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Amanda Ryder Top Shops: Small-Town Feeling

XQZT Floral Design capitalizes on service

Written by Amanda Ryder
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When customers of XQZT Floral Design in Tillsonburg, Ont., come into the shop to order flowers, they know the shop’s owner, Mandy Babbey, will exceed their floral expectations and take the time to get to know them. It’s the kind of service you expect to find at a small-town business, but the design and style you’d expect to find in an urban area.

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XQZT Floral Design owner Mandy Babbey (middle) with co-owner Judy Babbey, right and Mandy’s cousin and staff member Starr Babbey, left. 

 
Babbey, along with her mom Judy Babbey, are the owners of XQZT (Exquisite) Floral Design, a shop that’s been in operation for three years in Tillsonburg, Ont., less than an hour south of London. Although relatively new to the retail world, Mandy Babbey brings to her shop a background of floral design and business talent and an outgoing personality her customers love.
  At a Glance
Company name:
XQZT Floral Design
Location:
Tillsonburg, Ont.
Owners:
Mandy and Judy Babbey
Years in business:
3
Facility Space:
2,100 square feet

The owners made the decision to open their own storefront when the town’s largest florist, Newman’s Flowers, closed its doors after 83 years of business. Babbey actually began her career at Newman’s and always dreamed of running her own shop in that location. Although the timing wasn’t quite right (yet) to set up shop in that location, Babbey took up a retail space in the town’s core to establish her business and get her name out to the community.

Measuring just 1,200 square feet, XQZT Floral Design’s first location was not without its challenges. Due to the shop’s small size, Babbey had to outfit the retail space with custom-fit coolers and, when large wedding or funeral orders came in, it was hard to find room for all of the product. But the shop’s access to extra parking spaces and walk-in traffic allowed XQZT to build a solid base of customers who came to depend on Babbey for their floral needs.

In early 2011, just two years after opening the downtown location, an opportunity came up that Babbey couldn’t turn down. Matthew Fenn, an owner at one of the florist’s suppliers, was interested in starting up a garden centre at the Newman Flower’s location and approached Babbey about partnering with him. Given Newman’s vast property space, the deal would allow Fenn to establish his garden centre, Tillsonburg Garden Gate, in the already existing greenhouses and give Babbey the retail shop, which she would dedicate to cut flowers. She accepted and in a matter of a few months, Babbey was back at the place where she was first inspired by flowers.

Now, one year later, business is blooming in the family-run shop. Along with her mom Judy, Babbey’s staff of four includes her dad Bill Babbey and her cousins Starr Babbey and Joyce Goldner. When busy occasions hit, no family member is safe, as Babbey says they often call on other available relatives for help when it’s needed.

In terms of the shop’s style, Babbey gravitates towards modern and on-trend floral designs but says she has to adapt to what her clientele is looking for. “When I started out we were very contemporary but in Tillsonburg, a big retirement town, you have to offer both the traditional and the contemporary. There’s a fine line between the older crowd and the younger crowd,” she says. She does, however, work with her customers to encourage them to try something new. “A lot of times when they come in we educate them and say, you know what, baby’s breath is great but why not try something like waxflower instead?” By doing this, her customers learn that there are alternatives that they can request the next time they come in.

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XQZT Floral Design gravitates towards modern and on-trend floral designs adapting to what its clientele wants.
 
Weddings and funerals make up the majority of the business at XQZT Floral Design. “It’s 50/50 – if we have a wedding, we have a funeral, it always works out that way,” says Babbey. Her wedding clientele expands each year, thanks to new business in surrounding counties and referrals. It’s not hard to see why brides recommend the florist to friends and family – for every wedding, the florist offers a day-of service that allows them to take care of every last detail, even going so far as to help fan out the bride’s dress before she walks down the aisle, if need be. On the big day, XQZT’s staff drops the flowers off to the bride and groom, they set up at the ceremony and reception hall, they move flowers between service and reception, and they come back later that night to gather up any rentals or remaining décor. Babbey tries to have a hand in each bridal bouquet and strives to make an appearance at every single wedding. The florist says consistently positive feedback makes all the extra work with it. “A lot of our moms come in and say, ‘thank goodness you were there because then I didn’t have to do all that stuff,’” says Babbey.

That same personalized touch also applies to the shop’s funeral work. Babbey has worked to establish contacts with local funeral homes that recommend her to clients who want a custom-made arrangement. The shop works hard to create a design that really reflects the life of the loved one. “We’ve done running shoes, we’ve done wine bottles, we’ve even done ducks! We’ve done a lot of things and I think that gets people talking.”

When it comes to promoting the shop, XQZT Floral Design uses several methods to get the word out. They’ve experimented with traditional newspaper advertising but they’ve seen the most success from more creative avenues. Each year, a few months before prom, Babbey works with various schools in the surrounding area to create a prom fundraiser. “We provide them with an actual catalogue of corsages and boutonnières and then money goes back to the school. It works out really well because the schools raise a nice amount of money. It’s hard to raise money, so this works as motivation for them.” The florist donates 10 per cent of whatever the students purchase from her back to the school. In turn, the school can take that as cash or put the money into floral décor for prom. This promotion helps establish a relationship with the school and it also encourages the students to be creative with their prom flowers. “They may not see the exact corsage in the book, but we can make it to match the dress. It’s a great way to get exposure too. It’s funny, those kids come back next Mother’s Day. You see them come in and they remember you.”

Babbey also holds design classes at specific times of the year and says that her classes continue to grow in size. Attendees pay a fee and have access to the products and tools, but they don’t have to create one specific product. “We allow you to make things that are custom-made for your house. We’re going to give you the base idea of what you’re doing and we’re going to show you how to do it and help you but you have to come up with the creative side of it so it matches with you décor,” she says.

When asked what challenges she’s faced since opening her shop, Babbey cites the town’s healthy competition as the biggest test. Around the same time she started XQZT Floral Design, several other shops opened in the Tillsonburg area, quickly filling the initial flower shop void. “How we overcame it was just to put ourselves out there – you have to put yourself out there in order to get people to come to you.” They took part in home and rec shows, they reached out to corporate customers and they got involved in charity events. They also focused on providing distinctive service and designs in each market they served.

In just three years of operation, Babbey says, this extra effort has been the key factor to help set XQZT Floral Design apart from the rest. “Unique designs, products that are different and personal service. A lot of people come in here for that personal one-on-one and we’re happy to deliver it.”
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