One Florist’s Dream: Profitability & Philanthropy
Rani MacInnes loved the low-paying jobs she held early in her career that allowed her to contribute to the community, as well as the higher-paying positions that followed. Now, she’s trying to combine the best of both with The Bloom Bloom Room flower and gift shop in New Westminster, British Columbia.
She’s not there yet, admitting, “I have never worked so hard and not made any money.” Her round-the-clock work at her shop, which opened less than a year ago, is netting a profit, but “every penny” goes back into the business, MacInnes said. A New Year’s resolution is to figure out how to begin paying herself.
Learn, Pivot, Repeat
MacInnes has an undergraduate degree in anthropology, archeology, and museum studies from the University of British Columbia. She worked as a project manager for 10 years in the nonprofit world, managing community arts, sports, science, and education councils such as at the Vancouver Aquarium. “It made me feel like I’m contributing to my community, and it felt really great,” she said. However, she wasn’t making any money.
Needing to eliminate student debt, her next move was to Japan, where she lived for 18 months and taught English. The work paid off her loans.
MacInnes returned to Vancouver just as the Internet was taking off and enrolled in Simon Fraser University’s Masters of digital publishing program with the goal of raising her pay grade. The Web was “brand new,” she said. “Nobody really knew what it was, or what it could do.” For the next eight years or so, she worked as a senior project manager for companies such as Blast Radius whose clients included Nike and Nintendo. Working with teams around the world to build websites required a lot of travel, earned her a higher salary, but also led to burnout.
When MacInnes and her husband, Ron, welcomed a daughter, Maxime, now 12, she decided she would prefer to stay home and find a way to channel her entrepreneurial side.
She considered different business models in areas she cares about — a wine or coffee shop, dog care, and floral design. A brick-and-mortar storefront was out of the question at the time, so she decided an upscale dog services and training company made the most sense because she could operate out of her home and vehicle while traveling between Alberta and British Columbia. Muttnik attracted an affluent clientele, grew over seven years, and she added employees.
As she started the dog business, MacInnes also received her floral certification at Mount Royal College in Calgary, trusting she would use it in the future, when it became possible to own a physical shop. The time wasn’t right for her to start a floral business, she said, because she prefers an organic approach and there weren’t yet enough growers in the area.
After the birth of her son, Luka, now 9, her family moved back to the coast, where she continued to run the dog company for a short time, before she closed it to return to marketing and communications. She worked briefly as a private contractor in those fields, and then about five years ago, decided to sell jewellery and flowers at markets. She sold only flowers at a 2013 Christmas pop-up market in a café that were particularly well received, she said.
That experience was self-affirming. “The great feedback just fired my engine up,” MacInnes said. Other pop-ups followed, including one outside a vintage furniture shop in New Westminster’s Sapperton area for Valentine’s Day 2015. The shop owner, Al Morphet, welcomed the uptick in traffic. Two weeks later, Morphet offered MacInnes the opportunity to set up a floral counter in his shop, and share the rent. She jumped at the chance. “It had the vibe I was looking for,” she said.
Morphet retired in January 2016, clearing the way for MacInnes to take over the shop. She thought: “It was the scariest thing. I’m not ready for this. That’s a lot of commitment.” But also: “If I don’t try it, if I don’t put myself out there, I’ll never know.”
A Magical Marketplace
To make her 650-square-foot store stand out, MacInnes added a large inventory of hand-curated gifts such as jewelry, charcuterie boards and honey, which she buys wholesale and marks up for retail. She then connected with a community of artisans on Instagram, following only local people for the most part, who in turn followed her back. Eventually, people would approach her to sell their goods, rather than the other way around. “That’s social media working at its best,” she said. “That’s a community supporting each other.” It’s helped her recapture the feeling of giving back that she missed from her nonprofit days.
MacInnes encourages foot traffic with her Bloom Booster loyalty program, which has approximately 200 customers. Customers receive a stamp card with their first arrangement. Then, they return their empty vases to the shop to be refilled. Each purchase gets a stamp; 10 stamps earn a free arrangement. “It builds this regular, loyal customer base that comes in your door,” she said.
The Bloom Bloom Room also specializes in events, though MacInnes only accepts five to 10 weddings a year (she finds it stressful when the bride’s budget isn’t as high as her own standards). Instead, she conducts a lot of workshops. “I love instructing,” she said. Plus, participants have a tendency to shop after the lesson, which includes food and wine. Her two employees help with the classes, which usually have four to six participants, though sometimes they get as many as 12. She researched other workshops in the area and priced hers in the middle. Paid Facebook ads and a strong presence on other social media sites attract customers from the entire metropolitan area, she said.
MacInnes has a busy year ahead with many plans to bump up her bottom line.
For starters, she’d like to scale up Friday Flowers, a program she developed that capitalizes on the joy of coming home to a lovely bouquet at the end of a hectic workweek. She currently has about 50 subscribers. MacInnes currently handles the whole process herself, including delivery. A happy subscriber, Amber Orchard, created a You Tube video for her employer, Shaw Communications, about extending the life of the Friday Flowers. MacInnes features the video on her website.
She wants to reactivate the Sapperton Business Association, along with fellow women business owners, to address revitalization. They started by coordinating “Christmas in Sapperton” to promote shopping in the area. She also plans to make more connections and partnerships as a member of the New Westminster city committee.
Lastly, she hopes to find a satellite location for her own shop because she is outgrowing the small space.