Making Time for Holiday Workshops
No time for a break, get yourself geared for a holiday-themed workshop!
By Andrew Joseph
Although the fall season replaces summer this month, a florist’s work is never done, especially where the anticipation of offering holiday workshops in just a month or two is concerned. First, there is the autumn season, harvest time and Thanksgiving, which require floral décor of their own, and then it’s winter, Hanukkah and Christmas.
While the world is opening again after the lockdowns surrounding COVID-19, you don’t always have to create in-house workshops. There’s the opportunity to go to a business workplace, for example, and set up the workshop there or to create a live webinar. Remember, though, that part of the fun of a workshop is the interaction between the customers and between the customers and you, the instructor.
For those considering a live webinar, you could offer a kit of the required flowers and supplies that you could ship to customers a day or two before the webinar.
Some retail florists have offered workshops where they allowed customers to go around the shop and pick their own botanical items, containers, accessories and so on, but we recommend you provide customers with either a “kit” or access to only specific flowers and supply items.
Once you have decided which holiday you wish to showcase your workshop around, determine what type of floral design your customer base would be interested in making—centerpiece/tablescape, wreath, novelty design, etc.
To provide some tips, examples and inspiration, Florists’ Review contacted florists across the country to learn about their offerings, fees, class size limits and the scope of teaching—i.e., does everyone copy what the instructor does, or do you teach the basics and then allow your students to create their own designs?
Cass School of Floral Design
Founded by Faith Cass, AIFD, Cass School of Floral Design offers 60 classes a year, from professional florist training programs to basic floral design workshops. Among those workshops are the school’s “Festive Holiday Classes”—in-class sessions during which participants create themed floral designs for holiday celebrations or to give as gifts.
“For our ‘Festive Holiday Classes,’ we offer at least one class in each of these general categories: centerpiece, wreath, trending design and natural arrangement,” explains Tyke Patriquin, administrative director of the school. Cass has found that these design categories attracted the most interest and students.
This year, the school will offer six workshops between Nov. 20 and Dec. 15, on both weekdays, in the evenings, and on weekends, in the mornings. “We have found that midweek evenings and Sunday mornings are ideal times for our holiday classes,” Patriquin shares. The price for each class at the school is $85 per person. See the 2022 lineup at cassflowers.com/workshops/festive-holiday-arrangement-classes.
Patriquin adds that Cass School also offers private holiday classes for companies, social groups and residential communities. “For our private classes, we work with the clients to customize unique classes for their organizations,” she says. “These classes have ranged from teaching how to make a long-lasting arrangement perfectly-sized for office workstations or for a holiday luncheon to a daylong program on how to create everything you need to decorate a city apartment for the holidays—a coordinating boxwood tree, wreath and centerpiece.” Private classes can be held at the school or on location, and prices are dependent on the design to be created, the number of students and the location—and they can be as much as $150 per person.
Patriquin says that for the in-school “Festive Holiday Classes,” class size is limited to 20 students. “For private classes,” she explains, “we have no attendee limit and have taught classes on location for more than 100 students. For large classes, we have one staff member for every 20 students. For each class, we select the flowers, foliages and vessels for each class, but for some classes, we provide students with options for their accent materials so they can personalize their creations. For example, for our wreath classes, we offer students a choice of traditional, rustic or merry ribbons and embellishments.”
About the in-school “Festive Holiday Classes,” Patriquin shares that the “Thanksgiving Centerpiece” workshop features a different design each year, varying the color scheme, vessel and accent materials. This attracts repeat students who know that they will learn something new.
Cass School’s wreath classes (this year, “Wonderful Wreath” and “Welcoming Wreath”) are its most popular holiday offerings, selling out every year. “We teach students how to handcraft a wreath on a wire frame with an assortment of seasonal evergreens and offer a choice of accent materials for students to decorate their wreaths,” Patriquin explains.
