The Bohemian Florist

Today I want to introduce you to Derek Woodruff.  I’m sure a few of you are familiar with Derek as he is very hands on in the floral industry.  I asked him to write a short essay about the path he has taken thus far as a florist.  I think he has a unique story to tell, one that is ever-changing and evolving and hopefully encouraging to you. Thanks for sharing Derek!!!

The Life and Times of a Bohemian Florist
Derek C. Woodruff AIFD CFD CF

Most business experts will tell you that it’s not a good idea to change the location of your business every couple of years. They’ll also tell you that you should write a business plan and get some experience before you jump out on your own. I’m going to tell you why that doesn’t work for me. I’m a bohemian florist, which means I can’t stay in one place for too long. I like change, a challenge and a new view. I like to experiment with my business and my life, and then after a little while, try something else. And guess what? It works for me, most of the time….

It started when I was 24 years old. I worked for a full service florist.  All of my expected tasks were those of a manager of a flower shop. After two years of hard work and not much to show for it, I decided it was time to venture out on my own. I hadn’t planned to own my own business.  It actually sounded like too much hard work for someone like me, who really prefers to make the most of life in a resort town. However, I wasn’t interested in being employed at one flower shop after another in the same small town and risk getting “that” reputation. Starting my own business was the only solution if I wanted to continue earning a wage as a floral designer.

While I was getting my business up and running, I worked for a local coffee shop that was also just starting up. I had never been a barista. In fact, I had never really done anything other than flowers. The skills were new but the customer interaction was very similar to that of a retail flower shop. I found this job to be the perfect fit while I was spending my free time developing my own business. I started meeting with brides and booked a few weddings – only four in my first year.  However, it gave me enough capital to rent my first, very small studio and furnish it with all the required equipment. From there, I started courting some specialized accounts: restaurants, hotels and other business that wanted upscale floral designs to bring beauty to their space. Slowly but surely I built a strong small business as an independent floral designer.

After my first year in business, I grew from four weddings and a small smattering of regular orders, to ten weddings, regular in-home floral design service, regular weekly accounts in reputable businesses, plus an increase in call-in orders.  My business was booming!  Naturally, this meant the bohemian in me was ready for a change again. It was time to upsize and add a retail component. I moved from my modest studio and shared apartment into a bigger live/work space including a spacious sales floor and coffee bar.

Here’s the part of the story when the small business owner in me was humbled. I learned a major lesson by owning a retail-based business:  location, location, location! I built it, but no one came. I realized that I was off the beaten path. Although I had set up an ideal living/working situation for myself, it was in the wrong “hood” for retail. I also discovered that I actually hated being tied down to a retail store.

I went back to doing what I do best: weddings, regular weekly in-home and in-business floral design, and special events. I moved locations again, this time it was just a few doors down in the same warehouse building. The two-story unit at the end of the building provided an upstairs living space, and left the downstairs for the business – a true live/work space. Most of my expenses were at least partial write-offs, I could do very large-scale events out of the workspace and at the end of a long night of work, I could walk right upstairs and crash. It was beautiful. Until…

About a year later I realized how much I missed living downtown. Even though I knew the perfect live/work space did not exist downtown, I decided it was time for a change. It just so happened that a close friend of mine, Megan, who also worked in plants and gardening, was looking for space.  We put our plant-loving minds together and came up with the grand scheme! We would rent a downtown location together and share space, employees and other costs as well as market our businesses together.  We came up with a name, hired employees and determined what products the store would offer to the public.

Which brings us to Retail – Take 2. We opened Green Room shortly thereafter and almost immediately realized we had a problem. It turned out that Megan and I had two very different styles of running a business. Megan was a workaholic and I, being the bohemian, wasn’t! This meant she was working way more than I was, which meant it wasn’t a 50/50 partnership, the way we’d set it up.  Therefore, we determined we couldn’t share a business, but we could share a space. We figured out how to operate separate businesses as roommates! We had separate store hours, separate employees, and even separate cash registers!

Business continued to boom for about a year running our stores this way. And then one day the bohemian in me noticed that I was working all the time, and not enjoying the other parts of my life. After a year of sharing space, I realized I was working twice as much as I had in the past but wasn’t making twice as much money.  Naturally that meant it was time for a change.

What was the solution this time? I looked at the past five years of being a business owner, and pieced together the things that made me the happiest and were the most profitable in my practice. What I found was that I had it from the start! I needed to go through these adventures to realize that I was doing the right thing. I determined again that I would focus on what I do best: weddings, regular weekly in-home and in-business floral design, and special events. For the fifth time in my career as an independent floral designer, I moved to a new location.  My current studio is still downtown. It’s a smaller studio, it’s all my own, and it’s where I continue to design flowers the way I enjoy most.

The bohemian in me has come full circle once again, and I am back to having the magical balance of working and play.  Outside of work, I participate in the floral industry with live floral design competitions and educating both on-stage and on-camera. I also started a fresh-floral cabaret troupe to help spread the entertainment value of the floral design industry. At times I wonder if I’m done moving locations and modifying my business. Have I settled, at last, on what works for me? My conclusion is… not a chance!  As time goes on and things change, I will too. I love the adventure of putting myself out there for something new and learning something every time. I may always return to what I do best but I can’t stay there too long. And that is why being the bohemian florist works for me.