“Everything we do,we do with heart, and I think it shows.”

Even if you’ve been locked in the flower cooler, you know about the burlap-wrapped, hand-tied, locally sourced bouquets delivered by bicycle couriers in San Francisco. Heck, you may have seen the captivating TV ad by Capital One, featuring the transformative business story of Christina Stembel, owner, founder and CEO of Farmgirl Flowers. The charming bicycle bouquet is now a $33 million business. Florists’ Review has tracked Christina’s hard-won success over the years and reconnected to find out what her team is up to today and what’s in the works for tomorrow.


“I devised a business plan to solve a couple of the main problems that really disturbed me about the industry. I wanted to source only domestic flowers within 200 miles. To address the issue of waste, I came up with the concept of one daily arrangement. Through focus groups, I found that many people didn’t care what flowers they were getting; they just wanted to make sure those flowers were beautiful. Our original product line featured one bouquet, either hand-tied and wrapped in burlap or arranged in a vase. We delivered by bicycle courier, which was a green practice and easier than cars in San Francisco.”


“We’re not just making a better flower arrangement, we’re also putting just as much effort into the customer experience. Customer service is equally, if not more, important to us. Our customer service is in house, and we do everything in our power to build and sometimes salvage relationships with our customers. When people call us the ‘Zappos of flowers,’ it’s the best compliment. We also put just as much effort into building a good company. We share our struggles with our customers so they know they can trust us. Everything we do, we do with heart, and I think it shows.”


“I built this company to be a national brand. I didn’t start this little flower shop and then just luck out. It was a conscious plan from the start. I never went into this to try and take away local florists’ business in San Francisco. I built this to compete with the big e-commerce guys. Right now, 90 percent of our business is via UPS shipping. We’re building a full- scale manufacturing facility, and we’re working to convert our covered- wagon operation into a bullet train. We are adding technology and machinery to maximize functions, and we’re hiring more staff to manage growth. We’re competing with companies who use labor in other countries at much lower costs. We need to compete with them without outsourcing aspects of our operation to other countries.”


“From 2010 to 2012, I worked in my apartment, then moved into a space inside the San Francisco Flower Mart. In 2016, we moved out of 3,500 square feet at the Mart and into 9,500 square feet in a nearby warehouse, which soon expanded to 15,000. One of the neighboring warehouse tenants moved out, and we are now inhabiting 30,000 feet. It’s a short-term lease, which is important for managing our future growth.”


 “I didn’t pay myself for years. I felt I was a volunteer rather than an employee. Today, we have 145 employees, 15 of which are office-based managers. Most are full time, and the rest are independent contractors by choice. People who want full time receive full time, plus full benefits – full medical, vision, dental and a 401(k) – after one year of employment. We consider full time more than 32 hours a week. Our average pay is about 60 percent more than San Francisco’s minimum wage.”


“We were faced with a challenge of sourcing enough flowers from domestic farms, for all kinds of weather, seasonality and farms converting to the new green of Cannabis. In 2017, we looked to source directly from farms abroad whose values aligned with our own. We continue to buy flowers from U.S. growers but subsidize with other flowers that we can’t get enough of here. I was really nervous about this change and what the response from our customers would be. I posted a letter on our web page saying, “This is the situation, and this isn’t what I want to do. I’m sad about this, but I’m just going to be honest and tell you why.” Then, we started getting emails, and they were so positive. Everybody was so nice, so supportive, so thankful that I was honest with them. Customers who I had never met before wrote things like, “I’ve always bought from you because I love your aesthetic, and I’m going to keep buying from you because I love your heart.” Transparency in business is key.”


“We decided that there might be room for Farmgirl wedding and event flowers, so we launched Pop, Ship, Clink! by Farmgirl Flowers in July 2018. It’s a high-quality and well-priced option for courthouse, backyard, budget celebrations and an enhancement to DIY events. Customers might order from their computers at 2 a.m. two weeks before their weddings, and their flowers arrive on their doorsteps with directions. It’s doing well. As we have so many loyal customers and followers, we are exploring widening our brand with product extension like linens, textiles, cards and candles – and we are writing a book!”