Per usual, this is a little (or lot) verbose, just like me! No pressure to read it all, I’ve highlighted the highlights. If there’s nothing good on Netflix and you feel like a longer peruse, grab a cup of joe and enjoy!
First I want to say thank you – for believing in our company and supporting us as we have worked to build something good. Last November we celebrated our sixth anniversary (woot!), our fourth outside the walls of my tiny apartment, and I can honestly say that not a day has passed where I haven’t felt extreme gratitude for all of you. How many people get to live their dream? I am one of the lucky few who does, and for that I’m so thankful.
When I started Farmgirl Flowers it was with clear intention. I wanted to create an innovative new model for purchasing flowers online that did it “right”. I wanted to provide a better product and customer experience, build a company based on integrity, create good jobs, and support American farmers. That was my mission then, and still is now. Building Farmgirl has been the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. It’s been more difficult than any book or lecture could have prepared me for. It’s been a mix of extreme highs and extreme lows. I’ve always considered myself to be a strong person. I grew up on a small farm in rural Indiana and worked hard for everything in my life. And although I’m made of pure grit and determination, owning a business has a way of testing that at every turn. I’m thankful for that because it has allowed me to learn. To grow. And to be better.
One of these opportunities to learn has been with our flower sourcing. When I decided to purchase solely American grown flowers, I made that decision based on research - which showed that the industry was struggling, and on my heart - which told me that it was the right thing to do. Growing up in a community where the importance of agriculture is paramount, and to a family that instilled the importance of helping whenever it was in our power to do so, made this mission hit home for me. I knew it would be difficult, because if it wasn’t, everyone would be doing it - and they weren’t. Traditional flower companies were sourcing predominately from outside of the US, but I thought that was simply because of lower costs. I didn’t for a second think it couldn’t work because of supply. I naively thought that the American flower growers would see me riding in on my white stallion with my checkbook flailing and think that I was there to save the day. I might even have imagined I was wearing a superwoman cape in that scenario (but let’s keep that between you and me!). I presumed that my interest in supporting their businesses, and commitment to pay on time without terms would be met with resounding applause. I thought the state flower commissions that are in place for the purpose of educating American consumers to choose to purchase American grown flowers would be our biggest allies. I truly thought that I was going to help the American flower farming industry. And to some extent, I believe we have. But not in the way I thought we would.
I have learned that the US flower industry, like many industries, has always done things in a particular way and, for the most part, isn’t eager to change. The sale cycle for flowers goes from grower to wholesaler, wholesaler to retailer, and retailer to consumer. I wanted to do it differently and buy direct from the farmer. What I didn’t understand, but quickly learned, was how hard and, in some cases, impossible it was going to be to persuade many large scale growers to break that model and sell to us direct. I thought the fact that we were willing to buy larger quantities than many of the wholesalers would be enough. It wasn’t. While we have many amazing farms who are willing to sell to us, we’ve unfortunately maxed out their capacity for high quality flowers. We’ve tried everything short of begging (although we’ve toed that line). I’ve realized that we are spinning our wheels trying to support an industry that doesn’t actually want our help. Many large farms will not sell to us directly because the large wholesalers have told them that they will pull their accounts if they do, and the farms aren’t willing to take that risk. It’s a classic anti-trust issue, but I don’t want to fight. I wanted the growers to understand how hard we were fighting to help rebuild their industry and, in turn, be excited to work with us to do just that. But that just didn’t happen.
I went back to the drawing board and tried a slew of new, outside the box, ideas. Some have worked - like working with commodity crop growers who are more business minded and excited to add cut flowers as an additional revenue stream - and some things have not worked so well. When I appealed to the state flower organizations that drive awareness for American grown flowers, their response was lackluster at best. I was told that maybe the reason many of the farms don’t want to sell to us, but are selling to our younger competitors, is because the farms have limited supply, so if they have to choose who to sell to, they’re betting on the other guys (literally) who have raised funding. Huh? Yeah, that didn’t make much sense to us either given our growth and the fact that we’re the ones fighting for them exclusively. They also suggested that maybe I should stunt the company’s growth until the growers could catch up. Can you imagine if someone told Howard Schultz that he might want to stunt Starbuck’s growth because he could only source enough beans for 100 cups of coffee a day? Somehow I think his response would be to find another way. So that’s exactly what we’re doing.
When I go back to my core mission for Farmgirl Flowers – it’s to grow a company that I would want to buy from, sell to, and work for. Those are my three guiding principles for every decision I make for the company. Here are a few ways that we’re living that mission.
Our company is product first. We make every bouquet in-house. We don’t outsource to bouquet makers in other countries. We take pride in our designs and flower selections. We continuously work to improve our products and services, and aim to provide the best customer service possible. We admit when we mess up and we make it right.
We pay for products on time, without terms, so our partner farms and small businesses can run their businesses better. We prepay when possible to help smaller businesses with working capital. And we seek out like-minded business to support with our dollars. We pay fair prices for products and work to support as many small businesses as we can.
We’re building good jobs. Instead of using only independent contractors, we hire full time and only use contractors upon their request. We provide full medical benefits at no cost to our team members and are very excited to have just started a 401k for our team as well. We’re choosing to invest in lifelong benefits for our team instead of fancy perks. We’re doing this not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because we believe if we invest in our team, they will in turn stick around for the long haul.
I’m proud of how we’re building our company, so when faced with a challenge like product sourcing, I go back to our values to figure out the “right” thing to do. I’ve done that and have decided that we need to source from further away. And we need to do that with the same integrity we have built our company on. I have fought hard to source solely from the US and have come to a point where I can’t force farms to sell to us, and I’ve maxed out the ones who will. I either need to stunt the company’s growth, and therefore not grow additional jobs, or I can source directly from farms abroad whose values align with our own. So that’s what we’re going to do. I’ve met amazing farmers who are providing wonderful jobs for their communities. We’ll be working with farms who have built schools and houses for their team members and their families. They pay fair wages and have doctors on staff for their workers. I can honestly say that the ones I’ve met thus far are providing equal or better work environments than the US flower farms we work with. After meeting these people personally and seeing how they run their businesses, I can support them with full confidence, and feel very good about that decision. Oh, and they’re excited to grow with us too. Imagine that!
We have preached the ideals of buying only American grown flowers from the mountaintops and want you to know that wasn’t a shtick. I put my heart and soul into this mission and truly believed in it. I believed in it so strongly that I’ve previously turned down investment offers that required it. Like many things, when you get down to the nitty gritty, things just aren't as they seem. And that’s okay. We still believe that if you can buy local, please do. We are part of the slow flowers movement that pledges transparency of flower sourcing to consumers, which is what we've always done and will continue to do going forward. We will continue to buy the majority of our flowers from US growers (at least 80% right now), and will be subsidizing with flowers we can’t get enough of here. We aren’t doing this to save a buck. We are still working very closely with our partner farms here, and will continue to do so, and to buy as much as we can from them first. They understand why we are doing this, and have been personally telling us that we would need to do this for a very long time.
For those of you who want only American grown flowers, we will keep that option for you. Simply choose the “Grown in the US of A” bouquet in our shop and we’ll make sure to only include blooms grown close to home.
As always, I’ve probably given way more information than you want. I tend to overshare, but wanted to make sure you all know how much thought we put into this decision. We will always be honest and transparent with you and show you our heart. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at email@example.com. Thank you, again, for your amazing support. We truly wouldn’t be here without you.
Founder & CEO