How to be a Successful, Sustainable Florist – Episode 10: Flower Shop Secrets

How can you run your floral business with a focus on environmental sustainability?

Steph Romanowicz from Foraged Floral of Cape Cod knows all about being a successful, sustainable florist. In this episode, we talk about designing with environmentally friendly materials, the world of foraging and how everyday nature that surrounds us can be used to create unique arrangements. Check it out on the latest episode of Flower Shop Secrets. 

Quick Summary

Key Takeaways

  • Foraging and Sustainable Floral Practices
  • Advice for Building a Brand
  • Why Customers Should Shop Local

More About Our Guest

Though foraging requires careful attention and staff training to identify what natural surrounding greenery is suitable and safe for orders, it is also a helpful practice to turn to in a pinch – like, when you run out of purchased product, you can turn to your parking lot or neighbors’ backyard to create beautiful, unique arrangements.

On top of creating one-of-a-kind foraged designs and supplementing materials for sustainability, Steph also shares her advice on how to build a strong brand and serve customers within her Cape Cod community, stressing that she’ll do just about anything for her clients.

Steph is a huge supporter of The Floral Reserve, a great resource for any florist nationwide looking to import the best quality locally grown flowers while supporting small flower farms in the Northeast. 

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Full Episode Transcript

What’s up everybody? This is Joe Vega, and welcome to another Flower Shop Secrets podcast and today, I’ll be speaking with Steph Romanowicz from Foraged Floral of Cape Cod on how to be a sustainable florist. Let’s do it…

Joe Vega  0:00  

What’s up everybody? This is Joe Vega, and welcome to another Flower Shop Secrets podcast and today, I’ll be speaking with Steph Romanowicz from Foraged Floral of Cape Cod on how to be a sustainable florist. Let’s do it. 


So the big question is this. How can small business owners like us in the flow industry overcome the greed of order gatherers and bypass the deceitful games played by wire services? How do we market, sell and deliver flowers online? So we may break free from these antiquated practices and earn our freedom? Those are some of the questions we will answer on this podcast. I’m Joe Vega. Welcome to flowershop secrets. Hey, Steph, good to have you.

Steph Romanowicz  0:50  

Hi, Joe. How are you?

Joe Vega  0:51  

I’m doing well. Thank you. Welcome to the show. Just to get up front right away, how much revenue does your shop produce?

Steph Romanowicz   0:59  

On a typical year, this year?

Joe Vega  1:01  

A typical year,

Steph Romanowicz   1:03  

a typical year we revenue about 120,000 a year.

Joe Vega  1:07  


Steph Romanowicz   1:08  

We made the transition in January to drop all the wire services and just focus on our business.

Joe Vega 1:16  

That’s great. So you’re wire service free? Yes. That’s awesome. And how does that feel?

Steph Romanowicz   1:22  

It feels great. We get orders from the wire that would be like a week old and then send them to another shop. And we ended up taking them not knowing how old the order was going to deliver to the person for their birthday. And their birthday was two weeks ago. And they’re pissed. They don’t want those flowers.

Joe Vega  1:42  

Wow. Being being a late one day late. Is is bad being 14 days late. That’s right. That’s unheard of.

Steph Romanowicz   1:51  

We used to shut our wire off after the holidays because we would get Mother’s Day waters till the end of May. And we would just be like, on the card. Happy Mother’s Day. Pick that order. I know I’m gonna upset someone.

Joe Vega  2:05  

Yeah, yeah. And you don’t want to be put in that position right now. The end of the day. Unfortunately, you carry that burden, right? Even though you’re not the one it’s not your fault. You know, you you’re not two weeks late, somebody else’s two weeks late.

Steph Romanowicz   2:19  

Last, not last Valentine’s Day, but the one prior, someone sent my mother in law flowers from an order Catherine.

