US (FL): Young floral pros grow and connect in Miami

Affirmations of a career path. Insight into efficient retail operations. An insider view of the floral importing scene. And newfound floral friends.

Those were among the takeaways for the next generation of floral pros who descended on Miami this week for two days of education, networking, and floral-focused experiences that helped them grow, connect with peers and vendors, and find support in their careers.

The Society of American Florists’ second annual Next Gen LIVE! event brought together 180 young retailers, wholesalers, importers, growers, breeders, and manufacturers from 31 states, Ecuador and Canada. Attendees competed in a poolside design competition, gained knowledge that will help them in business and in their personal lives, and soaked in tours of the Miami flower importing scene and progressive retail flower shops.

“It is so important to bring together this generation and provide education and opportunities for them to learn about the industry outside their day-to-day jobs,” says SAF CEO Kate Penn. “They are passionate about the industry — and eager for education and connection — and this event really provided all of that. We saw attendees leave more excited about having a career in the floral industry, which is a real bonus for their businesses and employers.”

Education for Young Leaders
Education sessions focused on communication, customer service, understanding behavior, creating social media content, and how to host floral workshops and utilize artificial intelligence, among other topics.

Being authentic in business was a common theme that emerged in many sessions, from delivering five-star customer service to how the business appears on social media. Sam Bowles, of Allen’s Flowers said that’s a message he’ll take back to the San Diego business he manages.

“Connecting everything we heard, my takeaway is authenticity and telling more of our story,” he said. “Also authenticity in interacting with our customers, and authenticity in dealing with our team and mental health.”

In his presentation on delivering five-star customer service, Bowles emphasized the importance of giving customers an online, phone, and in-store experience that aligns with the business’s brand, as well as how to equip employees with skills to provide customers with the best experience. He also talked about the importance of being transparent with customers, a message that was also emphasized in a presentation by Corrine Heck, PFCI, of Details Flowers Software, and Adam Havrilla, AAF, AIFD, ICPF, PFCI, of Artistic Blooms in Chicago.

Heck and Havrilla discussed best practices for communicating with employees, coworkers, managers, customers, and vendors. Their tips: Set expectations. Find effective channels to communicate. Don’t be afraid to apologize.

“Foster a relationship of open communication,” Havrilla said. “Life is too short to work for a company where you don’t feel respected.”

Floral Focused Tours
The event’s location in Miami, through which 90 percent of the country’s cut flowers are imported, offered a rich opportunity to give attendees a first-hand look at what happens to flowers after they land on the tarmac at the Miami International Airport. Attendees toured JA Flower Services, where boxes of flowers are unloaded from planes and inspected by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents before being released to logistic companies such as Armellini Logistics and 7000 Logistics, which attendees also visited.

Attendees also had the option to tour three progressive floral operations in the Miami area: South Florals, a luxury retail florist; Tria’s Flowers and Gifts, a high-volume retail florist; and Petal Productions, a large event florist.

Those behind-the-scenes tours helped florists see how they might be more efficient in their shops and also gave floral pros from other sectors a better idea of what happens in the backroom of a shop. That was the case for Kerry Allen, a developer for the tech company GotFlowers?, who had never been in the backroom of a flower shop before the tour.

“We are always trying to figure out how we can make the workflow for the florist faster, more efficient, easier, more accurate,” he said as he watched designers assemble arrangements at Tria’s Flowers and Gifts. “It’s really cool to be able to see exactly what they are doing. This is an invaluable insight into what’s happening with our clients.”

Finding Support Through Community
Tracy Parke of House of Flora Flower Market in Hartford, Connecticut, came to Miami questioning whether she wanted to stay in the industry and take over her family’s retail business. She found her answer on the first day of the event.

“I found my people—I finally found my people,” she said as her peers mingled poolside and watched the design competition. “I am not in the sheltered four walls of my dad’s flower shop anymore. I’m in a huge world of flower people and a flower family. It really is a flower family.”

Danae McKenna of Radebaugh Florist and Greenhouses in Towson, Maryland, also felt welcomed.

“All of the sessions were absolutely incredible, but I think the thing that changed me the most was being around so many like-minded individuals,” she said. “Especially people so close to my age. To be around all of those people that can share their experiences and give me advice on how they handled things was just incredible.

“I’m leaving with friends I’ll have for the rest of my life,” she said. “Nothing compares to this. Nothing.”

What’s Next?
What’s next for Next Gen? Another Next Gen LIVE! is planned for February 2024, after Valentine’s Day, in San Diego, in close proximity to a key flower-growing region which attendees will visit. In the meantime, young floral pros can stay connected via SAF’s Next Gen Facebook group, through monthly virtual happy hours, and a book club that meets quarterly. The next happy hour is Wednesday, June 22, at 7:30 p.m.

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