2 LA-area flower companies uproot status quo | Crain's Los Angeles

2 LA-area flower companies uproot status quo

Flower order and delivery isn’t a realm known for brand loyalty or innovation. But two California startups, the Bouqs Company and Bloom2Bloom, want to change that.

To plant their brands in consumers’ minds, they have to do things differently than FTD and 1-800-Flowers.

“You look at the landscape and there are tens of thousands of florists and websites and order gatherers out there, but there isn’t a single emotionally driven flower brand that’s big and national,” said Bouqs co-founder John Tabis, a veteran of Disney corporate brand development. "I found it fascinating that you have this category that is so emotionally driven, but with no emotionally driven brand. That felt like a really big miss."

Blossoming brands

Bloom2Bloom, founded by Whitney Port from the MTV show “The Hills” and business partner Laurenne Resnik, counts on a growing consumer consciousness about local sourcing, in addition to Port’s social media following, for advancing the Bloom2Bloom cause. Bloom2Bloom has committed to working only with U.S. growers; the bulk of the blooms are from California.

“Origin matters more and more when it comes to flowers,” Resnik said. “Consumers want to be educated about where their flowers come from and what they stand for.”

Bouqs similarly emphasizes branding, but not local sourcing. Tabis’ co-founder, Juan Pablo Montúfar, runs a flower farm in Quito, Ecuador, and began scrutinizing the supply chain to reduce flower waste.

From 33 to 50 percent of flowers are lost, thrown away in that supply chain, whereas in Bouqs’ supply chain it’s less than 2 percent, according to Tabis.

“[The industry] was essentially moving flowers today the same way it did 100 years ago,” Tabis said. “It hasn’t really been optimized. And tech hasn’t been applied.”

After Montúfar called Tabis proposing his tech-enabled tweaks, the two agreed to partner on Bouqs.

“What got me excited about it is it’s rare you find an industry with such a broken supply chain, and no one ever trying to deploy technology to fix it,” Tabis said.

There’s tremendous upside for those who stem the losses. Wholesale flower sales reach $3 billion annually, plus $13 billion retail, in the U.S. Globally the numbers exceed $50 billion, according to Tabis.

A more efficient supply chain could lower costs, helping to make flowers less of a luxury and more of a regular pleasure. That change in mindset is one Bloom2Bloom very much advocates.

“Bloom2Bloom is excited to be focused on the everyday flowers—flowers you buy for yourself just because—as well as those you buy for special occasions,” Resnik said. “We are very much focused on bringing a brand of flowers that fits in with the everyday lifestyle."

California’s weather means about 75 percent of what is grown in the U.S. is grown in-state, Resnik said, which abets Bloom2Bloom’s commitment to local sourcing.

“Our bouquets are hand-arranged on the farms we work with, and sent directly from the farm to your doorstep,” Resnik said. “We are committed to working with U.S. growers and with freshly cut flowers—rather than sourcing flowers from overseas or holding inventory in warehouses or stores—so that we can offer the freshest flowers possible.”

U.S. sourcing doesn’t limit creativity, Resnik said. Bloom2Bloom is becoming known for layering succulents into arrangements and bouqets that don’t shy away from bold mixes of color and texture.

Port’s social media following is key to the partners’ marketing strategy. Her posts on Instagram and other channels have driven much of Bloom2Bloom’s sales growth.

The founders differentiate Bloom2Bloom further by directing a portion of each purchase to Wish Upon a Teen, a nonprofit organization that helps seriously ill teens appoint their hospital rooms with décor they love. That partnership is consistent with how Port and Resnik want to position their flowers.

“Giving someone something they don't need, something beyond the basic necessities, is so powerful and meaningful,” Resnik said. “Our partnership with Wish Upon A Teen is an extension of that gesture.”

Growing a better supply chain

When Tabis and Montúfar launched the Bouqs Company in 2012, they implemented Montúfar’s plan to deliver flowers faster from eco-friendly, sustainable farms internationally.

“The secret to moving flowers far is to move quickly, No. 1,” Tabis said. “It needs to move in a day. If you wait a week with any floral, it’s much deeper into its life. Our flowers have been cut within 48 hours at the longest, which means more of its life is in the home, versus in the traditional supply chain, where life is wasted.”

Temperature and hydration are critical during transport of flowers.

“My partner has a process that is unique that assures they’ve had a lot to drink and can hold a lot,” Tabis said. “Then the temp needs to be 4 degrees Celsius to keep the flowers asleep. We aren’t cold-chain 100 percent of the way, partly because of U.S. Customs, but any times we’re not in cold chain, we’re up in the air very high, which is very cold.”

Bouqs also leverages technology in its communication with more than 100 farms around the world, which grow 1.8 million stems each year.

“We don’t buy all of (the stems) yet,” Tabis said. “But that tech is connecting the farm directly to our consumer; when you shop with Bouqs, you are shopping the farm network’s inventory. You place an order and that order is routed to a farm, based on your parameters—who has what you need—and then it will match you up. We are ecommerce on the front end but marketplace on the back end.”

However, Bouqs doesn’t oversee farm operations.

“Our business isn’t so much the doing, it’s the connecting.”

Bouqs is investing in its tech stack to make it smarter, Tabis said, layering on artificial intelligence.

“Where we see opportunity is dynamic optimization in real time. If we know we’re getting orders of 6,000 of that flower here and 50,000 of that flower there, the system will be rerouting based on the entire pie, versus set rules. That optimization won’t ever be seen by the customer, but from an efficiency standpoint, and our ability to push data back to the farm—that this is what you should be growing—this is information that farms never got in the past.”

Bouqs’ formula isn’t based just on technology but also relationships.​ Today Bouqs has a wait list of farms seeking partnerships, Tabis said.

“Farms love working with us for a couple reasons. Compared with the industry, when we say we are going to do a volume, we deliver on it. We also pay more—the average farmer is going to get 20 percent more—and we pay faster, in a timely fashion.”

In return, Bouqs expects its partner farms to use sustainable methods, including natural predators against nuisance insects, and to treat land and labor with respect, versus defaulting to cheaper workers and toxic chemicals. Bouqs deploys third-party verification organizations such as the Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade, in addition to deploying its own teams, including six people in Ecuador, to monitor farms’ methods.

“Our team is physically there seeing what the operation is like, we keep a close eye on it,” Tabis said. “Part of it is the vetting process my partner puts farms through, which is pretty rigorous, checking their packing capabilities, etc.”

To some extent, Tabis hopes that Bouqs’ model inspires imitation.

“We aren’t a huge chunk of the whole industry, so we haven’t been able to create social change at the source yet, but the more that we incent people to do it the right away, and the more farms look at the one next door and see, 'You’re making money hand over fist because you work with the Bouqs Company,' then we become a catalyst for social good at the source.”

Not to mention for the recipient. 

May 17, 2017 - 6:32am