Help me navigate the Poppy Field to business ownership
February 28, 2011 10:27 AM   Subscribe

I want to open a small flower shop. What flavour of business management course should I be looking into? (in NS, Canada) Caution: some snowflakes ahead

I've been a floral designer for about 5 years, I'm quite good at design (top of my class) but I've never worked in a managerial position. At the moment I'm self-employed as a seamstress because the only 2 flower shops in my very small town weren't hiring. I have a very rudimentary idea of basic bookkeeping but that's about it (and only as it applies to self-employment). I'm looking to move to a bigger city this fall (Halifax) and would very much like to beef up my business knowledge while working for someone else for a while before I dive into this major endeavour. I'm looking for the very basics I need to start with because A: I get tired of school really fast, and B: I'm recovering from a year of random Uni and need to work on some debts first.
Basically: what level of education would suffice (should I complete a full program, or just supplement)? What courses/areas specifically do I need to run a business? If you're familiar with Halifax, which institutions are best bang for your buck? Or, even better, because I'm not likely to need to impress anyone with a proper degree (like for a job application) can I get away with a decent online course?

Possibly helpful/irrelevant: I went back to school because I thought I'd be happier making more money being an info systems manager (or something) realized that money's a stupid reason to leave a profession I love, but now I'm stuck in the tiny university town and a couple grand in debt. I'm not looking forward to even MORE school, but realize it's necessary for this next step.

Thanks so much!
posted by Carlotta Bananas to Education (9 answers total)
Maybe instead of diving back into school, you should get a job at a flower shop when you move to Halifax. Then you could decide if this is really what you want to do without pouring more money into the debt hole.
posted by pintapicasso at 10:58 AM on February 28, 2011

Response by poster: Right. As I said: I'd like to work on the basics of management while working for someone else for a while since I've realized I really miss and love floral design. For those unfamiliar with the floral industry you do NOT make money working for someone else, despite requiring school and training and for some excellent designers years and years of experience, you're still only looking at slightly better than minimum wage for most positions. To do this full time for the rest of my life (which I want to do) I have to own my own business.
posted by Carlotta Bananas at 11:03 AM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


*Organizational Behavior is useful when it comes to dealing with people in the workplace
*Some accounting probably wouldn't be a bad idea to cover the basics, and then you'll know some of what your accountant is talking about when you hire one of your own
*Small Business Management is specific to your wishes to own your own place
*And since you want to eventually start your own shop, a few Entrepreneurship courses wouldn't be bad to have under your belt, either

You may not need a full program to get what you need for your business, but many schools that have an option of only taking a couple of classes at first will, after some number of classes, require that you enroll in the program. You don't have to enroll as a full-time student, though, and you can take as few classes each semester as you want as a part-time student.

The undergrad level at a decent business school should be fine, though if you happen to already have a degree, it may be better for you in other ways to try a grad level program.

*I work in a business school, but am not in any way a business person myself. But based on what I hear from students, the above classes are ones they get the most PRACTICAL use from, even though there are other courses they get a lot of other things out of.
posted by zizzle at 11:50 AM on February 28, 2011

There was a woman in a few of my MBA classes who owned a flower shop. Now, I could go on for hours about how an MBA changes the way you look at the world and how most people could benefit from that. But from a practical standpoint, I'm really not sure how many of those classes had a direct impact on how well she was able to run her shop. Do you really need graduate level understanding of monetary theory? Nope.

I'd say that you should understand enough about accounting (not just bookkeeping) to both keep your own books (and understand what Quickbooks or whatever is doing) and to make sure that your accountant doesn't rip you off. So, an accounting class wouldn't go amiss.

Business law. Know your rights, liabilities, etc. I don't know about Canadian law, but learning about the Uniform Commercial Code in the States was a real eye-opener for me. You don't need to pass the bar, just enough to know the difference between when you need a lawyer and when you don't.

On preview, much of what zizzle said
posted by bluejayway at 11:55 AM on February 28, 2011

I would look at taking some business classes at a community college. I think the key is going to be the faculty. Try to find classes taught by people who are running their own business or have real world experience. Some of my best business classes were with part-time professors that worked during the day. I think you’ll want to take some management classes, intro accounting if you are doing your own bookkeeping, and marketing.

