Leadership skills. Productivity hacks. Social media expertise. Design tricks. Networking. Importing tours. And plenty of fun.
The Society of American Florists’ Next Gen LIVE! event in Miami was a whirlwind of education and floral-focused experiences that brought together young retailers, wholesalers, importers, growers and manufacturers to provide support and community in their careers.
The event, which drew nearly 160 attendees from 31 states, Ecuador and Colombia, was the first floral industry event planned by and designed exclusively for the next generation. (Click here to see pictures from the event).
“We saw in Miami just how important it is to bring young floral professionals together and give them the support they need to advance their careers, so they stay in our industry,” says SAF CEO Kate Penn. The next generation shows so much promise, she said. “They were so appreciative of the opportunity, so passionate about the industry, and so eager for education and connection. It was inspiring to see their enthusiasm.”
That enthusiasm made for an engaging, high-energy event. At the “Chopped” style design competition, sponsored by Syndicate Sales and held at Continental Flowers, five designers had just eight minutes to coach a non-designer partner — who volunteered on the spot to compete — in the art of floral arranging as other attendees mingled and looked on. Eileen Weber, AAF, of Lake Forest Flowers in Lake Forest, Illinois, instructed her rookie designer to insert dusty miller at an angle and turn the vase around frequently to ensure it was balanced.
“Eileen is a great coach,” said Derek Woodruff, AIFD, CF, PFCI, of Floral Underground, as he emceed the competition. “I can tell she’s being very soft. She’s not trying to stress her designer out — but I will by standing here!”
Next Gen LIVE! put a heavy focus on education, especially in the areas of leadership, marketing and work-life balance.
In a session about leadership styles, Ellie LaFever and Lori Wilson of Flower Clique asked attendees to take an online quiz to determine which of four personality tendencies they embodied. From there, LaFever and Wilson presented the traits of those tendencies, and made suggestions on how to identify those tendencies in others and how to better work with people of each tendency.
Lisa Ariola, of Etowah Florist in Etowah, North Carolina, discovered her tendency was to question everything.
“I ask, ‘Why?’ all the time,” she said — a trait that can be tiresome for her boss, she acknowledged.
“I think it’ll be cool to go back to my shop and tell my boss about this and she’s going to be like, ‘I know how to handle you better now,’” Ariola said.
Another session featured a panel of young owners and managers, who answered questions about how to be a young boss and, especially, what it’s like to manage older generations who may have been part of the business for decades.
“It’s hard to tell someone who changed your diaper what to do,” said Jodi McShan, AAF, AIFD, PFCI, who grew up in her family’s shop, McShan Florist in Dallas, Texas, where she is now vice president. “Communicate effectively what you bring to the table. Include them in decision making. Be okay with saying, ‘We are doing it this way.’”
The panel touched on other issues that have emerged throughout the pandemic, such as mental health and leading with empathy.
“Treat mental health like you do your business,” said Sam Bowles, general manager at Allen’s Flowers & Plants in San Diego. “Don’t wait until you are in a place of crisis to work on your mental health. Value your own mental health. Treat your employees the same way. Lead from a place of empathy.”
Those type of work-life discussions carried over to an all-industry session about time management and productivity hacks. (Check out next week’s SAF NOW newsletter for those tips!).
Katrina Manzo, a customer relations manager at Fifty Flowers who attended the event and is new to the industry, said the experience was immersive and hit on aspects of her job that will help advance her career.
“As someone who is new to the industry — and a new manager — it’s been really great to learn about leadership skills and things I can take back to my office,” she said.
Attendees were also shown the breadth of the industry. A breeder, grower, importer and a logistics company gave an overview of what it takes to develop a new variety of flower or foliage, grow it, and transport it. Attendees got to see some of that process firsthand when they toured importing facilities at the Miami International Airport, the warehouse at a transportation company, and the assembly line at a bouquet maker.
Brady Tolley, regional sales director at DV Flora, has been in the industry for 20 years, but has never seen the process that brings flowers to his warehouse.
“It’s really cool to see what I imagined was happening behind the scenes,” he said.
The big question from many attendees, as the event wrapped up: When is the next one?
Penn says plans are in the works for another in-person event and, in the meantime, urges next generation industry members to take advantage of SAF’s ongoing Next Gen activities. “Join the Next Gen Facebook group, come to the Next Gen happy hour if you’re attending SAF Orlando 2022, and be on the lookout for even more virtual roundtable events in the coming year,” she says.
Amanda Jedlinsky is the managing editor of SAF NOW.