“Village church gate to designing for international clients”

 Lara Mathias-Santos is the design manager at West Van Florist Home & Garden in Vancouver, B.C. This is her success story.

“I participated in the village tradition of decorating the church gate with flowers prior to a wedding. When the bride came, she tossed coins to us children as we stood under the floral arch – we opened the gate and let her in. I have loved flowers ever since.

“After secondary school, I left England to travel and explore Canada. My parents came out to visit and decided that they would emigrate. They asked that I stick around to help them settle and transition. I never left. “I completed my formal floral training and came to work at West Van Florist in 2000, managing weddings and events. In 2003, I was promoted to design manager, overseeing five staff and orchestrating floral work for myriad clients – many of whom live here in Vancouver as well as other parts of the world. We have unbelievable customers who push us to unbelievable floral design.”


“West Van Florist Home & Garden is the oldest and largest floral shop in Vancouver. It’s been in this location, serving the neighborhood and the whole city since 1933. Apart from our fabulous cut flower floral department, we have a garden center, an indoor plant section and a huge gift store. I’m one of a team of 30, which expands to 36 during the holidays. “Our store is in a high socioeconomic area, and our customers have always had the income to buy beautiful flowers. Initially, it was affluent, older British-Canadian customers, but now we serve a much younger and diverse clientele, with homes and businesses in Vancouver and other parts of the world. Our floral team reflects this diversity, many with roots in other countries and cultures. Our client base is unique, and our floral design reflects this, often incorporating strong lines and unusual flowers from around the world.” TECHNOLOGY IS OUR RECENT FRIEND “We were slow on the uptake to get our flowers online, but we got there, and now 45 percent of our business starts there. We have a staff person responsible for the web and someone focused on our social media presence. We can track the impact to our sales from these activities.


“Here, large weddings are sourced through event planners, who require florists to bid on the floral component. We discovered that this took too much time, and the profit margins were small. We are now committed our everyday customers and midsize weddings and events.
“For many years, we have been doing workshops and inviting our clients to participate in hands-on demonstrations. We have discovered that this education process further enhances our customer appreciation for the art and creativity involved in our designs, sealing their commitment to our designers.”


“People working at West Van Florist Home & Garden like the work, their colleagues and customers, so we have employee longevity. This is good for the business – for us and our customers.
“The owners are committed to making sure that we have the tools to be the best we can be. They support us attending seminars and training classes. We can’t get stale, or we will lose customers. We have amazing access to flowers from the flower auction, which are delivered daily. We have the largest selection of cut flowers in Western Canada. Our owners know that technology is the future, and they are investing and training us in this.
“The store has become a destination for people all over the greater Vancouver area, and so we’re refurbishing and rebuilding. We know that our storefront is important, and we’re constantly changing our window to reflect the creativity and amazing talent inside.”


“In our business it is very easy to present the same thing. It’s easy to believe that this is what our customers want. But, if you never show something new, different and ‘out there,’ how will they ever know that something like this is available? We grow ourselves, our customers and our business. It’s fun, and it’s rewarding!”