A few weeks ago I caught up with Jessica from Sassafras Flower Design for a chat about “all things floristry”. Jess runs a successful part-time business in bespoke wedding flowers and styling from her home near the Tesselaars Monbulk warehouse, here in the Dandenong Ranges – despite having four young kids to look after!
Seamus – How did you come to be a florist?
Jess – I have always been a florist. I was in Brisbane for most of my life, moved down here about 9 years ago. Worked for David Jones and the Flowerman then moved down, spent 6 years running the workroom at Texas Flower Rangers in Balaclava. And now we moved here and we were like: “Wow! We’re down the road from Tesselaars!”
I worked at Perrotts for years and had always been unpacking Tesselaars flowers and so it was kind of weird to suddenly be down the road from the warehouse!
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Staying Up With Floral Trends
S – How do you stay on top of new trends?
J – I don’t think you can help being into it. I guess I am just drawn to interesting, beautiful things.
Like recently it’s been all that rustic, kind of “oven in a field” kind of look. (Laughs)
That “just arranged” jam jar and the bride wants to look au natural but it takes three hours to get that beach hair. It’s not really just as simple as plonking something in a vase. It takes skill to look that unskilled!
S – And is it trend driven? Or is it just something constant?
J – Yes I think it is trend driven and it’s all related. So the flowers relate to the overall styling of the wedding. And they don’t want something over-styled at the moment. So their hair might be a bit more messy, they might be getting married outdoors, they might be grazing at a table rather than a sit down formal meal and so all of these things have a relationship and tie in with the flowers.
S – Does it change quickly?
J – I don’t think so. It’s a bit more of a trickle. I think there’s fashion and art and popular culture and I think it trickles down to floristry and takes longer to change.
S – So you find and observe new styles online these days?
J – Yeah, Pinterest and Instagram are pretty fun. I enjoy it. Consuming and contributing. And reading Frankie magazine and … friends – being at my friend’s house and seeing what she got at the market.
S- What is your favourite online floral resource?
J – I do look at a few interesting wedding blogs. When I am doing a quote for someone or doing a job, because it’s such a visual process, and I’m on the phone, I’ve got to lay out a picture. So I do a lot of sending back and forth of images. I put them together into a visual PDF style spec and quote.
S – How do you make your PDFs?
J – I write it in word and save it as a PDF
J – And often I might be like, so OK your colours are grey and yellow and these are the dresses that you’ve got so I would suggest using these colours and these flowers and have a look at “Snippet and Ink” and have a look at their inspiration boards.
S – So what floral designers or florists do you admire?
J – Locally I think Rita does gorgeous stuff at Blooming Brides (in Emerald here in the Dandenong Ranges). I went and spoke to her before I started my business. I kind of picked her brain a bit and we’ve been quite open, passing customers to each other and stuff. She’s great, she just does beautiful things.
Cecilia Fox is one I like to follow, she’s one from Melbourne.
Learning New Floral Skills
S – Where did you learn your skills?
J – I went to TAFE
S – Did that teach you things you wanted and needed to know?
J – It taught me what I didn’t want to do. It was very dated. I mean there were the basics but what I really learned was on the job. You know, you’re a lackey for ages, you vacuum and you empty buckets and you just kind of have to do that until you get a chance to do cool stuff.
S – And so how did you learn how to do the cool stuff?
J – After hours. I worked with some pretty cool people in David Jones, got to do the flower show there and if you were around enough and in someone’s face enough, you’re going to get a chance to learn.
S – Do you ever need to learn new skills or update your skills from an external source?
J – I don’t think the mechanics change so much but I think the materials and the finishes are updated. And you need to be pretty current. As simple as what you’re wrapping the buttonhole in. It might not be floral tape but rather, twine or a bit of granny’s wedding dress.
S – And this is stuff you observe other people doing?
J – Yeah and you tweak things and I guess that’s where the trickle down thing from fashion comes in.
S – But the mechanics stay the same? You don’t go “Oh God, suspended florals are in – where the hell am I going to learn how to do that?”
J – Yeah to a point but that’s a very specific client. I am pretty clear about what I like doing and what I want to be doing and what service I want to provide. And what I want to do is tweak that knowledge and use it to its full potential.
In the past I have gone “Oh, I’ve got to make a wristlet, I haven’t done one in years” – because I wasn’t doing lots of weddings then – and so I’ve done a Google search but just ended up making it up. I think when you’ve gone to TAFE and you’ve learned the mechanics of wiring and the A to Z of structuring an arrangement or bouquet, you kind of have the basic scaffolding to figure things out.
Finding Time For Marketing
S – How do you get new business?
J – A lot of it is referral at the moment. I am trying to build more of a rapport with venues because a lot of brides are given a welcome pack with preferred suppliers. And you build up relationships with the community. It’s about rapport. I have thrown a bit of money at Google, I have the website, I’m on Facebook. I’m on a online florist directory or two.
