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Nancy @ Nancy Liu Chin Designs, San Francisco Vendor: Florist Website: Nancy Liu Chin Designs About Me: A San Francisco native, Nancy graduated from the University of California - Berkeley's Haas Business School where she studied finance and marketing. Beyond running her floral studio, Nancy is a huge fan of Top Chef, loves to travel to exotic locations, is an avid reader of contemporary fiction and considers herself on Team Edward (Twilight fan!), entertains friends in her loft style home in San Francisco's SOMA neighborhood, and can be found at SF Giant's home games. Nancy and her husband, Kevin are a dynamic pair and can be frequently seen walking their white Bichon Frisee, Chin Chin around the city and lounging at cafes sipping Italian sodas.
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This is the final installment to the question that was so thoughtfully asked by a bride, Lisa.

She originally wrote…

Dear Nancy

…Not to be snarky, but can you please explain why my florist charged $250 for a bouquet of peonies when I found an eight stem bunch at Whole Foods that very same week for $12.99?

Lisa

____________________________________

In the past week, we’ve touched upon many issues, finished work vs. products, “flushing”, pre order, perceived value, pricing strategy and many more. Today, I’ve decided that instead of writing another post, I’d post some of the responses from floral designers and add a few more thoughts.

Waste:

Flower Design Jane writes that, “I use peonies for wedding bouquets, the biggest issue is in fact the quantity you need to purchase in order to get say 15 open to the correct degree for use, you may need as many as 200 to get the required perfect 15. I hope this helps.”

Most experienced and prepared designers, who have seen more than a couple of seasons of weddings, know what type of flowers will work in various situations, what flowers need more TLC(tender loving care), what flowers don’t open easily, what flowers “wilt”…and on and on.

We know that with certain flowers, we have to “buy” more. Peonies are definitely one of them. When you get a bunch, the blooms are sometimes at different stages of “opening”. Some open. Some don’t. Some are too overblown and others are just too darn “tight”. It’s nature and an imperfect product.

If you think peonies are hard to open at times, how about preventing garden roses from shattering!

A few weeks ago, I blew $250.00 in yellow garden roses for just 4 bridesmaid bouquets. Of the many stems - only 15% were truly usable. And Gaby my poor assistant had to wire the good ones because the heads were “droopy”. We threw out the ones that were not salvageable.

Did I get credit for them? No. The vendor and I have a good relationship. I have to pick my battles. If every time something like this happened and I complained, no one would ever sell to me. This is not like Nordstrom’s. My wholesalers don’t always take everything back because they don’t often get credit from their resources. My wholesale vendor has to eat it sometimes. No one wins - if they go out of business, I could be screwed.

Please don’t start blaming the wholesalers because they truth is… my sales rep, Sean at Torchio, often warns me about buying certain thing s(even when I know that garden roses can drop in a flash or that peonies are often too tight to open). But how am I supposed to tell that to a bride who has to have them? I don’t. I fix the situation. We learn. We get past these issues and that’s why we need to price correctly so that we don’t have to worry about ordering a little more to cover the stems not used.

Just in case you are wondering, I saved quite a bit for petals from that disastrous garden rose buy. We did our best to salvage what we could have of a really bad situation.

(BTW every week, we have a challenge that we have to fix!)

Big Picture:

Mary Lois writes, “Moreover…nature is well….nature. We don’t know when the prices of flowers will skyrocket because of weather, cutting cycles, fuel costs of shipping. We have to cover the possibility of high prices for ourselves as well as our clients. If you don’t charge enough, costs run high, then the client ends up with something less than what they hoped for.

Finally… I don’t know about other designers, but if I price something high and am able to get a good price on it, then the surplus always gets applied somewhere else in the overall wedding budget.

One thing that many people never talk about is the BTS (behind the scenes) and the reality is that smart and seasoned floral designers during the proposal writing phase know how to “cushion” for mishaps. And most deliver what they plan or even over deliver. (Yes, I said, over deliver!)

I recall this past year, I had a wonderful wedding at the Ferry Building. This wedding was all about small details and one of the flowers that this bride loved were sweet peas. Is there really any replacement for this delicate bloom? Probably, but for this purpose, not really.

The bride and groom didn’t know that I purchased 60 bunches of sweet peas for their September wedding from a local grower and more from So Cal. 60 bunches of sweet peas, which should have yielded 1500 stems, did in fact yield only 400 usable stems. The rest we tossed. Luckily I had double ordered this product and added other flowers to cover any problems. The other sweet peas which were needed for her beautiful bouquet and napkin details, we ended using the better quality blooms from the So Cal resource.

