Secrets of Starting a Very Profitable Flower Vending Operation

8/9/2013

Selling flowers at strategic locations has become a highly profitable retail business for many enterprising individuals. These entrepreneurs are taking advantage of a market that is, for the most part, impulsive in nature. Many people buy flowers on the spur of the moment, and the presence of a flower vendor is usually their inspiration.

Often, men on their way to a date will see a roadside flower vendor, and suddenly find the idea of taking flowers with him quite appealing. The same holds true for many men heading home from work. If they're married, these men will often purchase flowers from roadside vendors for their wives. The flowers are attractive, not as expensive as an arrangement from a florist, and the buyer doesn't even have to get out of his car.

Women are also potential customers for flower vendors. A woman will buy flowers to add color and decoration to her house or apartment, or sometimes, just to cheer up a friend. In any case, the purchase is usually made on impulse, brought about by the availability of a flower vendor.

Starting a flower vending business is not difficult. No previous experience is necessary. There's only a minimal initial investment required, and you won't need a lot of equipment. What you will need is an adequate supply of fresh, attractive flowers, a good location for selling, and a cheerful disposition. After all, you will be dealing directly with people, so a good disposition is a necessity.

You can begin as a home-based operation with an investment of as little as $300. If you live close enough to the market you want to reach, your own garage can serve as storage space as well as your preparation area. Your operating expenses will be minimal, and you'll have the opportunity to realize a high margin of profits.

Depending on the size of your investment (both time and money) and the size of your trade area, a flower vending business could net anywhere from $10,000 to $75,000 per year. It can be an extremely high profit business, if you choose your selling locations wisely, and offer only fresh, attractive flowers.

Business Overview

Successful operation of any small business depends on several key factors. Perhaps the most important is the ability to be a good business manager. Although no experience is necessary to start-up a flower vending business, some small business management training could give you the edge needed to insure success. Most community colleges offer night school courses in small business management and, if you are unsure about your business knowledge and/or management skills, enrollment in such a course would be a good idea.

Here are other basic steps involved in the successful operation of a flower vending business:

  1. Know your market. Proper knowledge of your market will enable you to set-up at the best locations. You'll need to know the high-traffic areas as well as the time of day traffic is at its peak in order to take advantage of a roadside operation. You'll also need to investigate other potential locations such as restaurants, malls, local festivals and flea markets.

  2. Obtain a dependable source for fresh flowers. Your business depends on the quality of your merchandise. And since you are selling flowers, they must be fresh and attractive. You should locate a quality wholesaler and establish a sound working relationship. You should also have some knowledge of the types of flowers people are most likely to purchase from a vendor.

  3. Establish a workable preparation area. Ideally, your preparation area should be centrally located within your sales territory. The space needed should be adequate for storing flowers and materials used for the preparation of bouquets, as well as for the preparation itself.

  4. Hire the right help. Unless you plan a one person operation you'll need to hire some dependable helpers. The people you hire should be outgoing and trustworthy with the ability to deal with customers in a professional and courteous manner. If your flower vending business is to be successful and highly profitable, you'll probably need to have other people helping you. One example is a successful flower vendor in Washington State who employs young people, pays them minimum wages, and enjoys a brisk business at several key locations.

  5. Advertise and promote your business. Effective advertising and promotion can help generate sales and profits. Knowing how to advertise and promote your business, especially in the beginning, is a key step in the success of any business operation.

All of these steps can be taken with a relatively small initial investment, and your flower vending business can be in operation, and realizing a profit, in just a few weeks. However, prospective entrepreneurs should also be aware of, and comply with, any rules and regulations that apply to this particular business in their area.

Depending on the location(s) of your flower vending business, you may need a license to operate. If you plan to set- up a flower vending stand on a city street, or any roadside operation within city limits, you'll most likely need to get a permit. The best thing to do is consult a trusted attorney, or contact the business-license department in the city your market covers to find out what licensing requirements you must meet.

