This April about 100 florists gathered in St. Catharines, Ontario for the annual Canadian Florist Business Forum, April 21, held in conjunction with the Niagara International Association of Florists’ Design Show the following day.
During this year’s 10-day Canada Blooms festival, March 9-18, professionals from all facets of the industry celebrated the “Let’s Go to The Movies” theme through energized competitions and floral fashion shows. For her fifth year coordinating and designing for the event in Toronto’s Enercare Centre, host Jennifer Harvey wanted floral professionals to feel like rock stars. By initiating new installments such as the Florist of the Year competition, the Floral Day, and the Canadian Academy of Floral Art fashion show, Harvey involved and highlighted workers from across the industry.
Three experienced floral designers are working to break the stigma of mixing tropical and temperate flowers within the same arrangement. Hitomi Gilliam, AIFD, EMC, Neville MacKay, CAFA, PFCI, and Heather DeKok, AAF, AIFD, PFCI, brought their floral design expertise to DeKok’s studio in Edmonton through the two-day NeoTropica Hawaii Open House & Design Program, March 24-25.
These days, I’ve found fewer friends wish to catch up with a face-to-face visit or a phone call, preferring to communicate via text or comments on Facebook or Instagram. I find this terribly sad, but at the same time, thanks to social media, I have stayed in the loop with a large number of people I surely would have forgotten about otherwise.
The Internet has made my weakness for shopping a much bigger challenge to handle, but it’s also made it infinitely easier to conduct research and find sources. (I have no idea how journalists who came before me did it!)
Three decades ago, Don Waltho, the Canadian Institute of Floral Design’s founder and managing director, secured the school’s first location at 4812 Yonge Street (at the Sheppard Subway) in Toronto. “We had the original Kane Funeral Home Mansion,” Waltho said. “We lasted five years at this prominent address.” He still jokes about this with the students, saying, “an elevator was provided—but you had to lay down to use it!” More than 4,000 graduates later, CIFD continues to grow at its current address, 2794 Lakeshore Blvd. West, in Toronto. “We have so many international students now, and the close proximately to Toronto’s Pearson Airport is perfect,” said Melissa Cristina, CIFD’s program coordinator. CIFD also provides a home-stay program so students have a nearby place to live during the three-week course. Floristry has been a lifelong affair for Waltho. His father, William, owned Avenue Flower Shop in Toronto in the 1960s. “I was born in the cooler!” he said. He worked as a retail florist for five years and as a wholesaler for another two years. “I remember working with the best designers of the time—Bruce Philpott, Jane Swain, Bill Morrow, and Peter Cantly—helping each other on different events and occasions,” he said. “The floral brotherhood was amazing!” Waltho launched CIFD after instructing at a Toronto floral school that only offered a 40-hour professional program. CIFD’s 105-hour professional program offers an intense, hands-on curriculum that’s completed in three weeks. “It’s the only school of its type,” Cristina said. CFID is Canada’s only stand-alone, professional floral design school that is registered by the Ministry of Education, Colleges and Universities. This not only allows tuitions to be fully tax-deductible, but it also allows for government funding and grants. Students under the age of 30 can qualify for free tuition; additionally, this program will subsidize any employer who hires a newly trained graduate. Cristina is CIFD’s newest instructor. A 2010 CIFD graduate, she previously worked for notable flower shops and prestigious design studios in Toronto. Her designs have appeared in Martha Stewart Weddings magazine. Other instructors include CIFD alumnae Sarah Wu and Tamae Miazaki, and Rada Ristich, the former owner of Peter Paul’s Flower Shop in Toronto. Ristich’s display recently won “Best in Show” at Canada Blooms. She teaches intermediate and European designs and offers insight into starting and operating a retail flower shop. “We are so proud of the team we have developed,” Waltho said. “Students, graduates, and industry experts will confirm they are the best. I get emotional when I reflect on our past 30 years. We would not have survived if we hadn’t been surrounded by the best designers and great individuals.” For more information about CIFD, call 416-733-9968 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Alexandra Farms is holding a garden rose design contest, which runs from March 1 to June 30. “This will allow florists to submit pictures from the work they do early this summer,” said Alexandra Farms President Joey Azout. The contest has two categories: garden roses in everyday work and garden roses in a wedding bouquet. There will be three winners for each category. The prizes are as follows: An all-expense paid trip to Alexandra Farms in Colombia—or the monetary equivalent 1000 free roses (including freight) 500 free roses (including freight) Three judges will vote on the designs. One will be from Florists’ Review magazine, one will be from Alexandra Farms, and one will be a floral designer. The winning designs will be featured in industry magazines and on Alexandra Farms’ social media accounts. Alexandra Farms is the world’s largest grower of cut garden roses, offering designers 50 varieties, including 12 bred by David Austin in England.
