How These Industry Pros Are Keeping the Flower Business Blooming

From DIY kits to pop-up markets, find out how some event designers and florists are pivoting during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Visitors to the pop-ups actually thank us for being there, and you can see on their faces just how happy it makes them to see these gardens appear in their neighborhoods,” says Tom Kehoe about Kehoe Designs' Green Market Gardens.
“Visitors to the pop-ups actually thank us for being there, and you can see on their faces just how happy it makes them to see these gardens appear in their neighborhoods,” says Tom Kehoe about Kehoe Designs' Green Market Gardens.
Photo: Courtesy of Kehoe Designs

As spring galas and weddings were canceled or postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the flower industry had started to wilt. In addition to the growers who were forced to destroy millions of flowers as demand dropped, the unprecedented economic hit to the almost $9 billion global industry affected designers who specialize in creating floral-heavy events.

"It's been devastating to watch the impact of this pandemic on the entire floral supply chain,” says Lynn English, HMR Designs’ floral studio manager. “From the farms to flower auctions, trickling down to event companies like us, everyone is hurting but doing their best to persevere.”

That includes pivoting to e-commerce. The Chicago-based event design company has launched Maison HMR, an online boutique that sells flowers, plants, and home accents with contact-free delivery throughout the Chicagoland area. HMR has also partnered with event management app Tock to offer a variety of floral arrangements, such as a tulip bundle for $145.

HMR Designs recently launched Maison HMR, an online boutique that sells flowers, plants, and home accents.HMR Designs recently launched Maison HMR, an online boutique that sells flowers, plants, and home accents.Photo: Kent Drake Photography“It was clear that we couldn't bring our event design services to clients, but we could continue to bring beauty to the masses by way of our floral department. And why not make it easy for consumers?” says Elise Schmitt, director of marketing for HMR Designs.

She explains that the online shop was simply an expansion of HMR’s floral studio, which has always taken floral arrangement requests. “In an era of ‘click and buy,’ it only made sense for us to adjust and formulate a quicker, easier way for consumers to purchase our florals and blooms. And we hope they'll continue to do so after we return to whatever our new normal may be.”

During this extraordinary time, the ability to be nimble and responsive is key to keeping a business going—and potentially growing. Inspired by clients who were scheduled to get married in mid-March in Austin, but were forced to change their plans and hold an intimate ceremony instead, Washington, D.C.-based flower company Poppy introduced “the Courthouse Package” for those saying “I do” inside a courthouse, at home, or virtually.

“For me, and a lot of people, flowers are not just pretty and ornamental,” Poppy’s CEO Cameron Hardesty (pictured) explains. 'They're an experience and a chance to flex your creativity.'“For me, and a lot of people, flowers are not just pretty and ornamental,” Poppy’s CEO Cameron Hardesty (pictured) explains. "They're an experience and a chance to flex your creativity."Photo: Courtesy of Poppy“I realized that other couples would soon find themselves in a similar position…. [We] created a simple package of the floral bare necessities for the smallest of weddings. This package is also great for Zoom ceremonies, to really make the ceremony look special for friends and family tuning in,” says Poppy’s CEO Cameron Hardesty, who learned floral design while working at the White House flower shop. The package ($152) includes one bouquet and a boutonnière.

But Hardesty says she’s unsure if the demand for this type of “micro wedding” will continue post-pandemic. “There has been a lot of media attention on these alternative wedding offerings, but in reality, most couples whose weddings are impacted by COVID seem to be opting to wait it out and see what happens, and would prefer to reschedule instead of cancel,” she explains. “There's such a long lead time in wedding planning that some of the couples we're talking to are planning for late 2021 or 2022, and there's an assumption that restrictions will have lifted by then.”

In addition to the courthouse offering, Hardesty is also selling “Poppy at Home,” a DIY flower kit that includes 50-55 stems, care and design instructions, flower food, and a gift card for $68.

“For me, and a lot of people, flowers are not just pretty and ornamental,” Hardesty says. “They're an experience and a chance to flex your creativity. The difference between flower arranging and pretty much every other craft is that it's pretty hard to make flowers ugly. That actually gives you a lot of creative freedom. When you're arranging flowers, you literally can't mess up. Plus, they're scientifically proven to make you happier.”

Companies such as Google, Coursera, and Capital One have also reached out to Hardesty about using the Poppy at Home kits to help boost morale during remote team building sessions. In addition, the floral company recently debuted “Poppy Party,” where a group of friends each order a box and build their bouquets together via video conferencing.

