Thursday, February 2, 2012

where in I mimic preston baily and dispense unsolicited advice



my thoughts on sample meetings;

I used to hate them, now I love them.
I only do a sample meeting for clients who spend over 10K. And only if they ask.

Clients who insist on samples who are spending less I charge for the sample. (Most of the time, sometimes I just don't because I'm not a good business person, or I forget.) As those of you who work in flowers know, it's impossible to put together a sample for less than $300 if you are using 10+ varieties of flowers. We have a "retail shop" where I could sell some of the leftovers from the sample, but lets be honest - my retail flower sales range from $0-250 a week, so there's not an active market to move those stems.

Clients who are strangely persistent about samples spur red flags in our office. Trust is pretty important to me. If you trust me, and I love you than I'm going to go above and beyond for you. I'm going to buy the tree peonies at $7.5 a stem even when Asheley says we're over budget. There is NOTHING more exhilarating in my work than making incredible flowers for clients who love what we do. Nothing. And no budgets, whether big or small will ever stop us from finding those people we can make happy with flowers.

I take my business very personally, and I like to be on friendly terms with clients. I really like to get to know them. And in getting to know them, hopefully earn their trust. Once I had a client ask me what would happen to the wedding flowers if I DIED before we delivered them. That was a red flag too...

So with samples; as I said - if the budget of the wedding allows for it we create a full sample meeting with linens, dishes, flowers, etc. I think with a big wedding this is so important; to be able to see and play with the elements together. I am the kind of designer who has a hard time conceptualizing abstractly. I'm much better with materials right in front of me.

Lastly - do your samples in season - 2 weeks before the wedding. There is just no other way to get an accurate seasonal mockup.

So C - you asked, I hope that helps. I'd say if you have a client that is being too finicky and requesting multiple sample meetings - beware. Some brides are destined to be unhappy from the start. The industry's promise of "the perfect day" leaves many women with unrealistic expectations and sets them up for dissapointment on what should be a fun party with family and friends.

I have said to clients before; "You know, it's just a wedding."
But then, I am known for putting my foot in my mouth.
(And for forgetting to wear a brassiere.)

__
p.s. The professor and I have something big in the works - should be confirmed by the end of today. I give you hint; Manhattan. Valentines Day. I'm so excited I can't stand it...

32 comments:

Michelle Stiles said...

I can't wait to hear what it is your are working on!

Courtnee said...

What a quick and thoughtful response! Thank you! And,you basically confirmed everything I've been thinking and feeling. Every time I get yet another email from this client my stomach hurts. I think ye old gut is telling me to walk away.

Julie said...

Long ago, when I was a naive, young, and idealistic PR girl, I tried to please every client and cater to their excessive demands and whims. I was in charge of an enormous event in our area--huge media, mega celebrity, power galore. After months of planning and jumping through hoops for said client, he decided to change the "feel" of the evening--two weeks prior to the event. I lost it, blasted his ass in front of God and his peers during a meeting, and told him it was unacceptable. Assuming I would be fired--I instead received a handwritten note of apology and two dozen roses the next day. And he offered me a job after the event, which I politely declined.

The point of my rambling is... always, always stand up for yourself and trust your gut, Courtnee. Now that I have my own business (which is an heirloom plant nursery, the best job ever)--I just don't work with people who always want discounts or samples. If they can't respect my time, dedication, and work like I respect their needs, then it's not a mutually beneficial relationship. And I'm old and wise enough now to find that unacceptable. Cheers to good business relationships!

Erica said...

Hmmm, I think some people ask for a samples just because they too need to get a visual of what they're looking for. Not the whole thing with a table setting and all though! That's excessive in most cases. But sometimes what one person describes, turns out to be very different from what they get. They just want to be sure that the person their dealing with for their wedding day gets their vision, that's all. (And i'm assuming they've already booked and left a deposit, and then asking for a sample, not before, lol).

HPotter said...

I loved this post! I do offer samples, but not always the "exact" arrangement and all the flowers the client will be getting, sometimes just a sampling so they can get a feel for the overall look. Your samples look fabulous, and I wish I had the resources to do the whole table with linens, china, etc. I just need to get more of those 10K weddings! I agree that too much insistance on samples and seeing every last little detail is a red flag - I always just want to say "just let me do it up, it will be beautiful"! But I guess it is a necessary evil. I almost fell off my chair laughing when you said someone asked what would happen with the flowers if you died! At my lowest and most overworked points in this business I have had that thought...about myself ("what if I just keel over right now? How will the flowers make it to the wedding?") but only at my most morbid and exhausted! Thanks for putting your thoughts out there!

Bow Street Flowers said...

I think we need a 'dear Sarah' column. No kidding.
Your 'advice' was stellar and reminds us why we are in this business. Thanks, Sarah!
Shelley

Grapevine! said...

