Q&A :: Discussing Financials and Ethics of The Floral Biz

Hi Flower Friends,
Today I’m sharing a letter from a floral designer located in British Columbia, Canada. Gillian of Eleni Floral started out with answering one of our Q&A Questions about the financial aspect of the floral business, but soon her response touched on all three questions we asked. (You can read the three original questions here)
I even included her original opening note addressed to me, because it really is the truth – the busy-ness of being in this business. Thank you, Gillian, for sharing your story with us!

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Sorry for the late response to the content call out. I have been very busy…working, working on my facebook, quoting, creating, picking up flowers in the city, taxes… oh and trying to fit time in with my husband while he is home for a week!
I started to respond to question number one but in the end, my long winded answer kind of addresses my experiences with all three situations….take it for what it is worth. This business is not easy or without stress. I have never met a florist who says otherwise….

I have also experienced this many times. Unfortunately I have come to realize that it is very naive of me to think that everyone will be nice and play fair in the world of competitive business.
In my town there were only three florists, two with storefronts and me with a design studio/warehouse. For years it worked because we all had different styles and we had an unspoken ethical position not to tread on each others ground – we all still had to live in the same town together. My business was the number one ‘go to’ business for anyone who wanted quality flowers and valued design and service. It was very successful and I worked very, very hard, sacrificing many hours that I could have spent with friends and family to make sure my clients got what they envisioned.
Then suddenly there was a new player in our small town bringing the total number of florists to four. He had talent and no one disputed that, but ethics…not so much. He went to everyone’s regular clientele and offered to service them at less than 1/2 the cost of anyone else. He had connections in the city and in the Dutch markets that enabled him to purchase and ship product at a rate lower than any of the rest of us could get from the auction or wholesalers. He opened a shop with beautiful home decor items up front and flowers in the back. Within a year, one long established shop was gone, the other two of us were busting our butts and losing clients like crazy, not to mention our precious time became even more scarce. In the meantime, he flourished, but he was also working insane hours. Within two years he had pretty much taken over every contract in town and the other shop had closed one of their stores. I was plugging away being as competitive as I could afford but not lose my standards. I was already a niche market so it made it tough, but to be honest, I was kind of happy to not have to be doing new wedding/event quotes 4 days a week. I decided to condense my business, move to a smaller space and keep plugging away. Eventually I had to let my staff go and shut down my payroll account. I still had no personal time.
Two years ago I made the decision to quit fighting it and became home based. It has it’s pros and its cons ( I never get out anymore). At the same time, it became clear what he was doing. He came to a busy town, set up a business, worked HIS butt off to make his books look really good, got tons of contracts and a rep for nice flowers at cheap prices and THEN sold the business for a ton of money! The poor woman who bought it could not keep up at the same pace and sunk so much money of her own trying to keep it afloat. One day I got a call out of the blue from a bride begging me to do her flowers for that weekend because the other business had suddenly shut down without a word to anyone. Not even the clients! She had gotten so sick, she ended up in the hospital and decided at that moment to cut her losses and not go back.
Now, the two remaining businesses were no longer set up to take on that much extra load. We each picked up some of the contracts but the clients expected to get more for less now. Vehicle access to our town has improved since this started and suddenly there were business from the nearby city and neighbouring towns coming in to scoop up the leftovers. Wedding and event planners have popped up out of nowhere and there is fairly healthy competition. City florists have better access to the flower markets but they all have ‘spies’ that ask for fictitious quotes locally.
A new generation of brides brought up with internet and social media makes it really easy for them to just request quotes from everyone without understanding the difference between good, quality floristry and cheap price. Pinterest and wedding television seems to set unrealistic expectations for many brides and there is always someone out there now willing to tell them they can have what they want. (Educate them tactfully without criticizing your nearest competitors or insulting the clients would be my advice.)
This has all happened in the span of six years. I am still plugging away at home with a love/hate relationship with the business. When I love it I love it, when I hate it I just want out. I have a lot invested in it and I still keep my standards. The clients that find me are very happy. Sometimes I make money, sometimes I just break even, sometimes the money is great but 9 times out of 10, if you count the hours I put into make it, it doesn’t pay. But, I still love it, even when I don’t. I can still work around my personal time more than before and I have made a commitment to my husband not to go back to the previous state of business. I am not sure what else I would do if I quit completely. I kind of like my random lifestyle. I work most of the time but not frenzied or frazzled like before. I have my bread and butter contracts and everything else is bonus. I could easily increase my income but it dramatically increases my workload. I could increase my traffic flow substantially if I offer commissions to the venues and wedding planners like everyone else does, but I personally prefer to keep that extra bit in the designs and give the client what they pay for. I could open a shop but I don’t want that much commitment and stress.

