so we worked together and we both made money that year,” she said. “We still work together and we each have our own businesses, but we have a collaboration that works well.”
To learn more about Miss Effie’s Country Flowers, visit www.misseffies.com.