I met my friend Emily who is an amazing florist many years ago in our local NACE organization. So when she put the word out on FB that she was looking for some extra help on Valentines week making deliveries I thought “Well I could help her out with that, it’s February, my slowest month!” I sent her an email offering to help. I imagined showing up to her storefront, loading up some pretty flowers in the back of my trusty Honda Element on Valentines Day delivering smiles and happiness around town and being home by dinner. She responded with an OMG OMG OMG are you serious can your work like OMG OMG like 8-6 each day in the store ? I think you’d be so much more help to me in the store, would you, please please, yes?
I have no floral experience whatsoever but I will say this: two things I have learned from my mother are how to identify flowers and dog breeds. I can admire a Peony and a Pug from 1000 yards away so I figured how hard could it be? However, I am not a “Valentines” kind of gal. It’s not a holiday that has ever resonated with me, so I had no idea of the scope of this particular holiday, especially for florists. No. Idea. At. All. For your edification, Valentines Day at a storefront floral shop is the equivalent of Christmas, New Years, The Superbowl, Groundhogs Day and Your Birthday all rolled into one day. It’s that big of a deal, with Mothers Day being slightly close behind.
My first education had nothing at all to do with the shop. It had to do with the fact that I had not worked a job with a set schedule in…wait for it…14 years. While Emily was especially kind to me knowing I was not a morning person she gave me the “late start” which at 8AM was still a full hour before I was used to even getting up. Since I’ve been known for my rants to photographers about not being a lazy-ass and not fucking wanting it bad enough, I was appalled by how hard it was for me to wake up and get there on time, a shop that was a mere 15 minutes from my house. I had no idea how to budget for making time for drinking coffee, checking email and FB and let my brain fog clear, showering, eating breakfast (which I am not keen at early in the AM),dressing and putting on make up (what??) packing something to eat, traffic and parking a few blocks away. By Wednesday I knew this meant with a 8AM arrival my alarm had to go off at 5:45 for my 15 minute snooze so I was up by 6 for a 7:30 departure. By the time I got home at 6:30 PM ahead of me was answering my own business emails, the blog emails, walking my dogs, preparing dinner. I could barely function to do the most rudimentary work before I fell into bed by 11 which is generally 2-3 hours before I normally go to bed.
I’ve never fully appreciated how hard it must be to have a full time day job and run another business until now, and I don’t have the added quotient of small kids in the house! For those of you that are able to do this I salute you and bow in your general direction. Having to work when my own personal productivity was not being pandered to was also a slap in the face. I couldn’t take a break when I was sick of it, I couldn’t take my normal 4PM ish 30 minute nappy, I couldn’t decide that I really didn’t want to work today and watch back to back episodes of “Sister Wives” when I just wasn’t feeling creative.
My job was to take the calls for the clients calling in for Valentines Day floral delivery. This required me to understand two things: how to work the POS software and how to Talk like a Florist. The software was pretty easy and not hard for me to learn, but learning to “Talk Florist” was probably the most valuable thing I learned in my week there. Every full or part time employee in her shop is a complete wizard at talking to clients not only in terms of flower knowledge, but in how to intuit what kind of arrangements they could guide the customers to. Oh the pretty words they used! I learned to say things like Lush, Full, Tall and Airy, Full and Compact, Romantic/Valentines Color Pallets, and my personal favorite “Designers Choice”. Here’s a clue for you if you don’t know much about buying flowers: instead of going online pick up the phone and call your friendly LOCAL florist and give them a price range and let the designers choose and you will hands-down get the a more beautiful arrangement than simply ordering the “Hugs and Kisses” bouquet you see online. They’ll pick the best looking flowers and will create arrangements based on what message you are looking to convey to the person you are buying flowers for. In short, they’ll simply give a shit more if they get a little creative freedom to design, just as we do as photographers.
And OMG do flower people LOVE flowers. Despite working with them day in and day out, when these girls opened a box of especially lovely Heather from the wholesaler it was like someone had given them a Christmas gift. They comment and compliment on each others designs. They work on their feet, with hands rubbed raw from stems designing all day long while dealing with client questions and issues, uncomplaining and fussing over every arrangement like bridesmaids around a bride. However, they also have to work with parameters for being profitable. Throwing in one extra carnation (the cheapest flower available, about .40 wholesale) in an arrangement to “prettify” it costs money and labor and over the course of the year could mean thousands lost in profit. I had to learn to be specific with clients who would say “Oh can you put a few lilies in there too, she likes lilies” letting them know that at $10 a stem “a few lilies” would mean paying for a larger arrangement.
I’ve preached this to photographers too, that every single thing you do costs you money and you need to be aware of that. Saying “I stayed for an hour later than I said I would at that wedding because that doesn’t cost me anything and it made the client happy”. Yes, yes it does cost you something. It costs you time with your family, it costs you in wear and tear on your gear, editing and uploading time in front of your computer. That extra hour that you charge $150 an hour that you throw in to 10 weddings a year just cost you $1500 plus editing time and wear and tear so to be fair, lets say $2K. I don’t know about you, but 2K can buy me a pretty nice vacation. Value your time and your expertise, people.
