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.

 

2 comments

  1. Linda K. Kijek says:

    Derek, I love your work and follow you on the syndicate site. Your work inspires me to think out of the box. I too, like you, went in with my eyes wide open but no plan just what works out of my head. I love it and my work shows it. I make unique designs “out of the box” as you would say. I make the work to the customer and design what they are trying to say to the person they are sending it to, whether a funeral a birthday a wedding, whatever they feel, I put into my work. I work at my small shop out of my home but with everything I need on a day to day basis. I am Irish and I love the bright and happy colors.
    Good luck Derek and I will watch where you go.
    Linda K. Kijek
    Baskets Boxes Etc. Florals

  2. Kelli says:

    Derek,

    Thank you so much for sharing so much of yourself!

    As I find my own way through this business, it is so helpful to hear how others have found their own path. Hearing of people like yourself who have created careers that are both fulfilling and successful is truly inspiring!

    In addition to your talent, you seem like a truly lovely person. Please keep up the posts!]

    Kelli
    Floral Occasions by Kelli

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