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Brandi Cowen Here Comes the Budget Bride

Winning over cash-strapped wedding clients

Written by Brandi Cowen
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A lush, full bouquet to carry down an aisle decked with roses and hydrangeas. For the reception, elegant rose arrangements gracing every table and petals from – you guessed it – even more roses liberally sprinkled throughout the venue.

Most brides are willing to spend on flowers for their big day.
How often does a bride-to-be walk through your door with big plans for a Kim Kardashian style wedding, but without the $2 million floral budget to match? In Lynn Martin Freeman’s experience, it’s a rare thing for a bride to come into a consultation with a realistic idea of what her dream arrangements will cost.

“Everybody loves to look at Preston Bailey and all the pictures online and they want to have the same thing at a quarter of the price. It takes a little educating,” says Freeman, manager at Martin’s, The Flower People, in Toronto.

At Martin’s, educating the couple means sitting down with them and providing cost estimates on the arrangements they’ve picked out from websites and wedding magazines. At this stage it’s not uncommon for the happy couple to experience some sticker shock. Once the clients understand how the pricing is broken out, the wedding consultant offers suggestions for arrangements that mimic the elements that appealed to the couple in the more expensive arrangements.

“We say ‘these are the ways that we can give you the colour impact that you want or the design impact that you want’ and ‘here’s how we can give you something that’s similar to that and a little more affordable’,” says Freeman. It’s about working with the couple to understand their style and find a design that will suit their needs without breaking their budget.

Freeman credits wedding blogs and a strong online trend towards DIY projects as big factors that lead couples to undervalue the florist’s work. The myth that it’s easy to throw together gorgeous arrangements and there’s no need to pay a florist a large sum to do the work is still alive and well.

“They don’t really understand the care that is given to getting the right flowers and placing them in the right combination of styles and colours to make it look so casual,” Freeman says.

Winning the budget bride’s business
Weddingbells magazine reports that the average cost of a wedding in Canada last year rang in at $23,330. With a price tag like that, it’s easy to understand why couples are looking to trim costs wherever they can. But the magazine’s annual online reader survey held some good news for florists: the average bride’s budget for flowers and other décor totalled $1,334 in 2011. That’s less than the average $1,798 set aside for the wedding gown, but a lot more than the $524 allocated for the cake.

The lesson here is clear: brides are willing to spend on flowers for their big day, it’s just a matter of adjusting their expectations about what their budgets will buy.

Britt Nicoly Mitchell, owner of Bouquets by Britt in Chilliwack, B.C., has built her business delivering beautiful results on a budget. Mitchell, who operates out of her home, often works with wedding clients who have already met with brick and mortar retail florists and come away discouraged by the cost.

Even after consulting with one or more retail florists, Mitchell says it’s “not that often” that a bride comes in with a realistic idea of how far her budget will go. In fact, the price tag has  often turned her wedding clients off the idea of hiring a professional florist at all. Many clients book with Mitchell in the last few weeks or months leading up to their wedding, when they start to second-guess their decision to go the DIY route.

“Either they’ve planned on doing it on their own or somebody in the family said ‘I can do this for you,’ and now that person isn’t seeing the vision. They’re going ‘I don’t know, maybe Aunt Mary isn’t that great. Maybe I should get somebody else because everybody is going to see these flowers in photos for years to come’,” says Mitchell.

By the time her clients start seeking out middle of the road options, it’s usually too late to book a traditional retail florist. It’s not uncommon for the couple’s floral budget to have shrunk either. The money set aside for flowers may be tapped to cover other costs once the couple settles on doing the flower arrangements themselves.

But for florists willing to think outside of the box, there are still opportunities to turn some profit working these cash-strapped couples’ weddings.

At Martin’s, winning a budget bride’s business sometimes means preparing hand-tied bouquets for the vases and then letting friends and family pick them up and set up the venues on the big day. Other times it may mean supplying the couple with loose flowers and sending them home to assemble bouquets and other arrangements on their own.

Phyllis and Marilyn Lill, the mother-daughter team behind Lilium, think even further outside the box, offering floral classes out of their Toronto shop. Inspired by Phyllis’ experiences studying floral design overseas, courses range in length from just a few hours to several weeks. Workshops have been incorporated into Lilium’s business model from the beginning; over time, demand for wedding-related instruction has led the shop to develop classes specializing in bridal work.

“I had a couple of requests from brides and even from brides’ mothers saying they wanted to do the bride’s bouquet,” says Phyllis. “About five years ago a mom came and did a workshop on how to make a hand-tied bouquet because it really meant a lot to her to do her daughter’s bouquet, and I thought ‘maybe there’s something to this.’ I didn’t realize then that DIY was really going to start to take off.”

Today the shop offers a four-hour class on wedding bouquets and wiring design, teaching students the techniques they need to create boutonnieres, corsages and a hand-tied bridal bouquet. The shop also offers an evening “girls just want to have fun” session designed to let bridal parties and other groups relax with a glass of wine while learning how to create simple arrangements. More intensive four-day and four-week courses are also offered. In each workshop, participants learn how to select flowers, which combinations of blooms work well together, and how to select colours.

Some courses also offer up ideas to accessorize arrangements, including how to make bows and deck a bouquet out with pearl stud pins.

“I think there’s a whole swing back to people – women in particular – being interested in do-it-yourself,” says Phyllis. “We had one case where they were having their wedding in the country and the bride wanted to use wildflowers or locally grown flowers and we showed them how to do the bouquets and then they went off and did their wedding in the country.”

Lilium also offers DIY clients the option of ordering the flowers they’ll need through the shop. Staff make suggestions about the types of flowers clients may want to look for, and help identify by name any eye-catching blooms a client may spot online or elsewhere. For the really ambitious DIYers who want to source their own flowers, staff will offer advice about that too.

Teaching a full slate of classes on bridal work has allowed Lilium to generate revenue from a pool of customers who might otherwise not have spent a cent of their wedding budget at a flower shop.

Whatever approach your shop takes to working with budget brides, you’ve got to keep your bottom line in mind. After all, offering advice to clients who have completed a class with your shop is a great idea from a customer service standpoint, but it can turn into a time suck for staff if you’ve got a bride-zilla dropping in every few days and monopolizing their time. It’s a matter of figuring out what works for your shop, both in terms of what’s manageable for your staff and what’s profitable for your business.

Most importantly, Freeman says, it’s about taking pride in your work and respecting the worth in what you do.

“You don’t compromise the value of your work; the designer’s time is worth a lot,” says Freeman. “You don’t discount yourself, but you can usually find a way to work within a budget.”
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