Veterans and Startups: Sarah Ryhanan of Saipua

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I’m thrilled to post today’s companion floral interview with Sarah Ryhanen of Saipua for several reasons. First, Sarah has inspired what feels like an interior generation of floral designers to not just create beautiful work, but to start their own businesses and learn more about the floral business from the ground up. Second, and perhaps even more importantly, Sarah is one of the funniest and most honest business owners we’ve had the pleasure of interviewing her on D*S. She’s a rare combination of talented, experienced and open- something that benefits not only those who are learning from her, but anyone who’s watching her as a person and business owner. I’ve relished reading Sarah’s blog and working with her on D*S over the years and getting to hear her answers for this interview was just wonderful. Thanks so much to Sarah for joining us for this series. xo, grace

Click through for the full interview after the jump!

Your name: Sarah Ryhanen
Your role at Saipua: Chief Creative/Owner
Your location: Brooklyn and Esperance, New York
How many years have you been at Saipua?: Since the beginning – 9 years.
Where can we find you online?: Our website

1. What was the inspiration/reason for for starting Saipua?

My mom was making really nice soap, and we were helping her sell it at little craft shows on weekends. You know, 150 dollar table, and you’re lucky to sell 200 dollars worth of soap. The business at that time was called Creekside Soaps. The logo was the profile of a woman bathing in a creek. Eric, my boyfriend (and business partner) thought we could sell more if we changed some things. The soap was so good, but the packaging needed an overhaul. We re-branded it as Saipua which is from the Finnish word for soap (saippua). My dad is Finnish. The word is unique so it googled well. Finns like to come in and tell me we spelled it wrong.

Flowers came a year or so later when we opened our shop in Brooklyn. It was 2006 and flowers had become my recent passion.

2. What is a day in the life of your job at Saipua like? What takes up the majority of your work day?

Every day is different. Some days I’m the flower buyer, making early trips to the flower market on 28th street. Then a few days later I’m wrangling our flock of Icelandic sheep on our flower farm upstate and hugging (torturing) chickens. Today I had clean clothes on and met a client for lunch in the city. She’s getting married in Italy this June, it’s an exciting project for me. No matter what the day, the constants are coffee in excess all day long, and wine in moderation in the evenings.

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3. What is the thing you’re proudest of that you (or the company as a whole) have done at Saipua?

I think we’ve helped launch a lot of new florists. I am proud of our internship program and the mentoring we do. It’s the most gratifying thing to help someone figure flowers and business out and then watch them go do it in the world.
We could NEVER be where we are without all the support we’ve had from those interns over the years, so it’s an incredible exchange. If I could make my business all about exchange I would. I am trying to, actually.

4. We love aesthetic and overall branding/look– how did you settle upon the style that would become so associated with your work (or what inspired that look?):

That’s an impossible question, I tell you honestly we never thought that much about it. We started wrapping our soaps in nice paper and stamping the labels after Martha Stewart had an article about rubber stamps. So we can thank her. The flowers – I just taught myself about flowers, I figured out how to put them together. In the beginning I loved the things that had the most texture; seeds, fruit, berries, pods. I remember thinking I wanted my flower arrangements to feel more wild and crazy. Less constricted. I wouldn’t even know how to make a round mound of roses if I tried.
I do remember when I found Ariella Chezar‘s work I was transfixed. Her work heavily influenced mine. And then the Madderlakes of course. Geniuses.

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5. What has been the biggest ongoing challenge as a business, and what have you done to address or solve it?

Learning how to evolve as you grow. It sounds obtuse, but it’s a very real thing. You get one aspect of business really going – lets say your client relations. You’ve got a formula and it’s working; you meet them, impress them with your portfolio, agree to work together, then deliver your product. And that works for a while, the minutia of that system. The way you run a meeting, or the contract you use. The expectations of clients grow with your reputation (and your prices). So suddenly a casual meeting at the end of the day in your work clothes maybe isn’t appropriate. I’m stubborn, so those shifts have always been hard for me. In honesty, the hardest part of growing has been hanging on to the things that have always been so important (quality, excellence in every detail) but also learning to let some of those things go. I can’t make the changes in the world I want to make and still be making $25 ball jar arrangements for my neighborhood customers every week. It’s just not possible.

6. What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting?

Maybe a year or so into our wedding business my mother said to me:
You know, all these weddings you’re doing – eventually you’re going to have an unhappy bride. You have to be ready for that.

It was true. I’m not sure it was the best advice I’ve had, but I remember it. You can’t please everyone. That’s life. You can just do the best you can. Which, for me, is never good enough. Maybe that is the sad secret to my business; every time we do something great I think… it would have been so much better if we had just…I’m a perfectionist. But I guess that’s why I keep doing it, for the opportunity to make it better next time. If we had it all figured out it would be boring. I get bored very easily.

