I could see the writing on the wall, to be honest, I should have done it earlier, but I had
to sit down and really make a list and say, okay, what did I think about when I was
starting the business, but what's the reality now and who am I responsible to now?
Hello and welcome to Learn with Shopify. I'm Benjamin Gottlieb. So here's a question for you.
When you think of a flower store, what comes to mind? Well, if you like me, you likely
think of buying this at the corner shop, maybe it's a neighborhood run store, or in a
pinch, it's a supermarkets. Okay, don't have me. But if your name is Jennifer Fallo, your
store is completely online. It's called Wild North Flowers. She's been doing this for about
six years and as Jennifer will tell us in a few moments, it's been working out pretty
well. How Jennifer? Hi. So good to have you here. Thank you. Thanks for having me. So a digital
first flower shop, right? I mean, when I think about flowers, I think they're very
sensory. It's very much about the smell and the sights. I'm sure that pose a lot of
challenges for you. Yeah, yeah, I did. I mean, I'm someone who's always loved, like I
literally couldn't walk past a flower store without going in as a kid. I've always
been obsessed with them, but when I started working in one, I realized just didn't
really make sense. I mean, the vast majority of people now that are wanting to
send flowers are not going into a local store to order.
You know, they, they're searching online and the process was
back in 2015 when I started looking into this. It was brutal. It was expensive. You
didn't know what you were going to get. There were like hundreds of options listed
often. Customer service was like non existent. You know, there was a lot of
problems with these sort of order gatherers. So you didn't even know who you were ordering
from. And I just thought, okay, ordering flowers online should be easy. It should be
enjoyable. And yeah, like it should be something that is fun for both the
sender and the recipient. So I decided to to start an online only flower
residence. You said send, which is kind of interesting. I would imagine that
means if someone's like, oh, shoots. I got to send flowers to someone so it's
her birthday, right? That's kind of where you're, you're kind of
positioning yourself and where you want your clients to be, right?
Yeah. Yeah. Actually, about 40% of our daily orders are for birthdays. And that's
something I did not realize when we started out. But birthdays are a huge one,
but, you know, of course, there's sympathy. It's funny. A lot of people assume
flowers are, you know, being purchased by men for their female partners, but
it's really not the case. Like 80% around 80% of flowers are bought by women
for other women. It's not this sort of romantic gesture that I think a lot of people
associate with flowers other than, of course, Valentine's Day. But yeah, it's
any occasion drop promotion, congrats on a new baby, new house, lots of just
because. And then now we are finding a lot more people are ordering flowers for
themselves, which is really nice. It sounds really nice. What also has been
really nice is that it's been successful, a successful business. You told me
before we started talking that you did around or over 2 million in sales, which is
fantastic. But I have to ask you, can you walk us through how you decided to approach
your business this way? I mean, I mean, I would imagine there was so many
challenges when you first got started. Yeah, yeah, definitely. So I was actually
a very unhappy PhD student. I was kind of miserable. And so I realized all the
screenshots on my phone were a flowers. So I decided to take a floral design course
and I'd say like maybe a day or two into the course. I was like, yeah, I'm not going
to finish that PhD. I loved everything about flowers. So I started working in a
flower store and quickly realized, you know, it's a seasonal industry. It's really not
one where I wouldn't go into it if you're trying to make a ton of money. You
know, it gets very difficult working with a perishable product. And I thought,
okay, if I want to do this, I want to as a career, I want to do it for myself.
And I spent like, I'd say three or four months on my couch just researching kind of like
pretending I was still doing the PhD, but this time with flowers and came up with the
business plan. And honestly, it was crucial that Shopify existed. You know, I would
never have launched an online only flower business if it wasn't for Shopify to be honest.
It was just so easy. And I can't code. I don't know anything about coding, but
myself and, you know, a couple of friends were able to basically piece it together.
I decided from the beginning that it was going to be online only because the thing with a
retail store friend is you end up spending so much time trying to make it look pretty.
You know, it's got to be stocked customers expect the fridge to be full of flowers,
even if they're only going to buy like five of them, right? And so there's all this wasted inventory.
