For those of us who can’t keep plants alive to save our own, cut flowers have always been a viable but expensive alternative. Lana Keller, the proprietor of Stem & Bloom, has created a weekly floral subscription service that delivers well-priced and expertly-crafted bouquets at a prearranged delivery time, much in the same way Brooklynites receive their laundry or groceries. She recognized a huge disparity between the beautiful blooms she coveted on social media, and the more ordinary stems available from local markets at a reasonable price point.
Along with fiancé and business partner Adam Laiacano, Keller aims to keep things simple, both for the sake of the startup and its customers. For example, the pair discovered that while their clients enjoy the creative outlet of arranging flowers within their own homes, they don’t want the hassle of customizing each order down to the last bud, and instead prefer that the experts select what’s best each week on their behalf. Simplifying the process in this manner has the added benefit of eliminating waste from the operation, allowing a precise number of flowers to be purchased, and passing along the savings to subscribers. Simplicity in the first stages of any venture is advised; even really good, complicated strategies to enhance the essential function of a business should be saved for a later date. Keep it “simple and easy to understand,” so that when potential customers come along, they aren’t tasked with the chore of figuring out what it is you’re offering. But even if you misstep, don’t fret. In true entrepreneurial fashion Keller reveals, “Any failure is really just a problem with the potential to be solved.” —Annie
Photography by Jackie Greaney
Why did you decide to start your own business?
After years of buying flowers for my apartment on a weekly basis, I was getting really bored with the selection I was able to get easily at a good price. I would see photos of gorgeous flowers on Pinterest and sites like Design*Sponge and wished I could have flowers like those in my home, but I didn’t know where to get them and honestly didn’t have a huge budget, either. Adam and I have been longtime subscribers to some amazing subscription services (like Plated and Green Blender), and I started thinking that it would be awesome if there were a service like that for flowers. Something affordable, where you could just sign up and get great flowers delivered weekly. It only took a few months of really thinking about it to decide that it was a viable business idea and something that I wanted to pursue.
When you first decided to start your own business, how did you define what it would be?
I already knew we would be selling flowers, and that it would be set up as a subscription service. There are tons of florists out there already, obviously, so I wanted to make sure our business offered something different. Affordability was also really important. I wanted it to be something that I could afford, and would choose to spend money on even if it wasn’t my own business, so the quality had to be great. Initially, my idea was to offer a selection of flowers and let people pick what they wanted each week, stem by stem. After talking to several friends and sharing the idea, it became clear that most people didn’t want the weekly task of having to login and choose their flowers, and would prefer to have something curated for them. Deciding to offer just one style of bouquet each week and letting customers select either a small or large size meant that we were able to know exactly how many flowers we would need each week before we bought them. This makes the business virtually waste-free, which in turn saves us money and allows us to charge less than traditional florists who have to factor the cost of unsold flowers into their prices.
What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?
After we decided to give the business a shot, I was in the process of figuring everything out. Where would we get the flowers? How much would we charge? How would we handle deliveries? There were lots of questions and I felt like I had to have all the answers ironed out before we could begin and officially launch the business. Around that time, some friends who had been running a successful business gave us the advice that we should just start. They said that whatever the thing is that you don’t have an answer for, when the time comes that you need to figure it out, you’ll figure it out. That advice gave us the push we needed and they were totally right! We started a few weeks later doing a trial run with a few friends as customers. We figured out our process and solved any issues as they arose. By the time the three-week trial was over, we felt like we knew what we were doing and were ready to launch.
What was the most difficult part of starting your business?
Finding customers and getting the word out about the business. When you launch and feel like you have a great product, you want to have a line of customers around the block. But spreading the word about a new business can be tricky, especially if you don’t have a big advertising budget. We’ve been really lucky in having new sign-ups every week through word-of-mouth, and have reached several of our new customers through social media and local advertising. It’s definitely a process of trial and error — finding out what works best for your business.
Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?
Keep it simple. I think it’s natural for anyone with an entrepreneurial drive to have a lot of ideas, and a lot of those might be good ideas, but they can clutter your brand and your vision, especially in the beginning. Stem & Bloom went through many different incarnations in the brainstorming stage, but in the end we decided to go with the simplest, most straightforward business model. What we do is pretty simple and easy to understand, which makes it easy to communicate to potential customers when they visit our website or see one of our ads.
Can you name a moment of failure in your business experience?
I wouldn’t say we’ve had any failures, but definitely some obstacles. For example, planning out a week’s bouquet to find out at the last minute that those flowers weren’t going to be available. We had to scramble to re-work our design and get flowers to replace the ones that were missing. Or starting out on one e-commerce platform, finding that it didn’t really fit our needs, and switching to another platform with similar results before finally deciding to build something ourselves. I think that if you look at it the right way, any failure is really just a problem with the potential to be solved.
What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in starting your business?
Free time. Since starting Stem & Bloom, we work many more hours than we used to. Nights, weekends, and early mornings that used to be ours to do with what we wanted are now often spent working on the business. We still have free time — you have to set some time aside for yourself — it’s just a lot less than it used to be.
Can you name your greatest success in your business experience?
Every time a customer that we don’t know personally signs up for a Stem & Bloom subscription it feels like a great success! Knowing that they either saw our flowers somewhere, or got a recommendation from a friend and decided to sign up is really cool. Getting a nice email or seeing an Instagram post from a customer that loves their flowers is awesome, too.
What business books/resources would you recommend to readers starting creative businesses of their own?
As a designer working with flowers, I find Pinterest, Instagram, and lifestyle blogs are my most-used sources of creative inspiration. For the ins-and-outs of starting a business in New York, the NY.gov site has an amazing list of resources and guides — from how to choose and register a business name, to getting all the required licensing and paying taxes, there is a wealth of information to be found. I also think that having a mentor or friend that has a successful business is invaluable. In addition to having someone to talk to about your ideas and obstacles, it’s inspirational to have someone you know that has achieved the success that you are actively working toward.
In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting a business?
1. What are you selling and who is your customer? Why are they going to buy your product (or service) over the other ones that are competing with yours in the market? I also think it’s helpful if you can say that you are your own customer. In our case, I really felt like there was a hole in the market for flowers of this quality and at this price, and the subscription model further separated us from the mass of traditional florists out there. It was a product that I wished existed and would have subscribed to if it had.
2. You have to be okay sacrificing other things you might want to do, because sometimes your business responsibilities will just have to come first. For example, we assemble our bouquets on Wednesday nights so they can go out for delivery first thing on Thursdays. There might be some amazing event happening on a Wednesday, and we know that we just won’t be able to attend because we’ve made a commitment to our business on that night. But, because the business is something we believe in and WANT to be spending our time on, we’re okay with that. If you don’t think you’ll be okay making those kinds of sacrifices (planned and unplanned), then having your own business probably isn’t for you.
3. Vacations will be a thing of the past, at least to a certain extent (kind of echoes point two). This is actually something we did consider before starting Stem & Bloom, and so before we launched, we took a nice, relaxing vacation to Mexico, knowing that it might be our last one for a while! Until we’re able to hire employees and feel confident leaving our company in someone else’s hands for a week, we’ll be doing shorter trips. I think that being aware of the potential sacrifices you’ll have to make, yet still having the passion and enthusiasm to pursue your business anyway, is essential if you’re going to be successful.