Floral Decorator The Buzz


Anyone can decorate with flowers, but floral decorators go that extra mile. They create mood and atmosphere with their arrangements and decorations.

Floral decorators are called upon for weddings as well as other social or business events. They cut and arrange live, dried or artificial flowers and foliage. In meeting custom orders, floral decorators must work with specific themes and decor, as well as customer preference.

"Floral decorators are the extreme version of florists," says Ildiko Phillips. She is president of her own floral design company.

"[We also work with] interior designers for choosing the correct plants and flowers, and architects in adding [artificial] trees and flowers into areas where people are affected by allergies, or the weather does not permit fresh flowers to last very long," says Phillips.

Diana Frey is a floral event designer. She says she provides much more than just flowers. She often oversees other facets of decor, such as lighting, specialty props and linens.

"To give an example: I was hired as an event decorator at...a very upscale party requesting a 1920s feel. I selected the theme of an art deco supper club. And I designed the entire inside of a 60-by-120-foot tent, complete with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers look-alikes," says Frey.

"I think a floral decorator is a very focused form of floristry," says Beverley Woodburn. She is a floral trainer and consultant. "Most floral decorators are really freelance florists. [They] have left the confines of regular hours and responsibility of a retail store."

Woodburn says decorators consider the customer's home when designing an arrangement. They want to know colors, location and personal tastes. "It usually requires a visit to the home or a pillow from the home, or perhaps a picture. Then a look will be created. The decorator pulls the room together," she says.

For those who choose to work for themselves, Woodburn says that how much you make depends on what you're doing -- and how well you do it. She says a pricing formula is needed. It should include labor and materials, visitation and consultation fees, travel expenses and planning fees.

"So whatever you feel is a fair wage must be multiplied by four to cover all your hours of work. The usual is to at least double on the wholesale cost of the products before your labor is added. Your fees must reflect all your efforts," she says.

"As in any business, when you're good, you're good. And people will pay for that," says Phillips. "How you choose to market your business and the type of customer you attract will define how much money you will make."

Floral decorators have a variety of backgrounds and experience. Their expertise ranges from art and design to business and horticulture. "A person desiring to be a floral designer definitely needs education and training," says Frey.

After studies in ornamental horticulture, Frey graduated from design school. Then she did a one-year apprenticeship before starting her own business. "I have since taken master design classes. And I attend the American Institute of Floral Designers (AIFD) national symposiums. This keeps me abreast of new trends and techniques," she says.

There are 1,200 members of AIFD worldwide. Membership in the nonprofit organization is only granted once a designer meets rigid standards and shows professional ability. Then they get an "Accredited in Floral Design" title.

Phillips' love for flowers and nature drew her into floral decorating. She actually graduated as a pediatrician first. Then she trained in interior design and architecture, graphic design and fine art. "This let me broaden my perspectives and design techniques, especially with color and form," she says.

Some formal floral design experience is needed for anyone starting out on his or her own as a decorator. Woodburn says that working in a retail store is very beneficial.

"A person trained from the bottom up in a flower shop would be the person with the knowledge of exactly what is needed," she says. "I don't think a student could simply go to a class and come out a floral decorator. I believe it is a position that evolves over time, once they've gained experience and a reputation within the floral industry."

Colleen Hemmingway agrees. She is a floral consultant and wholesale representative. She says that many decorators will start in retail sales. There, they learn not only about designing, but also customer service.

"They are usually tired of working long hours during seasonal holidays and want to work on their own. Their experience in a flower shop gives them some contacts. And they've probably pursued one, and ended up going into floral decorating. This line of work has everything to do with contacts," she says.

When Frey started her business, she sent out a notice of her opening to everyone she knew and asked for referrals. "Once my work was seen by clients and other wedding professionals, referrals came in from these sources. I don't advertise my business, other than on the Internet. I depend on word of mouth and my work selling itself," she says.

Phillips agrees that a good reputation is the best form of marketing. "The easiest marketing we do is what we don't do. Our customers do the work for us. If you give your customers what they want -- and pay attention to them -- they will endorse you wherever they go with lip service," she says.

She also uses the Internet to promote her company, and says it has helped her gain a competitive edge. She admits that there's plenty of competition, and it's not easy becoming established.

"But what will establish you earlier is using your contacts for 'press.' Do some wedding work, or plan your aunt's yearly holiday party. Take pictures of everything you create, and add the best ones to your portfolio," she says.

It took Frey about two years to establish her business. "I would [say] know your competition. Then develop ways to be different. [It's] what will set you apart," she says.

"Appreciate your customers," says Phillips. "Always smile. If you have a wedding event you decorate, put it on your calendar to send an anniversary card the following year to the newlyweds. If it's a birthday party, send a birthday card the following year."

There are some other basics needed to open and operate a floral design business. You need all the licenses and permits required by law. Plus you need a location. "I operate my business out of a converted garage," says Frey. "[You also need] a vehicle to transport flowers, and basic tools and supplies."

Links

Society of American Florists
The national trade association of the U.S. floral industry

About Flowers
This site includes consumer trends, tips on decorating and more

American Institute of Floral Designers
A nonprofit organization that promotes floral design as a career