And you end up spending a lot of time. It's just inefficient. Like, you're, you're, I wanted
to be spending the time actually making the beautiful arrangements and be able to have enough
time to do customer service properly. And really the only way to do that was to have a, like, a
close studio. And so, initially, we did also, you know, take orders on the phone during business
hours, but we really try to gear people towards ordering on the website because it's better for
them. Like, they catch a mistake. You know, like, there's no, you don't miss here someone's name
and then spell it wrong. They can, you know, they can spend one minute or they can spend an hour
placing the order. And so, yeah, we, we launched online only. And honestly, people thought it was
insane. Like, I remember talking to other people in the industry and they just said,
there's no way you can start a flower business without a customer base first. It doesn't
make sense. Like, you need to have a retail store front, at least at the beginning. But between
Instagram and Shopify, I just didn't really agree. And so, what we did do was that first year,
we did a lot of pop ups. And so, we still were able to meet customers, have a content to photograph
that wasn't just like our studio because we're always setting up for markets and, and different
pop up events. So, we got to get feedback from customers. But, you know, our day to day operations
were behind closed doors in the studio. And so, it didn't have to look pretty. It just was really
efficient. You say it was really efficient. And I can imagine, so, given those examples, you just shared.
Right? And when you're, when you're walking on the street and you look at a flower store,
you're not going into the store that doesn't have any flowers in it, right? At the same time,
you also had to kind of set up your digital store to be inviting for folks, right? We, we shop
with our eyes and our ears and our noses. So, how did you do that with your website? When you look
at your site right now, it's very aesthetic. How did you set that up to kind of mimic a flower store,
even though it's online only? I mean, photography was obviously crucial. And so, from the beginning,
I made sure that we had a beautiful place to photograph all the arrangements. So, when it comes to
flowers, at least, but I think a lot of things natural light is key. You really, I had learned
that actually in a workshop that I took, that the best way to photograph flowers is natural lighting
from the side, side lighting. And so, when I moved into the studio, I picked like, where's the
best window? And the entire studio was designed around making sure we had the best place to take photos.
And that was crucial because we needed the customers to feel like they were, you know, part of,
they could, they could see the arrangement, even though, of course, they never saw an in person.
But the other thing that we did that I think made a huge difference at the beginning was we sent
the photo of each arrangement to the sender after it had been delivered, which was a massive time
commitment. But it was important for a bunch of reasons. I think it gave us credibility because,
you know, people are, at that time, people were nervous placing an order online. They honestly
thought, like, maybe it just wouldn't get there. You know, they're like, we're giving you our money.
And how do we know that it's going to arrive? Oh, so, after it was delivered, you would actually
send a photo of the arrangement. Yeah. So, what we did was, before we sent every arrangement out,
we would take a photo of it in that beautiful, like, side lit window area, which gave us content
to put on our website. So, all of the photos on our website were photos of real arrangements
that had been delivered. And I think, you know, that gave people some confidence. But it also
meant that the sender was involved. You know, they got to enjoy the flowers in some way.
Because they're like, oh, that's the arrangement. A lot of people that send flowers love flowers
themselves, right? And so, they got to enjoy it through the photo. And then also, I don't know,
I guess it just gave credibility to an a personal touch because it meant that we were sending them
an email saying, hi, Susan, here's a photo of the arrangement that was just delivered.
Hope you have a great day, blah, blah, blah. So, we could build a relationship with our customers,
totally digitally. It's really interesting. I want to get to emails in a moment because it
sounds like it's a big part of what you do and how you build your customer base. But when it
comes to actually getting folks to connect with your products, you mentioned photography.
I'm just curious, I would imagine this is applicable to lots of other small business owners out there
who are looking to really build themselves up online. Can you tell me how much of a commitment
did you make to the photography itself? I mean, is it just you at a studio with your camera? And
like, that's all, like, just buy a nice camera. Are you paying for photographers? I mean,
tell me, tell me how you made that work. Yeah, so I've always liked taking photos, but I don't really
know anything about it. So, I felt like I had a good idea of what I felt looked good and didn't.
So, at the beginning, you know, I just, I think I just stole my boyfriend's camera
because he wasn't really using it.
