Blazing Their Own Trails
How three florists have found creative ways
to leverage and expand their businesses.
Most florists who are looking to grow their businesses tend to follow the same path. They team up with an event planner they like or have worked with before, or they get on the vendor list of local venues, hotels or restaurants.
But how do floral designers truly differentiate themselves in a sea of preferred vendors? And are there other, more creative ways to leverage flowers that reap multiple benefits – for both the clients and the florists? For designers like Mandy Majerik, AIFD, PFCI; Shawna Yamamoto; and Robbin Yelverton, AIFD, AAF, PFCI, CF, the answer is a resounding yes! From boutique furniture rentals to custom-fabricated props to corporate partnerships, these florists have learned through perseverance, ingenuity, trial and error, and a ton of good old-fashioned hard work that the pain of blazing a new path is entirely worth the end result.
HotHouse Design Studio, in Birmingham, Ala., was already a floral powerhouse, headed by the uber-talented Majerik, when the requests to expand the company’s wedding collection started pouring in. “Weddings weren’t just cake and punch anymore,” Majerik recalls. “Brides were searching for unique columns, containers, specialty cake tables and, then, lounge furnishings and bar facades.”
While Majerik prided HotHouse on its already unique inventory, she realized there was a market for a boutique rental company, which is how PropHouse Rentals + Styling was born in 2016. “I realized that because I had an already-established floral company in the wedding market,
people trusted my judgment on designing more of their events,” shares Majerik, whose PropHouse spin-off has already earned the title of
“Best Event Rental Company in the South” by Southern Weddings. “My success with HotHouse has definitely helped fuel the PropHouse
inventory, and for those brides who don’t book us for floral, they typically will turn over to rentals, so we are capturing the sales either way.”
(Check out PropHouse’s amazing website, prophousebirmingham.com, to get a better sense of this side of Majerik’s business.)
Photo by Rebecca Long Photograpy
Photo by Armen Asadorian Photography
As successful as PropHouse has been, Majerik cautions florists who are thinking of going the same route. “So much comes with the rental side – from devoting time to sourcing product and marketing to the maintenance of product, renting and driving large box trucks, not to mention the muscles needed to move inventory.”
Another outside-the-box idea that Majerik’s team has come up with is a mobile “Styling Kit.” Rented for $100 each with the color scheme/
wedding theme in mind, each logo-emblazoned bag comes with a vase of fresh single-stem blooms, silk ribbons, “vintage” scissors, special
tray, skeletonized leaves, cameos, etc., to give that special touch.
“Photographers love it for invitation suites,” Majerik reports. “We even have some photographers and wedding planners who rent them as gifts
for their brides, to make the pictures look amazing. Then they return the bags and goods to us at the end of the night.”
Shawna Yamamoto, of the renowned Brea, Calif.-based Shawna Yamamoto Event Design, knew from the start that she wanted to pair floral design with fabrication. “I didn’t like how vases looked and felt like everyone was already doing that. I wanted to offer something different from
the competition,” she reports.
Yamamoto, who just celebrated her company’s 10th year in business, says she laughs at all the trials and tribulations she went through at the start. “It was hard to find vendors who could do artistic welding for me and didn’t charge as if they were professional artists. No one did large-scale laser cutting except air-and-space facilities, which were out of my scope and budget,” she shares.
While Yamamoto started doing fabrication internally – limiting herself to what could be purchased at The Home Depot and made in house – she said the mechanics would often show or fall apart on the job site. However, she notes, “Today, I have an internal team of crafters, painters and carpenters who know what to do. If we can’t do it ourselves, we outsource to a much more available set of vendors who do acrylic builds, steel welding and laser cutting.”
Yamamoto says she has learned so much along the way – including charging her clients on each fabrication in full, with a profit margin built in from the start. “I’ve learned that not all custom props will sell again, so I have to make money from the first go. I’ve also had to anticipate mistakes and remakes because, nine times out of 10, the project runs into some sort of issue.”
Yet the payoff for Yamamoto has been tenfold. “The No. 1 thing I hear clients say is that they are meeting with me because they want something really different, and ‘Nobody is as creative as you are.’ I’m not saying that is true, but I’m very happy to hear the confidence our clients have in our company!”
In addition to fabrication, Yamamoto’s company has grown further into environmental and experiential marketing – a huge niche market. She says that most of the things she was already doing on a smaller scale for her clients showcased her company’s ability to be part of that niche.
“As a result, our business has diversified into a corporate market where we do large-scale fabrications that almost always include a floral aspect,” Yamamoto explains. “It makes it easy for us to do the custom backdrop or installations while doing floral components throughout the event that
are equally creative.”
Her advice to others looking to perhaps go into the prop fabrication business? “I want to warn other florists how expensive it is to do what we do,” Yamamoto cautions. “In the beginning, we made so many mistakes with both our cost-of-goods and our labor that we lost tons of money, and that’s a very real possibility for others. You have to be able to afford mistakes.”
No matter what avenue you take, Yamamoto says knowing your competition and deciding how you are going to be different is key. Once you
figure that out, “Believe in it 100 percent, and make it happen,” she advises. “Don’t fall back into the norm because it gets difficult to execute. Nothing innovative comes without hard work and hustle.”
In the Detroit metro area, Blumz by JRDesigns didn’t always have the impressive list of corporate clients it has today – Quicken Loans, MGM Hotel & Casino, and Ernst & Young among them. The thriving floral company, which now boasts two successful locations, started as a pop-up shop in a converted former stairwell in a downtown Detroit office building, according to Yelverton, who is the co-owner of Blumz with Jerome Raska, AIFD, AAF, PFCI, CAFA, CF.
“Jerome and I opened the little store as a way of “keeping busy” between our floral design show gigs,” says Yelverton, a 30-year industry veteran, award-winning floral designer and educator. At the start, Yelverton shares that money was tight and the pair couldn’t afford to advertise, so they went the old-school route: word-of-mouth; referrals; industry participation; and partnering with event venues, caterers and event planners; as well as joining local organizations such as the chamber of commerce, Rotary Club and Downtown Development Authority.
Photo by Duke Images, courtesy of Shawna Yamamoto
With a huge investment in personal time, energy and effort, Yelverton says it all paid off. “Within a matter of months, we went from a small pop-up to two locations.”
The key, he says, was in leveraging the “power of flowers” – the idea that clients are more willing to place their trust in businesses that are successful – and the presence of fresh flowers in a workplace speaks strongly of that success. To that end, Blumz emphasizes business-to-business partnerships and offers such services as VIP order enhancement, weekly floral programs, holiday/seasonal floral services, special-occasion reminder programs, charitable fundraising opportunities, employee discount options and more.
Yelverton advises florists looking to partner with corporations to be prepared with a well-thought-out plan, a professional presentation and excellent follow-through.
“Be honest, don’t sell yourself short, and always take flowers to the interview or send flowers afterward. Put your money where your mouth is,
and harness the joy of sending and receiving flowers,” he offers.
Also, “Be prepared to hear ‘no,’ and don’t take it personally,” Yelverton adds. “One of our longstanding clients initially told us no for several years before that door finally opened!”