This issue, we’re going to tackle three questions that have come my way recently and with some regularity. Q: I think having multiple websites from different companies will let me test the effectiveness of each one. Is this a good idea? A: To start, I have to be clear that I’m a big fan of testing options and ideas that allow customers to give us real feedback and good data leading to an informed decision. However, a local business running multiple websites in no way qualifies as a proper experiment leading to good data. There are some fundamental flaws with this model that impact the business, your staff, your customers, and your ranking on Google. Your website is another storefront, a major point of contact and experience for your customers. As retailers, we understand that if I opened stores on Chevrier Blvd., Taylor Blvd., and Fernbank Ave. in Winnipeg it would hardly be a fair test to determine which store layout or signage generated the most business. These are different areas, with different demographics, and different traffic patterns. We all acknowledge that would be a foolish test, and yet too many florists assume the answer to boosting online sales is to add another website and hope that the pixies of the “interwebz” bless them with new business. In truth, having multiple websites hurts you by confusing customers, complicating life for your staff (“Which website are you looking at?”), duplicating overhead costs, and suppressing your rankings in Google. Remember, search ranking is all about confidence —the more confident Google is that you’re the solution to the query, the higher you will rank. Google expects a local business to have one website. And let’s be honest, you’re probably only going to promote one anyway, right? Having three different URLs on your business card or delivery van just confirms your indecisive nature to the world. We’re all limited in time, energy, creativity, and money. Instead of dividing your resources across several poorly supported websites, choose one great site that shows off your brand and thrills your customers. Put all your time, money, links, and love into one site that will love you back. Q: I’m seeing more and more websites with these Live Chat buttons. Is this really a thing? How does anyone make it work and still run a business? A: It’s true—more and more businesses are realizing the benefits of having a Live Chat service on their website. Plenty of studies have shown that it increases sales as much as 20%, reduces costs, and boosts both customer satisfaction and confidence. Still, the biggest roadblock for many shops is figuring out how to staff the chat window. Most of us don’t have enough sales volume to dedicate one or more people to answering chats all day long, so it has to be a coordinated effort. Even if one person is tasked with the responsibility, chat can still work if the team member is diligent in marking themselves as “Away” for any extended absence from the computer. We know that customers are becoming more and more resistant to phone interactions. Email is too slow for a quick question because there’s no promise of an immediate reply. Texting is extremely popular, but that requires either a business number that can send and receive SMS messages, or the use of a personal phone. Live Chat is a very low commitment for the customer, with the implied promise of a quick solution. Why not try out a free service like Tawk.to? You might just be surprised by how many more web orders you get—and how many “I’m on your website, but I have a question …” calls you avoid! Q: Help! I’ve been hit by some bad reviews, and my rating on Google/Yelp/Facebook has dropped. I know it’s costing me sales. What can I do? A: We hear this one a lot. On Facebook, at conferences, on sales calls, through email. Business owners have a love/hate relationship with reviews; we know they are important, and we love the validation that comes with praise from a happy client, but we fear the negative review (especially the fake ones!). The best defence against bad reviews is a simple two-step process of replying promptly —and graciously—to the negative comments, and building up a portfolio of as many positive reviews as possible. There’s no escaping the significance of business and product reviews; studies show they influence more than 80% of consumer shopping transactions. The best approach combines regular requests for feedback with a system for monitoring the most significant review sites. Strider has an automated system for this, but if you prefer a manual approach, it’s quite feasible—with some work. It’s important that your stream of reviews has a natural pace to it. If a business with four reviews on Google suddenly receives a dozen or more over the span of a couple of days that will certainly appear suspicious. Be consistent in asking your customers for feedback, and when the feedback is good, you can prompt them to post on their favourite review site. As an added bonus, you may just get to rescue your relationship with some unhappy customers who were either going to quietly take their business elsewhere, or post their displeasure online.
