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Four Keys To Moving Up Market

When my wife, Rachael, and I first started our St. Louis floral shop, Twisted Willow, it was hard to imagine that we would one day land five-figure weddings. We started out doing rather intimate weddings with a focus on the ceremony. We learned a lot about growing from smaller budgets to those high-investment celebrations. Our average wedding is currently around $6,000 (USD), we’re doing half the weddings we used to, and we’re more profitable.

Let me take a moment to stop here and clarify: you can have an incredible business model by helping brides with a tighter budget and making that your niche. I talked with a florist from British Columbia the other day who was doing just that. She had optimised her processes and streamlined most of the consultation process on her website, thus reducing her overhead, and was able to make acceptable profit while still serving the market. Besides, brides of all means deserve to have a florist who is excited about the happiest day of their lives.

Allow Your Clients To Self Qualify

Take a look at your marketing materials and ask what type of client they’re attracting. Are the images on your brochures, business cards, social media pages, and website showing smaller, more budget-friendly arrangements or are they showing large,dramatic pieces? Are they amateur-looking photographs or professional, high-resolution images?

One of the first things we had to change when we decided to move up market was our overall look. We changed out the images on all of our marketing materials to reflect the type of event we imagined ourselves doing regularly. If a potential client desires an elegant look, they will connect with the images we advertise and will schedule a consultation. However, if a potential client wants something simpler, they’ll see that our style isn’t quite what they’re looking for and move on.

We also made some major updates to our website that not only increased our website conversions by 400% but also created an opportunity for potential clients to self-qualify. Those tweaks included not only visual images, but also our budget calculator. On the last page of our budget calculator, if the potential client isn’t quite a match, he or she receives a message saying “Our floral investments start at $3,000. We’d love to hear about your vision and see if we can bring it to life.” This allows potential clients to self qualify by deciding that their budget is more flexible than they originally thought (in which case they’ll fill out our “Check My Date” form to schedule a consultation), or they’ll bounce from our site and find a florist who’s a better fit for them.

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Finally, we realized we needed a major overhaul to our logo. Even though we worked with a professional branding company when we started and had a beautiful logo that fit our initial clients, we found it didn’t resonate with the higher-end clientele we desired. The new logo, pictured below, immediately helped Rachael start connecting with the clients she wanted.

Create An Expected Experience

Every week at Curate (we recently rebranded Stemcounter), I talk with dozens of florists about how they’re running their business and one thing I’ve noticed about both luxury florists and those with large, corporate studios is that they focus on providing an expected experience from the very first interaction—whether that’s at a wedding show, online, or however else—and continuing it through the consultation, execution, and follow up.

Florists can be guides for couples on the journey to their big day. For many clients, it will be their first time getting married and they don’t really know what to expect. Since every client is coming from a different walk of life, the expectations they may have can vary greatly. It’s your job to educate them on exactly what they should be expecting if they book with you.

If you want them to expect higher prices coming into the consultation, educate them ahead of time (that’s why we created the aforementioned budget calculator). If you want them to expect a certain level of service from you, lay out exactly what you’ll be doing and when. We developed our florist welcome packet to help us do just that. In it, we:
creatively highlight our work, which helps us build brand credibility
re-emphasize the self-qualification aspect
introduce who we are
provide a timeline for the whole process
give the details of our florist contract, so they know what to expect to pay as a retainer fee

Our welcome packet also folds up nicely, so we can easily add in the proposal we build out via Curate during the initial consultation. By doing this, we’re able to gently educate our clients without making them feel overwhelmed by the process. We’ve found that, by creating a particular expected experience, clients trust us more and are more comfortable with our higher price point.

Take Advantage of Every Opportunity, Then Go Above And Beyond

As important as it is to create an expected experience, moving up market means you are going to intentionally look for opportunities to go above and beyond what’s expected. That’s not to say that you deliver floral designs twice as grand as what you promised for the same price, but there are always ways that you can make the client feel extra special.

