about bbrooks fine flowers
BBrooks Fine Flowers is a consortium of like-minded florists who joined together to provide their customers with long distance sources for premium flowers and couture arrangements. Our blog is at www.fineflowers.com and our commerce site is www.bbrooks.com. We have a password protected site for b2b member florists for them to transact business between themselves.
The idea of Fine Flowers originated in the spring of 1986 when founder Barbera Brooks wanted to send a vase of daffodils to a hospitalized friend in Cleveland, Ohio. Living in San Francisco and not knowing who to call to fill this seemingly simple request, she first went to a local florist to see if they could arrange the delivery through one of the traditional wire services. Her request was repeatedly met with explanations that florists “do not carry this sort of product.” Barbera even went so far as to suggest that the daffodils could be cut from local backyards, since at the time they were blooming in Cleveland. Of course that wasn’t done either!
The only solution was to send typical florist selections of carnations, mums or daisies. But Barbera knew that her hospitalized friend had sophisticated tastes and would not be impressed with standard flowers. She began calling friends who she knew had relations in Cleveland, hoping they could recommend someone to deliver the flowers to her friend. One week and many phone calls later Barbera discovered D.K. Vanderbrook.
It turned out that not only was D.K. a famous rose hybridizer but was also well-known for his luxurious displays of massed garden roses in silver tureens that he designed for Prince Charles and Lady Di’s first state visit to the U.S. His simple but opulent design was a bold departure from traditional décor for such state dinners and helped to cement his already growing reputation in the flower community.
Shortly thereafter Barbera found herself wondering that if someone as talented as D.K. was tucked away in Cleveland, might there be other talented people like him in other cities throughout the U.S.? If only she could find them. And thus began the research for her classic book, Fine Flowers by Phone (Atlantic Monthly) which would soon become known as ‘the essential guide to sending flowers long distance’. The book, which provided the names of floral specialists in about 250 cities around the country, revealed itself to be a godsend for people who wanted to send high quality arrangements but were disillusioned with the traditional wire services.
The book debuted with much fanfare at the New York Garden Show during the spring of 1989 and it wasn’t long before Manhattan flower shops and bookstores were boasting lavish window displays for the book, lushly decorated with colorful and luxurious flower arrangements. The trade press took it to heart and posed the question: “Are wire services outdated?”
In a word, the book was revolutionary. Not only did it fill a need but, more importantly, it recognized and defined a growing segment of the floral industry. Fine floristry was no longer a fad, but instead had become a force in the $18 billion flower industry.
During the mid-1990’s florists began calling and writing to Barbera to ask if she was planning an updated edition of the book. Many of the florists featured in the original book felt an updating was needed because over the years shops change, people retire, contact information changes and new shops open.
Also, some of the inquiring florists had opened new businesses and already recognized the powerful positive impact that inclusion in the popular book could provide with both out of town orders and local publicity. The selection process for inclusion in the updated edition was juried by a rigorous review of not only a shop’s design style but also their integrity, financial soundness and customer service.
Upon researching the validity of these requests, Barbera found that what most florists wanted was a premium wire service that not only mirrored the high standards of the book but would also be timely by including new shops and updated current contact information, not to mention the ability to delete florists from membership should their quality deteriorate below the acceptable standards.
At the same time, the Internet was making its way into mainstream America so Barbera called her computer savvy cousin Ted Welsh to assist her in providing an Internet based system that not only provided florists access to an editable interface, but also to create a financial model that enabled the business to survive in this premium niche market.
On April 1, 1997, the wire service launched as www.bbrooks.com with just over 100 member florists.
10 Years Later
By 2007 membership in BBrooks had grown ten-fold and, although the mission of the company has not varied over the past decade, the look of fine floristry has changed dramatically and is still in flux today.
The showy loose gardeny style arrangements prevalent in the 80’s and early 90’s have given way to a low and lush style where stems are cut short, grouped by color or variety in often leaf-lined clear glass cubes. There is very little extra greenery, if any, and definitely never any filler. While the prices of some flowers have decreased significantly–stargazer lilies and gerbera daisies, for example–those of the more couture stems such as French tulips and special peonies have risen dramatically, often selling for $8/stem or more. The price combined with the new style of gathering masses of stems into small container has doubled the average price of a gift of flowers from $60 to $120 and today it is not unusual to spend $200-$300 for an adequate centerpiece for an average sized dining table!
Lush bouquets in glass cubes or silver julep cups have become so ubiquitous that this style has slipped down to dominate mainstream floristry to such an extent that, to the uneducated eye, there is very little difference between BBrooks florists and traditional wire services, other than the quality of customer service and a level of taste that still distinguishes the fine florist from the common wire services.
Many fine florists have also retreated from retail shops to ‘appointment only’ studios because of rent and wage pressure, as well as stifling labor laws and taxes. For a business dealing in a luxury perishable product to survive the price of the core product has had to escalate to the point that it is not financially viable to stock hundreds of stems of flowers and just be a flower shop. The problem is further exacerbated by the competition from big box and grocery stores.
All financial resources must be directed to the core business. Those florists who still maintain retail shops usually have complimentary businesses, such as event planning, decorative accessories for the home, landscaping services and product design and manufacturing. And so an entire array of complimentary opportunities has become incorporated to support floristry at the high end.
The Near Future
There are some areas in the country that simply do not have the socio-economic statistics to support fine floristry and stock flowers that retail at $8/stem. At BBrooks we do our best to inform customers of this situation and thus set their expectations accordingly. And while we believe we have solved the problem of who to call when you want to send premium flowers, it remains a fact that such a request is quite expensive. And so we face our next challenge: who to call when you only have $50-75 total including tax and delivery to spend on a floral gift. What can one send that is beautiful and noteworthy but not the size of a measuring cup!