TRACKING FLORAL FUTURES
2019 Slow Flowers’ Floral Insights and Industry Forecast
By Debra Prinzing
The floral professional’s role is to connect consumers with the natural world through artistry and design. So it’s no surprise that the emerging themes of this year’s Slow Flowers Floral Insights and Industry Forecast include ideas that strengthen community ties with values-driven consumers and nurture entrepreneurial innovation in horticulture and floriculture.
Here is the annual Slow Flowers report on leading topics influencing the domestic floral marketplace, including cultural shifts and a convergence of collective ideas and attitudes. In recent months, I’ve shared many of these ideas at Hitomi Gilliam’s Trend Summit 2019, the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers’ annual conference and the Southern Flower Symposium. If you’re an “early adopter,” these concepts may resonate or reinforce your current approach to sustainable design.
For each of the past five years, I have drawn from a number of sources to develop this annual forecast. Sources include hundreds of first-person interviews for print and digital stories, input from the Slow Flowers Community, past guests of the Slow Flowers Podcast and the attitudes of progressive leaders in the floral marketplace — farmers, florists and design creatives — who together inspire this “floral futures” report.
I hope you find these forward-thinking resources important and valuable. I’d love to hear your feedback and suggestions. You can find an expanded version of this report, including a free PDF, at Slowflowersjournal.com.
#1 Experiences, Not Conveniences.
In a retail climate where Amazon is king, those who engage floral consumers in authentic, tactile, visceral experiences will break through the click-and-buy mindset. Customers who connect with you, your story, your flowers and the origin of those flowers are the foundation of a loyal tribe.
And while efforts and actions that strengthen our ties with customers isn’t an entirely new concept, it is one you must habitually practice, especially in today’s cluttered and distracting marketplace. Events, tours, workshops and other experiential programming are critical — and much more powerful than touching customers through social media channels alone.
[Example: Fall Fling, annual event at My Garden Overfloweth, Paterson, WA]
#2 Artisan, Not Mass-Produced.
When you embrace this artisan ethos, the conversation moves away from flowers as a price-sensitive commodity to flowers with high, value-added perception. As botanical ingredients migrate further into the worlds of fashion and couture (yes, Beyoncé and her floral headpiece appearing on the cover of last September’s Vogue comes to mind), they are quickly becoming objects of desire in a new way. The explosion of floral wearables, floral couture and jewelry alike, ignites the imaginations of your clients. Handcrafted products, as well as botanical collections, will differentiate you and your brand.
[Example: Mum collection + Whidbey Flower Workshop]
#3 Floral Expressions, Not Floral Arrangements.
Credit for this phrase goes to Tomas DeBruyn, who uttered it during his presentation at the 2018 American Institute of Floral Designers’ Symposium. It truly resonated with me as I sought to infuse more relevance into what is so often the day-to-day, production-based floral design.
Enticing the senses, setting a mood, emphasizing place and season — these enhance our everyday relationship with floral design and perhaps, if you tap deep into the inner artist, you will communicate a message through your centerpiece or hand-tied bouquet.
Tapping into the inner artist, uncommon ingredients, geographic uniqueness and botanical curiosities lend that unexpected garnish to arrangements, allowing a centerpiece or hand-tied bouquet to represent so much more than stem-count or price.
[Persephone Floral bouquets]
#4 Environmental, Not Synthetic.
Natural, tactile and organic are terms that emerge in this concept, one that returns us quite literally to the roots of this profession. Expressing our earthy ties requires peeling back the veil and revealing how plants grow, an unfiltered “behind the scenes” approach to our work. Tap into that curiosity and give your customers access to the process. Revealing root balls, seedlings, bulbs and tubers as part of the finished design is one easy way to underscore the ties to farmland and agriculture. Wild or cultivated, nature at all stages fascinates — and providing access to unique sources .
[Isabella Thorndike Church, American Flowers Week] Julie Ashley Photography
#5 Vertical, Not Compartmentalized.
More florists are becoming their own source for everything from cut flowers to value-added products (vases, accessories, linens, tools) as a way to capture more profits and reclaim revenue. The opportunity to “sell to yourself,” has fueled the farmer-florist model, and increasingly, conventional florists are planting seeds for affordable luxury — flowers to grow and harvest for their own channels.