Love this post. I am always in a quandary when clients not only want a sample of the centerpiece/s but bouquets as well (which as a rule I say no to)! Trust is huge and that's a huge part of the reason they choose us as designers. Plus your title is amusing.

taylor0002 said...

should google how many florists have faced death en route to wedding, was just thinking this morning about the cake and how much time and effort are put into these monstrous designs. hw do they transport it without its weight tipping over? what if someone hits the car, just rams into the back of them?

Anonymous said...

I hate the idea. It takes away from the magic of seeing it the day off. How can anyone think that flowers touched by you will be anything but perfection bridezillas....

7petals said...

Thanks for the info.on samples, Sarah. Just comparing the high end home staging work I do. We go in and furnish entire homes that are going on the market with our inventory of furniture. We also do mock-ups of almost each room as our work is primarily custom
(complete with some pretty adventurous floral arrangements of the non- living kind). But the mock-ups are for us to see, not the client. We are hired based on our past work. I could see the usefulness of samples for large weddings. And yes, one develops radar for "red light" clients over time! From one of your CA venue sleuths.

monica said...

You just keep singing my song Sarah, and it makes me feel sane again!!!

totally agree across the board, especially about going above and beyond for a client you love, who trusts you....

there is such a book here, seriously!

monica said...

Also, we let go a client yesterday that would have been very helpful financially right about now, but wow did we feel better, and free afterwards!!!!

not everyone is our client!!!

Natalie said...

Here in Chicago the norm is most often that many clients REQUIRE FREE samples BEFORE they even sign and book their wedding date. Beyond the fact that I've gotten used to feeling pretty crummy about this process, it has created a huge pool of loss for us at the end of the year as we also spend $300 and up on the floral product alone for each sample, plus a day or more in prep and design, plus our time ordering numerous linens, setting multiple tables, designing and creating multiple styles of arrangements, and sitting down to talk with clients about what they see...all before any money or agreement has often been exchanged. It's heart breaking, back breaking and extremely expensive. It drives our costs up and our spirits down. As you said, I will bend over backwards for a client who trusts me. I will spend WAY too much to make then gaga for the beauty that I think they deserve. My clients should expect no less than what they've seen me already do for hundreds of my clients in tons of photos I show them in our portfolio, blog, and website. It really is a problem that this is how business is going in this industry when sales used to come largely by word of mouth and florists were trusted to come up with something wonderful based on their expertise and reputation. I would never go to a restaurant I've heard everyone loves and tell the waiter that I need a taste of everything I'm thinking of ordering before I order it. I wouldn't tell a dress designer that she needs to make my exact dress for me first and after I've tried it on I'll think about buying. I wouldn't ask a decorator to come to my home, give me all their ideas, paint the walls, bring in all the art and furnishings and then think about hiring them. Why are florists so different? How are we supposed to survive or hopefully thrive? When did reputation, talent, and experience begin to mean so little to people? I am OBSESSED with making things beautiful! I'm head over heels in love with flowers! I just hope that everyone in the industry can support each other to create a way in which clients AND vendors are happy and successful. I too actually enjoy samples, but I also enjoy being paid for my time and product so that I can continue to do what I do best.

Miz.November said...

Sample meetings. Hmmm. Never even thought of that. My mom and I make wedding cakes every now and then. Now brides want 40 choices of cake and icing and fillings and blahblahblah. I don't blame you for only doing samples for big budget jobs. It costs a lot to show people what you can do.

D said...

Natalie, I love you.

Clare Day Flowers said...

So wish I could be there for this!

Camille said...

Sarah, you managed to be blunt and yet not rude--a gift I admire. I wish my clients would read this post but I think sending them a link and friendly wink-wink note would be....unprofessional? Needless to say it drives me nuts when coordinators are appalled that I don't offer free samples (unless a big budget wedding, I charge them 75% of the retail cost, which still does not cover the product and definitely does not cover my TIME). If they only understood the thousands of dollars in loss I would accrue every year. I would much rather just lose thousands of dollars on frickin' tree peonies and garden roses, sheesh. Also: I have had one client ask that I rewrite my contract to include what would happen if I died before the wedding. And nope, she didn't get the expensive yellow tree peonies that showed up at market that week.

Christina said...

You are the best.

Natalie said...

Thanks Donna :) It's risky business talking about it but it's true. I calculate I spent at least $15k last year in sample florals. Thank you Sarah for bringing it up.

samin said...

Brilliantly put. I'm a cook, and I feel exactly the same way. Either trust me, or get out of the boat.

Now I basically cook only for people who don't bring up money or the menu in our discussions. They hire me because they trust me--both that I will make them really delicious, thoughtful food, and that I will charge them honestly, paying myself and my employees fairly but not exorbitantly. And even then, most of the time I find myself giving them inexplicable discounts.

Your work is peerless, in my opinion, and when folks are hiring you, their hiring you for your creative genius. They shouldn't muck that up by trying to control exactly what makes you you!

Anonymous said...

Holy crap!! I was just ranting about this the other day. I totally agree with you Sarah.
Sample? Sample!!!

My response is- why did you come to me? What have you heard about my work? I too, can understand if this is a big event, that's one thing. A sample might be necessary to confirm nothing is lost in interpretation. But as you stated, the cost we as florists incur, has to be recouped. On a larger event the cost to provide a sample could be figured in on the estimate.