Poppy at Home’s “My Girl” kit ($68) features roses, ranunculus, scabiosas, and solomios in shades of coral and blush, and yellow solidago aster.Poppy at Home’s “My Girl” kit ($68) features roses, ranunculus, scabiosas, and solomios in shades of coral and blush, and yellow solidago aster.Photo: Courtesy of PoppyHardesty says she’s seen an “incredible response” to the kits, perhaps “because everyone is stuck at home and they've tried the sourdough starter, they've been through their own personal journey with Alison Roman's oeuvre, they might even be bored of puzzles, and they're ready to try something new. Flower arranging is so meditative, too. It's a little escape.”

Other DIY kits include Los Angeles-based event designer Eddie Zaratsian’s BunchBox, floral design kits that contain a selection of blooms, clippers, and floral preservative, along with video instructions for preparing, arranging, and maintaining the flowers; a portion of the proceeds from every box is donated to Feeding America.

And in an effort to support the industry and New York’s Flower District, Kelsea Olivia, founder of East Olivia in New York, partnered with wholesaler New York Flower Group to package up a pile of flowers (over 75 stems), which are sourced from growers in Holland, for delivery around the U.S.

Each month, Olivia curates two fresh floral boxes ($225 each), which are available for home delivery within the U.S.Each month, Olivia curates two fresh floral boxes ($225 each), which are available for home delivery within the U.S.Photo: Courtesy of East Olivia"With the entire world confined to their homes, the urgency to bring nature indoors has never been more important," Olivia said. "Equally as important was the direct support that the sales of these flowers would have for the growers, wholesalers, and industry at large. It has been so encouraging to see the positive response from our clients and customers. Curating ingredients for arrangements and installations has always been one of my favorite parts of working with flowers as a medium and now I get to do it in a way that impacts so many people and in a way that truly supports so many in our industry who desperately need our business."

East Olivia also opened an online shop, which sells a line of preserved florals, and the company is working with brands and clients to curate digital experiential floral classes and corporate gifting programs.

Similarly, Kehoe Designs is also accepting online floral orders via its website, and recently started branching out even further. Earlier this month, the event design company opened up its Green Market Gardens, a pop-up shop selling indoor and outdoor trees, plants, and flowers in neighborhoods throughout Chicago.

Kehoe Designs opened up its Green Market Gardens, a pop-up shop selling indoor and outdoor trees, plants, and flowers, in neighborhoods throughout Chicago.Kehoe Designs opened up its Green Market Gardens, a pop-up shop selling indoor and outdoor trees, plants, and flowers, in neighborhoods throughout Chicago.Photo: Courtesy of Kehoe Designs“Knowing that green plants and flowers have such healthful benefits, such as boosting immunity, enhancing moods, and reducing stress, it made sense to make them readily available to folks as we go through this challenging time,” explains Tom Kehoe, who got his start at a suburban flower shop.

Utilizing the outdoor seating areas of local restaurants, such as Smoke Daddy BBQ and Federales, which currently have reduced foot traffic, the pop-up shops are open daily through the end of May. (Location info and hours can be found on the @greenmarketgarden Instagram account.)

Kehoe adds that, because of the “overwhelmingly positive response,” the company hopes to continue hosting the markets in the future. “Visitors to the pop-ups actually thank us for being there, and you can see on their faces just how happy it makes them to see these gardens appear in their neighborhoods.”

Special event florist Ananda Zoe Breslof decided to provide that same kind of “pick-me-up” for her local community after her business came to a halt earlier this year.

Located in Chicago’s Bucktown neighborhood, Flowerlife offers arrangements via curbside pickup and no-contact delivery.Located in Chicago’s Bucktown neighborhood, Flowerlife offers arrangements via curbside pickup and no-contact delivery.Photo: Courtesy of Flowerlife“I have not had event work since March 7, my last full wedding. I had to pivot the best way I knew how and still serve my community,” she explains about her company’s new order services. Located in Chicago’s Bucktown neighborhood, Flowerlife offers arrangements via curbside pickup and no-contact delivery. Plus, Breslof provides three free bouquets a week to health care workers, volunteers, and others who could use some flower power.

“We will continue to give back as long as there is a need. I want to provide to those who are not feeling their usual selves—first responders, doctors, nurses, single parents, anyone struggling or working in the front line.” Breslof accepts requests and nominations for the bouquets through the Bucktown Community News Facebook page and via email at daily@flowerlifeinc.com.

“I am filled with gratitude every day to be able to provide a bit of floral happiness to others when they might be in need of a pick-me-up, or if they want to send someone a bit of gorgeous blooms for numerous reasons,” she says.

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