I've been enjoying asking some of my floral friends how they happened to "stumble" into the flower business and one of the questions I asked was "What do you wish you knew then, that you know now". This got me to thinking of all the things I wish I knew when I was just starting out. Now mind you, if I had known how hard it would be to succeed and how long it would take, I probably would have been too scared to give it a go, so in that sense, I'm glad that I was ignorant on many subjects.
I can't help but ponder all those things I learned the hard way so I thought, for the benefit of anyone who might need to change up a few things to make their flower business really thrive, I thought I'd answer my own question. As you'll see, I have quite a few topics I wish I had more knowledge on.
- Track Toss - We started tracking the flowers that were going unused. Let's face it, we sold a highly perishable product. Not only did tracking toss tell us if we were rotating inventory correctly, but also if we were buying correctly. Tossing too many of an expensive flowers meant you customer did not value them, nor did the designers. Tossing too many roses meant that you were buying too many, perhaps in the wrong colors or trying to have too many colors on hand. Tossing too many stems of basic flowers such as carnations, alstroemeria and daisies meant you were buying too many, or buying them too often. Tossing too many of any one type of flower meant you needed to use them differently in designs, perhaps make sure they were included in more recipe designs to help even out their use. Once we started tracking toss, we started rotating, buying and promoting our flowers correctly, the profits shot up!
- Staffing - Gosh, I could make this a long drawn out point but the truth is that we often kept people in positions for too long that clearly weren't ever going to work out. Not only was it stressful to us as managers, but also to the "good" staff. Keeping one bad apple can ruin the whole bunch (girl) and jokes aside, there were times that we tolerated employees for "years". Yes, for years. Enough on that, you get the idea.
- Capital - Yes, many have said this in the past but like most, I started out on a wing and a prayer and NO MONEY!! No credit, no savings, no income. I was able to make it work but it was scary at times. There's nothing like hiding in your office while you hope that wholesaler will leave the flowers at the door because you don't have that "check" you owe them. I do have to admit though, that I've known quite a few new business owners who started out with money and they still failed. The good thing about not having any money is that you become "Scrappy". Because I had no money, I learned to look for bargains, used Gorilla Marketing tactics and never, ever bought anything new for years and years. That is what I enjoyed about liquidating our store and selling to new and upcoming "Scrappy" business owners. They reminded me of ME! I actually still owned my very first single door cooler (we used it to store fruit for baskets) and I sold it to someone just starting out for $100.
- Bigger is Not Always Better - Many people don't remember that Kevin and I not only owned 2 flower shops but we also had a Muffin and Bagel Shop. Running 3 businesses as the same time was extremely stressful and did no result in the business being more profitable, which meant we never made any extra income from having multiple businesses. It took us over 9 years of having the second flower shop for us to realize it was too expensive to have a manager and full staff at that location. That second store always lost money, never once was it profitable while fully staffed. We were able to down size the shop, forward the phones to the Princeton location and have all deliveries leave from there. That made a huge difference but in the end, 10 years later, we let this location go. Our profits jumped again. When our landlord needed us to close our food operation, we were happy to have them offer to buy us out. Our 5 year foray in the food business taught us how hard this industry is. The next time you go into your local bagel store, be nice to them. They have to try to survive on hundreds of $5 and $10 rings. Imagine that!!
- Profits Vs. Sales - The biggest thing I wish we knew, was that high sales don't mean a darn if they are not profitable sales. For years we chased higher and higher sales figures only to find out that we sometimes lost money. Yes, during months like May and December, 2 big months in the floral industry, we often broke even or lost money. Why? Probably because while we were churning during those busy months, we were buying too many flowers, hiring too many extra staff, and our employees were working incredible hours resulting in tons and tons of overtime. Also, needing extra delivery vehicles that needed to be rented to deliver all those holiday arrangements. I remember one year for Valentine's Day my bill for extra vans was $4,000!! Do you know how many arrangements you have to sell just to make up for an extra bill that high? Well, it's a lot!!
Honestly, it's all water under the bridge and I am proud of not only what I built but that I learned enough as I went along to both offer sound advice when asked and to have enough savings to retire a bit earlier than most. I'm bound to post more later on this topic and feel free to let me know if there is anything you are struggling with. After 34 years going to the "School of Hard Knocks", I might have some advice to help!! Thanks for reading!!