Moss for rent

In big cities, flower shops sprout like mushrooms after the summer rains, just as many popping up online. The global flower market grows by 3–6% per year, and experts believe florist services are among its important drivers. Most florists claim to be multi-skilled specialists and offer a wide range of services – from making a bride’s bouquet to planting greenery or supplying gift boutonnieres from dry plants. Alexandra Bilova, founder of the Floristics for Business startup, decided against the tried-and-true recipe and focused solely on the floral design of exhibition stands and offices. So why do businesses need flowers, and can living plants revive a business?

A minute to win it

A professional industrial designer, Alexander Bilova spent 15 years thinking of how to arrange and decorate exhibition displays in the most attractive way, and then suddenly became interested in flowers. After attending a florist course, she opened her own small business. Alexandra did not look for investors, but made do with her own savings.

“Most of the money went to purchase the plants. I didn’t have to pay for the website; as a designer, I had no problem doing it all myself. Where else could I cut costs? For example, plant rental services enjoy a high demand, so I immediately decided to have those on offer. But where would I keep the huge containers with beautiful ficuses, palm trees, or oleanders? A warehouse would not do, because plants need a spacious room, with a lot of natural light and air. Renting one could cost a tidy sum. I did not have enough money, so I made a deal with one good institution housed in a beautiful building with huge windows. They agreed to keep my plants, which made the premises beautiful, modern-looking and green, and I did not have to pay any rent. The arrangement suited everyone,” Alexandra says.

One of the specifics of exhibition floristics is that designing stands must be a fast job, exactly on time and often without sufficient preparation as decisions to participate in a trade fair or to design a creative stand are the ones sometimes made in the last minute. While interior or landscape designers might be able to postpone a project deadline, expo designers don’t have this luxury since the day and time of an exhibition or a festival opening are known precisely.

“In the exhibition industry, everything is always urgent or super urgent. Time limits are tight and standards are tough. Turning plain walls into a blooming garden requires coordinated and accurate work of a professional team. I have reliable suppliers who will always deliver the plants I need and will not fail me. I have florists who can create a floral arrangement within half an hour or build vertical vegetation. We outsource them, of course. It is not a full-time job. We invite them on a project basis.”

Competitors strangle with lilies

Alexandra talks about her startup as a way to self-actualize rather than make extra money.

“I don’t have a stable income. When there are orders, there is money. Some clients may order a bouquet for RUR 1,000 ($16) to put on their reception counter. Others take plants out on a loan (prices vary greatly) or ask me to arrange green spaces in an office with moss (from RUR 14K ($220) and up per 1 sq. m.). Some projects can be very elaborate – like, for example, a Jumanji-themed stand for Comic Con Russia. It took us five hours to assemble real tropical jungles with a spacious photo zone. My startup is not a lossmaker but it doesn’t bring a lot of profit either. I am willing to give discounts, compromise and work for days on end as long as my clients are happy and come back to me or recommend me to friends and partners. For now, I am earning my reputation.”

The florist services market is quite competitive. According to Alexandra, the problem is that only a few people understand the specifics of exhibition floristics. Weddings are the main sources of income, but decorating a banquet hall and an exhibition stand of a large company are two different things. Many ‘general’ florists do not consider all nuances and, for instance, use roses in their compositions. These flowers are very high-maintenance, they can last a wedding party, but not two or three days at a large festival. Flowers that have a strong scent, for instance, lilies, are also not suitable for exhibition stands. The poignant scent tires both employees and visitors.

“Many florists offer to use artificial flowers in decorating exhibition stands. It may seem convenient, for such flowers do not wither or smell. But not all florists understand that artificial plants only look good in the background; when on the stand, all their imperfections are evident. There was a curious case when the customer wanted to use artificial flowers for their stand. It took me a while to find the vendor; I meticulously examined every leaf and every petal to make sure they looked good. So we made this stand… and the customer asked in indignation “why did you use live flowers?” Everything looked so natural that he was not able to see the difference,” Alexandra said.

Businessmen choose moss

Fashion for decorations is ever-changing – and decorating exhibition stands and office spaces is no exception. Today, many businessmen choose moss over flowers. A wall decorated with multicolored moss, a ‘mossy’ floor or a panel picture made from pieces of sphagnum, hylocomium or hair-cap moss all look very impressive. In addition, due to the gel base such arrangements stay fresh for a long time, with moss remaining elastic and smooth to the feel during many years.

A frequent request involves decorating the stand in corporate colors by choosing corresponding plants. Florariums – closed containers with flower arrangements inside – are also popular and look good both in office and on stands.

“Floral designs for exhibition stands provide an opportunity to emphasize the core ideas of the project, add an impressive touch, and capture the attention. Everyone likes to take selfies with flowers or floral paintings in the background or examine florariums, and visitors spend more time to take a closer look at the stand of a company that chose florist services. This could result in a greater volume of contracts, orders and sales. Minimalist bouquets or stylish floral arrangements in the office can boost sales, improve a company’s image, and increase visitors’ loyalty,” Alexandra says.

According to her, the use of florist designs in various business fields is a global trend, and Russian florists have much to offer to their European colleagues.

“The ‘European style’ is boring and dull: a white orchid in a white vase on the white reception desk – that’s all about it. Our florists offer solutions that are much more diverse and interesting. This is not about glitter and artificiality; but even a business style should not be bland,” Alexandra says.

By Natalia Sysoyeva

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