Opening a roadside garden stand or becoming a roadside florist means choosing to be part of people's lives and memories in ways they will likely never forget. There is nothing like driving through the country and seeing signs announcing someone selling vegetables roadside and then buying a juicy tomato that is better than anything you have ever tasted in your life. Likewise, a child at the beach could buy a floral headband from a florist using her own money and forever remember feeling like a princess with her toes in the sand. Whether you use your own homegrown produce and flowers or partner with others, careful planning and research will help get your new venture off to a solid start.
States have differing rules about what kinds of business licenses and permits are required for roadside stands that sell produce or flowers. You may need to have a general business license, or you might be required to get a produce-specific business license prior to opening your roadside stand. A roadside florist might need to meet certain requirements in terms of how and where flowers are grown. Contact your state to find out the specific requirements for your area, especially since some areas require permits as well. Once you have secured the appropriate licenses and permits, consider purchasing liability insurance to protect you and your business in case you accidentally sell someone something that makes him sick or in case of an accident at your store.
Location is crucial for the success of your roadside stand. On a busy highway with high speed limits and multiple lanes, people may not stop for fear of being late or causing an accident. On a remote road, nobody will know that you are there. Look for locations that get a good amount of traffic but where it is safe to stop and pull over to shop. It is a positive sign when nearby noncompeting businesses are doing well. Consider moderately busy rural roads with large shoulders or locations in town that are near convenient parking areas. In many rural areas, produce stands partner with gas stations to sell at a stand on their property. When drivers stop to gas up, they also take time to shop. Such alliances can be mutually beneficial and also offer the added benefit of easy access to facilities for you and anyone working with you.
In addition to considering your own availability, it is wise to do some research in order to arrive at the best business hours for your roadside produce stand or flower stand. Search Google for businesses near your desired location. In the search results, Google will show you a graph of the busiest and least busy hours for each business. Consider setting hours that coincide with the busiest times. If you operate your roadside stand from home, consider leaving a bell or horn for customers to use in order to purchase produce or flowers from you. If you do not have other businesses near you because you are in the country, try keeping an eye on traffic to see when more people are on the road in order to get a good idea about when people are most likely to stop by.
While some country produce stands are as simple as picnic tables loaded with produce in baskets, other stands have signage, colors and decor that are well thought out. Scale your branding to your budget. When you are first starting out, you might use borrowed or secondhand tables. Consider painting them or using inexpensive plastic tablecloths in coordinating colors to give your customers a memorable shopping experience. Rural stands often have several signs alerting drivers about an upcoming farm stand a mile or more in advance. Paint your signs in recognizable colors, perhaps with your logo, and make sure drivers can easily and safely read the signs.
A roadside florist or produce stand in town likely has more considerations to take into account than a rural stand. Check on city rules about placing signs and their height, materials and colors to ensure that your stand, branding and entire setup satisfies the specifications. While rural shoppers are likely to be comfortable shopping at a more rustic stand, shoppers in town might prefer a more polished look. Consider coordinating tables and shelves, attractive packaging and perhaps a temporary or permanent booth structure to protect you and your customers from rain and other elements.
Stocking a roadside stand is a learned art. In the beginning, you may have too little on hand and sell out quickly, or you might find that you overestimated your needs and are now left with a bulk of unsold merchandise. Consider the seasons, customer demands and produce or floral availability as you learn how much to order or grow for your customers. Different types of stands also have different merchandising needs:
- Roadside Flower Stand: Some climates easily allow for year-round fresh flower sales, especially in places like California and Florida that do not get very cold in the winter. In other climates, your stand might need to switch to dried or silk flowers during the frigid winter months or even incorporate things like Christmas trees, evergreen topiaries and wreaths. Anticipate busy times like Christmas, Valentine's Day, Easter and Mother's Day and carry more stock during those times. Consider adding complimentary products like chocolates, cards and bath products to become a one-stop roadside gift shop.
- Seasonal Roadside Stand: Many roadside stands are only open during certain seasons. Selling pumpkins roadside is probably only lucrative during the fall. Christmas tree stands decorated with Christmas lights and good cheer are lucrative for about the last six weeks of the year. Produce and florist stands for beach tourists are only open during the peak tourist season. For these businesses, anticipate what your seasonal customers want most and then make plans to have other streams of income for the rest of the year.
- Roadside Produce Stand: Whether you grow your own produce or partner with local growers, provide customers with the local shopping experience they desire. Know how the crops are grown and provide some interesting options they cannot easily get at the grocery store, like garlic scapes for garlic scape pesto, fingerling potatoes and heirloom tomatoes. Have recipes ready and stock things that are fresh and in season. During the off season, be ready with canned jams, soups, veggies and other items to help your customers get through the winter.
Whether you have a roadside produce stand in the country or a quaint flower stand in town, one of the most vital keys to your success is building community relationships. Take time to talk with customers as they stop by, and show them that you really care about them. Create a customer loyalty program to keep them coming back. Join the area chamber of commerce, put an advertisement in the local paper and take advantage of social media by creating business pages. Have a presence at local festivals, engage in volunteering or even sponsor a Little League team near you. Take time to care about your community, and they will care for you.