At some point in your floral career, you have to make the decision if you’re going to be a part of a larger organization or start your own shop. Before my wife, Rachael, and I started our floral company, she was the lead designer at another shop when the ownership changed.
The people had just purchased the company and incorrectly thought that running a flower shop would be a breeze. So we knew that we had to make a decision: do we find another shop to be a part of or start our own? That’s when we decided to start our own business - Twisted Willow Design, a floral company focused on weddings and events.
Are you at that same decision point?
If there’s ever a year to start a floral company, this is it. We learned a LOT by becoming entrepreneurs. Some of those lessons came from our successes and many more came from our shortcomings. So we wanted to share some of these lessons and help give you guidance for all the crucial steps that it will take on how to start a floral company in 2019!
5 things to consider when starting a florist company:
When to make the jump
Branding and marketing
Leads and wedding consultations
Pricing out an event
Wedding execution and design space
1. When to make the jump
At some point, you have to make a choice: are you going to do this or not? Everyone's decision to start a floral company will have different specifics, but the key elements are the same. If you've yet to make the decision to do this thing, the rest of this article is just extracurricular reading.
Begin with the end in mind
Before you ever start building out a company, you need to ask yourself why you’re doing it. There’s so many people in the floral world who are trying to start a company but have no set goals for where they’re going. Do you want to build a million dollar business, then sell it? Awesome. Do you want to have a dependable full time job to live on? Great. Whatever it is, you need to decide what “success” looks like for you.
What was our success? My wife had always wanted to start a flower shop, but she also cared deeply for having a family. Thus, our goal became building a dependable revenue stream to replace her income that also allowed her to spend more time with her family.
Do you want to focus on retail flowers? What about weddings and events? Maybe a little of both? We decided to start with weddings and events. It really depends on your personal preference as you go through the decision of starting a floral shop from scratch.
If you’re starting a floral company from scratch, you need to plan on it being a grind. You have to build your own brand reputation and it takes work. Set yourself particular KPIs that allow you to be encouraged easier. One of ours was to look at the number of consultations we did each week and another was to meet new wedding vendors in the St. Louis area every week. It took a long time to build it up, but every week accomplishing these small tasks made a huge difference.
A huge question to ask is if you have design experience. Rachael had been a florist 9 years before we started and had plenty of industry experience in design. Starting a wedding floral company certainly had a lot of business to it, but that business knowledge was nothing if we were unable to craft beautifully designed arrangements.
If you’re new to the design part, start out by freelancing with area florists that you can find on The Knot or Wedding Wire. It’s good to note that freelancing is much harder than just playing with flowers. You WILL be washing buckets. You will be sweeping floors. You’ll be out a 1 a.m. breaking down an event. But all of this is just the price you pay for learning.
2. Branding and marketing
The great part about being a part of the wedding industry – if that’s your floral focus – is that your clients are very open about who their florist is. You’ll want to make sure that you build a logo and execute brand marketing that fits your target market. It’s good to note that you will likely have to rebrand after a couple of years. We did.
The best companies find out who their real audience is a couple years in and therefore need to rebrand. You’ll want to build a website that encompasses your marketing strategies. You may have to donate some flowers and design to some style shoots to build up your own floral design repertoire. I’ve found that the best way to get people to actually engage with the website that you’ve built is by adding a call to action (CTA). Our CTA was just the phrase “Check My Date,” which led to a simple contact form.
3. Leads and wedding consultations
You have to have a consistent inflow of leads. Let's say you've done an excellent job at marketing and now have a few leads. How do you get them from being a lead to being a client? There are so many things to consider. Where should you meet them for a consultation? If you're working out of your home, do you want them to know where you live? What do you do during a consultation, anyway? How far in advance should you book a client?
What do you do with those Pinterest brides with intimate budgets and caviar dreams?
First, you need to build out your consultation process. Clients need three things from you. They need to trust you, they need to like you, and they need to be able to afford you. A typical consultation will last anywhere between 30 minutes to an hour, which means you need to ensure that you accomplish all the three key things during that time. You’ll want to make sure you have photos of your work built out to show them things that you’ve done to establish trust. It’s always best if you’ve at least visited the venues that they’re going to be at.