And then as we've grown, we have certain designers who are really like taking photos.
For example, right now, our head designer, her other favorite thing to do is photography.
So, she takes photos in the studio as well. And then I've always tried to make sure I have a
good iPhone so that I can take good pictures as well. So, it sounds like you prioritize this
heavily, but not necessarily a huge financial investment. Is that true? No, not at all.
Yeah, no, we've almost never, we've almost never paid for professional photography. Sometimes
you do collaborations with photographers, you know, because they want, flower, or even
we're lucky, flowers are so beautiful. Of course, it would be a bit different if, you know,
we had a product that like no one really liked to look at. But I think that photographers
like working with us because they get to take photos of beautiful flowers and do something
creative. And then they have great content for their social media. So, plus, you know, creative
people just like doing creative shoots. We do a lot of creative shoots. And that's those are obviously
amazingly talented photographers. But no, it hasn't been a lot of money per se. It's just been
a lot of effort to make sure that it's the right setup. Well, speaking of effort and circling back
to emails, it sounds like you've been very successful on getting folks in the door, the virtual door,
right? But how do you keep them coming back? You mentioned you have a somewhat robust email
program. Share with me some of the learnings you've found from that. Yeah, so we've only recently
have we started using Clevio before that. We just literally just sort of would make a newsletter
maybe once a month. So, you know, we've always had like a pretty extensive email list that we've
tried not to abuse. We don't spam them. You know, we would maybe send newsletters less than 12
times a year, maybe 10 times a year. And so, I think for that reason, people didn't, you know, unsubscribed
and they, well, no one likes to be spammed. No, no one likes to be spammed. And our feel like they're
being sold to all the time. But, you know, we do a lot of, you know, I think we're actually
almost at a 50,000th order. So, it's a lot of people who have ordered, you know, and so, a decent
percentage of them have remained subscribed. And so, we communicate with them through newsletters
but sparingly. And then, yeah, but we just, we've always had a very sort of casual conversations
style by email, but make sure that it felt very personal and friendly from the beginning. And so,
of course, initially, you know, it was me doing most of the things. But very quickly, we hired
someone to do admin. And it was very important that that person was able to communicate by email
quickly, go back and forth, resolve any problems. And really, like, develop relationships with the
customers. And so, people will email like eight months later and be like, hey, Cassandra, I want this,
or, you know, and they feel like they know you, even though you've only ever been emailing them.
How interesting. So, an investment there in staffing, so that folks are around to kind of
communicate sometimes in real time. But, you know, almost like a ritualistic way with your customers.
Yeah, and I find that I think a lot of our customers literally just like type flowers into their
email, you know, and then pick up the last time they email. And then they just reply it and say,
hey, you know, and ask a question. We've had so many amazing customers that have been with us for
almost since the beginning. And, you know, a lot of people don't, they're not ordering flowers like
all the time. Even really loyal customers might only order twice a year. But when that occasion comes,
again, the next year they're, you know, they're sort of feel like they're right back there and that they
know you. I'm talking with Jennifer Fallow. She's the founder of Wild North Flowers. It's a digital
only flower shop that's sources. It's flowers from mostly Ontario, Canada. We talk a little bit
about that. I mean, Ontario, Canada, for me, that's not the place that screams out flowers are everywhere
all times of the year. But I guess that's actually not true. You would tell me a little bit
about the history of flowers here in this part of the globe. Tell me some more about the name
and why you decided to go that direction. When I got into the industry, I was honestly,
because I didn't know anything about it before I got into it. I think it was a little bit naive,
and I was really surprised by how environmentally unfriendly the floral industry actually is.
