An Argument for Higher Learning
With so much on your plate (ordering product, designing, organising special events, invoicing, putting out customer service fires, accounting, and anything else that may pop up), a day in the life of a flower shop owner can often feel like a whirlwind. It’s easy to get stuck in a hamster wheel-like rotation. And although you may not think you could possibly add one extra thing to the crazy load you’re juggling—like advanced accreditation or continuing education—you may be doing yourself a disservice.
Besides the sense of accomplishment that accompanies those coveted letters (CFD, AIFD, CAFA, PFCI), advanced accreditation can change the way you approach floral design and help you stay at the forefront of the industry. Advancing your education will challenge you creatively and re-ignite your passion for the art of floral design.
Here, two florists share why they decided to take their education beyond the bare minimum—and why they embrace the constant pursuit of pushing themselves creatively.
Trish Fjeldsted, AIFD – The BloomBox – Brandon, Manitoba
Fjeldsted, who has been working in the floral industry ever since her first after-school job, probably wouldn’t say she is a natural student.
“I’ll tell you the truth: I actually don’t like going to school,” she said. “I hate school. I’m not good at it. I don’t like it. I went for a year at university, but I didn’t like anything I was taking at university. Nothing held my attention.”
After a year at university, Fjeldsted enrolled in college to go through a large event planning program, but again, she wasn’t super passionate about what she was studying. After that, she decided to return to her flower shop roots.
At the start of her floral career, she worked at a store called Foster’s Floral Fashions, learning the ropes by folding boxes, making delivery trays, and cleaning flowers when the flower shipments came in.
Her first taste of design came during busy times at the shop when Mr. Foster would let her assemble all of the Teleflora and FTD teacups and teapots for Mother’s Day by following pictures with a little bit of direction.
“I find in floral design most people don’t have formal education as much as they have been mentored or taught by somebody who has gone before them,” she said. “My first bit of training wasn’t accredited education. It was hands on, on-the-job learning from someone who had been in the business since 1977.”
Through her time at university and college, she continued to work for Mr. Foster and hone her skills, learning design and customer service from her mentor. When she dropped out of school, she applied for a full-time position at Academy Florists, a shop she has owned for eight years and rebranded as The BloomBox.
Lea Romanowski, AIFD, CAFA – Designing on the Edge, Inc. – Calgary, Alberta
Although the shop, as well as her family life, kept her plenty busy, Fjeldsted decided a few years ago to study and test to become a member of the American Institute of Floral Designers, or AIFD.
“I’m the owner and operator but really, at the heart of it, I’m a designer. That’s what I do,” she said. “If I have my accreditation, my shop benefits because it means I’m constantly trying to be better at what I do.”
Going through the AIFD accreditation process surrounded Fjeldsted with the best of the best in the industry and allowed her to learn from others. “I find that hands on learning from others is the best way to learn in this industry,” she said.
To achieve AIFD status, florists have to complete an online exam as well as participate in the
Professional Floral Design Evaluation (the PFDE), which Fjeldsted describes as a little bit like the television show “Chopped.”
To pass the PFDE, a florist has to achieve an accumulative evaluation mark of 16 points or better on the intense design exam, where participants get four hours to create five designs. Florists only receive 45 minutes to take a look at an example of what they’re supposed to make and what products they can use, and are evaluated on their mastery of principles of design. Florists who pass receive an invitation to the AIFD annual symposium, where they receive a gold pin and are formally inducted into the organization.
Fjeldsted received her gold pin last July in Seattle, which was a proud moment for her and her whole family.
“My husband is making sure he advertises it,” she said. “Our community isn’t a huge metropolitan area so getting my accreditation doesn’t get me paid more money,” she said. “But if somebody is searching for a florist who is accredited, I’m the only one in my city and only one of two or three in my entire province.”
Crossing AIFD off her list, Fjeldsted now plans on becoming a member of the Canadian Academy of Floral Art (CAFA) and perhaps wants to do a bit of teaching or speaking at future symposiums.
“Flowers are pretty much in my blood. When I was speaking to one of my employees recently about retirement, I said, ‘I’m going to be a florist until I die. Pensions don’t matter to me.’ I’m pretty much going to make my own casket spray before I get into the ground,” she said.“I can’t imagine doing anything but this.”
Lea Romanowski never intended to be a florist.
“I was going to be either an architect or a paramedic,” she said. “I ended up at a summer job and had a bit of an accident with a coffee truck in an oil patch area. My boyfriend’s mother and sister owned a flower shop. I had taken art in school and was good at it, and they needed somebody. And I went, ‘You know what? I can do this.’”
From that moment, she fell in love.
Within six months of working at the flower shop, she participated in an FTD competition and took first place. She was hooked.
After getting her feet wet in the industry, Romanowski decided that she wanted formal floral education. The first thing she did was take a year of private instruction in Ikabana, the oldest form of floral art in Japan. Her course was just three months long, but the entire class enjoyed it so much that they hired the instructor on a weekly basis for the rest of the year.
From there, she moved onto the Flowers Canada program in 2001, when her youngest child was just two years old. With four children and a busy schedule, she studied any way she possibly could.
“I didn’t have a lot of time to read so I listened to all three of the manuals for Canadian Accredited Floral Design on cassette tapes,” she said. “I listened to the cassette tapes for six months straight. It got to the point where I could finish off the sentences.”
After a flurry of cassette tape reading, flash card making, and other intense studying, Romanowski passed her first two tests with flying colours. She then moved onto the second level of testing, which consisted of a two-hour written exam and a two-hour physical test. The physical test required designing pieces in categories like bridal, corsage, sympathy, as well as a surprise category, which kept the students on their toes. Again, she passed the exams with high marks and got her first set of letters, CAFD.
“It was the most amazing foundation for me, and that gave me a thirst of knowledge to go further. So, I went after AIFD next,” she said.
Studying furiously again, Romanowski went down to St. Louis, Missouri in 2003 to take her AIFD examinations, heading there determined to pass. Because accreditation can be an expensive process, she knew it had to be done in one go.
“AIFD gave me more credibility in the design world as well as the teaching world,” she said. “I’m not just a designer, I believe I’m an artist. I’m a painter. I was a singer and a dancer. I acted. So, I did a lot of artsy things and I really wanted to pursue the education and the art of floral design.”
Shortly after earning her AIFD accreditation, Romanowski went after CAFA in 2004, pushing herself to earn all these certifications before she was 40. But it wasn’t just about the accolades, she insists; she just wanted to know more about the industry she loved so much.
“We have the opportunity to impact people’s lives in their most important milestones—from the birth of children to marriage to birthdays to the death of loved ones,” she said. “We honestly are involved in the entire life cycle of human emotions.”
Romanowski has been in the industry for 34 years and has had quite the storied career. In addition to owning her own floral studio, Designing on the Edge, where she creates statement floral art, she teaches classes for the floral design certificate program at Mount Royal University. She has also had the opportunity to work on the Rose Bowl parade in Pasadena, California, and still regularly participates in floral competitions. In fact, just this past March she won the Maple Leaf Cup.
But even after all her success, she is still hungry for more. She plans on earning the European Masters Certification (EMC) and then joining the ranks of Professional Floral Communicators-International (PFCI).
Romanowski credits her advanced education with providing critical thinking skills. “With knowledge, you can pull it from your little bag of knowledge tricks,” she said. “But if you don’t have the education or if you haven’t been exposed to anything like that, then you might struggle. Investing in your education is I think paramount to success.”