For whatever strange reason- people think what we do is just fun and we should just share our flowers -- maybe that's just my interpretation of things I've heard. It is just a disrespectful mindset. You wouldn't expect a doctor, attorney, hair stylist, chef or any other professional to provide a 'sample' of the work they would do for you. We're professionals also.

I feel it is our right to use -- within reason- our professional discretion when designing. I explain this to our clients. As suggested by 'The Kn*t' and other wedding sites- I am to put in writing the count of all of the flowers and details of foliages in your expected design. Well that's great. I don't do it-why? I guarantee, the day I'm designing- if I think your arrangement needs one more of this and a bit more of that-- you'd want me to use my professional discretion and change the count. The same would apply to a sample. Your sample might not look 100% exactly as the day of- some people can't handle that.

Bottom line- I agree with you on charging- and otherwise designing a sample if the bill is in a certain price range. We work too hard to do it any other way.

HPotter said...

Amen all.

7petals said...

Maybe just one more pass at the sample question.... it really hits home for so many of us who us work in a business that involves the creative arts and want to get paid for our time. At the individual level it comes down to each of us saying that we deserve to get paid for our time and work to set those boundaries. This little spontaneous forum also shows the advantage of sharing business practices. Suppose it were possible for designers to agree upon the conditions that samples would be offered and could get their neighboring florists to do the same?

Beth said...

I've been in the business for 17 years and have had a few clients ask me in a consultation what would happen if I died before the wedding. I've loaded vans in lightning storms to get the flowers to the location on time, so I guess they're lucky I didn't. And I 100% agree with Natalie, we need to only be offering samples to clients over certain budgets, only after they've signed a contract and only when it's within a month of the wedding. No more free samples for people meeting with 6 florists to gather ideas. We need to start getting paid for our time, product and expertise!

Fleur said...

Natalie, you really nailed it here. And thank you, Sarah, for bringing this topic to point. Samples are something that have been a sticky topic for many of us in Chicago for a long time. Clients asking for centerpieces and bridal bouquets four, five months before their wedding, upset when we offer a mock up for only one item in the proposal, and trying to explain, "Peonies are not yet in season, so this arrangement will look different on your wedding..." Frankly, it's quite insulting when clients make these demands. It's frustrating that the entitlement the wedding industry creates leads clients to no longer appreciate the art and talent that chefs, designers, florist, etc have. Especially when our portfolios and knowledge are extensive. I've owned my business for 10 years by making sure things look beautiful and memorable. I understand that many people are not visual. However, after enjoying our portfolio, our discussions and building a rapport with us, an understanding that we WANT to make their wedding beautiful and amazing and and ENJOY doing that should be evident. Chicago's rules of "sample before booking" are stifling, and as I finish up my 2011 accounting, I've spent 10K on mock ups. When I look at how much I pay myself, it's a little daunting.

Natalie said...

I am a wedding planner (in Chicago) and have noticed the trend toward asking for samples before booking. At my last few floral appointments, the florist offered/provided a sample without us asking as a way to seal the deal. I do not think samples are necessary if you trust your designer, particularly after looking through albums and albums of their work. It seems to me like the request is coming from 1) excitement, and maybe a little impatience, 2) advice from former brides and message boards and 3) fear of signing away all that money without really knowing what you are getting. I don't think its always a client that you can't please, sometimes they are just getting bad advice. I now feel better informed and will share your perspective with my clients!

Laurie (Fleurie) said...

Good words Sarah and commenters! I agree its a trust issue. If the client is making too many demands and it doesnt feel right, they need to go!

Kate said...

Though I have no professional interest in flowers (but a private passion) and married in winter with only 7 others present and carried whatever looked pretty in the garden that morning, I found this fascinating. And I also forget to wear a bra. In fact, you've just reminded me...

Erin said...

Thank you so much for this! Also congrats on your farming adventures. You're going to love it.

Muse Park said...

Our policy is: are included with budgets over 15k, under that and the cost is an extra centerpiece added to the invoice plus $150 for the extra consult fee with the understanding that the exact flowers may change due to availability the week of the wedding. I find that if you state all of this up front then there are no issues. I also explain that if they prefer not to spend this amount that we can arrange one of the three consultations included in the contract with a "market consult" the week before to walk through the market and see the flowers we will be actually choosing. At first this would always make me anxious but after doing it many times and seeing how painless and rewarding it is I swear by it. The market visit not only gains the client's complete trust and ease it's also a guarantee that you are on the same page and helps gets your own homework done in the process.
I am really looking forward to visiting your Mott St venture! Bets of luck with that and I hope to see you there!

Megan D. said...

I am continually impressed by your work. I check your site for inspiration all the time! I really enjoyed this little post - it is nice to hear I'm not the only one who goes through this with clients. :) Congratulations on your valentine's success and good job writing down your lessons learned! Next time I'm in NY, I'm totally coming to see your shop in person. :)

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