Most imported flowers have to be shipped all around the world, potentially like from, you know,
Ethiopia to Holland and then to Toronto in refrigerated trucks and all of that. There's a lot of
plastic. Of course, it's a perishable product, and so a lot of it doesn't even end up in a
customer's hand. It goes in the compost before it even gets to a customer sometimes. So I was very
quickly a little bit disillusioned with the industry, and then at the same time realized how many
amazing flowers were actually grown in Ontario. There's a little microclimate in southern Ontario,
you know, a lot of people know about the Niagara region for wines, and I guess you make sense
that flowers are also being grown there too in greenhouses. So it's actually other than flooring
California. It's the third biggest floor cultural hub in North America. So we're going to kind of
put it all together, and I had this idea of, you know, I think we could do all locally grown flowers
all year round, which again, people literally thought like you're ridiculous. So they didn't
understand it. They didn't understand why at the time they said the customers just don't care,
because the customers didn't know, like it's not like a flower has a label on it when they get it,
you know, like you get an arrangement. You don't know where each flower was grown. And so people
within the industry, we're just really sort of pushing back against it saying, the customer doesn't
care that's going to be too hard. How are you going to give them what they want at all, you know,
throughout the year? But I felt pretty strongly that we could make it work as long as we had
creative control. You know, in the last few months, we have actually had to do a big pivot and
start using imported flowers, which we started doing in January of this year. It's dealing with
the fallout from COVID and supply chain issues and the market demands have changed a lot. And so I
had to make the, you know, pretty difficult decision to prioritize, you know, my staff and our customers
and be able to continue to go at the rate that we've been going at. I sort of, we got to a
point where we said, okay, we can either do Valentine's Day with imported flowers or we can
sit Valentine's Day out. But there's no way that we can continue to go with the locally grown
flowers only. And so we decided to use some imports as well. But we've built over the years these
amazing relationships with our local growers and we're able to buy directly from a lot of them,
which is really cool. I've actually been to the greenhouse's, you know, I text them, they, they said
me photos, like, oh, do you think I should grow this one or, like, what do you think the trends are
for next year? So it's really cool. I mean, I'm not someone who, I honestly don't even have a,
like, a garden. I don't have time. I love them. My mom and grandma were like mortified because
they're amazing gardeners. But I prefer an excess, maybe you're around them all the time. Yeah,
I love them and I, you know, but I see them at work. So I don't really know that much about growing,
but I've developed these great relationships with the local growers. And since we started,
the local flower movement has grown massively in Toronto, which is amazing. And there's actually
now a collective that has formed that sells just locally grown flowers from small scale farmers
in the summer months, which is so cool. Like nothing like that existed, you know, five, six years ago.
So that has been a great positive change. I think in general, the industry is becoming a lot more
environmentally aware and conscious and customers are asking about it, too. I want to pick up
on something you said earlier about just this change you had to make. You mentioned COVID supply chain
issues. I think for a lot of small business owners, whether they're just getting started or
they're in the middle of their business journey, they've probably had to deal with this last
couple of years. I can almost say with certainty, especially with a perishable good,
they've had to deal with this issue of supply chain disruption and how to wipe if it's.
It sounds like you made a difficult but necessary decision for someone who inevitably might be
watching this or listening here and facing this same decision. What sort of advice can you
share about how to really, it sounds like what you did has changed your whole business model
over an item most? Yeah, it was something I struggled with for a long time, sort of internally.
I could see the writing on the wall to be honest, I should have done it earlier, but I just
I think I didn't, I had to sit down and and and sort of really make a list and say,
okay, what did I think about when I was starting the business, but what's the reality now?
And who am I responsible to now? I have a team of 12 plus people who rely on me for their income
and we have an amazing customer base who love us and a lot of them love that we do local,
but the more I sort of looked through it, that wasn't there number one reason why they kept
shopping with us. I sort of always assumed it would be and then the more conversations we had,
really, they cared more about having beautiful arrangements that were good value. And it just
sort of got to a point where I said, okay, we can't offer that to the customers right now.
