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In The Know: A Design Expert Dishes on Latest Trends

As a fourth-generation florist, J Schwanke, AAF, AIFD, PFCI, knows a thing or two (thousand) about flowers. But did you know that the CEO of uBloom.com and host of “Fun with Flowers and J” is also a certified design expert for the Dallas Market Center — one of the largest wholesale trade resources in the world? Here, he dishes about some of the latest trends and how florists can incorporate them to attract and delight customers.

CANADIAN FLORIST: WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A CERTIFIED DESIGN EXPERT FOR THE DALLAS MARKET CENTER?

JS: At least three, sometimes four times a year, I go to the Dallas Market’s shows. One of the things that I do there is lead discovery tours of 20 to 100 people. One of the tours is about the best — and the worst — of visual display and merchandising. It’s about showing retailers examples of what they can do big or small in their shops to create visual stimulation for their customers.

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When I first started doing this 20 years ago, I focused pretty exclusively on floral ideas, but that has evolved over the years. At the last show, we had a program called “Style Eyes,” hosted by Adam Glassman, editor of O Magazine. The Market picked 12 design experts from all different fields. I represented floral and holiday, but there was somebody there for jewellery, interiors, floor coverings, and lighting. And we chose our favourite five things throughout the marketplace. Then we sat down for a roundtable discussion, where we gave our ideas of what trends we detected in the marketplace and what colours we were seeing that were hot.

We had cards that we put in front of items that stood out to us in the marketplace. What that said to visitors was “this is something a Style Eyes person would pick for you to have in your stores.” Obviously, a lot of mine had to do with flowers, but we each tried to cross over to different categories.

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WHAT ARE SOME OF THE MAJOR THEMES YOU’VE BEEN SEEING AT GIFT SHOWS? WHAT ARE SOME OF THE FLOWERS THAT CORRESPOND WELL WITH THESE THEMES?

JS: Number one, hands down, stronger than I’ve ever seen anything in 10 years, are monstera leaves. In the uBloom Trend Synthesis, released in January, we called monstera out as foliage of the year. It has done nothing but build in popularity in the ensuing months. We saw it all over the marketplace – in permanent botanicals, containers, embossed metal plates, clothing, upholstery, jewellery, paintings and other artwork, floor coverings, wall coverings, and more.

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Monstera lends itself well for displays and merchandising. For a theme, I’d say go for something all green, with lots of foliage. This look is huge. I think that’s because we’re so darned worried about our environment.  Because of this, we’re seeing more natural looking materials, like kraft paper, unfinished wood, and rocks gaining popularity.

Another new, upcoming thing that we’re going to see more of in display and merchandising is a Dutch Masters look with floral design. Those were the paintings that had one of every kind of flower in a big, glorious arrangement. That’s already popping up in artwork and upholstery.

WHY IS IT CRITICAL TO KNOW THE DOMINANT COLOURS, MOTIFS, AND TRENDS?

JS: We have to visually tell a story about what it is that we do. A florist might be a bucket shop that is simply there to sell stems, or a company focused on weddings and events, corporate, or sympathy work, or a full-service store that’s very trendy — or very classic in nature. Displays help us tell our stories. Customers want to be a part of something — to have a personal experience when they shop. We want them to see unique and different things when they come into our stores.

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR MAKING THE MOST OUT OF A GIFT SHOW VISIT?

JS: The Dallas Market Center has more than 5 million square feet of product! And it can become overwhelming very quickly. If I were going to buy things for a flower shop, I would think about things I want before I left. I’d look through magazines. I’d tear out things. I’d write myself notes. “I wish I could carry a line of candles.” “I want to bring in a line of stationery.” “I want to bring in some candy.”

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Make yourself a list so that you have set goals because you can get distracted very easily! A lot of people wind up spending a lot of time shopping for jewellery — for themselves, not their shops!

The Dallas Market Center, for one, offers several opportunities to help you navigate. There’s a thing called a first-timers tour. It takes 20 minutes. Also, people like me lead discovery tours to discuss new colours and new trends. The other thing that’s interesting is that vendors tend to put their new stuff in the back of their showroom, not their windows. Florists should go into a showroom and ask someone, “What do you have that’s new?”

Also, when you see something you like, take a picture of it along with a picture of the sign in the store so you know where you saw it. Because, at the end of the day, you’re not going to be able to remember. I promise you! I also think it’s smart to have “a walking day,” when you cover as much of the market as you possibly can, making notes and making lists. Then you go back and buy.  Also, wear comfortable shoes, for heaven’s sakes!

WHAT ARE THE BEST WAYS TO BLEND NON-FLORAL MERCHANDISE IN WITH DISPLAYS?

JS: It’s good to stick with a theme. For instance, if you’re following our Rainforest trend, which embodies all things green and tropical, then you’d want to pick a candle that’s tropical in nature — maybe something in a pineapple or plumeria scent rather than, say, white linen. Just try to tie your things together because, when something goes with something else, that’s a great reason to take pictures.

That said, an eclectic mix looks much trendier and cooler than if you simply buy a complete collection styled by someone else. There are a couple of people out there who offer a package where you can get the vase, the balloon, and the teddy bear, etc., but to me that looks too homogenized. I think our consumers are smarter than that and they want to get something that’s unique.

Scale is also really important when you’re building a display. If you have little things, remember they need to be with other little things.

CAN YOU DISCUSS YOUR RESEARCH PROCESS? WHAT GOES INTO CREATING YOUR UBLOOM TREND SYNTHESIS?

JS: At uBloom, we’re not simply looking for new products—we’re looking for trends that have developed a real footing with consumers and have new, cool products that correspond with them. We want to showcase how a trend gets to the flower industry and what that means. So, when we go to market we look for
things that are bubbling up.

June is our scout time. We make extensive notes of what’s coming. In January, we check to make sure these trends “are stabilized” to move into our process of curating distinct themes. We want to make sure there is product in the marketplace — hard goods, ribbon, containers, things like that that support that trend — and also that there are flowers, foliage, and colours that are supportive of that trend.

Our process is largely based on attending major markets. It isn’t just the Dallas Market. We also attend the International Floriculture Expo in Miami, Florida; Fun ‘n Sun in Carlsbad, California; and the World Flower Expo (which changes locations every year). We want to see how colours and types of flowers and foliage are shifting in the world.

Additionally, I follow trend experts, including my long-time friend Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, and Michelle Lamb, editor of The Trend Curve (trendcurve.com). I also buy lots of magazines, watch television, scour the Internet, and follow growers, suppliers, and trendy designers in the floral industry.

Jamie Birdwell-Branson
Jamie is a freelance writer and editor with over nine years of editorial experience working as a writer, editor, fact checker, social media specialist, proofreader, and layout artist.
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