If you plan to sell flowers in restaurants and nightclubs, it is usually not necessary to have a license. Also, if your roadside operations fall outside the city limits, you probably won't need a license because most counties don't issue them. Again, you should check with your attorney, or the proper licensing authorities in your area before you start selling flowers.

Another consideration for a new business owner and employer is taxes. As an operator of a business you will be responsible for collecting and sending in various state and federal taxes, as well as certain taxes you will have to pay yourself. If you are not familiar with your tax responsibilities as a business owner, consult a qualified accountant or contact your local IRS office to get the information you need.

You should also consult with an accountant as to the type and arrangement of bookkeeping and record keeping best suited for your flower vending business. Records of your business operations are, of course, helpful in the successful management of the business.

These records need to be as accurate and permanent as possible in order to ascertain any tax liabilities. They should include business income, deductions, credits, and any employee information. As well as any other information required by federal, state and local regulations.

Equipment and Inventory

Since a flower vending business does not require an abundance of sophisticated equipment, start-up costs can be kept to a minimum. The basic equipment necessary should not cost more than $200 and can usually be found at a wholesale florist supply house. You can also get your supplies and equipment from several firms that cater to florists. You should be able to find a complete directory of such firms at your local library. You can also contact several florists (not necessarily in your market) and obtain this information.

For the preparation of your flowers and floral arrangements, you'll need stem cutters and a supply of cellophane or florist's tissue. You will also need several plastic buckets to keep the flowers in water and fresh while being transported as well as on your selling sites.

To prepare the flowers for selling, you will need a preparation area. This area should be cool and shady to help keep your flowers as fresh as possible. As mentioned earlier, a location central to your area of sales is most desirable. If your own garage fits that description, you won't have the added expense of renting space.

Your preparation area will require several storage containers and a table. Some refrigerated coolers may be necessary, but since most flower vending businesses pick up their flowers on a daily basis, and sell them as quickly as possible, that sort of storage requirement should not be excessive. However, during the summer and winter months, you may need an air-conditioner and portable heater to keep your flowers in salable condition. If you don't already have these items, you can count them as a business expense and they are tax deductible.

Your inventory will consist of flowers. You can purchase these from wholesalers found in most major cities. You can find these suppliers by looking in the Yellow Pages of your area's metropolitan phone directory. Look under "Florists, Wholesale."

Since you will probably have some flowers left over after each day's sales, it is essential that your inventory be fresh when purchased from the wholesaler. You can check the freshness of your flowers by examining the heads of roses to see if they are tight to your touch. Also, if the blossom appears purple around the edges, the flower is probably too old. When buying carnations, look to see if they are firm and heavy-stemmed. If carnations are somewhat discolored, don't buy them, because they probably aren't fresh.

The largest part of your inventory will most likely be roses. Roses are the most desired flower, and they are expensive. Prices will vary with the season and area of purchase.

Carnations will also make up a substantial portion of your inventory. These flowers, while very attractive and popular, are much less expensive than roses.

Other flowers you may want to add to your inventory are gardenias, tulips, daffodils, and orchids. Some of these flowers are expensive and usually appeal to an older set of customers, so don't go overboard when dealing with your supplier. Roses and carnations will be your best sellers.

Your best sales months will be during the holidays so you will have to make sure you have an adequate supply of flowers. You'll also want to have a supply of appropriate flowers to match the specific holiday, lilies for Easter, poinsettias for Christmas and so on.

Choosing a Location

Once you have a marketable inventory, you will need to set- up in a good location. If you choose the wrong location your business will not be successful. For flower vending, the two best selling locations are restaurants and roadsides/street corners.

Restaurants are good selling locations if they attract large lunch and dinner crowds. Especially good restaurant locations are those with specific themes. French, Italian and Mexican restaurants are usually profitable locations for flower vendors. You'll also find successful flower vendors in upscale lounges and taverns.

