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A Valentine’s Gone Sour at $1.20 per Hour

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“Prepared I was not for such a business; therefore am I found so much unsettled…” ~William Shakespeare (All’s Well That Ends Well, II, v)  

I’ve traveled the earth and survived for long periods in very remote places few people have ever heard of.  I worked hard over many years to earn multiple university degrees.  I’ve endured my share of bad bosses, bad jobs and bad relationships and learned many life lessons from all of them.

So it makes me very frustrated, after all that worldly learning over all those years, to end up in a situation where I find myself taken advantage of because of my own naivety.

But that’s what happened, and I blame mostly myself.  Two months ago, I had the thought of doing a Valentine’s Day pop-up shop for my floral business.  I don’t have a shop of my own, and just work out of my home for the most part, so I thought I’d hold temporary shop inside another existing business.  I started brainstorming possible locations, and reached out to a coffee shop that I’d visited a few times in the past few years to ask if they’d be interested in hosting my pop-up.  (I won’t name them here in this post but many of you already know who they are.)  They replied yes, they’d be very interested, and we set up an initial meeting for a few days later.

Mistake #1: I waited too late to start all of this.  Valentine’s Day is of course the biggest holiday of the year for florists, which means that we have to place our flower orders with our wholesalers several weeks ahead of time in order to get “pre-book” (lower) prices.  We had the initial planning meeting at the coffee shop on a Thursday, and my floral wholesale order was due the next day.  I therefore felt a lot of pressure to come to an agreement so I could get my order in.  I was so worried about booking a host location that I didn’t listen to my internal voice of concern when the owner proposed they take a 25% cut of the sale price of each floral arrangement in exchange for providing me a corner of space to sell.  I didn’t figure out until after I said “yes” that 25% of the sale price worked out to be almost 60% of the actual profit, once I factored in my costs of making everything.

I placed my wholesale order the next day for over $1,000 in flowers, but couldn’t stop thinking about that profit margin.  It seemed exorbitant to me, so I suggested in an email that we work on making the split more fair to me, since I’d be putting in most of the labor for the pop-up shop to make over 60 arrangements and to prep/de-thorn/wrap 150 single long-stemmed roses (that the shop had ordered).  I proposed sale price points that I thought were extremely reasonable for Valentine’s Day, that would help to sell the arrangements, and that would still leave us both with some reasonable profit.  The coffee shop countered with a payout offer that, based on the sale prices I had suggested, would decrease their share of the profits on the arrangements to 47%, but would still give them 64% of the profits on the single-stemmed roses.  I accepted their offer.

I’ve always considered myself to be relatively book-smart; I did well in school, placed high in my classes, and enjoyed learning.  But I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve never had much of what they call “street smarts” – it’s hard for me to tell sometimes when someone’s taking advantage of me, or not giving me the whole story.  I don’t “get the joke” until it’s too late usually.

So I accepted their offer even though I still didn’t feel good about it.  I felt like I had to, I guess – I’d already ordered the flowers, and they had made what appeared to be at least somewhat of a good faith offer in reducing their profit margin to be more fair to me.  They were providing the space, and some marketing, and staff time to ring up sales (they made a specific point of telling me that they would make the sales at their registers, and then the customer would show me a ticket stub they’d been given – not their receipt – in order to pick up their flowers at my table).  But I still felt like I was going to be doing, by far, most of the work, for barely over half the profits.  I began to get upset and dejected, but I also tried to be positive, telling myself that if we sold everything, we’d both still end up with a tidy sum and that it was good exposure for my business – and so I began investing time and flowers into creating sample floral arrangements for their publicity efforts and to take into the coffee shop to display to customers two weeks before the holiday.

My flower studio at full capacity.

My flower studio at full capacity for the pop-up shop.

(Mistake #2 – all of these business arrangements were made via email and not, as I now know I should have done, in a signed contract by both parties with all the terms explicitly spelled out.)

