Farmgirl Flowers: A Blooming Startup That Is Disrupting The Flower Industry
It’s coming up roses for Christina Stembel, the 37-year-old Founder of Farmgirl Flowers, so long as the roses are grown in America. Founded in 2010 in San Francisco in Stembel’s dining room, the bouquet delivery service began shipping nationwide last May and business is blooming. Launched with Stembel’s personal savings of $48,000, Farmgirl Flowers is now one of the fastest growing startups in the Bay Area with millions in revenue.
“I always wanted to start a business and do something good in the world,” says Christina Stembel. “I was that person who drives all of their friends and families nuts with having a new business idea every day. The energy in the Bay Area is very startup inspired. Similar to Los Angeles, where everyone has a headshot in their back pocket, here everyone has a business idea in their back pocket.”
Christina Stembel, Founder of Farmgirl Flowers
After mulling over several ideas that were united by their potential to do something positive in the world, Stembel found inspiration at her day job.
“I worked doing event planning for Stanford University for seven years and I saw we were spending a lot of money on decor for events. I started researching the floral industry on Friday nights instead of going out. I was blown away by how big the flower industry was for how little innovation there was in the space. It seemed to have been the same for the past 25 years and the more I researched it, the more problems I found.”
A daily bouquet from Farmgirl Flowers
Stembel began studying the flower industry in 2009 and realized that a large portion of flowers available in America were imported. She found out that even the San Francisco flower market—where she had assumed that everything was local—was selling predominantly imported flowers at the time. As a woman who had grown up on a farm in Northern Indiana, she was curious about plight of American flower farms.
“Everyone was investigating injustices in various industries but there was no consumer awareness about imported flowers,” says Stembel. “When 80% of the flowers sold in the U.S. are imported, it’s easy to see why half of all American flower farmers have gone out of business in the last 25 years. I couldn’t believe it was cheaper to buy imported flowers, even though they were flown in, but I learned workers were paid $6 a day abroad, where American farmers made $104 a day.”
Daily bouquets wrapped in burlap from Farmgirl Flowers
“Beyond the wage issues, the U.S. has much more strict chemical regulations than the countries South America or South Africa where most of the flowers for the American market are grown. 20% of the chemicals the flowers are grown in abroad are known carcinogens that are regulated here but not in the other countries,” says Stembel.
Beyond wage and chemical issues, Stembel found another inefficiency within the floral industry: waste.
“Flower shops have to subsidize the 40% of flowers that are brought into the store and never sold,” says Stembel.Because flower shops don’t know what consumers will want to buy that week, they have to subsidize the wasted flowers that wilt before find.”
Christina Stembel launched her business with the intention of using all American grown flowers, making one daily designer quality arrangement. She figured if people trusted her to use the best available flowers that were grown locally and she designed them in the best way possible, they would produce the least amount of waste.
“I did a focus group to see if people would care about having limited options, and found that 86% of people did not care. I figured if it worked with the burgers at In-and-Out it could work for flowers. It was a big leap to quit my job at Standford and launch Farmgirl with my personal savings of $48,000,” says Stembel.
Farmgirl Flowers has grown from $56,000 in revenue in 2010, to $4.5 million today. Her flowers are available by bike delivery service in San Francisco and Los Angeles, with New York to come in 2016, and nationwide delivery her website. Prices range from $38 for a small 15-stem bouquet to $75 for a large 35-stem bouquet, which is less expensive than comparable arrangements from FTD or ProFlowers.
Despite potential investors who have told her to cut costs by hiring contractors instead of employees, it is Stembel’s mission to create a sustainable business and solid careers for those who work for her.
“Our entire team of 48 people are W-2 employees, not 1099 contractors that have become so prevalent in our new on-demand economy,” says Stembel. “We pay health benefits, workers compensation, and every member at our team from customer service, to the designers who make every bouquet in house, to our own messengers delivering by bike care about our brand and our product. We put heart and soul into everything, and we do not outsource anything we do except for FedEx FDX -0.67%.”
Other flower startups have since bloomed from Bouqs to BloomThat aiming to take a stem of the 30 billion dollar industry, but Stembel believes Farmgirl is a cut above the competition.
I’m not worried about the competitors because you can’t fake quality and I know we are building the company the right way and it shows,” says Stembel. “For a female-centric business that appeals to females it doesn’t make sense that 100% of all the flower startups that have received funding are founded by men. 78% of flowers are bought for women from women.”
A centerpiece from Farmgirl Flowers
“Flowers have two jobs: to look pretty and last a long time,” says Stembel. “Our flowers do that better than most of the other companies that popped up. We have designers do arrangements in house as opposed to at factories that put together the bouquets that are sold in grocery stores. Our bouquet looks very different and each one looks like there has been heart put into it. Because our flowers are local and weren’t on several airplanes since they were cut from the soil they last longer. We are building a reputable brand, and with smart phones you have to send flowers that look perfect in every picture.”
Stembel admits to the challenges facing female entrepreneurs, and believes it’s important for women in business to help each other.
“I have struggled in the past as a solo female founder,” says Stembel. “Trying to raise cash as a female founder really difficult—if not impossible—especially if you have a mission business. I struggled to raise capital but now I’m happy we didn’t raise it at this point.”
A daily bouquet from Farmgirl Flowers
“I have a great network of other female founders,” says Stembel. “We try to help each other and it’s really important we support each other. Women are often perceived to be in competition and it’s unfortunate. It’s hard enough to get ahead as a female founder. At Farmgirl we do a lot of gift boxes with amazing products and I give priority to other female-run companies.”
Stembel feels empowered by the support she’s received from her customers in the past five years.
“When people buy Farmgirl they always come back,” says Stembel. “Our fans on social media are really devout and we care about them. Consumers these days want to feel something. Every picture on our sales page are pictures of bouquets that went out that day. We don’t have professional photographers take pictures on white backgrounds for a shoot.”Stembel plans to continue to grow her operation on a national level online and plans to open a footprint in New York City sometime next year.
“I started at a really great time and spearheaded the local flower movement,” says Stembel. “Now I’m focusing on locking down the supply chain model that will give us a head start against our competitors.”
I cover female Millennial entrepreneurs and luxury lifestyle brands