Weddings have been, until recently, the focus of my business. Providing florals for weddings is how I got started. They are how I made money and justified quitting my 9 to 5 job. Weddings allowed me to fulfill my business mission to buy local flowers and support local growers. Brides who hired me (plus a few grooms) and wedding venders I met on the job are the basis of the network of customers and professional contacts I have today. My wedding services informed the requirements for the purchase of the building that houses my business. Pictures and videos from weddings get attention on social media and build my subscribers. Weddings are the most fun, most profitable, most stressful, most maddening and most rewarding aspect of working as a florist. Today, I struggle to scale them back in my business. Weddings, I wish I could quit you.
I am only booking about a quarter of the full service weddings I did at my busiest with my newly reduced services – no installations (I’ll get into that later). I also offer wedding products for pick-up – mostly personals: bouquets, corsages and boutonnieres. Sometimes I will get a large wedding pick-up order including centerpieces and even large urns. Despite my specific instructions in the contract and pleas for an empty and appropriate vehicle to transport the order my team and I painstakingly designed is invariably picked up by a well-meaning, down-the-line groomsman in a tiny hatchback after his trip to the liquor store. (Sure, the bride’s bouquet will be fine wedged between your golf clubs and cases of natty light.) My favorite was the pickup truck filled with fragrant fishing gear – don’t worry, it was 95 degrees, but there was a tonneau cover. What was I blogging about… right, weddings.
Weddings are an adventure for a florist. High risk. High reward. These can be the most important and expensive events in my customers’ lives. There is emotion and drama and everything needs to be perfect. Depending on the couple, flowers can be the focus of their day, or it can be a checkbox on their wedding to do list. Either way, flowers will be front and center at the ceremony, on the tables and most conspicuously in the pictures. I have been unhappy with some results that customers loved (including wedding photos with upside down boutonnieres and the back side of front facing arrangements). I have been delighted with what we produced and have gotten complaints. Regardless of the outcome, weddings are always a lot of work and stress. I need to offer weddings to keep my business viable, but at this point in my florist life I prefer easier work.
My business is fairly diversified in terms of revenue. I have steady income from subscriptions and individual orders each week. Retail events in the shop are also reliable. Classes, online and in-person, and speaking engagements are sporadic right now, but over the course of a year they add up. Special events like our clubs, renting out the shop and private parties are another source. All of these keep us busy, but the margins are slim. Corporate jobs are really what I’m after – big events, like a wedding, with high profit but without the drama. I just don’t get enough of those. Weddings, for me and most florists, are where the money is. I still need weddings to be a source of revenue, but now, due to my diversification, I’m able to be like a mom who buys Jif – choosey.
125+ Weddings Per Year
I worked exclusively as a wedding florist when I first started. It was great as a weekend side-hustle. It wasn’t about money back then. Honestly, I didn’t even know if I was making money. It was just for fun. When I got serious about the business and quit my weekday job, I needed my flower work to produce income, I took every wedding I could get. I was booking maybe just two or three a month at the beginning. With no staff and some “day of” help, it was fine. Referrals and Facebook (remember when Facebook was a thing) helped to grow requests for consultations. I took every request and wrote a proposal for each no matter how wild (flower garland for a horse – I can totally do that) or how far away (across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge – easy sweet peasy). The booking numbers gradually grew and things started to get a little out of control. There were many late nights. There were quick trainings for unskilled friends and family members helping out. I won’t lie – there was some crying. I started to get overwhelmed.
So, I expanded my capacity. I hired my first employee. I bought a van. Eventually, I even bought a building. With all of these expenses I had to ramp up weddings even more. More consultations. More proposals. Multiple weddings per day. Van rentals. Weekend freelancers. I became less a florist and more a coordinator of wedding teams designing, delivering, and installing at several locations simultaneously. I was young, energetic and ambitious. (Who was that person?)
Disclaimer: The following is a description of a day delivering weddings. It is not intended to be a complaint (though there is some complaining). I am truly grateful for the work I had and for the teams I worked with and the clients I met, but, really, what was I thinking.
A typical wedding day back then would start early with a trip to the car rental company to pick up my not very reliable reservation for a cargo van (or two). I needed to be first in line in case the previous renter did not return the van I had requested and I would either a.) need to find something acceptable from the available fleet on the lot or b.) frantically call around to other nearby locations for an alternate vehicle. A missing van was more frequent than you would think. “You know how to take the reservation. You just don’t know how to hold the reservation. That really is the most important part.” Seinfeld anyone?