I had agreed to make even more samples to try to sell during a six-hour pre-order time block at the coffee shop one week ahead, on the Saturday before Valentine’s.  I had also printed up some price signs to put on the table so it would be clear to customers how much to pay for the different arrangements (we had two different sizes).  This is when things really took a turn for the worse:  I had set up my table upon arriving that morning and had just put out the price signs, when the manager came over and seemed very surprised I had made my own signs, saying “Oh, that’s wrong – those aren’t the correct prices,” and took the sign out of the plastic holder.

I was confused and surprised – “What do you mean? Those are the prices we agreed to in our email,” I said.  She then told me that they had decided to raise the prices of the arrangements – of my product – in order to give themselves a “more even share of the profits.”  They had decided – without consulting, asking, or telling me – to raise the prices of the arrangements by 33% and 20% each, essentially giving them a much higher percentage of the profit margin than me.  She said she would re-print the signs with the correct prices, and disappeared into the back workroom, leaving me standing there in shock.  What had just happened?

I quickly did some math, figured out they were going to be taking well over 60% of the overall profits on everything, and my head pretty much exploded.  I stepped outside the shop and made some very heated phone calls to some family members to vent my frustration; the manager came back after quite a lengthy absence, and I noticed she had just slightly reduced the prices of the arrangements from what she had told me earlier (perhaps she had seen me through the window in head-explosion mode on my calls outside), but they were still higher than our originally agreed-upon prices (and still gave them over half the profits). Furthermore, I suspect they intended their price increase and higher profits to remain undiscovered by me – perhaps that was the reason for the ticket system (rather than me seeing customer receipts), and they hadn’t counted on me bringing my own price signs.

I was angry at what they’d done, but I was also suddenly very worried that this price increase would mean unsold stock for me; their new increased price points were not customer-friendly in my opinion for the arrangements we were offering.  I was now stressed that this pop-up shop would not only not be profitable, but that it would end up costing me money, perhaps a considerable amount.  I made no secret of the fact that I was very upset at this unexpected turn of events.  Someone that day told me “now Kristi, don’t have a bad attitude about this.”  That just made me even more angry – don’t have a bad attitude about someone raising the price of my product without consulting me, disrespecting me and my business, and putting my earning potential into possible jeopardy?  They were already going to make a huge percentage of the profits, but that wasn’t enough for them, they had to have more and potentially cost us both business?  I didn’t want to overreact, but yes, I felt I was allowed to have at least a little bit of a bad attitude about this.

That day, a week before Valentine’s, I took 20 arrangements to the shop and only five sold (that was Mistake #3 on my part, they had asked me to bring “several samples” and I ordered too many flowers, so ended up making 20…which no one wanted to buy a week ahead of Valentine’s & it cost me).  Only two people placed a pre-order for the following week, which also really concerned me.  The manager later agreed that perhaps we should have seen if they would sell at the lower original prices, especially since it wasn’t Valentine’s yet, but she never did lower the prices.

So what happened next?  I’d already agreed to exclusivity and that I wouldn’t have any other pop-ups for Valentine’s in any other competing establishments (so no coffee shops or restaurants), so I felt I couldn’t start approaching other venues to sell there instead.  And despite their (in my eyes) very dishonorable actions, I felt like I had to do the honorable thing on my part and follow-through with doing the shop on Fri 2/13 and Sat 2/14 as we’d agreed.  I spent 83 hours in total labor on doing all the arrangements and flower work, and my mom graciously also put in many hours to help me.  I made 63 arrangements in total, and we spent hours prepping all those single long-stemmed roses.

Roses getting ready for their big day.

Roses getting ready for their big day.

(Mistake #4: I ordered pre-book lots with the wholesaler, which means that for a reduced price, you get the types of flowers you want but you don’t get to pick your colors.  You do get to specify a “wish list” and I stated all Valentine’s colors, but that’s not what I got – the wholesaler sent me a lot of yellows and oranges and whites, more so than reds, pinks and purples…very spring-like but not very Valentine’s-y.  Mistake #5:  I should have used at least half of those long-stemmed roses to make all-rose arrangements instead of mixed-flower arrangements [which did include roses but also four other types of flowers]; people want roses on Valentine’s, and I messed up by not having all roses all the time, but I was trying to keep prices low.  Mistake #6: It’s WAY too hot inside a coffee shop for flowers, they immediately lost days of vase life in just a few hours.)

