When I was in my teens I was mad about showing cattle. We had pedigree Holsteins and the herd had a registered prefix called after the farm itself, Elmgrove.
When I started dabbling in buying a few fancy calves and embryos of my own I dreamed of setting up my own world renowned prefix.
I wanted to move away from the predictable prefix connected to a local townland, and instead opt for a name that would encapsulate just how modern my herd would be.
Next Holsteins was registered but it didn’t have a great career, with my interest in big North American cows waning when I realised that there was probably a better living to be made out of a Kiwi Jersey crossbred.
Fast forward 20 years to the middle of Covid when we were all enduring successive lock-downs and everyone was going bananas buying online.
The intervening years had allowed me to develop a real appreciation of the heritage and rootedness of our family farm’s name.
So when I was setting up a webshop to nab a slice of the online buying frenzy, I never considered calling the new website anything but elmgrovefarm.ie.
Therefore, it was a major shock when a marketing expert sat me down recently to gently explain why I needed to consider completely rebranding my flower business.
The florists that I employ had already been pointing out that our livery wasn’t particularly inspiring. ‘Agricultural’ and ‘something for the nuns’ was the consensus among the increasingly female staff that make up the team.
I wasn’t that worried about the agricultural, but I accepted that we couldn’t afford to rely on the clergy to stay in business.
With a new farm shop also requiring a slew of new signage, I knew the time was right to look at how we were planning to portray ourselves for the next 20 years.
I got on the phone to Bord Bia’s marketing team. It’s one of the great advantages of dragging ourselves through their Quality Assurance Audit. While the audit can be a pain in the ass, it allows me access their in-house expertise at heavily discounted rates.
Conversations about branding are right up my street, but I definitely wasn’t prepared for the bombshell that was dropped during the first zoom meeting – that I should consider dropping Elmgrove Farm as a brand.
I had convinced myself that Elmgrove Farm embodied everything that these marketeers always aspire to: provenance, tradition, multi-generational, Irish, local, sustainable, etc, etc. But here’s the problem.
Elmgrove Farm for people who’ve never heard of it means nothing. It sounds the exact same as the makey-uppy farm brands that you see in almost every supermarket.
The IFA rightly tried to call out this carry on last year, but of course the big retailers weren’t ‘breaking any laws’ so the practice continues.
I remember how pleased I was to see the IFA tackle this blatant abuse of language, but it never dawned on me how much it might be diluting my own business’s brand.
Or the fact that the inclusion of the word farm in a brand has become completely meaningless for the general public.
The more I thought about it, the more I realised the Bord Bia man was -depressingly- spot on.
The conversation about what alternatives we should consider went around the house so many times that my head was spinning.
All the obvious ones were already spoken for: Bloom & Wild, Bloom Magic, Flowers.ie.
Even the Gaeilge versions of flowers and the emotion they create are already hoovered up by, you guessed it, the supermarkets!
So people with more imagination and taste than me have gone away to cook up a couple of possibilities.
There will probably be a whimsical one like Dandelions.ie, or a forceful one like FreshFlorist.ie. And then after a long debate, more than likely it’ll come back around to where it all started, and end up with something like Flowers by Elmgrove.
But at least we’ll have thought about all the alternatives. And still represent an actual farm. And hopefully last longer than Next Holsteins.