Being a successful event florist requires more than being able to design beautifully. With the inflationary pressures of today’s economy, business owners have to plan strategically, price accordingly, spend wisely and promote smartly.
That’s the advice Vince and Carolyn Butera, co-owners of Butera The Florist, a wedding-only florist in Sedgwick, Maine — and winners of the Society of American Florists’ 2015 Marketer of the Year award — gave during a May 17 webinar hosted by SAF. The webinar, “Positioned for Profit: New Event Economics for a Changing Market,” is available on-demand and features the Buteras’ strategies to help other florists stay profitable in today’s changing market.
A central key to long-term success is having a long-term plan, Carolyn said. A self-described “cheerleader for strategic planning” Carolyn encouraged fellow florists to ask themselves pointed questions to determine a vision for their business.
“What if your business did not exist today?” she asked. “How would you start designing that business?” Imagine yourself 10 years from now, 20 years from now. What do you want your business to look like?”
After defining their end goals, business owners need to create plans to achieve them. Setting short-term goals — annual, quarterly, weekly — can help business owners stay on track, Carolyn said. Business owners also need to periodically reassess their goals and their visions.
“When we are at work … it is very difficult for most people to have the bigger and longer-term perspective,” she said, adding that people tend to focus on what is directly in front of them. To get the bigger picture, business owners need to take a break — a vacation, perhaps — and look at their businesses from a distance, Carolyn said. Doing so will allow them to better evaluate their progress and respond to challenges, she said.
One challenge business owners face — especially in today’s economy — is how to set prices, said Vince, AAF, AIFD, PFCI. Setting prices starts with determining an hourly billable rate. Florists may think they should not charge much because they’re doing something they love. He encouraged them to consider the value of their services. “You have a skill that not everybody does and it’s valuable,” Vince said. “Don’t feel bad about charging for your time.”
He pointed to other trade services, such as mechanics, plumbers, electricians, who charge an hourly rate based on skill and reputation. Vince recommended florists consider themselves similarly skilled workers and evaluate their own worth to determine a billable rate per hour. In addition to time spent designing and arranging flowers, florists need to account for time spent planning, scheduling, driving, and setting up at venues, he said. If businesses have employees, owners must consider the total costs of employing them including salary, vacation, sick days, retirement plans, payroll services, etc., and factor those costs into the billable rate per hour.
“The cost of labor is not just the wage,” Vince said.
There’s also a question of how to price for events that are months or even a year or more away, especially given the increasing prices.
“You’re selling a wedding that might be a year away,” Vince said. “You’re not just making an arrangement in today’s world and selling it today and knowing exactly what you’ve got into it, so we have to project the price into the future.”
Florists have to account for what flowers might cost at the time of the event by increasing the markup to cover differences in pricing, Vince said. He provided examples of his markups for fresh and hard products during the webinar.
In addition to ensuring adequate income, Vince said businesses need to know how to keep their expenses minimal. Buying in bulk can sometimes be beneficial, with case discounts sometimes costing less overall than buying flowers by the stem, he said. Vince recommended checking with suppliers for quantity discounts and case discounts. In addition, he encouraged florists to explore farm-direct programs and auctions.
Florists can also create wiggle room by selling clients a type of flower, “a soft and fluffy rose that is creamy white in color,” for example — rather than a specific flower, Vince said. “Sell the look and vibe and not the exact blooms whenever you can because you need the flexibility to buy later on,” he said.
Building trust with clients is key to leveraging the value of a florist’s skills and services, and controlling costs by selling a look.
In the age of the internet, clients often find potential event florists online, so business owners must carefully cultivate their online accounts, Vince said.
“Trust with your client begins with their very first impression,” he said. “We don’t know where that first impression comes from all the time.”
Business owners need to promote a consistent presence across all online accounts, whether it is the business’s website, social media accounts, or trade-related platforms such as The Knot. Potential clients often will contact event florists based on these online impressions, he said.
It’s also important to cultivate positive, in-person relationships with event venue personnel because potential clients sometimes ask the venue’s staff for florist recommendations, Carolyn said.
For more of Vince and Carolyn Butera’s strategies, watch the webinar on-demand in Career Connections. The webinar is free for SAF members, $14.99 for non-members.
The Buteras were also featured in the latest issue of Floral Management, where they shared more tips on running a profitable event business.
Laurie Herrera is a contributing writer for the Society of American Florists.