I passed my CAFA evaluation and was inducted into the organization in 2012; five years later, I became a board member. Last year, I built up the confidence to travel to Seattle and test for my AIFD designation. I came up short, achieving the next tier (Certified Floral Designer designation) instead. Some might say I failed, but I was ecstatic having achieved that honour on my first try. I learned so much in the testing experience and subsequent symposium. I can’t wait to go back and conquer this AIFD challenge. I have the European Master Certification in the back of my mind, as well! Say yes to any learning opportunity—especially if it will challenge you—and offer to get involved. Say yes to floral friends, industry committees and boards, design competitions, teaching and mentoring experiences, a magazine column or blog, accreditation, workshops, and more. And build up your fellow florists; we’re all stronger together. I challenge you to always be learning from each other! Interested in joining CAFA? Purchase your 2018 membership package before March 9th. See you at the Canadian Florist Business Forum, April 21, and the Niagara International Association of Florists Design Show, April 22! It takes many years for most of us to get to a point where we feel like confident, superstar florists who are eager to take on any project. One way to gain that confidence is to jump right in. Sign up for every floral design competition you can find; there are so many out there! Some of my first awards were designs I made in my apartment, photographed myself, and submitted to different floral organizations. It’s such an ego boost to be recognized by your industry peers! Get excited when a complex event concept comes your way. Use inspiration from someone’s life to create a meaningful design to help a family grieve in their time of loss or to capture a bride’s vision of her dream day. Push and challenge yourself to learn something new everyday! Confident florists love the brainstorming and the problem solving that goes with it—visualizing the styles, themes, and colours that could be. Join groups and pages all over social media, there’s so much inspiration and advice that florists all over the world are sharing. It’s important to stimulate your creative brain. My biggest fear is getting stuck in my ways! Floral design workshops and industry organizations like CAFA and AIFD can offer us even more opportunities to be creative, learn, and share. I attend the Niagara International Association of Florists’ design show every year with a few of my floral friends. And you’ll always see me in the crowd at the Canadian Florist Business Forum. (Incidentally, the two programs will be held back to back this April.) The best florists are always learning. We share our experiences, good and bad, in the hopes we can help make life easier for our floral tribe. It’s great to have people with whom you can bounce ideas. There are often other perspectives we didn’t initially consider. This can help you avoid costly mistakes or make a good idea great. Floral design requires us to constantly learn new techniques, flower varieties, and trends; absorb new care and handling science; and find solutions that save time and money. We’re all students and we’re all teachers. Having a background in the arts, horticulture, or business can give you advantages. Additionally, a formal floral education, like the one Seneca College offers, provides a very important foundation for a career in flowers, ensuring you understand proper care and handling, the elements and principles of design, botany, floral artistry, floral design development, and practical design techniques and processes. Formal programs also offer opportunities such as student memberships within industry organizations including the Canadian Academy of Floral Art and the American Institute of Floral Designers. So many networking opportunities arise just by being present.