After securing the rentals, I would drive to the shop where my team(s) would already be completing the final tasks before loading the vans: taking all of the arrangements out of the cooler, wrapping the bouquets in ribbon, changing the water of centerpieces and packing everything in boxes tight enough to survive the trip without damaging anything. I had the contracts for each event printed to make sure all products were loaded into the correct vehicles. I would review the contract and the contact info with my lead on the team I wasn’t on, and off we all went.
First stops might be to the wedding party at a hotel to drop off personal flowers for pictures before the ceremony. This was always my favorite part of the delivery (and still is). Seeing the bride’s reaction when I gave her the bouquet as she was getting ready with her bridesmaids and family was always a special moment.
Hopefully, I would then be able to go straight to the venue. However, the timing didn’t always work out and I would twiddle my thumbs before we were due to arrive. Late is always unacceptable, but early can also stress out a planner or venue operator. Waiting is a frustrating part of the delivery and there could be a lot of waiting. What time will the cake arrive for the single hydrangea I was hired to place upon it? The centerpieces can’t be set until after the room is flipped. When will the couple make the call on the rain plan so I can start to decorate the arch (which will take 30 minutes and the ceremony is scheduled to start in 20 minutes)? My van is blocked by the catering truck. It goes on…
After installing and setting up, I would often need to return to the venue after a short coffee break (or just hanging out in the van if there’s nothing around) for a room turn-over or break down of the ceremony site during cocktail hour. Obviously, I would be starving at this point, and I would have several hours until the retrieval at the end of the night. I would usually go home for dinner and a rest. Then, back to the venue around midnight to furiously collect the rented vessels as the staff closes down among the drunken guests – always fun. And, the night would STILL NOT BE OVER. I wasn’t going to lose that security deposit, so back to the shop to unload and clean the van. Finally, I make my last stop at the sketchy rental lot in the middle of the night. (JK on the retrieval and van clean up/return – blogger’s embellishment – I would made my husband do those. I was asleep by 9:00.)
Less is More
After a few years of 100+ weddings, and as other aspects of my business grew, I took a breath and analyzed my numbers looking for a way out of the madness. There was so much effort and cost to contract, design and deliver all those weddings. All the extra expense for van rentals and freelancers took a big bite into the profit of about half of the weddings I booked each year. And, honestly, I was starting to burn out. It wasn’t the work. It was the pace. I needed to make a change. I discovered if I cut my weddings in half, and didn’t send out a second team, the revenue would shrink, but so would the expenses, and the profit loss wouldn’t be too bad. My business had other, less stressful ways to make up the income. But, it felt strange to turn away work. I had to learn to say no.
I was able to reduce weddings by identifying the biggest stressors and refusing any requests that fit those criteria. The first, and most consequential, was to limit full service weddings to one per date. Managing multiple, simultaneous events required additional resources, increased expenses and caused the most stress with risk for problems. I offered pick-up options to disappointed couples and was surprised how many still hired me. Next to go were far away venues. The long drives and waiting around far from home took up time that could be put to better use. The last were the easiest – I cut out anything that was a pain in the ass! Unprofessional planners, picky clients, weirdos of any sort, difficult venues (I get that a museum needs to protect its priceless art, but the bug inspection of my arrangements is too much). I, happily, cut these weddings out.
My business totally changed. I switched focus to prioritize work in the studio: more retail events and classes. Weekends became more about building community, telling stories and selling flowers directly to my customers. There were still weddings, but they were manageable and fun. I even made the same amount money without all the risk and stress.
As my tolerance for risk and stress has decreased, I have further reduced my wedding services. The distance I’m willing to travel is shorter. The number of dates I’m willing to work is fewer. The biggest change is that I no longer offer any installations. No more chuppah building, arch decorating, or garland hanging. If there is a ladder required, it’s a no for LoCoFlo. I am only offering personal flowers, centerpieces, and large table or ceremony pieces. And there is still plenty of demand for it.
Writing this article and thinking back on those frantic weekends delivering up to six weddings with my small team, I can honestly say I don’t miss it at all. LoCoFlo wasn’t a lifestyle business back then. I was trying to make money doing something I enjoyed with a defined mission. Today, I fight and shape my business to try to make it work for me. I have to do weddings. I love to work on weddings. But just the select few I want to do.