Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Flower Pot Spins a Profitable Web

By Rebecca Schwartz

For Montreal florist/entrepreneur Herbert Teichmann, tapping into the Internet is the best method for attracting new clients, and establishing mutually beneficial relationships with suppliers, both traditional and non-traditional. Teichmann is also tapping into his love of marketing, creating new ways to sell his products and encourage repeat business.

On the day I visited The Flower Pot’s offices on Notre Dame Street West, Teichmann, an Austrian stockbroker who bought the store over 40 years ago, was printing out one of the greeting cards that accompany the store’s deliveries.

Teichmann has only disdain for what he calls “crappy little cards, handwritten or automated” that he says most florists staple to a delivery. He shows me a printer next to his workstation, explaining that its sole purpose is to print out what he calls “florigrammes.” He shows me one of these glossy cards: black and white photograph of a winter landscape on the cover, customized message inside, and The Flower Pot’s logo and contact info on the back.

“They all think I’m nuts,” he says. “But most clients, 99 per cent, pay no attention to the florist. We spend a lot of money, time, and effort producing a card. It’s a marketing ploy. It’s unique.”

It seems to be working. Teichmann estimates his sales volume per year at “half a million, plus, plus.” He operates out of 5,000 square feet, not far from Montreal’s old port: 3,300 for the store, office, and design area, the remaining square feet in the basement.

Over 50 per cent of his business, he tells me, is web-related.

“A large number of in-town clients use the Web” to place orders, and he also credits his site with encouraging new business.

Teichmann favours a hands-on approach to site maintenance, claiming, “75 per cent of all floral sites are maintained by an association. The florist has no input at all.”

Teichmann cannot contain his love for the Web. He’s building a second site, a one-stop resource for Montreal party planners. The Flower Pot will advertise its services on the site, too.

He particularly appreciates the immediacy of the Internet. If wife Pia buys tulips at auction in the morning, he can put the product on his site by noon. All the store’s clients are added to a mailing list, and receive regular product updates and birthday reminders, too.

By contrast, says Teichmann, traditional catalogues are “expensive and sterile.”

However, Teichmann insists there is no point maintaining a strong Internet presence if you’re not delivering a reliable product. He describes his as “high-profile and small-scale.”

“We won first prize at the orchid show,” he says, laughing. “We still don’t know why. We don’t sell on creativity alone – it’s reliability.”

The Flower Pot is the Montreal contact for 1-800-FLOWERS, taking care of 95 per cent of orders for the Montreal area, earning a ranking of over 95 per cent for reliability.

For the past 12 years, Teichmann has been supplying displays to Roger’s Cup, the tennis tournament held annually in Montreal.

“I love marketing,” he says, explaining his success.

Teichmann approaches small-scale suppliers, offering to look after their Internet marketing by including their products on his site, expanding his product range at the same time. These non-traditional products, including chocolates, teddy bears, and customized T-shirts, are delivered with his signature “flower of the day.” Eighty per cent of his sales remain traditional products.

Teichmann takes me on a tour of his elegant store, showing me displays of chocolate, flowers, and vases. The building is 100 years old, and the store has an airy feel, thanks to the high ceilings and exposed brick walls. Behind the counter is an area for customers to sit and relax with a magazine, and an employee lounge with an easy chair and more reading material.

In addition to two part-time webmasters, Teichmann employs a pool of self-employed, contractual drivers. Only one is full time.

“Better than having your own truck,” he declares.

Two full-time designers, a contractual packer, a full-time accountant, two salespeople, including wife Pia, and a part-time translator round out the team.

His goal, he explains, is keeping the full-time employees on his payroll to a minimum, hiring part-time contractual workers instead.

In the compressor room, Pia tells me about her twice-weekly visits to Marché Floral Inter-Provincial Flower Market, an auction that gets started at 6:30 in the morning. All Canadian products, she says. Most importantly, they are fresh, cut days before they go on the block.

Pia uses the word “loyalty” to describe her supplier relationships. These relationships are several decades old, and Pia refuses to consider new suppliers – it’s all about providing the best service, she says.

“Pay your bills and they will dance for you,” adds Herbert, laughing.

Bilingualism presents a challenge for The Flower Pot, who must print their own care cards, since many on the market are English only.

Pia explains this to me while designer Joanne Lapointe, who has been with the store for 30 years, works on an order. Pia shows me a photo of a unique Flower Pot product, a birthday cake made entirely of fresh flowers. Herbert gives me a bar of dark chocolate for the ride home.

Before leaving, I talk briefly to Katie Scott, one of the two webmasters.

“Ask her about keywords,” says Herbert.

“The more you update your site, the more Google will pick you up,” says Katie, adding Easter-themed keywords to the site.

Blogging is the store’s latest Internet foray. The goal is to keep the site dynamic, current, and personal. Clients can send their comments in response to blog topics – and they do.

“This,” says Teichmann, pointing to Katie’s computer screen, “is how a florist really should sell his products.”

Adapted and reprinted with permission from Canadian Florist Magazine.