Florist to the Stars on Surviving the Downturn

For more than two decades, Pat Miller of A Bed of Roses Florist enjoyed being a florist to the stars. She ran a thriving flower shop on Union Street in San Francisco’s fashionable Cow Hollow neighborhood, catering to clients such as Bill and Hillary Clinton, Katharine Hepburn, Ralph Lauren, Danielle Steele, Cary Grant, and Bette Davis. Her work also appeared in Architectural Digest, Gourmet, Romantic Homes, Florist’s Review, and other magazines.

Then the 2008 recession hit. Flowers became an expendable item for many customers. Miller had to close her shop and cut her overhead. But she continued to work out of a friend’s photo studio, where today she continues to create beautiful floral art for local clients. She’s built a growing mobile business, collaborating with colleagues across the country to create bouquets and more for out-of-town events.

We asked Miller how she got started and continues to do business despite the downturn.

GoPayment: How do you send floral arrangements to clients in other cities?

Miller: I belong to a network of floral designers across the country that I’ve worked with for years. You must be invited to join this network initially, and all of the florists in it are at the top of their games.

How many out-of-town arrangements do you send?

In a good month, I receive requests from San Francisco Bay Area clients for about 15 unique “mobile” floral arrangements to be sent far and wide, from Los Angeles to Maine to the tip of Texas.

How do you arrange for an order to be delivered if you’re not creating it yourself?

I contact the floral network provider with specific details about what the client requested — and specifically what they don’t want. An example is a funeral arrangement I recently did in Arizona. The son did not want a typical wreath with gladiolas, mums, and carnations to honor his father. Instead, he requested a creative, elegant floral piece that would make a statement compared with the other bouquets and arrangements delivered to the funeral service.

How did you earn the reputation for being the florist to the stars?

Before I launched my own business in 1983, I worked for a florist in San Francisco whose major account was the Huntington Hotel atop Nob Hill. I received a fan letter from Katharine Hepburn for a floral arrangement I had done for her. That was followed by kudos from Cary Grant, and various other notables, such as Princess Lee Radziwill, James Stewart, Rex Harrison, and Lily Tomlin. When I opened my own shop, Le Meridien hotel in San Francisco hired us immediately, as did Danielle Steele. We subsequently did the homes of Don Johnson, Sharon Stone, and others who will not allow me to name names. I’ve also sent arrangements to President and Mrs. Clinton that were ordered by both Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Nancy Pelosi.

Today, we’re proud to work weekly with Michael Tilson Thomas, music director of the San Francisco Symphony, who sings our praises by saying that “we inspire him.” That’s quite a compliment.

How often do you go to the San Francisco Wholesale Flower Mart?

We typically go three times a week, so that everything we send out of our studio is fresh and will last up to a week or longer. Besides visiting our favorite growers, we look at every nook and cranny to find the most unusual materials for our unique artistic arrangements. The rest is creativity and a desire to make every client feel that they’re the most important person we’ve ever worked with, wherever they may live.

How do you create such unique arrangements?

Every season, we shop for the most unusual and beautiful flowers, branches, vines, and berries, so that we can tailor each design to the tastes of the recipient and use our imaginations to translate it perfectly into a piece of unique floral art. We always accompany each arrangement with a card that lists each ingredient for the finishing, personal touch.

How has your approach to business changed since you closed up shop?

I no longer have to stock an entire store to look fabulous every day. Instead, I have access to the Flower Mart, which is very close and I can go every day if need be. I have streamlined my personnel needs and only hire during the busiest times such as Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.

Do you hope to reopen some day or will you stay “mobile”?

Most people sigh with relief when they move to a studio and don’t have to deal with the public anymore. I’m the opposite. I really miss being part of the community, watching my client’s children grow up and interacting with my fellow shopkeepers. So in a perfect world, I would welcome the opportunity to be a floral shop owner again. Another aspect I miss is showing people the incredible variety of flowers available. I’d say, “Come here, you’ve got to see this” and I’d put their noses in whatever I had that smelled terrific. It was a big part of being a shop owner and I really miss that.

How do you advertise your business?

I advertise on Yelp, which has been excellent for attracting new clients. It’s a place that many people go first for a good referral. Since I have about 20 five-star reviews and 22 photos on my Yelp page, it gives me instant credibility. My Yelp page also links to my website, which has been great for new business, too.

About Gil Zeimer

Gil Zeimer is the Creative Director of Zeimer's Advertising Shoppe. As a consultant with 25 years of advertising and blogging experience, he is a Mad Man who works with businesses large and small. Read his marketing musings at www.zeimer.com.
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