From Competitions to All-Nighters, Alberta Florist Does It All
Deniss Barahona is so dedicated to her Grower Direct flower shop in Edmonton, Alberta, that she slept there the night before Valentine’s Day. She worked past midnight filling orders, made a makeshift bed with an aisle runner, crashed for six hours, and then turned on the “open” sign.
Barahona is glad to be busy, and attributes it to her design and customer service philosophy: “The way I see things, if an extra flower will make a difference, I put it in, even if the value’s there.” She has learned that approach leads to repeat business.
“It’s very important for me to keep the sender happy and the recipient happy,” she said, because often recipients will call to request the same arrangement they received to send to someone else.
While Barahona always goes the extra mile to please local customers and those from as far away as Toronto, and occasionally works nights and weekends, her overnight stay in her shop was an exception to a rule she usually strives to follow: balancing work and family. With three young children, she prefers to spend as much time with them as possible.
She used to bring her youngest daughter, now 3, to work when she was a baby, until she started “knocking vases all over the place” and breaking flowers. Now Barahona’s parents care for her little girl. She and her husband also have two sons, 10 and 8.
Barahona bought her Grower Direct franchise eight years ago from Heather De Kok, AAF, AIFD, PFCI, whose parents founded the company. Barahona had been managing one of De Kok’s other locations for five years. “I jumped into the opportunity of having my own flower shop,” Barahona said. “It has been great. It’s been challenging at times.”
She employs one full-time employee and one part-timer at the business, which does a lot of weddings. Her brother makes deliveries. Once her children are older, she might take on more of the work herself, which would allow her to earn more money.
Barahona found her way into the floral field in 1995 while in high school. A work experience program placed her at a wholesale florist operation, where she worked for eight years. That’s where she learned about flower and plant varieties, where they come from, when they’re in season, and how to care for them. “That’s where I realized that this is what I wanted to do,” she said. “As time progressed, I found my passion. I wanted to succeed in it and I worked hard.” She also took floral design classes at Metro College in 1998.
De Kok mentored Barahona, taking her to her first AIFD symposium where she met Deborah De La Flor, AIFD, PFCI, and other well-known designers. De Kok has advocated professionalism in the industry for years, and spearheaded several efforts to boost awareness of the power of flowers (see p. 6).
“With [De Kok], I saw the big window of opportunities to become more knowledgeable,” Barahona said. “It gave me confidence that the Grower Direct head office has supported and believed in me always, even if I myself sometimes don’t. I’m very grateful to Heather and her family. They have encouraged me to go for it.”
“Deniss is one of the nicest people who happens to be a very talented florist,” De Kok said. “I look forward to all the great things she is going to do!”
De Kok has already witnessed one of those positive things — Barahona won the Maple Leaf Cup in March 2016. The competition, which showcases Canadian floral designers’ versatility to tens of thousands of visitors at the Edmonton Home & Garden Show, was one of De Kok’s projects. She modeled the Maple Leaf Cup after the Society of American Florists’ Sylvia Cup, a live annual event at which designers complete a challenge using the same flowers and supplies.
Barahona and other competitors designed three arrangements — a centerpiece, wearable flowers, and a wedding bouquet — in two hours. Barahona said she never expected to win. “When Heather called my name, I thought it was not real,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it.” Her strong mechanics, or covering and hiding the internal structural support, impressed the judges. Her designs were not the biggest, but her work was “very clean,” she said.
As the winner, Barahona represented Canada at the Gateway to the Americas International Floral Design Competition in Vancouver, British Columbia last September, with all expenses paid. She said it was a thrill to participate in an international competition.
Barahona entered Maple Leaf Cup again this year, on March 24, but alas, did not defend her title. Nonetheless, she found in an enjoyable and educational experience.