In general, restaurants and lounges with a quiet and romantic ambience, are usually conducive to flower vending. Many restaurants are attracted to the idea of flower vending at their places of business because it offers an extra "romantic" touch to their service. Usually, the management of a restaurant will charge the flower vendor only a nominal fee. In some cases, the fee may simply be a few flowers to arrange and display throughout the restaurant.

For street-selling locations, freeway exits and stoplights on main streets are preferred. These areas represent the highest amount of traffic therefore, the largest number of potential customers. Ideally, your locations should be along streets, highways and exits that feature a great deal of late afternoon and/or early evening rush hour traffic. These conditions are ideal if you can find an area where the traffic must come to a stop, or at least has to slow down. Your location must be plainly visible so that oncoming drivers will be able to see you in enough time to get out of traffic and pull off the road.

It is important that you stay away from roadside locations that could limit the ability, or desire, of your customers to reach you. Never set-up at dangerous intersections, along steep hills and other areas that could be hazardous. You could lose a lot of business if potential customers don't stop because they fear getting struck by other traffic.

When selling on city streets the most desirable locations are those that take advantage of both automobile traffic and pedestrians. You should try to find a spot in an area of heavy pedestrian traffic as well as vehicle traffic. Business will usually be better when people are on their way home. If you know which side of the street is the "going-home" side, that's where you should set-up.

Operating a flower vending business allows you more flexibility than many other businesses have. You won't have to stay in one location, if it proves unprofitable. You can move around as often as it takes to find the locations that afford you the most success.

You may have to experiment in the beginning. Simply keep a record of the number of flowers sold at each location and the number of hours at each spot. From these records you'll be able to determine the most satisfactory locations for your business. You will also have a better idea as to the actual inventory you need so you can cut down on the amount of excess that results in spoilage.

Hiring Personnel

In order to be successful in the flower vending business, it may be necessary to hire help. If that's the case, not just anybody will do. As the owner/manager of the business you will have to hire people who are right for the job of selling flowers. Although this may seem difficult, there are some guidelines that many flower vending businesses follow quite successfully.

Students and people seeking part-time jobs are the most likely candidates for employment in the flower vending business. Your interviews with such prospective help should be designed to ascertain if they are trustworthy and dependable. You also need salespeople who are outgoing, enjoy interacting with other people, and who are well-motivated.

In most cases, if you are selling flowers in restaurants, attractive young women are the best salespeople. Usually these women are dressed in a costume that serves to identify your business. The most basic sort of identifying costume, or dress, would be a white blouse and dark skirt. As the business "blossoms" you may want to invest in more elaborate costumes depending on the image you want for your business as well as the particular restaurant theme.

Usually, an employer can find adequate part-time help simply by placing a catchy ad in the help-wanted section of the classifieds of the local newspaper. The ad should allude to making "good money" for "enjoyable" part-time work. Response to the ad should be such that you can be selective in hiring the help you need. You should also get excellent response with an ad in college newspapers. And you can try placing the ads on school bulletin boards to elicit even more response.

Once you begin interviewing prospective employees, it is imperative that you have them fill out an application form and supply you with at least three references. And don't just read the references -- check them out. You should know as much as you can about your help before you hire them.

Once hired, make sure all employees know exactly what their duties and responsibilities are, as well as their salaries. You should also plan to review each employee's performance on a regular basis. These reviews, or evaluations, should be shared with your employees so they will know how they are doing and how they can improve, if warranted.

Day-to-Day Operations

Operating a flower vending business does not require hours of strenuous physical labor. However, that does not mean flower vendors lead a life of leisure. With any business there are demands that require time and effort. The flower vending business is no exception. You and/or your employees will need to be well organized from the time of preparation until the day's selling is done.

