The Age of Studio Floral Designers
“How the floral industry is changing, and what’s next for studio and retail designers”
As the new year continues to take shape, it’s a good time to look at some of the trends that have begun to take root in our industry of late. One of the most interesting developments is the rise of studio florists and a shift to and from brick-and-mortar storefronts, with some designers offering insight after working in both.
Natalie Gill, of Native Poppy in San Diego, Calif., believes it’s easier than ever to start a small business these days thanks to social media and the internet being a free resource to access a community, and she’s not surprised there is an uptick in people becoming florists.
“For me starting out, it seemed that studio florist was the obvious choice – there was minimal overhead for my freelance and event schedule, I could do all of my advertising online and I didn’t need a dedicated commercial space to work out of,” she says.
But Gill made the transition to brick-and-mortar though she warns it’s not for everyone. “I don’t believe that switching from studio to brick-and-mortar necessarily means growth. For me, it was an opportunity to stretch new muscles and try something different,” she says. “I was attracted to the idea of creating an everyday flower experience for my community rather than just working on events occasionally for people.”
However, she didn’t leave studio design. Her business still participates in that world, and Gill even thinks of her shop as an advertisement for that side of the business, citing that patrons who buy flowers from the store a few times a year may hire her for their weddings.
For those making a switch, there are differences one needs to be prepared for. “Running an everyday shop requires so much energy to consistently cover your overhead and manage employees,” Gill says. “The constant energy required to maintain new customers is also labor-intensive, and I can see why someone who may just love design would leave the retail world since it requires excellent customer service, superior managers, consistent marketing strategies and maintaining the aesthetic of a retail shop.”
Still, Gill foresees more modern flower shops opening in 2019 as more consumers want to have experiences in brick-and-mortar stores on a consistent basis.
From Retail Shop to Studio
“We needed to cut prices and find something new. I knew I didn’t want another brick-and-mortar shop”
Lauri Leber, owner of The Flower Shop Bluffton, located in Ridgeland, S.C., made the transition from traditional retail to a shipping-container studio, citing few people coming into the store and wasting thousands of dollars to keep it open.
“We had the storefront for 12 years and decided we needed to cut prices and find something new,” she says. “I knew I didn’t want another brick-and-mortar shop.”
In an innovative move, Leber acquired a 40-foot-by-8-foot shipping container and converted it into a floral studio. Now, there’s no more rent, and her overhead has been cut by more than 50 percent.
“It took six months to purchase the container and convert it into a workable space, and it’s actually brought in more business,” she says. “I can move the container anywhere I need it to go. The only thing I would have done differently is bought another one and made it bigger. It looks really cool.”
Andie Muller, AIFD, FSMD, owner of the Flower Studio in Altamonte Springs, Fla., was a Brazilian immigrant who dreamed of opening her own flower shop in the U.S., but when she finally fulfilled that dream in 2010, she realized it wasn’t what she had hoped.
“The old model of working 9-5, Monday to Friday wasn’t working anymore for this new generation,” she says. “I chose to become a custom/made-to-order florist and educate my clientele and potential clients about the way I worked, and that relationship works better now.”
When Rhonda Bullington, owner of Loess Hills Floral in Council Bluffs, Iowa, opened her shop in 2001, she wrote her business plan to be a full-service flower shop. After one year in business, she came upon a studio space in an industrial up-and-coming art district and decided to make a change.
“It was an old warehouse that had been converted into retail/studio spaces. The rent was reasonable, so I took the risk and moved,” she says. “I got rid of wire services and started focusing on what I did best – funeral work, event work and weddings.”
Being in a town of around 50,000 people, with three major grocery stores that all offer full-service floral departments, plus two other established floral shops nearby, Bullington knew this was the best move.
“It’s even better than I expected. I don’t have to have someone sitting at the shop answering the phone and waiting for customers to come in. The virtual secretary/ answering service I use rings to my studio and then to my cell phone. So if I happen to be out on a delivery, I’m still able to answer the phone,” she says.
“I have more freedom to meet with clients on-site, or if I want to work from my home office, I can do that.” Bullington wishes that someone would have guided her in the studio direction when she was starting in the industry; it would have saved her from spending money on giftware, advertising, wire service, etc. Her advice for others thinking of following her lead is to make sure you have a space where you can meet with your clients; make sure your customers can reach you via phone, text or email; and make sure your potential clients can see your work via social media and/or a website.