Joe Vega  2:27  


Steph Romanowicz   2:29  

I was just blown away, because it was someone that we had a contract with, for that territory. And it was my own mother in law. And they were putting on her table, they were sent FedEx. And I was just like, my heart went out the window. Because we were spending hundreds of dollars a month on advertising to own specific zip codes. And they were taking our advertising dollars and fedexing people flowers, and I just that was it for me. That was when I made the decision that we were going to figure out how to get off the wires. Because what they did was like a double edged sword. They were taking her vertising and promising us all these orders and then

Joe Vega  3:16  

shipping them themselves. Why should consumers not want to receive flowers in a box from from a wire service? So in order to gather, like, what are the drawbacks? What do you what can we how would you if we had a bunch of customers in front of us? What can we tell them in order to persuade them to you know, besides the fact that you should shop local, you support your local community? But like in terms of the product itself? Why would why would we want them to you know, order from a local florist.

Steph Romanowicz  3:46  

It’s that same customer service angle, um, you know, if there’s a problem with my order, I stand behind it, and I’m right here, I’m your town, um, you know, a moment away for you to resolve it. Whereas if you call another company who doesn’t own any flowers, there’s nothing they’re going to do about it. And being on the receiving end of oopsie flowers, um, you know, they would send us hundreds of orders for oopsy flowers that they messed up, they sent the wrong color, you know, they sent the wrong size, whatever the issue was been delivered oopsy flower, that kind of that that service only has the option of giving them their money back. I have the opportunity to show you that even if there is a mistake. I’m here and I’m accountable. And I’m happy. I’m happy to fix it and I want the opportunity to work with you to show like I have a customer this week hated the color flowers. I want you to come in and I want to make something that you love. And not just that but I want to build a relationship with you because I missed this time. I don’t want to miss again, because I’m here forever and they whoever’s on the phone Whatever website is there for a couple weeks, and then whoever’s next in line to take their their role,

Joe Vega  5:07  

right. And that customer come in. 

Steph Romanowicz  5:17  

No. But you know what, just just me affected you offer that was I’m pretty sure always.

Yeah, I mean, I want to make something beautiful. I’m not here to make you something you don’t like, if the colors are wrong, you know, let’s get something that you do love.

Joe Vega  5:25  

Yeah, absolutely. So just tell me a little bit by yourself. How did you get started in the floral industry?

Steph Romanowicz  5:30  

Um, I have been in event design for about 10 years. Okay, I started shadowing a florist, um, eight years ago. And she groomed me starting with delivering flowers. And from there, I picked up from some of the best florist in our area, their tips and tricks and shadowed them until my mom decided to open Foraged Floral.

Joe Vega  5:56  

That’s fantastic. So you went event floors first. And in terms of like, how does that compare to being an everyday florist?

Steph Romanowicz  6:05  

I think that the diversity of skills definitely helps when you have situations that don’t fit in a vase. Okay, if you have a bigger client order, we had a lot of elopement requests this year, which our shop never got before. So having the tools on hand that a daily floral designer may or may not have the skill, the capacity to deliver. And it’s just a whole different beast. delivering a huge event requires the right tools and equipment which we have. And delivering daily flowers is a whole different set of tools and delivering material. And, you know, daily work.

Joe Vega  6:49  

So what do you enjoy about floral design as a whole? What’s your favorite part?

Steph Romanowicz  6:53  

I love connecting with the customers. I love their faces when you give them something beautiful. Yeah, I’m hearing their stories about why they’re giving something. I love that we make a real difference in someone’s day and in their life in such a positive way through something from nature. And it’s awesome. And we do a little bit of dingdong ditch now because a COVID. And I will have people yell down their driveway. Thank you so much. Yeah, and I love it because they couldn’t they’re visceral reaction to seeing the flowers is just one of pure joy that they can’t even contain. 

Joe Vega  7:32  

I love that. Oh, that’s fun. I can’t like that should be recorded. Like That sounds like a special moment. Yeah. So I have a question for you. What is foraging?

Steph Romanowicz   7:41  

foraging is something I’ve been doing since I was a little girl.

Joe Vega  7:44  

Can you tell me more about

Steph Romanowicz   7:45  

that we go out into the woods and we find all kinds of things sticks, greenery, flowers, anything you can get your hands on and incorporate it into your arrangements. And my mother has been a teacher for 45 years. And she is a strong proponent of outdoor learning. And so as a child, we would go out into the woods and we would pick up birds nests and all kinds of crazy things. And we would make these little terrarium out of them. And I just thought that it was the coolest thing. And now I get to do it for a job.

