How to Start a Flower Shop

It’s easy to sit around all day and daydream about opening your own flower shop, but actually doing it is a different story. Starting your own business is a big step with big responsibility and risk, but it also brings with it big opportunity and job satisfaction. Studies have shown that the workers who realize the most stress on the job are those who lack control in their work. Freedom is that magic factor that drives the entrepreneurial zeal which drives so many to succeed on their own. So if you’re ready to put in a lot of hard work to commit yourself to something you care about and persevere through the challenges, this mini-guide will give you some starting points on how to start a flower shop of your own.

First steps

Before investing your time and money, you want to make as sure as you possibly can that floristry is for you. Read Is floristry right for me? to get a general idea if you’re well suited for the job. More specifically, if you’d like to start a flower shop of your own, but are unsure if it’d be the right decision for you, here are a few questions you can ask yourself:

  • Have you been working in floristry long enough to know whether it’s something you’d enjoy in the long run? How well suited are you to doing this job, day in, day out?
  • Do you have enough experience and skills to successfully run your flower business? If not, can you spend some time working on someone else’s dime and/or take some floristry courses to get more hands-on floristry skills? If you work at a florist shop you may even find out that the owner wants to retire and sell their business, which could save you a lot of time and effort having to build up clients, find a location, buy products, hire staff, etc. And what about business skills… do you feel you have enough knowledge to handle the job? Self-employment requires wearing a lot of different hats. Are you able to pick things up quickly or can you take some courses to learn what you need to learn?
  • Do you have enough funds to properly launch your business, run it through the tough first years and support yourself?
  • What kind of flower shop do you want to open up? Storefront retail is not the only option. You could run an online shop or wholesale to other florists. You could just specialize in florist supplies or you could offer flowers in addition to a wide range of other goods.
  • If you were to choose an online shop, would you miss the person-to-person interaction? Do you have enough technical skill and patience with computers to run an online shop?

Market research

Once answering personal questions of yourself to determine whether starting a flower shop is right for you, you have to figure out how much of a market there is for a florist shop. It’s a good idea to develop a business plan. If you’ve never written a business plan before read through the Small Business Association’s Create your business plan section for advice.

Start by asking yourself where you’d like to open up? Then find out how many potential customers there would be in your area and how much they would spend on flowers. The wealthier the neighbourhood the more they will spend on flowers. Think about the age of customers and if they tend to buy flowers online or prefer to buy from a store.

You can do market research by surveying people in the neighbourhood to find out how often they buy flowers and how much they typically spend and on what occasions they buy flowers for. Is there a funeral home, nursing home, cemetery, place of worship or hospital in the area? You can ask around by simply stopping people on the street and polling them, dropping off surveys door to door or getting a mailing list from a local business and sending the survey to their snail mail or email list. If you want to pass this task off completely you could just hire a market research firm.

Competition

It’s not just customers you have to think about, but the competition. With the proliferation of the Internet as a medium of commerce, competition has increased dramatically. Think about how your shop can compete, differentiate yourself and provide services to customers. Whether it’s giving away a flower to all customers who come into the shop or hosting floristry courses to build rapport, adding that personal touch and building face-to-face connections with customers is often enough to build repeat customers.

How many shops that sell flowers are there in your target market? What type of shops are they? Retail florist shops, grocery stores, big box stores? Now go back to your market research. How do most people in your target market like to shop for flowers? Does your competition already satisfy the market or is there room for you to succeed?

Find your competitive advantage

Investopedia defines competitive advantage as: “an advantage that a firm has over its competitors, allowing it to generate greater sales or margins and/or retain more customers than its competition. There can be many types of competitive advantages including the firm’s cost structure, product offerings, distribution network and customer support.”

To figure out your competitive advantage it’s a good idea to do a SWOT analysis. What are the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to your business. Good first questions to ask for each of these four areas are:

Strengths: what characteristics does your business have that give it an advantage over others in your market (i.e. specialize in a particular type of flower or a strong online presence).

Weaknesses: what characteristics does your business have that place it at a disadvantage over others in your market (i.e. poor location, small selection of products to choose from).

Opportunities: is there anything your business can exploit to its advantage (i.e. government just announced new small business grants, local competitors do not have a strong online presence).

Threats: can you think of anything that can cause problems for your business (i.e. growing online competition, people buying less flowers due to a poor economy).

If you’d like to do further brainstorming, here’s a link to a full set of SWOT questions you can ask yourself.

Getting started

Location, location, location – The more foot traffic you have passing your shop the more business you will get so scout out the best possible spot. Observe the traffic pattern at these locations to determine traffic volume and at what time people pass by. Is there ample parking nearby? Perhaps you want to run your business from home or just start it at home with a plan to move out once you get the chance. Another option, recommended by Smarta, is to “cut premises costs by starting with a stall near a busy train station or street to start generating revenue before committing to a full property lease.” Starting slow and building up is a wise decision that works well for a lot of people. In any case, do you have enough space or will it feel crammed? Is there room to grow or would you have to move if you wanted to offer more products?

Taxation and licenses – Time to stop smelling the roses. Here comes the not fun, but really important stuff. Register your business with the IRS and find out what licenses you need to run your business. Visit your local Small business office for free guidance on this stage of the process as well as for some good advice on other matters related to starting a business. Consider hiring an accountant to get your business started off right as you’ll have to make a number of decisions on how to run your business (i.e. incorporate or sole proprietorship) and account for taxes and deductions.

