The inspiration for Flower Muse sprouted when they helped Hsu’s sister select and order her wedding flowers. After receiving exorbitant estimates from local growers and wholesale suppliers, Hsu and Creighton reached out to friends who owned farms and secured the flowers that she envisioned for her wedding. They realized that they could help consumers gain access to the best flowers and create their dream wedding or special event. After all, their mission statement is, “We want to get the best flowers into your hands so that you can enjoy them for as long as possible.”
Mood of Living Q&A
MoL: What makes Flower Muse unique?
FM: In the world of flowers, you’ll find that it is very difficult to be completely unique. You’ll hear other companies spin stories of “volcanic flowers” (note: pretty much all flowers grown in Ecuador can be called this) or “organic flowers” (if you look at the small print, most of the flowers are not actually truly organic). How are we different? We have an honest and customer focused approach. We want to provide some of the best farm direct flowers and do so with truly top notch customer service (something the floral industry is not well-known for).
White Mini-Calla Lily
MoL: What is the advantage of buying farm direct flowers?
FM: Buying farm direct is one of the best ways to get the freshest and hence longest lasting flowers. In the typical floral supply chain, flowers can be as old as 3-4 weeks old since they were cut at the farm before you get them in your hands. With farm direct, the flowers are cut at the farm and sent directly to you.
MoL: How are the flowers picked, stored, processed and shipped?
FM: The process of how flowers are cut and processed varies by farm and flower type. There is very minimal storage time since the flowers are soon shipped out via FedEx. In general, the flowers are cut in the greenhouse and then they travel to a central facility at the farm to be “graded” (sorted by length) and checked for quality. From here, they spend one night in a hydrating solution which prepares them for travel. After this, they are placed in their boxes and sent on their way to the customer.
MoL: What are some of the challenges you encountered after starting your business?
FM: There were two significant challenges right from the start: standing out from the crowd and customer service. With virtually every flower company in the world trumpeting that they have the best and freshest flowers, it can be very difficult to stand out from the crowd. While we certainly don’t have a silver bullet that completely solves this problem, we’ve found that honest and compelling imagery often speaks louder than words given that most customers are very busy and don’t have a tremendous amount of time to make a flower purchasing decision. In addition, being “near obsessive” about customer service has helped us earn a lot of repeat business from customers, as well as referrals. We ended up looking outside the traditional customer service background and hired a team that is largely made up of really talented individuals with a lot of experience working at flower farms. Now, we look for two things when hiring for customer service roles: empathy and intelligence. If someone has those two traits, we’re pretty certain that they will be a great fit.
White Peonies close-up
MoL: As an owner, what is something you know now that you wish you did before?
FM: Never underestimate how important your web development team is to your company’s success when in an e-commerce business. They are as strategically important as almost anything else in your business. Take the time to make sure you have lined up a team, a partner, an agency, etc. that really knows their stuff and that you can work well with. This can save you a tremendous amount of time, money and frustration and can really accelerate your business.
MoL: You claim to work with farms that have “exceptional” practices. What makes your farms exceptional?
FM: Our farmers are passionate about what they do and they strive to be the best. For example, our main rose farm is fair trade certified. They are one of only seven farms in Ecuador to get this certification (for perspective there are hundreds of farms in the country). They understand the importance of environmentally and socially responsible growing. They recently completed construction of a brand new education facility (farm staff voted on using Fair Trade premiums for this), and built a new reservoir for the town near the farm.
Left: Orange Mini-Calla Lily field Right: Orange Ranunculus
MoL: What are the farming practices? What are the environmental and social standards the company adheres to?
FM: Our overriding principle is that in order for us to work with a farm, we have to be comfortable that we would bring flowers from that farm into our own home. There are a number of certifications that our farms hold including labels like Veriflora, Flor Verde, Rainforest Alliance certification, Fair Trade certification, etc. but no certification can replace visiting and knowing the extended family at each farm. We are extremely proud of how dedicated our farms are to improving the lives of everyone who works on them. From free meals and health care to free education and educational scholarships for the children of the team, people come first for our farms. We have a very different relationship with our farm partners than the traditional “buyer and seller” relationship. This can manifest in many ways: everything from working hand-in-hand with the farm to plan what crops go into the ground, to investing with the farm, and to bringing new types of flowers to parts of the world where they have not been grown before. We like to think of our farms as an extension of the Flower Muse family.
Right: Green Garden Rose
MoL: Does the company use pesticides or are the farms organic?
FM: None of our farms are certified organic. We wish it could be different, but there are very few commercial flower farms that are certified organic. The process to get certified organic can be long and costly. Fields have to be pesticide free for several years – time that most farms can’t sacrifice. That said, many of our farms strive to follow greener practices. That includes use of biological pest control – such as using “good” mites to get rid of “bad” mites on roses – or more natural ways to combat diseases (e.g., burning sugar to control fungus – more environmentally friendly than chemicals).
MoL: What is your policy if the flowers arrive in less than perfect condition? How can you have quality control from the farm to the door?
FM: We have a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee so if something arrives less than perfect we certainly make things right. It is important to note that it’s perfectly normal for flowers to look a little tired when they first arrive. They just need some time to hydrate in water so they “wake up” and perk back up. We track deliveries for our customers, and if we see an issue, we contact FedEx proactively to help make sure the box gets to its final destination. We will never tell a customer, “Sorry, that’s beyond our control.” For critical orders, we will find a way to make things right even if the situation really is completely beyond our control.
Purple Eryngium (thistle)
MoL: What are some of the obstacles faced on a daily basis?
FM: Weather related issues: as we all know weather is unpredictable and it impacts the flower delivery business in many ways. The biggest obstacles occur when an extreme weather event grounds flights somewhere along the way. Weather also has a massive impact on flower season length (for those flowers that are not available year round). Our goal is to proactively manage these issues so that the customer has no idea that there was even a potential problem. In the event that we cannot do that, we will reach out with enough notice to make sure that we can make the customer extremely happy with their experience (free upgrades, etc.)
MoL: As a founder, what do you think is the best advice you have ever received, and from whom?
FM: We’ve heard variations of this from two friends who have founded several great companies. Their advice was essentially, “Think about everything you are doing and then ask yourself if what you are doing actually means anything to your customers. Is it providing some value to them? If not, stop doing it and focus on what matters; it’s too easy to get lost in the weeds, so ask yourself this every day to stay on track.”
Orange Mini-Calla Lilies
MoL: What is the future vision for Flower Muse?
FM: We want to see Flower Muse grow, but at a rate where we can continue our high standards of quality and customer care. We are not looking to play in the $40 delivered bouquet market because we don’t honestly believe that anyone can deliver a product that is actually worth the money at that price point. We will focus on our current market and grow our customer base within that market. We don’t want to be one of the biggest flower companies, but we’d certainly love to have our customers think we are the best. We also hope to expand in areas outside of the US where there is an opportunity for an online farm direct floral business.
Flower: Pinkish Orange Roses
MoL: What kind of imprint on the world do you want Flower Muse to leave?
FM: At its most simple, we would like to leave a legacy of smiles and happy customers. Beyond this, we would like to leave people with a feeling that buying flowers is something that is worthwhile and rewarding. There are many wonderful people doing amazing breeding and growing of flowers in the world, and there are hundreds of amazing varieties that consumers in the US simply are not seeing. We also cherish the fact that our flowers are oftentimes a part of a very important day for some of our customers – weddings, anniversaries or even proposals. We feel honored and so privileged that we can help make the day special and memorable for our customers.
Ellie Hsu and Ben Creighton, founders