Joe Vega  8:24  

So okay, so you just go out to the woods and you just go foraging for things that you can bring back to including your arrangements.

Steph Romanowicz   8:31  

Yes, when your wholesaler shorts you $3,000 worth of flowers the week of Mother’s Day. If you don’t know how to forage, you’re screwed. So my staff and I filled our cars. We were out in the woods getting local greenery that was in season, and everyone’s arrangements had local greenery in it. It was grown right here on the cape. And it was full and people love it. They don’t know, they don’t even know the difference. They don’t. I didn’t buy it at the market. They can’t tell.

Joe Vega  9:01  

That sounds like how do you pick which woods to go into? Like, how does that work? Do you have your favorite spot or like,

Steph Romanowicz   9:08  

yeah, we have spots. I literally keep field notes. If I see a pack of daffodils and it’s, you know, in a state forest or in you know public land, I’ll put a note in my phone and I know to go back there.

Joe Vega  9:23  

Oh, wow, that’s that’s incredible.

Steph Romanowicz   9:26  

I’m really lucky than I do live in a heavily wooded area. We have eautiful Gardens on my property and do i do cut a lot from home. Um, but my neighbor’s yards have beautiful blueberry bushes and I’ll cut blueberries when they’re in season. Just things that you wouldn’t expect to be in an arrangement or what makes them so much more interesting.

Joe Vega  9:50  

Do you tell the the recipient of the customer about the items are in the arrangement because they know they know

Steph Romanowicz   9:59  

When like a long raspberries stick sticking out of the side, they’re like, oh, there must be from Stephanie’s garden. Oh, wow. Taylor, we use in Providence, the floral reserve. She’s an all local farm. And she imports from the mostly the Northeast. And she’s really inspired me and pushed me outside of my normal just greenery to add other things into our arrangements, like, like, like I said, raspberry bushes and blueberry bushes and things like that into the arrangements. And they last and they look beautiful. And so some of those textures that I wouldn’t necessarily have originally gravitate gravitated to a few years ago are now things that we’ve started to incorporate, like beach grasses, and, um, you know, more buried things, it’s hard to know what’s safe and what isn’t. So having someone to guide you and let you know what’s really great and lasts and arrangement is so important.

Joe Vega  11:01  

When you hire a designer, do you have to teach them or guide them on how to work with those new materials? Because they’re probably not used to working with those items? You know, previously?

Steph Romanowicz   11:11  

Oh, yeah. We retrain them from scratch.

Joe Vega  11:13  

Oh, yeah. And then you take them on the on the, on those trips with you as well.

Steph Romanowicz   11:18  

It’s a rite of passage, when you start here within the first month, you’re out in the woods, and I have to show you where to cut, what to cut what’s safe, what to watch out for all that stuff.

Joe Vega  11:28  

Wow. So I have been in the industry for 15 years, and I’ve never heard the things you’re telling me now. So I’m pretty impressed.

Steph Romanowicz   11:36  

It may be it’s a New England thing, like a Massachusetts thing. But I it’s very, um, I worked for I worked for a designer who’s been in the industry for 25 years, and she has a parking lot behind a business that she goes to every weekend and kind of screens for high end weddings. I mean, like $1,000 weddings and all the greenery is from the side of a parking lot.

Joe Vega  12:00  

Yeah, that’s, that’s, that’s awesome. So I just noticed I did skip one question here that I had been meaning to ask you. And that is how can florists design foam free and be more sustainable?

Steph Romanowicz   12:11  

Oh, that’s my favorite question. I’m glad that you circling back to it. Um, we use chicken wire. And we use a lot of other non foam mediums like, I follow this wonderful florist, Paulina from Blue Jasmine, she’s in New Jersey, and she does almost all free event installations. So you have to do a little bit of adapting to get that to a daily floral level. But if you have the right greens, and you can construct them in a way that gives you the structure that Oasis gives you right then really don’t need any oasis. Um, our ecosystem is extremely compromised by nitrogen, which comes from fertilizer, flower, food, always this foam, all of those things contribute to the pollution of our ecosystem, especially on the case. So we made the decision very early on that unless it’s absolutely not necessary, we do not use oasis. And we do not use flower food in any of our flowers, and we don’t have a cooler. So our motto is fresh and fresh out. So we turn flowers quickly. We’re very careful about how much we order how often we order. We have flowers come in almost every day, which is hard for us in terms of getting them here. But we can have a better quality because we are not using flower food and we’re turning them so quickly.