With wedding season fast approaching and the consultations revving up, it’s difficult to not feel anxious already. After all, this isn’t your first rodeo; you know what’s coming—last minute orders that you pray show up on time (in one piece), substitutions you dread having to explain because there’s a good chance you’re going to be dealing with tears (if not a total freak out), unrealistic budgets, and the bride who wants the exact bouquet she saw on Pinterest (full of out of season flowers and Photo shopped to perfection). There’s no denying, wedding season is intense. Perhaps a better word is, “insane.” On top of that, you have the pressure to stay cool, calm, upbeat, and cheerful. The last thing you want is for the bride to see you sweat. To pull that off, you need a well-coordinated team. It’s going to be a rough ride, so before things get really hectic, I suggest taking a moment to come together and have a team meeting to discuss how you’re going to handle the season. I will say this, if you work in a particularly small shop, you need to be extra careful that you watch what you say amongst yourselves. It’s tempting to vent while you work; but trust me, it will be the one time you think you’re safe to speak freely that the high-maintenance bride you’re complaining about will walk right into the thick of the conversation. And this one bride could single handedly ruin the business, because she will be telling everyone—and I mean everyone—how rude you were and to never deal with you. Hey, if it were the other way around, you would probably do the same thing. It’s not just the bashing of clients that you need to avoid. It’s also picking apart each other. This looks bad. Period. If I were a bride and I walked into your shop only to overhear you trashing one of your own, I might not say anything in the moment, but it would be duly noted. I might be rethinking my floral plan based on that. Should I take my business elsewhere? I’d think. I’m not saying all of this to make you cringe. I know how much you have on your plate. I get it. I worked on the wholesale side of things and, truth be told, the retail florist was my bride. So how do you deal with this kind of pressure without losing your mind? I have a secret weapon that gets me through just about everything: laughter. Being a team is a lot like being a family. You’re going to get on each other’s nerves, but a good way to counter that is by making a point to find what I like to call, “the humour in the hot mess.” You can only control so much when it comes to the world of flowers. Things are going to happen but you made it through the last season and you’re going to make it through this one too, so try to lighten up a little. It doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. Laughter is proven to reduce stress. But not cruel laughter, OK? We’re aiming for nice humour here, because, remember, if you’re not friends, you’re anemones! (Get it?)) I know, that was cheesy, but you cracked a smile at least, right? If you make a point to look for it, you can find humour in just about anything. Yes, even wedding season. Moral of the story? A happy team typically equates to a happy bride and a happy bride gives your team pride (yay for rhymes!) and also the confidence to tackle the next wedding. I’m sure I don’t need to explain how good this is for business. I know you’re going to encounter stress, but remember, you got this! Go Team Go! I’ll conclude with one last flower joke for your amusement: What did the columnist say to the florist? … I hope thistle make you feel better!
When my wife, Rachael, and I first started our St. Louis floral shop, Twisted Willow, it was hard to imagine that we would one day land five-figure weddings. We started out doing rather intimate weddings with a focus on the ceremony. We learned a lot about growing from smaller budgets to those high-investment celebrations. Our average wedding is currently around $6,000 (USD), we’re doing half the weddings we used to, and we’re more profitable. Let me take a moment to stop here and clarify: you can have an incredible business model by helping brides with a tighter budget and making that your niche. I talked with a florist from British Columbia the other day who was doing just that. She had optimised her processes and streamlined most of the consultation process on her website, thus reducing her overhead, and was able to make acceptable profit while still serving the market. Besides, brides of all means deserve to have a florist who is excited about the happiest day of their lives. Take a look at your marketing materials and ask what type of client they’re attracting. Are the images on your brochures, business cards, social media pages, and website showing smaller, more budget-friendly arrangements or are they showing large,dramatic pieces? Are they amateur-looking photographs or professional, high-resolution images? One of the first things we had to change when we decided to move up market was our overall look. We changed out the images on all of our marketing materials to reflect the type of event we imagined ourselves doing regularly. If a potential client desires an elegant look, they will connect with the images we advertise and will schedule a consultation. However, if a potential client wants something simpler, they’ll see that our style isn’t quite what they’re looking for and move on. We also made some major updates to our website that not only increased our website conversions by 400% but also created an opportunity for potential clients to self-qualify. Those tweaks included not only visual images, but also our budget calculator. On the last page of our budget calculator, if the potential client isn’t quite a match, he or she receives a message saying “Our floral investments start at $3,000. We’d love to hear about your vision and see if we can bring it to life.” This allows potential clients to self qualify by deciding that their budget is more flexible than they originally thought (in which case they’ll fill out our “Check My Date” form to schedule a consultation), or they’ll bounce from our site and find a florist who’s a better fit for them. Finally, we realized we needed a major overhaul to our logo. Even though we worked with a professional branding company when we