One thing for sure that I will put into my own business practice is simply asking “what’s your budget range” when talking to clients. Asking this simple question opened the door to help the customer understand what things cost. As photographers, we are dealing with a commodity that most people don’t buy many times in their lives so their idea of what is “reasonable”, “normal”, and “affordable” can be wildly different than what reality is and I found the same thing to be true with the flower shop clients. The next time a wedding client tells me that they want an “affordable” florist because “flowers just die anyway” I’m going to remind them that the food and the cake also “just gets eaten”. It’s true that the photos will last forever (something I unashamedly push) but there is value in every thing all vendors do.
The going rate for a dozen roses delivered on Valentines Day is about $100, which floored many people used to seeing the $20 grab-and-go section at the grocery store. The reasons for this vary from the type and quality of the flower, the labor to strip the thorns (not done for you with the grab-and-gos), arranging and putting them into vases, packaging and delivery costs and the fact that the wholesaler and florist also pays the growers a premium price for those roses at that time of year. (If you’re an entrepreneurial geek like me and like to understand how things are priced in other industries, here’s a really interesting article on why roses are at such a premium price at Valentines Day)
And let me tell you, small buisness owners ya’ll, they do it for the love. They really do. Seeing the amount of rabidly loyal customers Belle Fiori had was impressive. Every call started with me asking if they had ordered with the shop before (to pull up their client info in the database) and this often was met with scoffs and “Well of COURSE I have” like that was the stupidest question they had heard all day. Many times over and over people said things like “You’re the only place I order flowers from” and “everything I have every gotten from you has been beautiful”. These customers not only have a doctor, a dentist and a mechanic in their lives, they have a florist. Loyalty like that is gained only from hard work , a consistently beautiful product and stellar customer relations and that’s a good lesson for us all. Without getting too gushy about my friend, it’s clear a lot of that comes from how Emily treats her staff and their loyalty to her and the shop. Besides bringing in food and treats and buying lunches during the week, she made sure that people were out the door when their shift ended, and no one worked late into the night because she has in place a killer workflow that kept things going smoothly. When I arrived there on Monday they were dealing with a crisis of gigantic proportions, a very large floral order for an event had been placed in a refrigerated truck and someone broke into the truck at night and the battery died and thousands of dollars of flowers froze. The entire order had to be totally remade on the busiest week of the year. It’s a testament to Emily and her staff that the wholesalers nearly broke their necks getting her the replacement flowers and her staff scrambled to make the arrangements again. The flowers were delivered on time (and were beautiful) and the client never knew there was even a glitch.
Oh and the fun…the fun of dealing with the clueless men on the phone ordering. The guys who ordered two bouquets to be delivered to two different woman and made me swear that we wouldn’t mix them up (Dumbshit…order from two different florists if you are so worried). The guys who came in and paid for an arrangement for their wives with a credit card and another arrangement in cash. The ones who said “I can say ANYTHING I want on the card?” My standard line became “Nothing will surprise me, go ahead”. I badly wanted to tell them that they were not even close to being the first person who signed the card “Daddy”, but being a florist is kind of like being a priest, what happens in the flower shop stays in the flower shop. I had forgotten what it was like it to have co-workers to chat with, and all of them were great fun. I felt like a part of “Team Valentines Day”. We took bets on when the last person would call to try for Valentine’s Day delivery: 6:10 PM was the winner, the shop closed at 6:30. Here’s a small sampling of Shit People Said At the Flower Shop to me on the phone:
How much for roses? You can’t be serious.
Can you deliver them to the Noodles right down the street in about 10 minutes? I am going there for lunch.
I’m not comfortable giving you my credit card before the flowers are delivered.
If I can’t get Peonies, then can I get something that will fool her into thinking they are Peonies?
I want her to know that I care, but only to a point, you know? So something in the $30 range but not too romantic. But still pretty. (Translation: enough to get me laid, but not enough for her to think I want to marry her)
HOW MUCH? ARE YOU KIDDING?
How many roses can I have delivered for about $20 to Racine? (A town 30 minutes away)
My son is an idiot and didn’t order his girlfriend flowers. Can you send some tomorrow and sign the card “I’m an idiot, Love, Joe”?
I know you can’t guarantee a specific time, but if I told you that she’d be there between 2-3PM would that help?
For that price she better get roses the size of my head.
If no one is home, can you just leave them outside? (It was -1 outside)
Basically, I just want all her co workers to be jealous she’s dating me. How much do I need to spend to do that? (Answer: $75 and up)
ROSES ARE HOW MUCH???!!!!
So to all my friends at Belle Fiori, thank you for a wonderful week of education, laughter and waaaaaaaaaaaay too much chocolate. My flower hangover is almost gone, I’ll see you next year!
(A short video from one of the slower times of the day on Valentine’s Day, with apologies to my talented videographer friends)