Our first “big” event was a $6,000 wedding. The bride and her mother were handling the event coordination and took a chance on us since we didn’t yet have a reputation. They asked if Rachael would do an arrangement for the bridal party three months earlier (in January) to make sure it was to their liking. We were in Louisiana the week before and expected to take a quick flight home Friday morning. It never snows in Louisiana. But that week, there was an absolute blizzard. We woke up at 4 a.m. to make what was normally an hour and a half drive back to New Orleans. Four hours later, we made it, returned our rental car, and snuck in before our delayed flight was supposed to land around 3 p.m. “Surely,” we thought, “we can still get back before the wholesaler closes, then put together the arrangement.” Then the voice came over the intercom: “The flight from Atlanta was just about to land but had to turn around and go back to Atlanta. You won’t be getting out tonight.”

When we called to explain what happened, the clients were a little taken aback by the situation. They were kind but very concerned about the fact that we didn’t have team members in St. Louis in emergency situations. So, we did the unthinkable. We rented a car and drove through the night for 10 hours to pull into our wholesaler’s parking lot just as they were opening at 7 a.m., Rachael put together the arrangement right away, and we made it to the preview as scheduled. They were so impressed with the extra initiative we took that they couldn’t help but leave us with a raving review. To them, it was a really big deal. For us, we knew that if we were going to grow the business, we had to be willing to do whatever it took to get the job done.

Being able to pull through for the client is key—not only when things go awry, but in every step along the process. You’ll have opportunities to move up market and you have to take action on them. Find those opportunities to show the client that they really matter to you and, as word gets out about your great service, more people will be willing to pay for the guarantee because they know that you will be able to deliver their dreams (and more) without fail.

Connect With Others In The Industry

It is so crucial to network with other professionals in the wedding industry, not just potential clients. This may be one of the best ways to market your company. We receive a large portion of our wedding business from other vendors who refer us. When networking, it’s easy to try too hard and when you do, it shows. Instead just start chatting with people and ask them about what they do. The best connections will come naturally. Just start talking about life and common subjects. The easiest thing to do is to ask questions about THEM. What do they do? How did they get into weddings? What kind of camera do they use? Do they have clients who price shop in their industry too? Don’t talk about yourself unless they ask. The only way to really get this down is to actually, genuinely care about that other vendor. If you’re just faking it in hopes they’ll extend a favour, it’s not worth it. We’ve seen it a thousand times over: being kind reaps incredibly huge rewards.

When we first started, we sent out emails asking to be on people’s preferred vendors list. Bad idea. Well, the effort was technically worthwhile because we learned something—that is, if people don’t know about us, they don’t want us on their preferred vendors list. On the flip side, there were times when Rachael would just run into vendors, introduce herself, and ask questions about THEM. By the end of the conversation, they would say, “We’re going to add you to our preferred vendors list on our website!” That said, most of our wedding referrals didn’t come from someone’s formal list; it came from the vendors personally referring us.

We actually we landed our largest event ever with only $25 of marketing materials. Rachael decided to make a few Valentine’s arrangements for some of the vendors we had worked with over the years. One event planner, who hadn’t referred anyone to us in a while, was so appreciative of the thoughtfulness behind the gift that she brought us our largest wedding ever. We weren’t really angling for that type of referral, but because we had built that relationship, she was interested in working with us.

So set up a goal for yourself to meet new vendors. When we started, my wife set a goal to meet two new people in the wedding industry every week. That could be as simple as stopping by their store, going to an industry event, sending an email, having coffee—whatever. But every week, she would have met a new person in the industry. Nobody immediately started a warm and fuzzy relationship with us. But over time, there have been some great friendships that grew out of this simple goal.

Final Thoughts

Moving up market can be a daunting task when you’re first starting out and it takes a bit of time to fully make the transition. You may find yourself doing a mixture of small and grandiose weddings at first, and that’s absolutely okay. Do your research on what connects well with your target audience and develop your business to cater to that client. Eventually, you will get to a point where you are doing only the types of weddings that you really want to do and you’ll be able to do them very effectively.

Ryan O'Neil
Ryan O’Neil is the co-founder of Stemcounter.com, a proposal software for florists that creates beautiful, on-the-spot proposals accurate down to the last pincushion protea. His beautiful bride, Rachael, and he started Twisted Willow Design in St. Louis, Missouri two years ago, which is now one of the quickest growing event floral design companies in the midwest.
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