Florists and Restaurants - More Similar then Different

April 26, 2020

Florists and Restaurants - More Similar then Different

You know that you've done it. I've done it too. I used to think that working at a flower shop was just about playing with pretty flowers. Just like restaurants are just about cooking with fabulous ingredients, in posh kitchens. Boy do we wish it was that simple. Any florist and restaurateur will tell you differently.

I've seen many posts about the restaurant industry and restaurateurs since March 15th, which I basically call C day. There is no doubt or argument that it has been destructive or that the restaurant industry itself employs hundreds of thousands of people. I think its visually in the forefront of small business and therefore garners a lot of the spotlight. There are however, other small business industries that chug away silently, that are just as large, behind the visceral part of peoples minds. 

Agriculture is always the silent keeper of our lives. Without farmers and growers, we'd have no restaurants. Nothing to cook. No people to cook for. We'd be dead. Aside from restaurant businesses, which I will wholeheartedly say that I have a very small view of from some fellow entrepreneurs, growers aren't just supplying food. Our industries are more similar then they are different.

The floral industry has been destroyed. Millions of blooms grown and composted with no wholesaler or floral shop to purchase them. Simultaneously, florists and restaurants were the first to be hit with the financial impact of Covid-19. Long before C day, we could see it coming. The focus however has been mostly on restaurants. Sales started to decline at the end of February and that first week in March blindsided us, like a baseball bat to our knees. The WTF moment happened for me on March 6 and was followed on the 14th with a feeling of nauseousness, like someone punched me in the gut. It was the last day that we were officially open.

Every ounce of intuition I had, told me that this was bad. So bad. Sitting at home I told my husband of the impending doom I felt. I don't think he fully believed me at that point. It was soon after, that things started to unfold. Citizens called back from other countries, boarders closing, stay at home restrictions, toilet paper crisis. You all know. You have been living it. My husband went from 0 to full pandemic crazy man.

Like the restaurant industry, we not only share in farming to supply us, but we run on lean margins and labour intensity. Additional supplies eat in to our profits, just like salt, napkins, take out containers - we have floral packets, delivery boxes, ribbons, cellophane, cards, picks, vases...etc. Each of those eating and eating away like moths into our dollars. The more we sell, the better our margins are. Neither of our industries are huge money makers. We are huge money movers with high turnover product. Keeping the flow in this beastly cycle. The bigger you are the higher the expenses. Your popularity is what garners you an increase in profits. More bums in seats, more mouths on the end of forks, that's what brings it together. For us, the more hands on stems, the more bouquets in hand, the more weddings and events. Its just the way it is.

The difference though, the big smack in your face difference. You can freeze your meat, pickle your veggies, create stocks and soups, halt on slaughtering that cow or pig. What you can't do in the floral world is stop the blooms from coming. I can't pickle my flowers. I've got 3 to 5 days to get it from me to you. I can make potpourri I guess. At least it would cover some of the smell of my decomposing business that has been left for dead, rotting from the inside out since C day. Forced to shut down by the government, I haven't played the game of taking advantage of the loop hole or the unfair market advantage, by providing curbside pickup and contactless deliveries. Restaurants were given clear options of doing those things, Florists were not. Yes, you could/can sit here and argue with me that if I wanted to cut a little bit of that rot out, that I could have been doing those things but would I have been profitable in doing so or would I have been exasperating the losses that I was already incurring. Maybe that would be based on the assumption that you might believe that most days I just play with flowers. 

I've been told that those who have stayed open have done well. Mitigated their losses. I also know that those I spoke to, are in areas of high population and one can argue the position of taking advantage of an unfair market place. In a town of 5000, I didn't want to take advantage of any of you. My community means more to me then that. I wanted to do my part on flattening the curve. I truly felt that the more of us that just stopped, would help to control what was happening and get us back to a new normal sooner. I still feel that way, even after I've lost over 40+K in sales. They are just sales. While I should be trying to be the Warren Buffett of business, I can't. I'm not built that way. I can wear my business hat and make business decisions, but I'd rather be human. It's probably why I chose a declining industry to open a business in 11 years ago and one that sends emotions to every customer that receives a floral from us, then the other.

Opening back up for curbside and contactless deliveries is scary. I feel very hypocritical. I've had to contact my staff to find out who is comfortable coming back and who isn't. I am juggling the thoughts of fresh floral inventory and plants. What can I get? How much do I get? I've lost those sales mentioned above which means that my bank account is operating in the red, not having recovered from January, February and March. My accounts payable is sitting at 20K over the 45 days and I can't risk losing more then what is already outstanding. These are the reals. The real truth and I know I am not alone.

When I sit back, and I mean really sit back, I wonder if its time to let this go. Pay off the debt. Sell off the inventory. Move on. I'm sure I am not the only one during this time to think of it. What I have created, this baby of mine, is it time to free her? Was this my moment to clear my head and allow me time to think? I've wondered if its my pride that has pushed her this far to begin with, or maybe my stubbornness. I do love her. What I do know though is that I want something different from how I have been raising her so far. I've never consistently took a pay cheque and anything that has come out of the business for me has only happened in the last two years and its not much. I don't want to run holidays on thin margins where break even after all those hours worked is a good holiday. Valentines. Its the worse. Labour intensive and our costs go up so astronomically that we can't pass them on to you, our customers, and if we break even we've had a good holiday. I don't want that anymore. I don't want to compete with other florists that work from their basements, have no overhead and hire friends for cash to help them with big holidays or events like weddings. My biggest worry is coming back and having a huge spike in sales and then having it unsustainable, by customers and by us.

Its a lot of speaking out loud. I know. My brides are going to read this and start to freak a little. Already at a time when their weddings are being cancelled and they are having to juggle the where, when and what of it all. To them I say, I'm here and not going anywhere on you. My point being is that the impact of the floral industry on your daily lives is there, just like restaurants. Its just not in the forefront. Without the beauty of the bloom our lives would be bland. The birth, the blossom, the death, bring bigger meaning and understanding to your everyday life. Just like food feeds the soul. Flowers feed understanding and meaning to your soul. You can't have one without the other.

To our front line workers, thank you. To grocery store staff, I thank you more.

To my fellow flower friends, those who stayed open or came back earlier then I, I mean no harm. To my fellow creators, chugging along in little rooms of your houses or basements, keep chugging. There is room for everyone at the table.

Until next time,

N

 





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