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7. What do you wish you’d known (or what advice do you wish you’d had) about the floral business (or running a business in general) looking back?

Sometimes I wish I had a mentor, it would have saved me a lot of struggle in the beginning. But then I might not have developed my own style, and my own way of running the business. Eric always reminds me, I did have a bit of a mentor. Pam, from Ink & Peat in Portland, Oregon. Once I called her desperate – How the hell do I make a wrist corsage?! Back then the flower world was still very chilly. No one shared info, no one was that friendly at the market. I think that has changed a lot more in the last few years – honestly – since more women designers have come on the scene.

8. What advice to you have to new businesses in your field starting out?

NUMBER ONE: Ask yourself very honestly: Are you passionate enough about the business? If not, forget it. Wanting your own business because it’s the lifestyle you want is not good enough. I’ve seen it happen. Only the people who are exceedingly passionate about their craft really go places. Unless you are really really well connected, in which case, you don’t need my advice.

NUMBER TWO: Work harder. At least in the flower world now there is so much competition (which I think is really exciting and great for all of us because the more florists there are means the more people want flowers). But it means you’ve got to hustle a little harder to earn your piece of the pie. You’ve got to find a niche – the ‘look’ that no one is doing. Then do that. Tricky, I know. But with the immediacy of social media, you’ve got an easy opportunity to launch your great ideas or images into the ether…and claim you’re territory. The florist who arranges with snakes. Whatever. Actually don’t take that idea, I want to do that!

9. What are your goals going forward or next steps you’d like to take as a brand?

I really want to make the farm the sort of place where the most beautiful things are happening. Where people come from all over the world to see those things in the flesh, do some flowering there with us, and teach us something in exchange.

I want to be happy. That’s what I’ve been working on lately.

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Michelle Edgemont

I’m a newbie wedding designer/florist in Brooklyn and Sarah has always been a huge inspiration of mine. Thank you to her for sharing her business knowledge! It’s true (I’ve found) that the flower world is kind of secretive, especially for us new business owners trying to perfect our craft. In ten years, when I have tons of business knowledge under my belt, I’m going to share it with everyone.

Jaclyn Journey

Oh boy oh boy oh boy this was great! I took a Little Flower School class with Sarah and Nicolette about 4 years ago and it changed my outlook on flowers, and also on life. I took her advice and ran with it and 4 years later am still running with it! And so very thankful for it! She’s so right…we all have to find out niche and what makes us each unique or we won’t survive!

I worked at a local boutique a while ago and the owner told me something I’d never forget. She told me she never viewed anyone as competition- no one is competition because we all bring our own individual ideas and style to the table. She said we shouldn’t ever feel threatened by anyone because it just shows insecurity and fear. Because of what she told me and Sarah’s advice, I started my business nervous, but SO confident that I could make it work and be successful. Surround yourself with people in your industry you trust and share the same views and morals you do and you always have a support system!

Great interview, Grace!

Colleen

Saipua soaps are amazing! I began carrying them in my little stationery and gift shop in Moorestown, NJ just before the holidays. My clients and customers just love them … The are such a decadent treat!!

CIRCA Old Houses

Whenever I’m having a bad day, I go to Saipua’s blog and just start scrolling. It’s an amazing pick-me-up! I had my florist base my wedding bouquet on one of Sarah’s designs that I had fallen in love with years ago. I also credit her with starting my ranunculus obsession.

Melissa Lee

Saipua’s internship program is indeed one of the most life enriching experience one can ask for and I’d vouch for that any day. Sarah has never been anything less than an amazing mentor to me on some many different aspects. How she constantly strives to stay true to her design and herself as an artist is something I truly appreciate and admire.

Rona

So wonderful to see two very talented florists featured in the new blog post series! I adore Sarah’s work and am very much looking forward to following Ruby;s floral journey :-).

Beth Weaver

I wish Saipua (Sarah) lived closer to my farm. I am one of those passionate flower growers she loves to visit. I too am a self-taught designer. Each of my bride’s bouquets are uniquely designed to match their individuality – no cookie cutter arrangements done here (Black Dog Flower Farm – Baroda, MI). I’m sure we (Sarah) would click and have a wonderful “flower” relationship.

xyz

between “chief” here, “sympathy” yesterday, and the chair-caning post, you guys really need someone to spellcheck all your handwritten content!

Kimberly Sevilla

As always, inspiring. Sarah is one designer who’s work I intentionally did not look at when I started my business. Her work is amazing, and influential, I wanted to have my own voice. After about 4 years, I felt comfortable enough to be able to look at her work again, and enjoy.

Katie Evans

I love this new column! It’s going to inspire a lot of people to get out their and do their own thing (including me!).

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