Second, you need to get a wedding florist contract template. You can find a free one pretty easily online. You need to be very clear with them that to book, you’ll need to get a retainer (many florists do $500, 20%, or 50% of the total amount as the retainer) and you need to get them to sign the contract. Without either of these things, you’re setting yourself up for some tough conversations – especially if you’re just getting started with your floral company.
4. Pricing out an event
When you’re pricing out an arrangement for an event, you typically want to consider your wholesale cost, your markup, and your labor. For example, say a 50 cm white rose costs you $1.15 and you have a $2.80 markup and a 20% labor on top of that. The flowers will end up costing $3.86 each. So you then need to do the math to determine how many flowers of that type and other types you’ll need in that arrangement. At the very end, sum up all of the prices multiplied by the quantities to get an estimated price for that arrangement. You will need to do this for every item, and it takes practice to get it right.
You need to optimize your processes using as many tools as possible. There are a number of florist software available that we used at Twisted Willow to optimize our workflows (and even jam out to tunes while designing). You’ll need to make sure that you get a floral software that manages your cost of goods sold (COGS).
5. Wedding execution and design space
When we first started, we worked out of our basement and didn't even have a cooler for our first few events! We’re now have a gorgeous historic building that we renovated. Be sure that you’re following all local laws when setting up a design space – wherever it is. You’re going to want to make sure that you have operational room. You’re going to need several work tables and buckets to be able to get started. My wife was once at Lowes when an employee recognized her and said, “Oh yeah! You’re the bucket lady.” So. Many. Buckets.
There are some basics for flower care that are learned and outside of what we can teach in this article, so be sure your space is equipped and at a temperature that your flowers can thrive.
Your last payment for the event should be at least a month from the date of the event. Clients should completely expect that – especially if you’ve told them in advance. Be sure you get all the final details and changes by this point and time so that you can order your flowers.
How and when should you order your flowers from a wholesaler or local provider? When you’re about two weeks out from your event, your order should be sent in to your wholesaler for your florals.
You can certainly build out events without using a cooler, but it’s a lot more difficult. Getting started up though? That’s totally doable. You just have to make sure your space is cooled properly and that you’re building the arrangements within a couple days of the event.
There are an innumerable amount of things to think of during an event week, so having a realistic idea of what successful execution of an event will look like in advance of the event will help you get through it without any major headaches.
Be sure that you’ve planned through all of the details involved. We would also rent a U-Haul in order to transport the flowers. We’d sometimes use the boxes that the flowers came in to create makeshift transportation boxes. For things like bridal bouquets, we’d just use a cheap cylinder vase and cut an X in the top of the flower box and – voila, your own custom transportation tool.
Here’s a typical schedule for us on a wedding week where the wedding is on Saturday:
Monday and Tuesday: Prep the work area, ensure all hard goods and vases are purchase and ready, and prep your buckets.
Wednesday: Your flowers arrive from your wholesaler. Be sure to process and prep the flowers.
Thursday and Friday: Design days! Put together your arrangements and be sure that your team members and freelancers have sheets laid out with the exact stem count needed for each arrangement. Ensure you have everything packed away in an optimal way.
Saturday: Load everything up and ensure you have your bag of tricks (all your odds and ends that you need to make the event go flawless during setup). You’re going to drop off the personal flowers directly to the client and then go set up at the ceremony venue and reception venue. Later that night, you’ll come back for teardown.
Now's the time to start your own floral company!
That’s it! There’s so much effort baked into an article that sounds simple, but if there’s ever a time to get started, that time is now. But now you have a blueprint!
Interested in additional aspects of events outside flower and bouquet design? Learn the keys to event planning in 2019.
Ryan O'Neil is a thought leader in the floral industry and is keen to share all the potholes he hit along the way of building his companies. Ryan and his wonderfully-creative wife, Rachael, founded Twisted Willow Design in St. Louis, Missouri as a wedding-focused floral company. From that experience, Ryan created Curate, a florist software that automates the entire “wedding folder.” Ryan has personally spoken with thousands of florists since starting Curate and is a constant source of candid advice about the industry. He’s the lead contributor to The Business of Events blog that shares all the details of how he and his wife started their shop and grew it into a lifestyle business.