I think you have to:
-Decide what your ethics are, what your commitment is to time for money, have a business plan that covers growth options and diversity as well as an exit plan (can’t stress that business plan enough. You don’t realize it until you are trying to create one as you are reacting to changes!).
-You can’t change what your clients or your competitors will do so you can only set your own standards.
-Choose your advertising carefully, probably focusing on the social media methods are the way to go. Don’t waste your money in advertising places that don’t work for you.
-Make sure your website works on iphones and androids to make it user friendly.
-Stick with what you know. Do the parts you are good at and let others do the rest (bookkeepers are worth their money more than you can realize at first). Hire someone to do the clean up, garbage removal, wash buckets and vases, process flowers. Teach them some basics so they can help you if you suddenly need someone. Enlist your family for some of this.
-Event planning has it’s own issues. I find it is less stressful than flowers, but to do both…over the top. Prepare for no sleep and to work hard on day of than ever before!

Yes you can make a living, but the sacrifices are huge. Be prepared – it is a hard slog to get there, especially when you get to a point where it is too much for one person but not enough for two!
Good luck!

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Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing! I have a home based floral design business. There are days I love my job and then there are the days that I wonder what I am doing. I have been struggling with just how far I want to grow my business and then I wonder at what cost will it be to myself, my family and my sanity! I have missed out on a lot of things because I tend to want to take on the world and forget I need some sort of a life outside my floral studio. At times I look at other designers work and see how far they have come and tend to forget the huge sacrifices they have made to get there. I have to ask myself, is it really worth it? I think if the creative mind of a floral designer can slow down (for a second) and really come up with a business plan and not get caught up emotionally in the moment we can find a balance. Thank you for sharing your experience!!!!!

  2. A great and informative read! Thanks for sharing!

    R

  3. I almost did not write this post as I feel like I am always sounding as if I am selling Lobiloo, which don’t get me wrong, I do sell Lobiloo, but in this response, I am not trying to.
    I have found this business difficult at times; however as an artist that gets to create art frequently with flowers, I tend to love it more than struggle with it. Yes, the ethics of it all can be unbearable…cut-throat, rude, etc… but I find that you are right, if you can determine before you start who you are and the type of ethics that you have, it will keep you grounded with your long term goals. Also, financially (here is where it sounds like I am selling Lobiloo 🙂 ), it is the reason why 4 years ago I thought, “there just has to be a better way to create these estimates, spend less time doing quotes, creating design recipes, and wholesale orders, make them image based and guarantee my profit margins”. I was always trying to make exceptions for brides or make sure that I was cheap enough that they would book me until I would discover…hey, I am loosing money! Lobiloo has helped me spend less time doing estimates, making them more beautiful, but more importantly, watching my profit margins as I make revisions and alterations to the estimates.
    I really enjoyed this post. You have to really love this industry to stick around, but you also do at the end of the day have to make money. You are SO right that you have to know what your ethics are and be true to them. Be a wonderful business person, have a great accountant along the way, and watch your profit margins along the way. Thanks for the post.

  4. Oh, i can so relate to your story, only here in South Africa – the wedding/flower industry (can be applied to many I guess) requires huge passion for your work in order to keep doing it when the hours don’t add up to the net profits.
    But a happy bride is my greatest source of pride…
    Great read!

  5. It’s amazing how one under-priced vendor can destroy a market. Amazing story.

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