Patriquin also notes that people always want to create what is popular, which is why Cass School offers the “Trending Design” workshop. “We select an arrangement style that is in fashion on social media now; before there was social media, it would be what one saw in style or home magazines,” she says. “This year, we are offering a ‘Glorious Table Garland’ class in which we will teach students how to construct a table runner with a choice selection of seasonal foliages and Eucalyptus and offer different options for embellishment.”
For the “Natural Arrangement” classes, Patriquin says, “For this category, we teach a rustic and relaxed-style design that often features wood elements and natural accents such as pine cones and berries.”
Noting that these classes are part of the school’s core business and not an additional revenue stream as they would be for a flower shop or floral design studio, Patriquin says that the “Festive Holiday Classes” are among its most popular and are a strong and consistent revenue source.
For Cass School, getting the word about its classes is done via social media, e-mail and direct-mail postcards. “In addition, in our other classes throughout the year, we promote our holiday classes as a great way to gather with family, friends and colleagues during the holiday season to share a creative experience,” Patriquin adds.
Patriquin says that holiday classes are a wonderful way to build stronger relationships with existing clientele and attract new customers, and she offers some of the tips for florists thinking about offering classes as well as those who already do.
1. Before pricing classes, create sample arrangements to ensure the prices you set adequately cover all costs and allow for a profit. Don’t forget to include all incidental costs such as packaging for students to take their creations home and refreshments.
2. When you create the sample arrangements, make a note of each step in the design process. These notes can serve as your class outline and remind you to communicate the design steps and techniques to the students.
3. Establish the terms of your class refund and cancellation policies, and communicate these policies to participants when they register for classes. Having a registrant fail to attend is too bad, but offering a refund takes money you could have earned from another student. As such, we offer no refunds. If you choose to offer refunds, consider options to avoid income loss. For example, instead of refunding a class fee to a student who can not attend, allow the student to send someone in his or her place or pick up the flowers and materials after the class. Setting ground rules ensures no miscommunication by those attending.
4. Contact your insurance agent to verify that your business policy sufficiently covers hosting classes and students in your store or studio.
Helen Olivia Floral Design
Located just outside of the nation’s capital, Helen Olivia Floral Design is owned by Rachel and Charles Gang and has been successfully offering floral design workshops for more than 15 years. Rachel Gang says they provide a great revenue stream for the business.
“We offer workshops for holidays year-round, not just for Thanksgiving and Christmas,” Gang shares. “In addition to those two big ones, we offer classes for Halloween, New Year’s, Easter, Mother’s Day and even the Fourth of July. All our workshops are popular, but the holiday workshops are the most in demand. Our client base is really into holiday decorating, entertaining and tablescaping.”
Helen Olivia Floral Design schedules workshops either weekly or biweekly, depending on the season. “For example, during the busy fall and Christmas season, we may offer only two or three workshops a month, but in January, we may teach as many as five or six,” Gang explains. Workshops range in price from $100 to $150 per person and include a bucket of flowers, a container for each student and one hour of instruction.
“Before the pandemic, we were exclusively in-person, but shifted to online in the COVID era,” Gang continues. “Now, half of our classes are in person, and half are online. We also teach private workshops for showers and birthdays, and many of those tend to be off site at a venue or someone’s home.”
As for the workshop setup, the affable Gang was resolute in not allowing customers free rein: “Oh no! I can’t imagine allowing workshop attendees to rummage through the studio,” she exclaims. “We recently moved into a fabulous new space—almost 8,000 square feet—and built a studio just for workshops. We provide all in-studio attendees with an assigned spot at a table with their buckets of flowers, vases and tools. For those who register for our virtual workshops, either we will deliver the kits to them or they pick them up from the studio.”
Gang explains that like everything in her business, the workshops are formula based, calculating down to the cent what goes into each bucket and factoring in labor to ensure the shop makes a profit on each workshop. “Some of our virtual workshops have been quite large, especially at the height of the pandemic, so we’ve been able to buy products in bulk, which means lower costs,” she says, noting that the record was 150 students in a single class in May 2020.