started and had a beautiful logo that fit our initial clients, we found it didn’t resonate with the higher-end clientele we desired. The new logo, pictured below, immediately helped Rachael start connecting with the clients she wanted. Every week at Curate (we recently rebranded Stemcounter), I talk with dozens of florists about how they’re running their business and one thing I’ve noticed about both luxury florists and those with large, corporate studios is that they focus on providing an expected experience from the very first interaction—whether that’s at a wedding show, online, or however else—and continuing it through the consultation, execution, and follow up. Florists can be guides for couples on the journey to their big day. For many clients, it will be their first time getting married and they don’t really know what to expect. Since every client is coming from a different walk of life, the expectations they may have can vary greatly. It’s your job to educate them on exactly what they should be expecting if they book with you. If you want them to expect higher prices coming into the consultation, educate them ahead of time (that’s why we created the aforementioned budget calculator). If you want them to expect a certain level of service from you, lay out exactly what you’ll be doing and when. We developed our florist welcome packet to help us do just that. In it, we:creatively highlight our work, which helps us build brand credibilityre-emphasize the self-qualification aspectintroduce who we areprovide a timeline for the whole processgive the details of our florist contract, so they know what to expect to pay as a retainer fee Our welcome packet also folds up nicely, so we can easily add in the proposal we build out via Curate during the initial consultation. By doing this, we’re able to gently educate our clients without making them feel overwhelmed by the process. We’ve found that, by creating a particular expected experience, clients trust us more and are more comfortable with our higher price point. As important as it is to create an expected experience, moving up market means you are going to intentionally look for opportunities to go above and beyond what’s expected. That’s not to say that you deliver floral designs twice as grand as what you promised for the same price, but there are always ways that you can make the client feel extra special. Our first “big” event was a $6,000 wedding. The bride and her mother were handling the event coordination and took a chance on us since we didn’t yet have a reputation. They asked if Rachael would do an arrangement for the bridal party three months earlier (in January) to make sure it was to their liking. We were in Louisiana the week before and expected to take a quick flight home Friday morning. It never snows in Louisiana. But that week, there was an absolute blizzard. We woke up at 4 a.m. to make what was normally an hour and a half drive back to New Orleans. Four hours later, we made it, returned our rental car, and snuck in before our delayed flight was supposed to land around 3 p.m. “Surely,” we thought, “we can still get back […]
Allow me to state the obvious: weddings are a lot of work. I’ve always known this, of course, but only recently—as I’ve started to plan my own nuptials—have I appreciated the hundreds of little details that go into the big day. Of course, I have it pretty easy, aside from footing the bill. My only responsibilities include deciding what I like and communicating these desires. You, the vendor, have the real arduous task of actually bringing a bride’s vision to life. I can only imagine the hours of work, both mental (creativity to design something stylish and personal) and physical (wiring corsages and boutonnieres; hauling buckets, tables, vases, and boxes and boxes of flowers; climbing on ladders to install hanging elements; hanging around until the wee hours of the morning to break it down and pack it all up). I’m sure, in the moment, when you’re slaving through the above list, you’re keenly aware of how much value you bring to the wedding—and perhaps thinking, I’m not getting nearly enough money for this. Over the past eight years, I’ve spoken with countless florists who acknowledge they let a number of factors, from fear to guilt, influence their pricing. They undercut themselves because they’re afraid of losing business to a cheaper florist across town or they find a bride-to-be so sweet that they’re determined to give her the moon, even though her budget barely covers a star. As a result, they never realize their profit potential and they grow resentful for being overworked and underpaid. Pricing aficionado Mark Anderson, founder and senior developer of FloristWare, understands these human tendencies and wants to empower florists so they’re better prepared to resist them. In his feature, “Advice for Event Pricing,” he offers specific strategies that appeal to brides at either end of the budget spectrum and why you can (read: should) charge more for the most popular wedding dates of the year. On a similar note, Ryan O’Neil, co-owner of Twisted Willow in St. Louis, Missouri and founder of Curate (formerly known as Stemcounter), argues that volume might not be the route you’d like to go. Taking every wedding that comes your way might mean never taking a weekend off, robbing you of valuable family time and opportunities to recharge. A desire to travel propelled the O’Neils to slash their number of accepted weddings, while a need to eat and pay bills forced them to target a high-clientele. In his article, “Four Keys to Moving Up Market,” he explains how he promotes Twisted Willow as a premier florist that discerning clients with deep pockets seek out. Additionally, you’ll find a roundup of the latest bridal trends, and details about one of the industry’s most iconic brands, David Austin Roses. We’ve also addressed issues including social media etiquette at weddings, how your workplace culture attracts or appalls prospective clients, and what our very own Neville McKay, CAFA, PFCI, would choose for the forthcoming wedding of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry. And be sure to check out details for our fast-approaching Business Forum, April 21. We can’t wait to see you in St. Catharines, Ontario!