Preparing flowers for sale is an essential part of a flower vendor's work day. In order to be salable, your flowers must appear fresh and colorful. Also, every bouquet you plan to sell must be arranged in an appealing fashion. Therefore, you should allow enough time for preparation so that the job is done right. But, don't overdo it. If you spend too much time on flower preparation, you could be cutting into valuable selling time.

The actual preparation phase should take as little time as possible without sacrificing quality of work. To be as efficient as possible with your preparation time you should organize the process. You can do this in a step-by-step manner.

First of all, you should plan to remove many of the thorns from each rose stem. About half of the thorns, beginning at the bottom of each stem, should be removed. Then, you will need to clip a small portion from the bottom of each stem. This will allow the flowers to absorb water and retain their freshness and color. You can do the clipping with a sharpened knife.

Once you have de-thorned and clipped your roses, you will need to place them in relatively warm water. The water temperature should be about 105 degrees. You can leave them in the water for up to two hours and they will be refreshed and colorful when you are ready for the day's vending. All your other flowers must also be properly cared for and prepared so that your entire inventory is appealing to your customers.

Your preparation process should not involve much "decoration." People buying single flowers usually won't expect frills such as ribbons or bows. However, you should have such adornments on hand at your selling location in case some customers request them. It's also a good idea to supply your sales team with pins, if corsages and/or short-stemmed flowers are part of your inventory.

Any bouquets you sell should be wrapped in tissue or green cellophane. Not only do the flowers keep better wrapped, they also appear more attractive and are more appealing as gifts. Unwrapped bouquets do not have a particularly neat appearance, and they probably won't stay fresh and colorful as long as they would if wrapped.

How much time should all this preparation take? Well, most successful flower vending businesses spend no more than two to three hours a day buying and preparing flowers. It will probably take a new business a couple of months to become organized and experienced enough to cut buying and preparation time down to two hours per day. That will happen once you learn how to utilize the early morning hours, after the flowers have been purchased from the wholesaler, for preparation of the flowers and organizing your salespeople.

The best times to sell depends on location. Street corner and roadside vending hours are most successful during the late afternoon and early evening hours when most workers are heading home. Most people are more apt to take the time to make such a purchase as flowers on their way from work than they are on their way to work. Weekends have also proven very successful for many flower vending businesses that operate all day on Saturdays and Sundays.

If you are selling in restaurants, the most profitable time will be during dinner hours. In some cases, lunch crowds will buy flowers, but usually the evening diners will be your best customers in a restaurant. Your salespeople should plan on up to three seatings of diners each evening in a popular restaurant.

Between seatings, your salespeople can canvass the immediate neighborhood for other potential customers, and then return for the next seating at the restaurant. This type of selling will take some practice and experience, but a good salesperson will soon learn how to make the most of his time and inventory.

It is important that you and your sales team be as poised and as professional as possible when selling at any location, especially in restaurants. In restaurants, a low-key approach is much better than an extremely aggressive sales pitch. Be polite and friendly, and utilize flattery as an effective tool. Approach the man in a couple and in a casual and friendly manner ask if he would like to compliment his lady companion with a beautiful flower. Most men will then buy a rose for their dining companions.

Advertising

A flower vending business is unlike many small and part-time businesses in that the usual forms of advertising -- newspaper, radio, TV, and so on -- are not really effective. Since your selling locations may change from time to time, and since buying flowers from a flower vendor is usually done on impulse, you'll need a more immediate form of advertising. It should be something that draws attention to your business as your customers approach your selling location.

For street corner and roadside vending, signs are the best form of advertising. All that's needed is something to let potential customers know you are there, and that you are selling flowers. Seeing your sign, many people will act on impulse and stop to see what you have to offer.

The sign(s) should be hand-made rather than professionally painted. You don't want to appear like a big business. And a hand-made sign will give the impression of a small, family-type operation which usually means more reasonable prices.

In some cases, a new business can get publicity from a local newspaper. If you are selling flowers at a restaurant, you can try getting such publicity by alerting the local newspaper. Most local newspapers use information of this sort as fill, and it could prove valuable to your business.