For in-studio workshops, Gang notes that Helen Olivia Floral Design caps enrollment at 12 students. “This seems to be the sweet spot to ensure that each student gets one-on-one attention from the instructor and the room doesn’t get too crowded. For virtual workshops, the sky’s the limit.” She also shares that the workshops are almost always in the evenings, at 7 p.m., which she says seems to the sweet spot: “Folks have had time to get home from work and have a bite to eat before turning to flowers.”
Today, after more than 15 years, the workshop program is exclusively marketed via word-of-mouth, including chatter on social media. “Many students have taken dozens of workshops, and they keep coming back. They also share their experiences with family, friends and co-workers.
“Workshops can be a wonderful revenue stream for florists, especially those who have down months where wedding or events business falls off,” summed up Gang. “If you’re worried that you’re teaching your client base to design, don’t be. We’ve been at this for years, and our workshops have helped expand our brand visibility, and bring hundreds, if not thousands, of feet through the doors.”
Victoria, B.C., Canada
Even though Canada has a swatch of different holidays from its American cousin to the south, it’s mostly just a date here or there, or specific wording. Colleen O’Farrell, owner and designer of Foxgloves Flowers in Victoria, British Columbia, says, “The best way for our clients to get in the spirit of the holiday season is to immerse themselves in the scents and textures of the season. There is something so evocative and inspiring about being around fresh cut evergreens such as cedar, fir, pine, hemlock and balsam, as well as holly, Magnolia, winterberries, snowberries and so many other seasonal botanicals. Our workshops provide a sense of joy of the holidays, gathering with friends and family, celebrations and human connection.”
O’Farrell notes that the worst of the pandemic predicated no workshops but that Foxgloves Flowers began offering them again during the holiday season last year (2021). “We offered classes on fresh evergreen wreath classes, West Coast winter wonderland table centerpieces, tabletop decorated boxwood trees and dried floral cloches,” she says.
Prices for Foxgloves’ holiday workshops run between $65 and $85, but that’s in Canadian dollars. Converted, that’s about $50 to $65, in U.S. dollars. O’Farrell says this price range is accessible to her clientele, as it’s typically what a custom-made wreath would cost to purchase. “But with our classes, they get an experience, skills and the joy of making it themselves,” she adds.
She advises that when pricing workshops, florists need to cover their preparation and teaching time, all the materials they supply and the refreshments they provide—and then add on whatever profit they want to make. “We also have add-on items for students want to take their designs to the next level, and we charge additionally for those.”
Foxgloves’ classes have always been held in person, in the shop’s studio, at local gymnasiums and shopping centers, and even in care facilities for the elderly—anywhere there’s a space large enough to host eight to 25 students. “Eight is the minimum number of students required to make it worthwhile for us to run, and we tend to cap them at 25 so that we have time to talk to each student and give some hands-on attention,” O’Farrell shares. “We bring on an additional instructor when the class number rises above 12.”
O’Farrell says that Foxgloves provides workshop participants with kits of materials they will use to construct the project. “During the pandemic, when in-person classes were not an option, we sold wreath kits comprising all the materials needed to create the wreath as well as how-to instructions,” O’Farrell recalls. “I even recorded a step-by-step video that they could watch as many times as they needed to learn the specific techniques required.”
Regarding the best days and times for workshops, O’Farrell says they tend to offer midweek evening classes as well as weekend classes in both the mornings and afternoons. “If we can book some back-to-back classes, it helps with labor, and we only have to set up and tear down once.”
For Foxgloves, having a website that sees a lot of traffic has allowed the business to just post the holiday workshop notices—that’s it, in terms of marketing. Check out foxglovesflowers.com/floral-design-classes.
O’Farrell offers this advice to florists who have not yet incorporated workshops as part of their business plans. “Give it a try! See if it is something you feel comfortable with and if teaching is your thing. Those who come to classes become lifelong customers because you have time to create a relationship with them after spending time teaching them to embrace their creativity. They think of you the next time they want to do something fun or need to send flowers.”
