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Neville MacKay On The Level With Neville: November-December 2011

Become the Go-To Florist

Written by Neville MacKay
Some of us can remember the “Good Old Days” when folks went to a butcher for great meat, a baker for the best breads and pastries, and a florist for the best flowers. Now, a person can pick up a bouquet pretty much anywhere, from a grocery store to a gas station. (I actually saw bunches at a second-hand clothing store . . . really?!?) When I first started out in this glorious industry, we would bring in hundreds of poinsettias for Christmas, dozens and dozens of Easter lilies for the season, and of course thousands of roses for Valentine’s Day. Now, many florists bring a lot fewer plants for the holidays – just a selection for the wire orders, some to please dear old Mrs. Crabby-Grouch, who wants them for the ladies at the nursing home, and a few to make a nice display. Although flower shops aren’t selling quite as many flowers (well, roses anyway) for Valentine’s Day as they used to, things still seem to be holding well for our industry.

The competition for flowers is extraordinary, and some will argue, has been great for our industry. Consumers have access to flowers in many places, and now have flowers in their homes on a regular basis, not just for the “special moments” in their lives. This availability has made the retail florist evolve and grow to become the go-to place for quality, service, design and floral knowledge.

The thing is, you get one chance at a first impression, and this is what we have to let our customers know. (And show them as they walk in or call us!) We all remember a fabulous chocolate a lot longer that a cheap chocolate bar, we treat ourselves to a fancy coffee that we’ll savour rather than slurp down in a hurry, or brag up a beautiful design for a lot longer than a “cheap and cheery” bouquet.

I was asked once, by a rather snotty bit, oops, I mean lady, what the difference is between a retail florist and any other place that sells flowers. I wanted to tell her that she obviously got off her bus at the wrong stop, but I didn’t, which was a feat for me! Anyway, I thought I would explain things this way: “Dear; if you want to sit home on the sofa in your housecoat and fuzzy slippers and watch TV, then you may choose to chow down on some frozen fish sticks and fries. Now, if you were having company over  you may get dressed, set the table and maybe serve grilled salmon and roasted potatoes. Darling, it’s all fish and potatoes. The thing is, I don’t sell fish sticks and french fries.” She understood when I put it in those terms.

We sell emotion. We sell love and good wishes. We sell comfort and confidence. We sell quality and knowledge. We sell design. Floral designers have an advantage in that we can make beautiful arrangements for our customers; we can customize pieces for both young and old, work within most budgets, and create fabulous and unique arrangements that show our creativity and give importance to our stores. We can use floral foam correctly, which is a rare talent outside a retail florist shop. We (have to) put in an effort to develop relationships, showing our customers how important it is to get the best. We don’t have to apologize for our prices, as we offer so many added values that are worth the price.

If you go cheap, it looks like you just went cheap, simple as that. We mustn’t try to compete with other flower-sellers; but try to make our shops the best experience a person can have, be it on the phone or in person. By upgrading our products, offering a unique twist on an old favourite (such as a cool wire treatment) and, of course, showcasing alternatives to traditional flowers and designs we will set ourselves apart from the rest. Remember the young folks coming in are looking for fun and new, not old and boring and just like their parents got.

Neville gets married!
David and I got married in October (it was reported as Halifax’s “Royal Wedding”) and as you would expect, we did so live on the radio, and with TV cameras and other media all over us as well. People were buzzing everywhere about the food, what we would wear (we looked hot!) and, of course, the flowers! We are very fortunate to know some of the best people, and were able to have the best cake, meal, photographer, etc. As for the flowers, Amy and the gang at Avon Valley Floral looked after them. Here’s the thing: who would dare do flowers for me? Well, Avon Valley was having classes all that week, so the students attending each made a piece for the tables, with Amy creating some of the larger pieces. They were brilliant in that they were all made by florists from around Atlantic Canada, and celebrated diversity and design because every piece was different!

Neville owns and operates My Mother’s Bloomers in Halifax and lives close to Peggy’s Cove with his partner, David, three cats and an overgrown garden. For more info on Neville or to book him for a show or talk, check out www.mymothersbloomers.com .
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