What I should have made for every arrangement (that I made for a family member's order).

What I should have made for every arrangement (that I made for a family member’s order).

Thank goodness I was rescued by family, friends, and coworkers who ordered and bought arrangements in advance of the coffee shop sales.  I took 41 arrangements (and all the single roses) to the coffee shop on Valentine’s Day.  Only 19 of them sold, so I left with 22 unsold arrangements.  And I think they probably only sold about 20 long-stemmed roses the entire weekend from behind the register.  About halfway through my 8-hour stint at the coffee shop, I discussed with the manager reducing the prices on the arrangements to try to sell more; she said she’d consider it but then disappeared and never came back (and never reduced the prices).

I think there were many factors for why so many of the arrangements went unsold: the price points, the rose and color factors, the weather and very low customer turnout (75 degrees in February probably lured people to go outside instead of hole up in a coffee shop), and lack of signage and marketing.  (My brother and nephew even showed up with a sign to hold out on the sidewalk to tell people Valentine’s flowers were for sale there, I really appreciated that; I also was very touched by all the friends and family that stopped by the shop to show their support.)  I didn’t lose money on the whole thing as I’d feared, but for the entire venture, I only made about $100 profit – which comes out to a whopping $1.20 per hour for my 83 hours of labor.  Which is so sad it’s actually funny.

Thinking back on the whole experience, I’m mostly angry with myself; right after I’d found out the coffee shop increased the prices, a friend of mine and I were talking about it and she told me “Just stand up for yourself!”  I guess I don’t feel like I did that, and I’m not sure why, but it makes me feel ashamed; I felt intimidated for some reason, and scared by the financial risk factor.  I was disappointed that something I really should have been able to enjoy and look forward to, instead turned out to be something I dreaded and didn’t enjoy at all.  I began to doubt my abilities.  I was cranky and pretty much intolerable that entire week, which I’m also not proud of.  And I was unsettled by how much greed comes into play for some people when it comes to business.  This was my first time doing a shop like this, and I certainly learned many – MANY – lessons for the future if I do one again. 

So…it wasn’t the greatest Valentine’s Day, but I’m sure other people had days worse than mine, so I try to keep that in perspective.  (And at least there were no overwrapped bricks of cheese this year, read that story here.)  I was pretty discouraged after I came home that day; I didn’t think I even wanted to look at another flower for a while after that.  And yet the next morning, the first thing I thought of when I woke up was the bucket of leftover withering flowers sitting in my workroom, and I felt bad that I’d neglected them.  Out came the clippers and I found myself working those stragglers into vases and their own arrangements before I’d even had breakfast.  

I have a lot of thinking to do now about future directions and next steps.  Stay tuned.

 À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

Forays and Flowers in Fourteen

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“How joyful I am made by this contract!” ~William Shakespeare (Henry VI Part 1, III, i)

I hope this post finds each of you at least a little recovered from the whirlwind holiday season, with all of its chocolatey temptations, superfun family time, and shocking credit card statements.  Back to reality we go now in the new year – a depressing letdown for some, but a chance at new starts and a fresh slate – a blank contract – for others. I don’t make resolutions anymore, but I do make plans – and I have a brainful of blueprints that are itching to be put into action.

I actually really enjoy taking down all the Christmas decorations each year and getting back to the minimalistic, uncluttered normalcy of things again.  It feels refreshing, like when you have a big garage sale and get rid of some of the extemporaneous stuff that seemed nice at the time but now you can’t figure out why you hung onto it for so long.

For me, 2014 will bring some big changes and exciting voyages that I’m really looking forward to.  Things are so different for me now than they were a year ago at this time; a year ago, I was sick as a dog (in urgent care on Christmas morning actually) from my germ-laden job and saw no hope in anything that the immediate future held, professionally or personally.  The new year brought no joy, only more resentment and desperation at having to return to a workplace I despised and job duties that were literally sucking the life out of me.