Insurance – Get a referral from a family member or friend on a good insurance agent and decide how you want to insure your business, and if you’re delivering flowers, your vehicle. Another thing to insure against is lawsuits if, for example, suppliers provided the wrong type of flowers or the flowers were to spoil right before an event.

Find good suppliers – As mentioned in the insurance section, you don’t want to run into the problem of getting sued just because your supplier provided the wrong type of flowers. Though that’s an untypically negative scenario, finding good suppliers that can provide you with quality product at competitive prices is an important aspect to doing well in the floristry business. To be as efficient as possible look for suppliers that will deliver small quantities so that you don’t waste inventory.

Making your first purchases – In the beginning you’ll have to make a number of big purchases to get up and running like refrigeration cases, containers and possibly a delivery van as well as a lot of little stuff like ribbons, floral tape and cards. Be wise with your investments and only purchase what you really need. As with any big purchase spend a good amount of time researching the best purchasing decision. Online shopping makes researching products a lot quicker and easier.

Budget – Think about all your monthly product purchases and expenses (rent, electricity to power the refrigeration cases, supplies, salaries, etc.) and budget accordingly. Aim to have at least a few months of money in the bank to cover these expenses in case your earnings can’t cover them. The more savings you have built up before you launch the better off you’ll be, and the more relaxed.

Staffing – If hiring staff, it’s a good idea to hire part-timers in the beginning for added flexibility, writes the owners of Floranext, who have been in the flower business since 1969. They also add that “experienced designers will require a higher wage than a General Shop worker. Schedule designers enough hours to fill orders and create some designs for the display case then let the general help take it from there.”

Setting up shop – Here you can give your brain a little rest and get your muscles moving. Take your time to plan out how you’d like everything displayed so customers can see everything and access everything easily then purchase your inventory and lay it all out. Set up your business phone with voicemail and record a professional voicemail greeting. You could also forward calls to your mobile phone or hire the services of an answering service to take messages and then have them delivered to you as they come in.

Marketing

Print out business cards and other marketing material – Look online for some good deals. If you know how to do graphic design yourself you can put together a nice looking card, otherwise you can hire a designer or go with a basic template for your card. You can also visit a local printing shop to have both of these done for you. If you need signage, letterhead and other marketing materials for your business you can get these done here as well.

Build a website – With the proliferation of the Internet, building a strong website is an essential step nowadays in order to market yourself. If you know how to use the Internet well and are comfortable designing a website you can easily design nice looking websites using intuitive tools like Weebly or WordPress. But if you have the budget to hire a professional web designer, go for it. If books are judged by their covers, websites are judged within microseconds of landing on the homepage. So having a stunning design and an easy-to-navigate interface is key to attracting visitors and keeping them on their site. Get a trustworthy and reliable web host. This website runs on Bluehost, which has proven to be reliable, easy to use and affordable. Or you can consider going with a provider that caters specifically to florist businesses like Floranext.

Promote your website – Building a blog is a good start to promoting yourself because the more pages you have written on your site the more opportunity people will land on your site through web searches. Link up your site’s RSS feed to syndication networks so that your blog articles get distributed to other sources. Doing this step only takes researching the syndication networks and submitting them. All else is automated, so whenever you publish an article it automatically gets sent out to these networks via RSS. Promote your site on Google Places and directories such as the Yellow Pages, Chamber of Commerce, floral associations, etc. In general you want to build links to your website to help promote it. To do so, some other promotion ideas include: hooking up with other blogs and exchanging articles, commenting on articles, building infographics, etc.

Build your online presence – Unfortunately, building and promoting your website is not quite enough nowadays, with the many social media networks available. Get onto the main ones like FacebookTwitter and Google+. If you have a blog you can set up these sites to post snippets of your articles automatically, saving you some work. It does, however, take a good amount of effort to build up a real following on these sites, but once you do it’s a wonderful tool to have at your disposal as you can fire off a quick post and get your message seen by so many people. The benefit of having a bricks-and-mortar shop is that you interact with customers and can ask them for their email address. Having an email list is essential for contacting customers whenever sales or other promotions happen. Do not substitute your social media list for a proper mailing list as you do not own your Facebook or Twitter page and they can be disabled at any time without warning.

Set up e-commerce – There are a few routes you can go here. You could either opt to take the easy way and go through a company that specializes in solutions for the florist industry like Floranext, set it up yourself, or outsource the work to a freelancer. Though it’s a little bit more involved than building a simple website, designing your site to take orders is still possible to do yourself. To build visitor confidence so that they will hand over their credit card and make sales on your website, use a reputable payment processing gateway that charges low enough processing fees. Authorize.net, Verisign and PayPal are a few options to choose from (read this review). Popular e-commerce platforms you can choose from include Magento, osCommerce and OpenCart (read this review for more). If you don’t know how to set up an e-commerce site yourself, outsource the work to a web designer. Elance and oDesk are good places to look for freelancers.

Advertise – Think about what your customers read and watch, then take out ads in those media. Wedding magazines are a good example of targeted advertising for your market. Particularly if you’re selling products from your shop, initiating a cost-per-click campaign (CPC) through Google Adsense is a good idea since it targets eyeballs specifically interested in buying flowers (it does this because it matches ads to keywords found in the text of websites). And you only pay per click, which means you’re only spending on those who really are interested in you.

Network – Attend business networking events to connect with other local business people, particularly those who sell products complementary to yours, such as funeral homes and wedding planners. Search online or ask your local Chamber of Commerce for some suggestions.