CHRISTINA STEMBEL of FARMGIRL FLOWERS

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NAME Christina Stembel
AGE 36 (eek!)
LOCATION San Francisco, CA
EDUCATIONAL BACKGROUND Self-taught
COMPANY Farmgirl Flowers Inc.
ESTABLISHED 2010
WEBSITE www.farmgirlflowers.com
INSTAGRAM @farmgirlflowers

 

Tell me a little bit about Farmgirl Flowers and the farm girl behind it! How did you get started? I started Farmgirl Flowers in 2010 with a good idea and a lil’ bit of hard-earned savings. The number one position on my bucket list was always to start a business doing something innovative and hopefully, at the same time, something that would make a positive impact in the world. Admittedly, many of my kooky ideas fulfilled one mission, but rarely both. When researching the flower industry, I found the perfect opportunity to create a brand spankin’ new model that would provide a much better alternative to what’s currently available, all while supporting local business and agriculture. It seemed like the perfect idea to me (obviously, like every business owner!), however taking the risk to jump off the comfy steady paycheck ledge was still pretty terrifying. I’m so glad we took the risk though, as we’re currently working on national expansion!

You are fortunate enough to have your shop inside the San Francisco Flower Mart. What is a day in life of the Farmgirl crew like? Very hectic! ; ) Yep, we are so incredibly fortunate to be located right smack-dab in the middle of the action. It helps so much with time efficiency, product sourcing, and is just pretty convenient any which way you look at it (except for customers trying to find us!). One of the best things about our rapid growth is that we have a lot more team members now, so I don’t have to get up nearly as early anymore! Our shifts start pretty late by floral industry standards, with the first shift starting at 5:30 am. Pretty much from the first minute, it’s hopping at our workshop. Someone recently pegged it well when she said it reminded her of a beehive – organized and extremely fast-paced. The General Manager and floral designers start the day with delivery team members and customer service joining a couple hours later. We have an amazing team of 19 now, who are all so wonderful to work with. Around floral specific holidays (Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, etc), it becomes pretty crazy, with shuttled overnight shifts to a second facility, and about 6X the number of employees. It’s pretty stressful, but very rewarding when it’s completed, and we’ve helped bring joy to so many lives.

Has there been a particular moment where you felt most accomplished and validated in your career? Hmmm… probably the first time someone recognized our flowers when I was walking down the street carrying one of our trademarked burlap wrapped bouquets. We had probably the smallest marketing budget ever for a small business (my initial financial model allowed 25 cents per unit for marketing. Seriously), so I had to pound a lot of pavement to try and get our name out there, so the first time someone recognized our flowers and gushed about how much she loved our company, I think I actually cried a little.

Your branding is, simply put, the bee’s knees. What was the process like when deciding on the look & feel of Farmgirl? Thanks! I think I always knew how I wanted to build our brand, because I model everything – from design aesthetic to our branding and marketing materials – based on what I would personally want to receive, and I’m pretty close to the target demographic of who we’re selling to. I didn’t go through the typical design board type process, I just create what I like. We are launching a new website soon, and while we’re all very excited as it will allow much more functionality – including extended bay area delivery and CA wide shipping, it’s been challenging finding that balance of creating a better site but keeping our character and local vibe that we cherish so much.

I honestly feel as though I’ve “liked” every single @farmgirlflowers post on Instagram (the kale!). How would you label your design aesthetic? Aw, thanks again! I’m a bit of a control freak with our digital media pics I have to admit. I haven’t been able to delegate that yet, and know it drives my team members buggy. I get asked this question frequently, and don’t really have a great answer. As I mentioned above, I designed our aesthetic by just creating what I’d want to receive. I’m completely self-taught – before Farmgirl, I didn’t have any floral experience. I learned a lot from YouTube, online tutorials, and good ol’ fashioned books. Sometimes people balk at that (especially other floral designers early on), but I just laugh and think about that line from Good Will Hunting (“You wasted $150,000 on an education you coulda got for $1.50 in late fees at the public library”). Anyway, back to the question – the best answer I have is that I call our style, “new modern.” Traditional modern style makes you think of boring white roses lined up in a square vase, however that style is no longer modern, as the modern woman usually doesn’t want that (and how can a style really be modern when it’s about 20 years old anyway)? Today’s woman (and man!) wants something more than that – they want interesting varieties and textures, and more complex color palettes. And that’s just what we do. With the ornamental kale, that’s become our signature, and ironic enough, when I started, no one was using it, so I could get as much as we needed, but now so many people are using it, we’ve had to extend sourcing to many other growers because the demand is so high. It’s nice being a trendsetter.

Because you source your flowers locally, your arrangements are never the same. Has this been a fun challenge for you & your crew? It’s fun because you get to mix it up and use varieties that we wouldn’t get to use if we were stuck doing what consumers asked for – because they wouldn’t think to ask for ornamental kale, flowering mint, blackberries, thistles, chamomile, rosemary, or many other varieties that we use all the time, and make our arrangements so unique. Traditional red roses and baby’s breath aren’t us, and thankfully, that’s not what consumers want anymore. The challenge has been educating the public to our new way of ordering flowers – to give up the control and trust us. It truly is an education process as we’ve all ordered the same way previously – pick the least ugly option available among 100 options and hope it resembles the picture slightly when it gets to the recipient. Luckily, our name (and reviews) make it a much lower risk now that people know us, but as we continue to expand (nationally soon!) we’ll need to keep educating consumers as we go.

Between budgeting, pricing, marketing, labor, inventory – just to name a few – there are a lot of things to tackle before launching a business. How did you learn the ins and outs of running your own company? How long did it take before things really fell into place? As a small business owner, you definitely wear a lot of hats. The most important one (in my opinion) is the resilience hat. The first two years are rough, and you just have to trudge through it. We all think our businesses are so amazing that they will (obvi) go viral. It probably won’t, but just keep going and it will pay off. I have learned so much – marketing and finance are definitely my weaknesses, so I’ve had to work on those areas and trust people who know more than me in those areas. I also had to adapt and tweak quickly, in order to not waste time or money. If I could do something different, I would have hired a lawyer earlier on, so I always recommend that to all new entrepreneurs (protect those assets!).

As you well know, being an entrepreneur is an around-the-clock job. How do you maintain a healthy work/life balance? I don’t. : ) I actually love to work (my hubby calls it my hobby), so I don’t mind working more than a “typical” work day. I do try to take one day off a week now where I don’t do any work. I can’t say that I do that every week, but I did say that I “try”!

What advice do you have for those of us buying flowers at the local farmer’s market or grocery store? Look with your eyes and your mouth (as my mama used to say)! Look for the CA or US Grown label, ask someone who works there, or ask your local florist to make you something using only beautiful US grown flowers – it not only supports local farmers, but shows the buyers that consumers do care about the origin of their flowers, which will encourage them to source more domestic grown blooms!

Guilty pleasure? A really good mocha, rice pudding, shopping of any kind, good book at the beach, garden roses in the perfect peach shade…
Sugar or salt? Sugar, baby.
Favorite SF spot? SF Flower Mart of course! ; ) My fave spot isn’t actually in SF, it’s where I live down on the coastside – the beach in El Granada.
Coffee order? Mocha from Ritual Roasters or Downtown Local in P-Town
Song you can’t help but sing along to? Anything Tracy Chapman (yes, I’m old)

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