The other day, a colleague and I had a lengthy chat about the importance of a cohesive, collaborative floral design industry, and why undercutting our competitors is nothing but bad business. My colleague (who strictly speaking is also my competitor—shows you how I see things) had me take a look at a wedding bid from another floral designer. Among the many things that shocked me in this bid (and there were many) was the line item showing corsages for $2.50. Two dollars and fifty cents. TWO DOLLARS AND FIFTY CENTS?!? You can’t even wholesale quality product for a good corsage for $2.50. Why, I asked myself, would a professional ever lower herself to charging so little for a corsage? Does a designer think so little of the worth of his time that he barely charges for his work at all?
My colleague went on to tell me that this firm does a booming business in weddings. I guess with prices like that, I shouldn’t be so surprised. After all, budget often looms large in a client’s mind. But I find this business model problematic for several reasons. First, I think it shows our clientele that our services really aren’t that valuable, and certainly not worth paying much for. Second, it (falsely) indicates to our clientele that those of us who do charge accordingly for our services and talents are price gouging. Third, it encourages an unhealthy level of competition among businesses that should see each other as an ally versus a competitor.
But—you want to argue—competition is at the heart of business! Of course it is. Competition benefits us all by keeping us fair, honest, efficient and creative, and of course it benefits our clients by making sure they get true value for their money. But in my opinion, competition should be metered with collaboration. As an industry, we need to band together to achieve our goals, foremost of which is educating our clients as to the value of our services. In my home state of Colorado, the number of yearly weddings is anywhere from 35,000 to 39,000. It seems to me that figure amounts to plenty of business for all. We want to educate our clients that what we provide for them is an art and a service, and that although these services cost they are more than worth the price paid for the quality the client receives.
Taking on tons of weddings at cut-rate prices seems counterproductive to me. Designers end up working twice as hard to make half as much, and frankly the work often lacks creativity and style. Instead of taking on five weddings a weekend at cut-rate prices, take on two to three at fair prices. This would allow for real attention to be paid to the client’s work (because they were fairly charged for it) and let us keep our art fresh and innovative—we aren’t factory assembly lines, after all.
It may seem like a paradox, but I think we have more to gain from each other as allies and colleagues than we do as cut-rate competitors. As collaborative professionals, we can provide support, inspiration, education and friendship to one another while still being successful business owners. Aren’t we better off on each other’s side?