How I Began My First Business
I began my first business a long time ago. Before blogging, social media, and smartphones were the business tools they are today. Many people don't know this about me, but my first business was designing wedding flowers. For seven years (together with my mom) I owned and operated an event and floral design studio in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I loved it. I was good at it. And eventually I closed it which broke my heart. This is the story of how it began and the events that led to the closing.
Fiori Event Design began in 1997 shortly after my own wedding. Part of the reason I started it was the fiasco that my own wedding flowers had been. I had spent well over an hour going over the details with the florist only to be unpleasantly surprised on my wedding day. So much of what I had requested didn't happen and many of the things I specifically said I didn't want still happened. It was so disappointing after having discussed everything and I felt like the florist didn't care. So, I set out to do things differently.
We took our business tagline, Your wedding is as important to us as it is to you, very seriously. I met with couples and discussed what they wanted and then made sure it happened as best we could. We worked very hard to get things right and we were personally involved in the entire process. Most of what we designed was custom for each wedding - something innovative at the time - and our customers loved that.
Working with what we had
At first we made small with things like wedding favors and ring pillows. We started working out of a spare bedroom in my house but back then, and in Florida, working from home was considered shady. I lost count of the number of times when I would tell a prospective client that I worked from home, there would be a pause, and then they would tell me they would call back, never to be heard from again.
In the beginning it was just my mom and me doing most of the work with occasional help from friends and family. We didn't take on lots of work or big events because we didn't have resources to do it. Then, as we got busier, we moved to a retail location and hired part-time help. We also began taking on more and larger weddings.
Finding customers and giving them what they wanted
Being in the wedding industry made finding customers relatively easy. There are wedding magazines, websites and bridal shows, and advertising in any of these automatically put you in front of potential customers that were actively shopping, and interested in what you had to offer. We quickly learned which publications and shows attracted the larger budget weddings and continued to invest in those.
Back then, most of our competition had the cookie-cutter flower shop franchise websites. The kind of website that had the shop's URL but that the home page was geared towards ordering flowers for delivery. Somewhere on the site there would be wedding flowers, but the designs were generic and created by corporate rather than the individual shop. We stood out from the crowd because we weren't part of any delivery service and even though our website was nothing special (I created it in PowerPoint of all things) it contained photos of weddings we had done.
Our website also addressed exactly what potential brides wanted to know and made it easy to get in touch with us. At the time I had no background in marketing but I understood the market and spoke to what my clients needed. That little detail also helped us book a lot of out of town business. Couples that didn't meet me until a few days before the wedding were able to arrange everything and feel confident with their choices. By keeping things simple and to the point our business kept growing.
The beginning of the end
The problems began when we couldn't say 'no'. Whenever someone new called the first thing I asked was their wedding date. Often several couples would want the same day and, depending on the size of the event, it was challenging to fit them all in. There were plenty of situations where we should have turned away business and raised our prices but we did neither. More times than I care to remember, we booked all the weddings anyway and it was exhausting.
I wish I had a mentor back then - someone that could have advised me on what to do to grow my business. Someone that could have shown me ways to get things done without doing them all myself. Floral design work is physically demanding and working non-stop is a terrible plan. Sadly I didn't have someone to turn to for advice and the burnout quickly caught up with me. Some insanely busy months (think one-day-off-the-entire-month busy), paired with a bridezilla and her unpleasant family, eventually led to the closing of Fiori.
In spite of how sad it was to close the doors, it was an excellent learning experience. The knowledge I acquired about myself and about owning my first business is a gift that still helps me today. Would I do things differently if I could go back knowing what I know? Absolutely. In my next post I will share the lessons I learned and how I apply them now.