There are innovative crossover and collaborative opportunities, as well, such as April Lemly’s Kamama Flowers, which has co-located with Peninsula Taproom, in Sequim, Wash., two businesses with a shared marketplace. Using #flowersandbeer to reach a crossover demographic base makes this strategy a natural, while also reducing overhead for two retail storefronts.
#6 Relational, Not Transactional.
I keep returning to the oft-quoted Seth Godin saying, “People do not buy goods and services. They buy relations, stories and magic.”
In today’s transactional climate, florists who can find authentic and relevant ways to engage with customers while also doing business are well positioned to ride out downturns or more competition in their marketplace.
Meaningful connections (back to experiences over conveniences) have inspired a number of florists to bring their clients close. Mary Kate Kinnane of The Local Bouquet, a wedding and event designer, hosts DIY floral design workshops that go well beyond a hands-on-making session. Her “Meet the Farmer” series creates opportunities for customers to tour and learn from The Local bouquet’s regular vendors while deepening ties with Mary Kate.
[image from Mary Kate]
#7 Planted, Not Faux.
In prior years, our Slow Flowers Floral Insights have identified Cultivated Wildflowers, Flowering Native Plants, Modern Everlastings, Luxe Tropicals and the Woodland as new or revitalized floral styles worth noting. For 2019, there’s no denying that it’s the “Year of the Houseplant.”
I recently devoted several pages of the Slow Flowers Journal to the creative ways retail florists have leveraged the current plant craze for their companies. For those who yearn to keep it local, sourcing plants is a mostly domestic practice, reinforcing the brand message they’re already communicating with local and seasonal cut flowers.
The power of plants extends further, with corporate greening services, planting workshops and education, as well as a broader design palette for traditionally flower-centric weddings and events. When you emphasize horticulture-based goods and services, you tap into the yearnings of a new customer base, be it houseplant aficionados or those wanting to deepen their agricultural roots.
[baylor chapman image]
#8 Transparent, Not Obscured.
There are two different but equally relevant themes reflected by the idea of transparent versus obscured. The first relates to many of the items in this report, the idea of being authentic, aka transparent, in how one’s brand is presented to the marketplace. Transparency in our business and sourcing practices is more important than ever. This means aligning images, content, partnerships and practices with the brand values we want to represent.
There is another idea of transparency that has emerged and captured my attention, and that is an aesthetic one. The open, airy look continues and negative space is gaining even more prominence among progressive designers. It’s not a replacement for the “more is more” concept of abundance, but it is an approach that puts heightened attention on each flower, be it a focal or an accent bloom, and one that allows stems to emerge above and beyond the dense center of gravity of a bouquet or centerpiece. Transparent design seems to defy gravity, in fact. I’ve been drawn to this approach by witnessing the alluring approach of a number of designers recently.
#9 Multi-seasonal, Not Single-Use.
Extending the season is a popular concept in flower farming, and now savvy florists are reimagining fresh annuals as dried everlastings, or flowers that have an afterlife as seed heads once petals have dropped.
Further, when ingredients can serve multiple uses — equally valued for the bloom, foliage, bark and pod, they become valuable design elements.
The inspiration here is having an appreciation for all phases of a perennial, shrub or tree. Celebrating the seasonal cycles is yet another way to connect customers with nature while also shifting the idea of beauty away from a flawless hothouse flower and towards nature’s imperfection.
[Charles Little & Co; TCFlower Exchange]
#10 Community, Not Solitary.
We’ve seen the phrase “community over competition,” and I, for one, believe that is the only way to differentiate ourselves in the noisy global marketplace where authentic connections are rare.
We’re seeing Maker Collectives where florists and growers merchandise flowers and arrangements alongside specialty food or art venues. We’re amazed at the proliferation of wholesale hubs where flower farmers connect directly with floral designers. Co-working spaces, the sharing of infrastructure and equipment between flower farmers, collaborative floral installations for public good . . . these actions are taking place more often than ever before as intentional and meaningful ways to create community and foster a sense that we are part of something bigger than commerce. Rather, a mission to change our own marketplace for better results.
There’s more! Visit Slowflowersjournal.com to download a PDF of this report and to read our two bonus insights for 2019.