Working in the Floral Industry - Interview with Alicia Mullen

It's been interesting interviewing my floral friends that own flower shops and so I was inspired to turn the tables and interview a few folks that don't own the shop but rather work in the industry. Of course, I had to start with my 2 favorite people who worked for me up until I retired, starting with Designer Alicia. Not only did we work together but I trust her with the life of my most important "little beings"-  my cat Mai Tai! Alicia has become our go to kitty sitter and the only non-family member to hold a key to my house!! That says something, right!! 

I know that once you start reading Alicia's responses to my questions, you will understand why I think she is pretty amazing. Not only was she a talented designer but she can run circles around me in many areas, one of which was English!! How ironic!! I'm the one writing a couple of books (hopefully to be picked up by Random House) and she truly needs to be my editor!! It has been discussed so look forward to hearing more on that later!

Getting back to Alicia, I'm so proud of what she has done since last year. Honestly, she is capable of so much more. I hope her current employer doesn't wait for the opportunity to give her more responsibility and quickly move her up the ranks of management. When I emailed her the questions, she was quick to send her thoughtful and articulate responses right back. If that doesn't say a lot about her, then nothing does! 

Funny story about when I interviewed her for the job at Monday Morning Flowers. She was nervous but also very poised. Usually, I have to drag information out of potential employees but not with her. She was quick to answer my silly questions and then basically turned the interview on me. She had her questions all typed up, laid out before her. She wanted to make sure she was paid more, received more hours, had better benefits, and would learn more than where she was currently working. It was clear that if I wanted her to work for me, I had to pull out all the charm!!  In the long run it was a better choice for her. I felt proud when she mentioned she thought she had learned more in one month working with us than she had at her previous job and all the floral design classes she had taken combined.  Alicia was fun to work with, always excited to learn something new, she loves giving thumbs up and sticking out her tongue in pictures. Balloon designs were her favorite thing to work on and always jumped at the chance! When she is really excited she gives it a big "Weeeee" and claps her hands over her head.  

I'll consider my job "Well Done" if she doesn't send me an email with a grammatical edit of this blog post. No really, I'm not kidding. Now, Alicia in her own words! 

How did you happen to get into the Floral Industry?

I fell into the industry, which seems to be the way a lot of designers start their careers. I was a year out of high school and a friend got me a job as a cashier at a local grocery store. One day the floral dept. needed help, they sent me over, and the rest is history! At first it was just a job, but the longer I was in it, the more I loved it, and I soon sleeked more design experience which eventually landed me at Monday Morning! 

Now that you are in the industry, why do you stay?

I stay because I love it. No two days are the same, and I personally love the variety. My brain does not do well with stagnation ha-ha. It allows me to be creative and make pretty things!

What's your favorite part of your job?

My favorite part used to be partaking in parties and events when I was at Monday Morning. Seeing a party go from concept, to quote, to the design bench and then into reality at a venue was really fun. There were so many different elements and you could really be creative with the customer as long as they were open to it. I loved seeing their vision come to fruition!

In my new position as a manager in a retail floral dept. (this job has MANY differences to my previous one), I don't create as many events as before. However, becoming manager has opened many doors such as ordering which is my new favorite part! I find it a blast! Being able to pick out the gift items and products that I am to sell in my dept. is super fun! I then get to see what sells and what people like. It's like a game that I get to play against myself every day, challenging myself to find the best sellers that the customers will love. And of course, I find some goodies for myself along the way lol. 

What is your least favorite part of the job?

My least favorite part would have to be customers view on what they are buying. What I mean by that is a lot of customers can have champagne wishes and caviar dreams, but because they're "just flowers" tend to have budgets that do not align with what they are asking for. I believe that here in the US, we are not viewed as artists like florists are in other countries. (Or so I've heard) Flowers are not cheap. They are flown in from all over the world and are a perishable product. They pass through many hands to get to the customer. That all costs money. It's an ongoing battle.  

The industry is known for hard work and relatively low pay. What is your thoughts on that?

I wholeheartedly agree with this. Unfortunately, in this industry, pay is usually low relative to the skill and years of experience that a lot of us have, and benefits such as medical insurance and PTO can be extremely hard to find. Stability can also be difficult to find. In an industry that revolves around seasonal holidays, you could be hired one day, and let go or have your hours cut the next once business slows down. I'm not sure much can be done to improve this as owners would likely need to increase prices, which would have a backlash as a lot of customers already aren't willing to pay what it would cost. The entire industry needs an overhaul. 

If there was one thing you could change about working in the industry, what would that be?

I think I would change the floral design school aspect. There are many schools and programs that promise being able to design right out of the gate and that is simply not true. The school that I partook in (and granted, I went in with a decent amount of experience already...) taught mostly the "principles of design" and the art theory behind design; Things that you could read out of a textbook. Granted this info can be useful in floral design, but I believe the program leaned too heavily on the aspects. The best place to learn is IN a flower shop under an experienced designer. They also focused far too heavily on the showcasing of design, things that would only work in a flower show aspect, not the consumer world. 

What are your hopes for the future of your career?

I have 2 end goals.

1. In my current position in the supermarket world, my hope is that one day I can ascend the ladder and become the overall floral buyer for the entire chain. This is by far the safer and secure option and appeals to my more analytical side. I would have to evaluate sales of multiple stores and react accordingly. I would oversee all vendors and gift lines that we would carry.

2. On the other hand, my creative side would love one day to own my own shop. This is far riskier and more difficult to accomplish, especially right now when the industry is so unstable. I haven't given up hope, however. Perhaps one day I can make my vision a reality!