I started this blog six months ago at the end of June as a way to document my journey towards a less miserable (UNunhappy) existence.  And one month before that, I finally quite that horrible job as the first concrete step on that path.  Since then, I feel a little like I’ve been speedwalking in slow motion – I have so many ideas and so much I want to do (and write), but I’m purposefully taking it slow so that I don’t get overwhelmed and burned out before I even really begin.  I have pages and pages of to-do lists, but instead of burning through them at record speed, I’m allowing myself the time to appreciate each accomplishment as it happens.

I have two main focuses (foci?) this coming year: one will be the launch of my new floral design business, which I have aptly named (drum roll please) “Much Ado About Flowers.” Its namesake play (Much Ado About Nothing) is one of my Bard favorites and considered by many one of his best, and it just felt right to name my business after something I’ve also held dear for so many years. I filed all the necessary contract and business/license/permit fees with the city, county and state a few months ago and finally have it all in working order to be able to officially do actual business. I’ve established accounts with all of the floral wholesalers in town and am establishing networking contacts.  Yes it’s terrifying and I feel like I’m stepping off a cliff sometimes, but I’ve decided it’s better than feeling dead inside.

I will still keep my part-time job at the university, but will spend a good amount of my remaining time on building up my supply and workspace inventory, developing online and social media resources, learning about how to run a small business, and expanding my knowledge of all things flower-related.  I do have some ideas in mind for how I would like to see things develop, but I’m also open to new and different opportunities along the way. I’m leaving the definition of “success” for this business open for now, and not boxing myself into any pre-set expectations or obligations.

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Click on the photo to be taken to the Facebook page for
Much Ado About Flowers.  Please “Like” if so inclined!

For about a month between November and December, I watched in awe as my handyman (also known by the clever alias of Dad) gutted and converted the small storage shed in my backyard into a walk-in flower cool room.  The boardwalk was put into place first so that feet won’t be muddied as trips are traipsed back and forth:

IMG_0081IMG_0236Then he basically turned the inside of the shed into a super-sized foam-insulated cooler (literally, there are huge sheets of Styrofoam between the insulation and the finished walls), complete with electricity, A/C unit, work bench and sink with running water:

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One step, board, and floor tile at a time, I’m getting closer to another realization.  (My handyman got paid by the way in many thank yous and several loaves of pumpkin bread, and I hope he knows how grateful I am for his help).  I’m pretty intimidated by how much I still don’t know, and by how long of a road I have ahead of me, but at least I feel that I’m on the right road for a change.

And speaking of roads, the other focus of 2014 for me will be getting back out on the road and across the pond to take England by storm again.  I was there in 2012 (right before the Olympics) for the World Shakespeare Festival, and had a great experience.  This time, I’ll be volunteering for the organizing group of the Grand Depart of the 2014 Tour de France!  This is a huge deal for the UK & Yorkshire, with 3 days of racing in England before they head back to France to continue the Tour.  I’ll be in Leeds and York for the first two stages, but that’s just one part of my trip. I’m hoping to also get to several other corners of the country that I missed last time.

Tour-de-France-2014-map

I love planning a trip like this, and I’m in the thick of it right now; for me it’s half the fun.  The challenge and satisfaction of finding just the right little B&B within my budget; the process of mapping out my itinerary along the maze of train tracks and bus routes that crisscross the countryside; and the anticipation of real life forays into the places I’ve read about and seen in my favorite legends, movies and TV shows.

Although I have big aspirations of ogling a whole slew of sights during this trip, I’m also determined to try to enjoy it more than the crazed pace I set for myself last time.  I want to slow down, spend more than one night in most places, and really let myself relax into the English way of life if possible (while still hitting the highlights, of course). 

In addition to travels to new towns, I look forward to going back to Shakespeare country for the historic 450th anniversary celebrations of his birth this year, as well as hopefully meeting a few new Twitter friends I’ve made since my last trip there.  I’ll be avoiding London during the pricey time of Wimbledon, but will manage to spend some time there before I leave.  I will no doubt rack up a pretty penny of debt with this adventure, but what’s that saying about not being able to take it with you once you’re gone…

So those are my blueprints for now.  No big deal.  Just completely changing course in life and taking leaps that may or may not work out.  Thanks for continuing to read along as the path winds through it all.  Here’s to a great Fourteen for all of us.

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

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