Joe Vega  13:42  

That’s fantastic. So you guys don’t have any fridges whatsoever. Everything is fresh.

Steph Romanowicz   13:46  

No. Yes. We turned over flowers within three days. So they should have a two week shelf life. And if we’re only keeping them for three days, you know, they really live with the customer.

Joe Vega  14:00  

That’s, that’s a great model. I mean, that’s that’s impressive.

Steph Romanowicz   14:06  

Shipped directly to us. Yeah, we’re the wholesaler. And I think that that has changed our business dramatically because we’re able to keep them less time in house and they’re also not sitting somewhere for days on end in and out of coolers as they would wholesale. So we work with a floral wholesaler called Gilberto de Boer. And they actually to us, so we either pick them up at the airport or they’re FedEx to our door the next day. So the amount of time from the field to the base is shorter by half because we buy flowers in that way. And there are many other companies that ship flowers like that, but we are in a very high end community and we want a high end product so we have a high end wholesaler,

Joe Vega  14:56  

right What do you wish customer were more educated on when it comes to the floor industry.

Steph Romanowicz   15:01  

We are not Amazon, there is no bottomless pit for me to give you free flowers because you don’t like the color. Um, you know, customer service has really changed over the last five years dramatically. I worked in customer service for 25 years, and I’ve seen the culture of customers, he, as it is right now, everyone expects something for free, they expect to, um, you know, complain and get whatever they want, and use reviews as a tactic to not pay for things, which I don’t like, I can’t really understand it. So it’s taken me a solid year to kind of wrap my head around that mentality. And you’re all where it’s coming from. And it’s definitely coming from big box stores, where they will say and do anything and bend over backwards to make the customer happy and keep that customer. But it’s really hurting small businesses. Um, you know, if the pizza delivery guy gives you the wrong pizza, you don’t charge it back on your credit card. Well, my delivery guy gives you the wrong flowers and gives, you know, Sally up the street, your flowers and gives you state they’re human. And we shouldn’t be penalized for small human mistakes, to the extent that we are,

Joe Vega  16:25  

right, what else have you know what other aspects of owning a flower shop are important to to have a successful business,

Steph Romanowicz   16:34  

I’m really community connection, we would be nowhere, especially during this very disruptive time, if we didn’t have our community behind us other businesses that share that we partner with, um, you know, we have real estate agents that will send out flowers once a week, we have businesses that will send out all of their gifts from from us to all of their customers. And that has kept us going on those relationships within our community are literally what kept us alive during our darkest days, during, you know, our sales being down 90% from last year, it’s for phone calls from your regular clients. And that’s all it takes to turn the whole day around.

Joe Vega  17:21  

That’s, that’s perfect. So this year has been quite the year, right? We’re in unprecedented time. So I would like to know from you what challenges have you faced to overcome this, this, you know, while working through the pandemic,

Steph Romanowicz   17:38  

getting flowers, it’s hard. It’s different, and it’s hard. Um, a lot of fires during our first state shutdown, were closed, and we still had orders to deliver. Not many. But you know, people were still trying to send things because they couldn’t be with people that they love. And that was really frustrating for us, because we’re in the service delivery industry, and to have the state say that we can’t operate and not be able to get flowers, but see them in grocery stores and see, you know, doing other things was frustrating. Um, so we made the commitment to go out of state and pick up flowers. So for 14 weeks, I drove to Providence, and another florist who owns a small wholesale, she was providing all of our flowers. Were you close for?

Joe Vega  18:34  

Were you close? it all? Did the state?

Steph Romanowicz   18:36  


Joe Vega  18:37  

How long were you close for?

Steph Romanowicz   18:39  

We were close for four weeks, four weeks?

Joe Vega 18:42  

And how was that experience?

Steph Romanowicz   18:45  

Um, it was difficult. The phone didn’t stop ringing. I mean, but we had to be closed. We were named by our state as an essential business. We were making a sacrifice, but we didn’t feel like we were making a sacrifice. We felt like we were saving people by staying home. And by doing what everyone else was doing. It was more of a unification. Yeah, absolutely. I

Joe Vega  19:07  

mean, it’s not even about you or me. It’s about you know, the communities about others, right. You need we all need to do our part in order to contribute, you know, for the greater good.