Grand Rapids, Mich.
The possibilities are endless when it comes to holiday workshops. That’s the message from Rachel Vander Heide, president of Eastern Floral in Grand Rapids, Mich. “We have seen great success with our design classes, particularly during the holidays,” she says. “We often offer multiple workshops, due to high demand. Many participants use these opportunities to create designs with the intention of gifting them to friends or family members.
“In the past,” she continues, “we have offered wreath decorating, winter porch pots, traditional holiday centerpieces, holiday tablescapes as well as boxwood tree decorating, to name just a few,” she explains. “Each year, we offer a different experience, as well as something different from what others may be offering.
Easter Floral charges $55 for workshops held January through November and $70 for its December workshop. “It is our hope to make classes affordable to any person who wishes to attend while offering distinctive flowers, containers and design styles, to provide a one-of-a-kind experience.”
Sweet “16”—that’s the class size for participants, which Vander Heide explains is the sweet spot for both space available and the ideal number to ensure a fun and engaging class for everyone.
“We schedule our design classes on one Saturday a month, at 10 a.m.,” she continues. “We also offer private design classes, which are a very popular group activity—especially during the holidays—for parties of eight or more.” Eastern Floral offers both in-person and virtual workshops, with the virtual classes being recorded, rather than live, in real time, to allow participants to design at their convenience and pace.
All workshop participants receive kits filled with all the fresh and hard goods needed to create the design. “Kits allow more time for us to focus on teaching and creates an ease for our participants,” Vander Heide notes.
Advertising for the Eastern Floral’s workshops is primarily on the company website. Vander Heide explains that they are beginning to post more videos and photos on social media, too, and include a YouTube icon to let customers know that they can see previous workshop videos.
Summing up, Vander Heide says, “By offering design workshops, we have been able to connect and build relationships with many members of our community. In a time where retail shopping has become almost strictly transactional, the personal bonds and connections created during workshops are very meaningful.”
Four Seasons Flowers
San Diego, Calif.
There are plenty of places to visit in San Diego—from SeaWorld and San Diego Zoo to Balboa Park and the USS Midway Museum. You’ll also find Four Seasons Flowers, owned by Carma and David White (Carma is a second-generation florist; the business was founded in 1974 by Carma’s mother, Barbara Bertran).
Unlike the other businesses mentioned in this article, Four Seasons Flowers no longer offers workshops—due, in part, to the pandemic, which caused the Whites to re-evaluate everything they were doing and how they did those things. So why is the company being mentioned in this article? Because, Carma White says, it was part of the evolution of her company. “We noticed that whenever people would walk into our shop, they would say that they would love to be able to make that—which is how it started. So, I decided to make my open house more interactive.”
The shop’s workroom could accommodate eight workshop participants, and it was situated so that everyone at the open house could see them. “Customers came into the backroom asking what the other customers are doing there, and they started talking to us while we worked,” White recalls. “It was a very successful way to introduce and spread the word about our workshops.”
Despite starting small, the workshop concept quickly expanded and became extremely successful and profitable. Four Seasons hosted workshops in the store until just recently, on Saturday mornings, from 9 to 10 a.m. and from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. All workshop participants received a 10 percent discount on merchandise in the store.” At the end of the in-store workshops, Four Seasons Flowers was charging $85 per person.
Since people have been getting out and about more during the last year or so, Four Seasons Flowers has switched to conducting off-site workshops at various companies and organizations. “With those,” White says, “we can include more people than we could in our shop, and, therefore, we generate more income.” She points to a recent workshop at a nearby winery—a wine and cheese and flowers event—where 25 to 30 people signed up. “It was great for the winery and my shop.”
White acknowledges that hosting workshops in the shop during store hours was difficult because they tended to monopolize her time and lessen her ability to communicate with other paying customers who come into the store. Still, says White, they provided a great way for Four Seasons Flowers to generate repeat business. “Currently, I’m evaluating if we are going to offer in-store workshop again,” she shares.