The flower business isn’t always smooth sailing.
“When the market crashed, I looked for extra revenue to help my situation,” says retail florist Eileen Cheng AIFD. She charted a new course by selling flowers to a different niche of the market.
Decorating yachts with fresh flowers and plants brought in a wave of new clients. Soon her business was ‘going places’ again.
Why yacht flowers?
“Yachts are floating mansions and mansions have flowers,” explains designer Janet Black AIFD. There were lots of yachts (with potential clients) anchored nearby.
“Floral décor for yachting is very unique and specific,” says Eileen.
Catering to a lifestyle Eileen had not personally experienced required quickly learning how to navigate new waters.
How did Eileen turn the tides of her floral business?
What can you learn from her experience?
In 2010, Eileen created Yacht Flowers in Fort Lauderdale, Florida to get her floral business back on track. Daughter Delia Chen AIFD works alongside her at the helm.
“We never know where our clients go but when they come to us we have a lot of fun creating their designs,” says Eileen. “It’s always last minute which is a challenge.”
Selling floral elements to floating-mansions-on-the-ocean may be challenging, but as Eileen learned it can propel a seaside business.
A learning curve
Each yacht offers a new learning curve. “I have to learn where the flowers will be placed, and what the temperature and humidity will be, yacht movement, and the duration of the trip,” explains Eileen.
Each owner has personal preferences in style and color. Delivering décor that ‘floats their boat’ requires a lot of customization.
“Our clients are the yacht owners, but we work with their special assistants,” Eileen explains.
Establishing good working relationships with staff creates a high rate of repeat customers for Yacht Flowers.
“Word of mouth is our best marketing tool,” says Eileen.
The yachts are all highly secured. The Yacht Flowers staff doesn’t go on deck, they just hand the flowers over to assistants. “Even so, I carry 1.2 million dollars in liability insurance,” Eileen confides.
Snowbirds in the water
“The yacht flower business is seasonal – typically October to May. “Many yacht owners are Snowbirds-in-the-water and here for the warm weather,” suggests Eileen.
Some yachts return every year for the season. Their flower needs vary – once a week, every two weeks, or every six weeks, depending on the client’s preference.
Other yachts arrive for special events. Clients are very secretive so the staff seldom knows what event they are designing for.
“Similar to weddings and funerals there is no room for mistakes,” Eileen confides. “I have learned of our customer needs. I have educated myself on providing better service and unique designs that meet those needs.”
Stability is a challenge
Arrangements require stability to be anchored in place during travel. “That means most of time they must be low and have a heavy base,” explains Eileen.
“As time went by, I quickly learned to mostly use green floral foam to ensure stability for the arrangements.”
Eileen found that floral foam holds water well and the flowers are more stable while yachts are in motion.
“I looked at each of the different Oasis floral foams and decided to try them all,” she says. “After a few tries, I settled on Midnight MaxLife (black) foam. The color and texture are very suitable for tropical arrangements.”
“Midnight holds water well but doesn’t have punch holes so I prepare (soak in water) the foam at least an hour before,” she adds.
She suggests that for some designs with hollow-stemmed flowers, the lighter-density Maxlife Springtime foam is a good choice.
Flowers must be long-lasting
Flowers are an important decorative element for yachting.
Choosing flowers that last longer than requested is a must. It’s not unusual for the client to decide to lengthen their stay (say from five days to ten) and the flowers are expected to remain fresh for the duration of the trip.
Orchids, anthurium, roses, heliconia, oriental lilies, and green trick dianthus are a few of the Yacht Flowers’ favorites due to their long-lasting qualities.
“To insure long-lasting designs, you must feed the flowers,” says Eileen.
“I use flower food from the moment flowers arrive to the shop. It is very important part of our design,” says Eileen. “Then water, with flower food, is added as a finishing touch once flowers are arranged and before they are delivered. It’s a must.”
Some yachts also require plants. Requests for phalaenopsis bonsai, succulents, and other indoor plants are quite common.
Learn the ropes
If you live near the water, designing yacht flowers may sound like a dream job. Eileen suggests that for it to work like a dream – you must first ‘learn the ropes’.
“First, understand what yachting is all about,” advises Eileen.
Be patient. The floral staff has learned that wealthy people don’t plan their lives in advance, they just go with the flow, day by day. As a group, they’re constantly making last minute plans or changing their plans. They cancel orders a lot.
Be prepared. “You never know what will happen next with mansions-on-the-water,” says Eileen. “Never having time to plan can sometimes be difficult and challenging.”
Organize a seasonal team. Yacht Flowers needs up to seven employees to keep the pace during the yachting season. “Out of season – nobody,” laughs Eileen, though she does have local talent she can call in, if needed.
“I used to have two stores. I sold the old one in 2018 to do yachting only. I love my job.” says the floral skipper.
The goal is to eventually pass the business on to her daughter, Delia. “She’s younger and can handle the stress!” Eileen adds with a laugh.
What overlooked, but profitable flower niche can you explore in your area?
What unique opportunities have you discovered that you can share with us?