Steph Romanowicz   19:17  

We did lose all of our staff, right in the beginning. A lot of our staff was moms, including myself, and our kids are not in school. Kids are still not in school. Yeah. That transition has been really hard. That has been the is trying to juggle, you know, educating your children and keeping a business going. And I think restaurants, more than anyone else are struggling to find that balance because not only is all of their staff, you know, a parent or self employed, it’s just they can’t do anything. They can’t get out. Their numbers are so far down compared to last year. So many moms who, you know, the keep is very tourist, and it’s our whole, our whole economy is a tourist economy. So I know a lot of moms who would make all their money in the summer, right? Working in bartending, and they can’t do that. And that’s devastating for them. And, you know, they’ll never, they’ll never get it back. It just isn’t going to ever come back to them.

Joe Vega  20:30  

Yeah, it’s been, I know exactly what you’re talking about. It’s a lot, I have a lot of friends. And I know a lot of people and myself included, we’ve been struggling mostly because of the fact that the kids are home. And we’ve had to adjust. My wife is a teacher now. And so am I, on a few days, so whenever I can, but that was a you know, we’re social creatures, we actually need to see each other. So I feel really terrible for my kids, or any kids now that are not going to school in you know, learning all those social skills, right? Fortunately for us, they’ve gone to they’re going to school two days out of the five days, but it’s still still tough. So,

Steph Romanowicz   21:11  

yeah, our kids went back for a while, and now they’re home again. And I understand that it’s the safest option for them. And for us right now, look, after your workspace is so difficult with two children underfoot, and you don’t want to have them on devices, and they do need to learn while you’re at work. So it’s a hard transition to figure out what space in your workplace Can you carve out? Or what time can you carve out of your schedule, so that you can, you know, facilitate their education. And for us, we were so lucky that, you know, the Vice Principal, the school connected with me directly and gave us a plan that works specifically for our family. Um, but it is a challenge, and it doesn’t go without support of family. My mom’s an educator, she’s a retired teacher, she opened a flower shop, so that I would have more flexibility to take care of my son. So if I did not have this business with her, we, we wouldn’t have a business. Um, you know, we share parenting, and we share the company, and responsibilities and having a partner that you can lean on whether it’s a husband, a mother, a business partner, makes it so much easier. Um, I would say for anyone opening a shop on their own, you know, if you don’t have the experience and the support system to, to do it on your own, it can’t happen. I don’t think my mom would even still have a shop if she didn’t have me. And I don’t think that I would even have the opportunity to work here if it wasn’t for her. So there’s a lot of support that you need when you run a shop.

Joe Vega 23:02  

Absolutely. 100%. What’s your advice on building a brand?

Steph Romanowicz   23:09  

Find your client. Okay? Put your energy into Facebook, if they’re on Instagram, put your energy into Instagram, find the clients that get you find the ones that align with your values, and do everything you can to keep them. Um, I’ve taken a wedding the night before. I’ve driven flowers out to the end of the case for a client, um, I will literally do anything for my clients. And they know that and that’s why they’re my clients.

Joe Vega  23:45  

That’s great. So Steph, thank you so much for joining me. This has been great.

Steph Romanowicz   23:50  

Oh, nice to meet you.

Joe Vega 23:51  

Nice to meet you. Oh, yeah, as a matter of fact, I’m very intrigued. I think I can you know, you know, after this pandemic is over, maybe we can still do it. I would love to go foraging with you one day.

Steph Romanowicz   24:03  

Oh, hell yeah.

Joe Vega  24:04  

That sounds like fun. So

Steph Romanowicz   24:05  

it is it is a safe, you know, completely safe. You’re out in the woods, right? Come with me. You bring your kids when you go. It’s so fun.

Joe Vega  24:15  

I think I’m gonna take you up on that. That’s awesome. All right. Thank you. Thank you so much. We want to help your business bloom. Follow for more episodes to flower shop secrets streaming now on Spotify, Apple podcast, Google, and more.

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