S- So do you actually get customers from online marketing?
J – I have but I’m not sure if the effort and the money, how much has translated into actual sales. But I am not a techie and I don’t have a system where I can track that … and I don’t really want to.
S – Why don’t you want to?
J – Well, I have a limited amount of time. I juggle a lot at home. I am kind of in three places at once and on the computer with a little one on my lap… I have experimented a little bit, I read a few blogs and I try and educate myself about marketing and positioning and how to tweak things that are working and how to drop things that aren’t.
I do a lot on my phone or my ipad. I have it in bed. I mean the phone, everyone’s got it in their pocket. And the visual thing, and that’s why the phone is such a powerful tool.
When I started this business, I would have my ipad and I would go to the other side of the city to quote for a job because I didn’t have the rights to any of my work that I had done at David Jones or Perrotts. All of this beautiful work that I had done I wasn’t allowed to publish it as my own. So to get some kind of credibility, because it is such a visual process, I would be going anywhere and everywhere for jobs. I had to do jobs miles away so I could build up my photographic portfolio. Now I am trying to stay closer to home.
S – How do you get the images?
J – A lot of these are taken on my phone or on my camera. I try and keep in touch with brides and I get a lot of “Yeah, absolutely, I will send you photos!” but sometimes people don’t follow through so I try to take my own before the work goes out.
S – How easy is it to get the wedding flower photos out of the wedding photographer?
J – If I can get their number and connect with them then they’re usually more than happy to share and I always credit the source. But these (points out lovely shiny business cards) are all my photos. Done on my verandah I’ve got a white backdrop setup, I did a bit of promo stuff for other people so I have an idea about lighting. The verandah is great light. I know what I like and what looks good.
S – What about your website?
J – I did shop around. I got some quotes, around a grand but I ended up doing it myself on Wix.com which is great, drop and click.
S – Yes it is a good option if you have a tiny budget but some people just can’t, they’ll never get over the tech barrier.
J – Yes that’s right. And that’s fair enough.
S – Do you get many inbound calls? Because of marketing that you have out there, word of mouth, etc.
J – Yes I do, and people might Google “wedding flowers sassafras” or ‘wedding flowers Yarra Valley’ which are the keywords I have used when I do Adwords. I am still trying to put these phrases into my website text.
Dealing With Customers
J – A lot of time I don’t meet the bride at all. I might just get an email or a phone call and we will go through the process of negotiating the design. I will email her a quote. She will pay a deposit to fix the date, full payment is made before the wedding. I buy the flowers, make them up, drop them off and I have never even seen her. And then I follow up.
S – Is the bride usually the main contact?
J – Yes usually. Sometimes the mother or sister. Sometimes wedding planners.
S – Where in the progression of dresses and cakes and whatnot do the flowers come?
J – Well I often see in articles the flowers are right down the bottom of the list, but there’s a few different types. There’s the control freak who has a very clear idea of what she wants to see. She’s been all over Pinterest and the magazines and she’s been to all her friend’s weddings and she’s got a very specific idea about how every minor detail is going to play out.
And there’s people who might have an idea about a feeling that they might want to achieve. And they’re awesome. And there’s my favourite type of client who goes “I love what you do, just do that but with this colour” and they just feel confident that they have surrounded themselves with suppliers that they love and they trust and they just let you do your job.
And the ones that don’t have the best time? Are the ones who want to control every aspect. They just can’t trust themselves that they’ve surrounded themselves with the right people. And they’re the one’s who get the most stressed and to whom crazy shit happens! Y’know, things go wrong.
S -What’s the most important thing to your customers and is it hard to make them happy?
J – Budget. Flowers do come down the list, people spend up big on the venue and the dress and a lot of people don’t realise the cost involved in flowers, it is a luxury. Some people are surprised at the cost even though I am fairly competitive with my pricing. And I have been open to negotiating it down if I think the job would be really fun and beautiful and I want that image on my books.
But mostly, it’s about just getting that look that is going to tie in with the rest of the scene. I get a lot of “I don’t care what flowers you use but I just want to get THAT look, I want it to look like this.” So that’s the thing they care about the most.
I had a call on the weekend and had someone who wanted to have white carnations and wanted me to spray them baby blue, which is, like, frighteningly bad!
S – What did you say?
J – I said I think you’ll achieve a better look if we use something that is naturally that colour and I think you’ll look back and see that the overall effect is much more successful if we use something that isn’t sprayed baby blue…
S – So if you had all the money in the world would you still do this? What’s the main driver?
J – Yes it is something that I need to do. When I haven’t been working with flowers, I start to dream in flowers! I would set up an even more awesome workspace and throw more money at it!
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