(Jacksonville, FL)- Greenscape of Jacksonville sponsors an annual Flowering Tree Sale that raises money, increases public awareness, and results in the planting of thousands of trees.
Greenscape was established in 1975 to “enrich the community through the planting, protection and promotion of trees.” Since its inception it has helped place over 150,000 trees in Jacksonville through collaborative efforts with local government and community and neighborhood groups.
In 1988, a board member suggested operating a tree sale that would raise money for the organization and encourage residents to plant trees by offering high-quality trees at low prices. Since then the sale has become a highly anticipated annual event held on the last Saturday in February. Buyers have the opportunity to purchase trees at only slightly above the wholesale price and receive information and technical assistance from landscaping experts.
Gathering the Inventory
Greenscape of Jacksonville works with six wholesale nurseries to provide high-quality trees at low prices. All the trees are sold on consignment through the nurseries. The nurseries deliver the material to the site of the sale and they stay with their merchandise to provide technical assistance and information to buyers. Greenscape adds only a few dollars to the price charged by the nurseries in order to cover costs and realize a small profit. The nurseries take back the inventory that is not sold.
Over the years, Greenscape has cultivated relationships with these nurseries and selects only those that bring their best inventory to the sale. The sale provides an excellent advertising opportunity for those nurseries.
Over the summer prior to the annual sale, Greenscape makes a list of trees they want to offer, based on, among other factors, demand from the previous year. It then contacts the participating nurseries to see what they can provide. Greenscape tries to offer a variety of sizes and species. A few bushes are also offered at the sale, including azaleas and camellias and some unique shrubs. There is also a special section of shrubs for butterfly gardens.
In addition, in conjunction with the City of Jacksonville, Greenscape provides free mulch to buyers. Local businesses occasionally offer free samples of products they are introducing to the market, such as fertilizer.
Organizing and Pricing the Inventory
The inventory is priced according to size and species. Trees and shrubs are marked with color-coded tags that indicate the price. Each nursery has a staff member who stays with its inventory to answer questions from customers. Prices range from about $8 to $50. Customers would pay considerably more at a commercial nursery for similar plants.
There is a tent with experts, including representatives from the state Home Extension Office, Master Gardeners Program and both the city and the local utility Urban Forester Programs, as well as landscape architects, to answer questions and offer ideas.
Once customers select their purchases, they go to a checker who tallies up the tags and prepares a sales ticket for the cashier. The customers take this ticket to the cashier for payment. Only checks and cash are accepted for payment.
Picking the Location
The location of the sale must be easily accessible with good parking in an area that is appealing to customers. Unfortunately, the location of the event has changed frequently because appropriate spaces often get developed or changed in some way and are no longer available for the sale. Greenscape staff starts looking many months in advance to secure a good spot.
Marketing the Event, and Publicity
A key to the huge success of the sale is publicity. Greenscape has developed good relationships with the local media and now has both a newspaper and a television station as sponsors. The newspaper runs free display ads prior to the event and the television station produces public service announcements (PSAs) that are shown frequently. In addition, garden section reporters for the local paper usually write a feature article on the event, and television stations air live broadcasts from the sale.
Partnerships and volunteers
About 100 volunteers work at the sale, including nursery owners, local landscaping experts, board members, and the employees of corporate sponsors. Volunteers are needed for set-up prior to the sale as well as to assist customers during the event. All volunteers receive a t-shirt advertising the event. Corporate sponsor employees who volunteer are invited to a pre-sale on Friday evening.
Up-front costs for the event include the wholesale cost of all plant materials sold, off-duty police for traffic control and security, rentals on tables, tents, toilets and the printing of signs and tickets. Last year these expenses totaled approximately $30,000.
Greenscape does not need to pay for equipment for assisting customers with loading the plants since it owns wheelbarrows and borrows flats from a local warehouse.
Between 8,000 and 10,000 trees were sold at the 2005 Annual Flowering Tree Sale, raising over $50,000. After expenses, this netted about $20,000 for the organization.
1. Make the selling system as simple as possible. Greenscape has found that using the color-coded system for pricing has greatly streamlined the process. In addition, there are not a lot of different price levels-thousands of trees are sold for the same price. Using the two-part checkout system, with a checker tallying the price and cashier accepting payment, has worked best for them.
2. Cultivate your sponsorships. Remember your thank-you notes and work with your sponsors throughout the year to build toward the event.
3. Work with nurseries that are trustworthy and will sell their top merchandise at your sale.
4. Work with the media. It’s important to sell your event.
Anna Dooley, Executive Director
Greenscape of Jacksonville
4401 Emerson Street, Suite 3
Jacksonville, Florida 33207
Phone: (904) 398-5757
Fax: (904) 396-6767
(c) 2005 Alliance for Community Trees