Check with nearby universities and see if they have a Small Business Development Centre. Many do and they offer great classes and training. You might even find some government programs. (I don’t know if this is any good, I just Googled it.) Also see if there are any small business networking classes. I’ve found it very helpful just to have other business owners to bounce ideas off or get recommendations about various business services. Good luck.
posted by iscavenger at 11:56 AM on February 28, 2011

I used to own a small retail business. You need to know bookkeeping, some accounting, some tax accounting, marketing, business planning, employment regulation, supervision and be able to clean the bathroom as well as negotiate the lease. I worked in bookstores for several years before buying one. The single best piece of work I did in preparation was to create a pro forma cash flow analysis. I had to plan out all my expenses for a year and estimate sales. I had never planned to own a business, but it was a terrific experience. I bought an existing business, which had many benefits. You might want to see if either of the flower shops in town would consider an offer.
posted by theora55 at 12:08 PM on February 28, 2011

The floral industry has a lot of quirks that other businesses don't (for instance, you're working with perishable products, sales fluctuate a lot throughout the year) so courses on running flower shops are few and far between. Most shop owners I know started out as floral designers, learned the ropes by working in various settings and eventually bought their own shops.

I'm not sure what resources are available in Canada, but in the United States the Society of American Florists offers trainings on various aspects of shop management. They also publish Floral Management Magazine, which is a great window into the industry. The major wire services-- FTD, Teleflora, etc.-- used to offer trainings for shop owners but I'm not sure if they still do or what they offer outside the United States.

My family has owned flower shops for two generations so I feel obligated to give a few words of caution to anybody thinking of opening a shop:

--Owning a shop has very little to do with floral design. Many shop owners will tell you that they have no time to actually work with flowers; most of their day is filled with managing payroll, negotiating with vendors, dealing with customer service issues, and so on.

--Floral shops are difficult businesses to manage. The perishable nature of flowers means that you have to manage your inventory very carefully. Buy too many flowers and they'll wilt before you can sell them... but buy too few and you'll end up not being able to fulfill your orders. This is harder than it sounds-- see the next point.

--Most shops operate on a very small margin. The wholesale and labor costs are high and the profits are lower than they are for other retail businesses. That means that at any given time your expenses and your income will be neck-and-neck. This makes it difficult to maintain inventory, make investments for expansion, balance peak times with off-times and so on. It also means that opening a new shop requires a lot of start-up capital.

--Independent flower shops are closing all over the place. The increasing sale of flowers in grocery stores and online means that florists are losing business. It's an industry with an uncertain future.

I hope that helps. Good luck!
posted by Sifleandollie at 1:10 PM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I work for a flower shop.

Honestly with the direction the industry is going I wouldn't do it.

What I would do if I were you is team up with someone who wants to get into the wedding business and specialize in wedding flowers.

If you do forge ahead, do what a lot of independent florists I know do-kick the wire services to the curb and have a company credit card if you need to call another florist out of town for an arrangement. They are all much happier since they don't have a wire service bleeding them dry, and it seems customary to give independents a twenty per cent discount on their orders (at the least ask for it!)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:23 PM on February 28, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for the input, zizzle and bluejayway make good points on the educational aspect and I'll be looking into those types of courses.

To the slightly pessimistic florists: I appreciate the words of warning, and I agree with you on a lot of points; I understand the obligations of an owner, the difficulty of perishable product and the looming threat of grocery stores. Also, I'd rather stab myself with dull snips than deal with a wire service.

I'm confident that grocery stores are shooting themselves in the foot by employing undereducated florists, or no florists at all and rely on regular staff to try to tend to the floral dept, resulting in dying, wasted product. A well-tended floral dept is a rare thing, and I think people realize this. They're competition, yes, but not deadly.
Based on these raised issues I'd like to pose a follow-up question:

What would you do in a fresh start up to ensure success? What (like the wire service) would you avoid? How could one form a possibly untapped niche or specialty to maintain a specific clientele?

I think I have an advantage in that I'm not in a set location trying to gouge a market. After my lease is up here I can move anywhere (Halifax is closest) and I don't want to buy an existing business so I will be completely starting from scratch. Once I get my ducks in a row money-wise (admittedly may take a while) I will have a pristine slate to make whatever store I want.

And if you aren't a florist, but have some small business advice, please contribute still! I need all the help I can get!

posted by Carlotta Bananas at 3:42 PM on February 28, 2011

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