How to Start a Floral Shop From Scratch: Choosing Your "Startegy"

By Ryan ONeil
In our last blog post, we talked about the key elements to consider when deciding to start a floral shop from scratch. This week, we are talking about another decision you need to make about your new floral shop: choosing your "startegy."

What is a Startegy?
It's your strategy at the start! Here's the thing: plans change. The market moves. Even with all the adjustments going on, you HAVE to have a strategy at the beginning of your company if you want to be successful. This blog post talks about how we at Twisted Willow Design created our strategy!
Getting Started 
Generally, there are two focuses in the floral industry: retail and events (including weddings). There are some other models (subscription flower models for individuals or businesses, interior design, etc.) but we'll focus on looking at retail and events. The decision of which to focus on depends on the opportunities available, where your passion lies, and your willingness to face the challenges each provide.
The very first thing to do when deciding your focus is to look at your passion. If you're passionate about floral design in general, you have a lot of options. Rachael really was more passionate about florals in general so some of the parameters in the opportunities section and the challenges section really solidified our decision. However, Rachael loved the complexity of large events We ultimately chose to focus on weddings and events because we love to see how our work comes together with that of other vendors to make a fantastic event that brings smiles to the faces of a happy couple, their friends, and their families. However, that's not going to drive everyone.
One of our Curate users in St Louis recently let us know that after November they're shutting down their wedding side after years in the weddings/events floral industry. Why? Because they don't like weddings. In fact, they border on hating it. Having to deal with a large number of details that are changing as quickly as the bride refreshes her Pinterest app. However, they are incredibly passionate about creating beautiful, every day arrangements and engaging people in their community in their daily lives as opposed to only for special occasions. 
So what drives you? Do you love the thrill of bringing a big event to life? Or does seeing the joy on someone's face when they receive flowers for their birthday bring you immense joy? Do you like working closely with clients for an extended period of time? Or is it the stream of a wide variety of people you engage with daily that makes you smile?
There is no right or wrong floral focus but, at the end of the day, you want to be able to happily go to work every day, knowing that what you do is impacting others positively. After all, as Luther Burbank said, "Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine for the soul."
Ultimately, your passion is going to help carry you through the days when business is slower than you would like it to be, and when a client is emailing you at 3 am with the fifth change in two days, and when you are so overwhelmed with the amount of administrative tasks you face. As we discuss the challenges that each floral focus has, remember what your passion is and ask "Am I passionate enough about this to overcome this type of challenge?
It's important to look at what opportunities are available to immediately when deciding on your initial strategy and focus. You have opportunities and talents that nobody else has. You need to take account of what you have and maximize your skill set.
Do you have money to invest starting up for access to a store front in a great location with a refrigerator? If so, that's awesome! That gives you a HUGE head start in moving towards retail. If you're low on cash (like we were when we started), does that mean you can't go into retail? Not at all! That's just not your opportunity. 
Is there a niche that isn't being filled? Did the only retail florist in town just retire and people are needing a dependable local florist? Or is the wedding industry in your town seeing a huge growth? Is there a design style that people are wanting but can't find locally? Finding a niche that isn't overloaded in your area can help you determine your direction.
Do you have design experience? Did you come out of the corporate world and have extensive event planning experience with contacts readily available to you? The opportunity is definitely there to enter the world of event floristry! But maybe your expertise is more on the business end of things and you have limited floral design experience. Take note of that and find a model that fits for you.
On a moral note, other people's opportunities are not yours. Don't take clients from another florist as an opportunity to start. Rachael was the one who booked most of the clients at her old job and the brides were bought into her style. The new owners knew little to nothing about floral design and were not great to work with. When we started Twisted Willow, the not-so-spiritual side of us was tempted to contact the brides that she booked before the shop was sold to the lowest bidder and let them know she wouldn't be designing with that shop. But we made the right call and left them to the new owners. We felt horrible for the brides, but we were much more interested in doing the right thing and creating our own opportunities than taking what were someone else's.
When you consider the opportunities available to get started within either floral focus, one may seem like a wide open door while the other is completely shut. Still, some people find themselves with equal opportunities available in each focus. It is absolutely possible to do both retail and events if the opportunity presents itself. However, it may not be the best initial "strategy" because it is so broad. If the opportunities are all equal, put more weight on considering what your passion is and how willing you are to face the challenges each floral focus presents.