I don't want to have to lay off my staff and not be able to offer customers good value
because I'm so like blindly sticking to this vision that I had six years ago when the world was
different. And you also had to find probably new suppliers, right? I mean, your whole experience
is with this local supply chain, greenhouses and Ontario, Niagara Falls, and now you're
sourcing stuff from all over the place. How do you do that? If you're someone who's like, I want to
do what Jennifer did? How do you do that so quickly? I asked questions. I luckily I had built
great relationships over the years. And so there's a couple of key people. I just sort of asked
them how they did things. I guess I was just sort of now doing things the way other people were
already doing them. Like a lot of people already used the imported flowers. So I did the hard thing
at the beginning, you know? And then now I was just kind of doing the route that other people were
already doing. And but it was a huge change for us. I mean, like the days of the week we got the
flowers. What kind of flowers do you got? How will we use them? The price of them? It was a quite a big
shift. And it's funny. I sort of expected a big pushback from everybody, but literally there was
none of them. People were just they totally understood, you know? They understood that things
it was how difficult it was to run a business already during COVID. And it was it was so stressful.
You know, just trying to keep the business going. We still try to use as much local product as we
can. And now we're going to the summer months where there's an amazing bounty of local products.
So it's it's really easy, but in February it's a lot harder. I had to just sort of let go of my own
ego, I think, because I had put so much stock in, I'm going to do this thing. I'm going to use all
locally grown flowers. And everybody thinks it's impossible, but I'm going to do it. And, you know,
we did it, but then we have to change. Speaking of change, you don't just sell flowers, right?
You have other stuff on your website. For example, you've got snacks. I think their beverages,
cards, for example. You've been able to diversify what you offer, which is a big advantage
for someone. I would imagine who also sells a perishable good. So how did you decide like what's
a pick and what sort of learnings could you share with folks who are also looking to diversify?
Yeah, I mean, I think COVID sort of taught everyone that you can't just rely on one revenue stream.
And so we were very lucky that, you know, we like we have some amazing friends who are
flores who do just weddings and events. And obviously they just had something to do in March of 2020.
So we were lucky that we, you know, we did, we had kind of have a foot in a bunch of different
areas. But we've always known that customers want a more sort of complete gifting experience.
And again, it goes back to the wanting to make easy for people. I always framed it as,
what would I want to receive? Like, when I was making the arrangements, my standard for myself
was always that my self as somebody who loves flowers would have to be really happy to receive
this arrangement. And then we just did that with the gifts as well. So we thought, okay, it has to
be something unique. Not something you could just like get anywhere. We all of our add ons are
Canadian. A lot of them are Ontario made, but they're all Canadian made.
So sticking with that local model. Yeah, we want to support local businesses. Some of them
become really good friends. A lot of, literally, some of them were, you know, they were making
their candles, for example, like a kilometer away from our studio was so cool. They could walk them
over to us. And so we stuck with the local, because, you know, we wanted to support other small
businesses, but also highlight them to the customers who, you know, they're not going to find
them at chapters or something, but we really slowly added on. We resisted the temptation to
sort of just go big right away. We thought, okay, this is something that a wide variety of people
would be really happy to receive as a gift. And then, of course, it's not perishable. So,
from our perspective, it's a lot easier, you know, from an inventory control perspective.
So what we would do is, you know, we would try not to buy too much initially, because I also
learned pretty quickly that what I thought would be popular is not always the case.
Did you ever buy some stuff? Oh, my God. Yeah. So there we had a few, like gift box items of
things that I thought were super cute. And no, literally nobody bought them. Nobody. There was
two niche, you know, so. Do many extras? No, show. I've given them away. I literally, my
poor friends have been given them as gifts for years. I was like, oh, we still have 25 more of those.
But yeah, so it had to have a wide enough variety of an audience while still being special.
You know, so it's anyways, that made me realize, okay, not everything's going to fit the bill for that.
So we, we would start small and over the years, we've developed and tested, figured out what
works, what doesn't. But also, it's, I sounds kind of obvious now. But initially, we really didn't
have the ability to track the occasion that people were sending the arrangements for. And so once
we finally started tagging them, actually, using in Shopify, we would tag it. Then we're like, oh,
40% of our orders are for birthdays. I thought it was like maybe 20. And
so then we started looking for more birthday specific addons, for example. So it sounds like having
good photos, we're not spending too much money necessarily, a very robust and engaging email
connection with your customers. And also, maybe some learnings about what addons they want and they don't
want. Lots of great things in this interview. Jennifer Falos, she is the founder of Wild North
Flowers. Jennifer, thank you so much. Yeah, thanks for having me.