My wonderful sales rep drives up wonderful blooms from SoCal and made sure to include 10 bunches of white sweet peas just for this bride. We got 150 stems of the most perfect white sweet peas. The local grower’s bunches were not as good as the SoCal ones, but in the end, the good quality ones at 3 times the price were well worth it. I didn’t mind at the time that they were more because when you have a wedding in less than 72 hours, you will move mountains to get what you need.

Did I charge the client for having to replace her bad sweet peas?

Absolutely not! We actually lost money on the napkin details but overall, we made it up in other areas.

Why didn’t I charge when I could have? On this particular wedding, I worked with an amazing wedding planner - JLE. She is one of the few planners who knows that I will “spend” what I need to make the wedding perfect. In return, she educates the bride during the proposal writing phase. She rarely sends a client to me that doesn’t understand the importance of why I charge what I charge.

This planner knows that I will do my very best on each wedding project. I rarely get questions on the detailed pricing of each item. Usually, it’s… “Nance, do what it takes!”. No questions asked. Because the wedding planner understands that when I get a bad bunch of stuff, I replace it, she feels confident in working with me. She knows that my original quote has some allowance for “waste”. It’s a happy relationship in which the bride gets the best. And the weddings come out - picture perfect. :)

It’s been a long and wonderful week. I’ve made new connections, new friends. For those reading these posts, if you are a wedding vendor, please - it should never be us versus them. After all, we as business owners cannot exist without other people, especially our clients.

Bottom line: What I take from this is that we have to ask ourselves what makes our designs art? What makes our products/services such that people have to have us? What will make our designs so enticing that we are like the Apple of the computer industry? What can we do so that we don’t have someone ask, if peonies are $12.99, why is my bouquet $250.00?

Thank you for reading and writing.

Photo above from bridgewatergardens.com

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7 Responses to “Ask Nancy: $12.99 for Peonies Part Three”

1.
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Guest
Jasmine S.

Hi Nancy,

I thought I’d follow up, since we had a little conversation about your first pricing post.

I think this post is very to-the-point! The bottom line is that we (brides) pay our florists to make things work for us! My husband was initially skeptical about setting a fixed budget for the florist, instead of negotiating each item, but in the end, it was the absolute best decision. The florist worked hard to maximize our budget, and when a few things came in under budget, he increased the size of our centerpieces, etc., to deliver more value, when he could. The fixed budget set clear expectations up front for everyone.

I found flowers really stressful as a bride (there are SO many choices–colors, types of blooms, sizes–for each place that we used flowers). And the “vision” I needed to communicate was kind of abstract. The genius of our florist, and any great florist, is that he listened and understood and interpreted. We had overflowing textural bouquets that incorporated blue hydrangea (our wedding motif) but were not overwhelmed by big pom-pom-like flowers. He nailed the color balance. He designed an organically beautiful chuppah covered in flowering dogwood blossoms. I’m still getting compliments from guests–5 months later!

So you’re right. We are paying for a lot more than 2 dozen peonies at the end of the day.

 
2.
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Guest
Lisa

Nancy,

I’m glad my comment has sparked some discussion amongst members of your field. I agree that some florists can be deemed artists and therefore charge $250 for a simple peony bouquet.

I originally posted that question because I thought that high volume florists such as yourself would have access to cheap wholesale prices. By no means do I think a small mom and pop store should be able to compete with a Walmart. However, I think you and your colleagues, along with your distributors should get together and strategize. Because until you do something about it, you’ll continue to have ppl like me questioning your price points. You’re fortunate enough to work in an unregulated industry.

Also, I feel like a lot of your colleagues are hell bent on continuing an “Us vs. Them” mentality. I’ve been reading all the comments from this blog as well as your stand alone blog and most of the florists tend to say things like, “Oh, brides will just never get it, will they? We struggle so badly and brides are just being princesses.” Do they not realize that their businesses would not be viable w/out brides? I don’t believe they would make the same rash, egocentric comments to the bride/client’s face, so why would they make them here? Not very constructive if you ask me. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

Lastly, I think the comment by “ETwedding” is something worth thinking about:

“…Reading this series has made me think that [Nancy] is just trying to defend a dying profession. Like GM or Ford and their gas guzzlers. Florists need to adapt to the current economic climate.”

 
3.
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Guest
Nancy Liu Chin

Lisa

As I said, thank you for “igniting” the energy and thought process.

Floral Designers/Florist/Any vendor -

We NEED clients. If we don’t have clients we cannot work and do our craft.

Let’s turn this situation around and not be “Us v Them”.

Let’s learn from these comments and move forward.