If, as part of a special promotion -- a grand opening, or a special day such as Valentine's Day -- you will be selling flowers at a business location, send the information to the editor of your local newspaper. You may also want to include a picture of you and/or your sales people. The paper may not decide to run the story, but there's a good chance they will. Either way, you have nothing to lose, and a bit of publicity to gain.

Success Analysis

Eight contributing factors are measured on a 1 to 10 basis (with 10 being excellent) based on analysis of this opportunity.

1. Time Investment                     7
2. Start-up Costs                      9
3. Gross Income Potential              8
4. Net Income Potential                8
5. Income in Relation to Investment    10
6. Stability                           8
7. Overall Risk                        9
8. Potential for Growth                10

Overall Potential for Success          8.63

Potential Earnings

The profit you can realize from a flower vending business depends on several factors:

  1. The size of your market. Obviously larger metropolitan areas supply the greatest source of potential customers, therefore profits. However, your expenses in these larger markets will probably be greater, because of larger inventory needed and a bigger sales team to cover the market adequately.

  2. Good selling locations. Even if your market has a large selection of potential customers your profits will be, at best, minimal if you are not selling in the best locations to take advantage of impulse buying. You have something that practically everyone likes, flowers. But most everyone who buys flowers from a vendor does so on impulse. To be successful, a flower vending business must locate in areas of high-traffic, increasing the possibility of impulse buying.

  3. Consistently marketable inventory. If you try to sell flowers that are too old, wilted and faded, don't expect to do much business. Make sure your entire inventory is always flower- garden fresh and attractive. Also, price your flowers at reasonable rates. That way, both you and your customers will be happy.

  4. A professional sales approach. Whether you are running a one-person flower business, with yourself as the only salesperson or have several salespeople, a friendly, low-key sales approach is essential. After all, you are selling flowers, not used cars. Most people who buy flowers from a vendor are buying them for a special person, and a friendly, non-aggressive salesperson has a good chance of making a sale.

  5. The size of your investment. This does not just apply to the amount of money you invest in the business. Your investment also includes the time and effort you expend on making it a success. As a weekend business, or operating on a daily basis, a flower vending business will require a certain amount of your time and effort above and beyond your monetary investment. The amount of success and profits you can realize depends, in large part, on how much you are willing to put into the business.

Some flower vending businesses have reported netting as much as $75,000 a year. That kind of income usually requires a sales team of half-a-dozen or more people working in a large metropolitan area. Smaller markets should expect a net profit of $10,000 to $20,000 per year.

The thing to keep in mind is that there is always a large market for a flower vending business because flowers make personal gifts year-round. Obviously, some months featuring special days such as Valentine's Day, Easter and Christmas will be better than others, but this is not a seasonal business. You should be able to realize a healthy profit every month.

Your initial investment can be as low as $300, or as much as $1,500, depending on what you can afford and the size of your operation. It will most likely take several months until you get adequately organized, and until you discover all the best selling locations. But within a year you should be realizing a nice profit with an efficiently operated flower vending business.

Summary

A flower vending business is one of the best small businesses you can get into, if you are short on investment capital. Very little equipment is needed. You can use your own garage or utility room as a preparation area and for storage. And you can sell your inventory on location, from the back of your own car, van or pickup. You may want to invest in a business management course, if you are uncertain about your management knowledge. But no practical experience is necessary to get into this business.

The biggest expenses will be in inventory, which a good month's sales will recover, any extra personnel you decide to hire, and in any licensing fees you encounter. Advertising costs for a flower vending business are extremely low.

Since flowers have universal appeal, there will always be a sizable market for a flower vending business. If you operate professionally, offering fresh, appealing flowers, establish a good business relationship with dependable wholesalers, find the best selling locations, and hire dependable, competent help, there's every reason to be confident that a flower vending business can be highly profitable.

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