One of the biggest challenges to consider in both floral foci is the financial issue. You can have a profitable business in either but is one going to provide for you better than the other? You've already considered your strengths. Is one of them bringing in new clients? Can you do that even in wedding off-season? Can you save enough of your profits to maintain your lifestyle even when business is slow? What about if you have an employee? What is your plan to consistently pay them and what are they even doing during those slow months? The worst thing you can do, whether you are in retail or weddings/events, is feel like you are being shackled by an employee--to feel like you have to live at the edge of your budget during the slow months so you can pay them. That's not fair to you and it's definitely not fair to them.
It's important that you do not get caught up in the revenue trap where it looks like you are making more revenue and so you think you are also making more profit.  Address this challenge by creating a budget. I've said it before and I'll repeat it here. Write out a personal budget of what you need coming in and shoot for that goal. With Curate, I knew that I needed 100 users if I wanted to go full time on the software. So I had a full-time job but I also worked night and day (still to get myself to 100 users so I could go full-time. Look at what you need and shoot for that goal! If you cannot meet that goal, adjust your business plan so you can do so. 
Another challenge to consider is the time commitment. Consider your general priorities in life. Rachael and I love traveling intentionally and we also want control of our schedule to block off certain days just for our family to enjoy quality time together. We absolutely did not want to work on Mother's Day or Valentine's Day, which are the most profitable retail dates of the year. And we wanted the flexibility to choose which weekends we work. At the end of the day, one of the biggest factors that informed our decision is that we wanted to start having children. Rachael is an incredible florist and businesswoman, and she's still a 100x better mom. Business success has always been secondary to her family success and we knew we wanted something where she could spend time with our son. Having a wedding / event studio would allow her to still watch him without having to work with customers who could come in at any point.
Given those priorities in our life, the retail industry was absolutely not an option for us. But your priorities may be different and you don't mind taking advantage of holiday weekends to bring in a good chunk of profit.  Be real about what things are most important to you and where you are willing to sacrifice of your time to make your business successful.
Another challenge to consider is branding. As a retail florist, you must build a consistent recurring brand. While (most) wedding clients only get married once and you never see them after the big day, the customers at a retail florist shop are returning often. Your brand needs to be top quality to ensure customer loyalty. That does not only mean having a great florist logo, though that is very important, but it means how you engage with your customers at every level. How do you follow up with them after a purchase? What's your customer service like if an arrangement is delivered and wilted quickly because of the heat? Your brand is about who you are and how you engage with your customers and can take years before your community realizes the gem they have in you.
One of the reasons we decided to go with into the wedding/events industry is because it's very easy to get started in the industry without having a large amount of mind share, especially if you have friends and family who are willing to help you get started with (paid) events to get the word out about your new floral business. As long as you have a examples of your work that you can share with potential clients to show that you have the skills to back up your sales pitch, you'll be able to get started. You don't need an amazing wedding florist logo at the very beginning (though, you will definitely want to invest in designing one as your business grows or if you've had previous experience and are starting a second company).
Final Thoughts
While passion and your skill set may be the ultimate driving force that makes facing the challenges more manageable, you absolutely need to have a defined strategy within your chosen focus. Your passion and design skills will not feed your family on their own. You have to intentionally decide on your strategy because it is not going to find you on its own. As you start making decisions about your initial focus and strategy, I highly encourage you to write stuff down to help you maintain your focus as you press towards your goal of starting a floral shop from scratch. Without a clear focus, defined strategy, and internal motivation at the beginning, you are setting yourself up for long-term burnout and failure. 
Keep an eye out for our next article on branding your new floral company and promoting it on social media!

When we were first getting started with our St. Louis floral shop, back in the days before Curate was even an idea, we set up an advanced Excel Recipe Spreadsheet that was a good stopgap measure until we needed a professional tool. We know that not every florist is in a place where they need the super powers of Curate so we're sharing an updated version of that Excel Recipe Spreadsheet with you to help you until you're ready for a tool made for professional florists.

Download the Excel Recipe Spreadsheet

Do you have more than 1 inquiry coming in every week? You probably need a professional tool with more power, accuracy, and style that was made for florists. Learn more about Curate.

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Tags: Tips, Small Business Sally, Curate


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