 
4.
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Bee
Miss Parfait (message)  1,755 posts, Buzzing bee

Thank you so much for this series, Nancy! I love hearing the perspective of the “other side,” and it’ll help to be informed when I’m talking with my floral designer.
Also, I just want to say that your work is incredibly beautiful, from what I’ve seen on this site!

 
5.
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Guest
Leah T.

I agree with Lisa…I feel like these posts just lack professional integrity. First, they try to justify holding up an unrealistic standard as the NORM for most brides. To me, it’s just like trying to say that your wardrobe should look like something out of Vogue unless you’re really too cheap to spend on good clothes or something. I think everyone should be happy with what they can afford — the flowers are so beyond the point of having a wedding…your wedding’s not a magazine shoot! It’s a personal event that is supposed to celebrate love, and you can do it however it makes sense to you without needing to worry about whether you really “understand” the justifications behind having expensive flowers.

Second, and more importantly, I think that Nancy is actually misleading people about how much they have to spend in order to have good quality flowers at your wedding. She has another post where she does a poll on what people are spending on flowers, and expresses shock that so many people want to spend $1000 or below. As many others pointed out in that section, the example she shows of what you can have for $1000 is just not accurate. I know people who have done a whole wedding (centerpieces and bouquets) with centerpieces of hydrangea, garden roses, dutch tulips, orchids, and lisanthius for $600. They ordered these flowers either on-line or from a reputable wholesaler and none of them had any problem with quality, reliability, or the beauty of the final product.

If this is what florists think they should be doing — promoting their services by giving inaccurate arguments, all in the name of “educating” their consumers, then I think it’s really unattractive. You should not be trying to make people feel more insecure about what they can afford to spend, or scare them about what might happen if they don’t spend the money. That is just underhanded.

 
6.
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Member
Arachna (message)  1,275 posts, Bumble bee

I think this is an excellent series.

A lot of what Nancy says make sense but seems to ignore the existence of a certain type of bride. It’s certainly admirable that Nancy is prepared to move mountains on the day and week of the wedding in order to produce the perfect product that’s exactly what the bride envisioned. I’m sure that there are brides out there that are willing to pay for that and I think that kind of customer service should be expensive.

However, and I hope Nancy will answer this, what about the bride that doesn’t want to DIY but is also just not that particular. Who wouldn’t want Nancy to spend more money to find those perfect sweet peas but would rather Nancy used her judgment to substitute something else pretty. Does Nancy or other florists offer package with lighter prices for brides that are very flexible in what they want? Brides that don’t want to pay for that exceptional customer service because it has no value to them?

 
7.
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Guest
Kelly Merrill

I really appreciate this post. I feel like a lot of wedding industries deal with price points at one time or another and of course everyone wants to save money on every aspect of their wedding. I’m a photographer and I squirm a little when I see bloggers comment about how it shouldn’t cost so much for someone who already has a nice camera to come shoot a wedding, people aren’t thinking about the money it takes to run a business, buy equipment, and all of the time spent editing during the weeks following the wedding.

I went the DIY route with my flowers because I was having a pretty small wedding and I couldn’t spend very much in any one place without sacrificing elsewhere. I definitely appreciate florists much more working as a photographer at weddings (I would be so stressed out as a florist!) and dealing with my own flowers. I have been blown away by the thought of spending so much money on flowers as well, but I never considered the waste, and after visiting a wholesale store in my process I’ve seen that it’s not so easy to get flowers in, open, and as many good stems as you hoped.

I know when you are planning a wedding everything seems expensive, and it is, and some of the charges are criminal. But the more I think about how much money I’d want to make if I made a wedding dress or catered an event or arranged flowers for someone who was very particular about their flowers, I start to understand a little bit more. High end vendors are certainly not right for everyone, but a wedding requires a lot of people putting in a lot of time and work to make your day spectacular.

The economic crisis is hard on wedding vendors as well, and it’s tough to see how much it effects the attitudes of brides! The stress of budgeting for my wedding was overwhelming. Dialogues like this help put things in perspective. So, thank you Nancy.

 

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Nancy @ Nancy Liu Chin Designs Nancy @ Nancy Liu Chin Designs, San Francisco Vendor: Florist Website: Nancy Liu Chin Designs About Me: A San Francisco native, Nancy graduated from the University of California - Berkeley's Haas Business School where she studied finance and marketing. Beyond running her floral studio, Nancy is a huge fan of Top Chef, loves to travel to exotic locations, is an avid reader of contemporary fiction and considers herself on Team Edward (Twilight fan!), entertains friends in her loft style home in San Francisco's SOMA neighborhood, and can be found at SF Giant's home games. Nancy and her husband, Kevin are a dynamic pair and can be frequently seen walking their white Bichon Frisee, Chin Chin around the city and lounging at cafes sipping Italian sodas.
 
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