“That’s how we get most of clients, on social media,” she says. “Clients want to see pictures of our work.”
For a true expert on the subject, we turn to Darlene Nelson, owner of DLN Floral Creations in Naperville, Ill., who has gone from studio to retail and then back to a studio.
“So, after nine months of this battle and starting to see a reduction in sales, I made the leap back into a retail shop. It’s been the best decision I’ve made.”
“Originally, I opened a retail shop after having started my business in my home. The business was taking off, and I needed more room and to add more employees,” she says. “Everything was going along beautifully, and then 2008 came. I had to downsize just to survive.”
After almost a decade, Nelson realized her business was navigating more toward events and funerals and that her walk-in retail business was fading, so she sized down to a large work studio and added a consultation office to meet with clients and do pick-up orders.
“It’s all a matter of paying attention to your business and the needs of your clients – as well as your own needs – to make it all work properly,” she says. “It can be scary, but you started a business to begin with, and that’s scary in itself. Changing is the easy thing to do. It’s not changing that can get you into trouble. Denial is not your friend.”
While she created an “awesome” client base when in retail – something that would have never happened working just from a home studio – switching back to a studio setting has been a blessing because she found her true path to happiness.
“I do miss the full-blown retail side of the business, but we have an amazing overall business now with fewer headaches, and I am very happy,” Nelson says. “I would do it again in a heartbeat.”
From Studio to Retail Shop
Another who has made a switch and gone back again is Adrianna Duran-Leon, AIFD, owner of The Flower Company of Albuquerque, N.M.,who is back to the retail side of things. It was more than four decades ago when the business started as a brick-and-mortar shop and remained that way until 2016, when Duran-Leon’s aunt was set to retire, and she decided to take the business in a new direction with a studio-based outlet.
“I set up shop at home. I had plenty of space dedicated to my shop, it worked well and was cheaper to operate,” she says. “However, what I didn’t want to happen began to happen. I had the website, phone numbers, customer loyalty, customer lists, social media presence – everything you need except for the retail storefront. People would call asking where the shop was located.”
Talking with those who called, she soon realized that customers wanted someone they could trust, and they wanted to see an actual shop and florist working the trade.
“It really began to bug me. The business was more than 40 years old, and I’ve had been in it for 25 years, and people were not willing to ‘take a chance’ on me,” Duran-Leon says. “So, after nine months of this battle and starting to see a reduction in sales, I made the leap back into a retail shop. It’s been the best decision I’ve made.”
Carlee Donnelly, owner of Rusted Vase Floral Co., in Seattle, Wash., made the switch from studio to retail to expand her business, gain exposure to additional project areas and have a larger space to work, have meetings and host workshops.
“I’ve had a really amazing experience transitioning from studio to shop. I would do it again – just not anytime soon,” she says. “I love the space I’m in and hope to continue growing my business there.”
Looking back on the experience, the one tip she can offer others considering a similar transition is to take your time and find the perfect space in the right neighborhood.
“You need to be patient and picky,” Donnelly says. “Trust your gut, take risks and work hard. Staying positive is key.”
- The interior of the Rusted Vase Floral Co. Photo courtesy of Carlee Donnelly, owner
- Andie Muller, owner of the Flower Studio. Photo courtesy of Andie Muller
- Before and after images of the shipping container that was converted into a design studio. Photo courtesy of Lauri Leber, owner of The Flower Shop Bluffton.
- Rhonda Bullington, owner of Loess Hills Floral. Photo courtesy of Rhonda Bullington
- Darlene Nelson, owner of DLN Floral Creations. Photo courtesy of Darlene Nelson
- Roses from the Flower Studio. Photo courtesy of Andie Muller, owner
- The interior of DLN Creations. Photo courtesy of Darlene Nelson, owner
- Special event flowers, designed by DLN Creations. Photo courtesy of Darlene Nelson, owner
- Carlee Donnelly, owner of the Rusted Vase Floral Co. Photo courtesy of Carlee Donnelly, owner
- The exterior of the Rusted Vase Floral Co. Photo courtesy of Carlee Donnelly, owner