You’ve all come across at least one of these frustrating scenarios: your bride comes to you with their vision in mind, a vision which MUST include dahlias. The only problem? Dahlias aren’t in season during her wedding. Scenario two: six months before the wedding, you tell them you can get X, Y or Z flower, and the week before, there’s an unexpected shortage due to something completely out of your hands, like the weather.
So we asked our panel, how do you deal with substitutions, and breaking the news to your clients that the flower they wanted so badly won’t be available for their wedding? How do you ensure that your bride is still happy?
I strongly believe that the most successful floral artists and salespeople sell an emotion; a look and a feeling, NOT a flower! The way wedding flowers are sold is VERY important, both on a retail level and a wholesale level. On the retail end of things, a bride needs to be guided in a way that provides the best possible outcome for her expectations. Sometimes honing in on clues to understand what she is expecting is one of the most important skills for wedding florists to learn. Also, pin pointing your concerns with any unreasonable flower expectations that she has right off the bat is imperative. All of this has to be done with tact and finesse in order to make her feel confident in your abilities to carry out her vision regardless of any availability issues or requests that she has her heart set on. Mother Nature plays a huge part in her plans and she needs to know that if you can’t get a peony, for instance, you are going to choose a substitute of like value, color and feeling. If her peonies aren’t available, she should understand that its not that you or your wholesaler dropped the ball…it is simply that Mother Nature and the farms that grow them have not been able to provide it at the time of her wedding. It is kind of like going to the grocery store…one week the grapes are big and fat and juicy and the next week they are small and a bit sour. We work with them though. We add a little sugar and maybe some other fruit that is sweeter to make a great combination. Flowers are kind of like that. It’s a great analogy that I have used often in the wedding consultation- especially if I think that a substitution may need to me made when her wedding rolls around.
On a wholesale level, I think it is important for wedding florists to understand the challenges that their wholesale partners face as well. Just like consumers need to be educated by their florists, retailers need to be educated by their suppliers. It is unreasonable for any florist to expect that their wholesaler can “guarantee” any highly seasonal product that is in great demand. A peony or a dahlia is a great example. Really any flower that is trending becomes highly sought after and creates a demand that makes that flower more likely to have availability issue, especially during peak wedding season. It is so important that you find a wholesaler that you can partner with. Finding a company that will educate you and that you can trust to do everything possible to find the flowers you need but to also have great substitutions in mind and on hand should your requests become an issue the week of your event.
I feel that flower trends and products change very quickly. Just because a florist has been in the business for 20+ years does not make them an expert when it comes to market availability and varieties. It is an ever-changing landscape. If I can offer one solid piece of advice as you order and purchase your flowers, it would be to keep an open mind and utilize your talents in a way that makes what Mother Nature has to offer work for your clients needs and also to trust your sales rep to make good decisions on your behalf.
I get this quite often. I find most my clients have at least one favorite flower but they just don’t know when they are in season. It’s really just a matter of educating my client on what is in season at the time that they are getting married and providing great substitutions for flowers that they may love but can’t necessarily get. I like to ask about colors they’re working with or what vision/theme they may have instead. Then we can design everything as a whole. I’ve found this helps people see the “big picture” a little clearer than to just focus on specific flowers at first.
Substitutions are great. I let my clients know that if we have to substitute something we’ll choose something with the same look or style to what we were planning. I’ve also noticed that when brides show me images of flowers they like, a lot of my brides think garden roses are peonies. This is why garden roses are great substitutions for peonies. That’s usually my first option when somebody wants peonies. If they’re looking for dahlias or ranunculus, etc. I like to substitute flowers with a similar look or feel to what they like. For example: if a bride wanted ranunculus, I might substitute it for a spray roses or some scabiosa if I’m looking to use it as a more delicate accent to flower arrangements.
Because flowers are alive and no two are ever the same, I have a clause in my agreement which states I will use substitutions on any items I either can’t get or isn’t up to par with our standards. I think this clause has been very important to have because every so often you might find that some bunches you’ve ordered just don’t look quite as fresh as you would normally like them to be. Since we florists make flowers ahead of time, I’d rather substitute a different flower that I know will look great and give me the same end result than to have that particular bunch of flowers look even worst on the day of the wedding and risk having me possibly trash those flowers anyway.
This is such a great question. I’m a pretty straight forward in person in general, but believe it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it 🙂 So i just try to break it to them gently but also keep them realistic//set expectations.
What’s nice about living in CA, is sometimes we get fluke items 🙂 Like random peonies or ranunculus off season. And so i’ll explain that to them as well and tell them I’ll do my best, but can’t guarantee they’ll get that specific bloom because it IS off season. I also try to encourage them to trust me to choose some pretty substitutions-and ALL of these stipulations are listed within my contract as well-just to make sure we are covered!
In terms of scenario two: OOF this has definitely happened. and I think it’s all about communication//expectations again. Since I usually start wedding prep much earlier in the week just before the wedding, I tend to be able to nip this in the bud. And if i can’t get the item, I’ll just let them know it! Sometimes these things just don’t come in, or they come in and they’re not their best quality. SO, I just communicate that and then send the client photos of my pull cart or some other pretty items we’ve pulled for them to try to keep them excited! It’s all about remaining flexible and positive and encouraging them to do the same!
When it comes to breaking the bad news, I tend to do it right up front without hesitation. However, if there is a slight chance that it will be possible I mention it and make sure that they understand I am not committing to it, but will make note of their wish list to surprise them the day of the wedding. Nowadays, I have learned from my past mistakes and I do not promise any specific flowers especially to brides. My commitment to each one of our brides is to stay true to the design as a whole and not the specific blooms.
Thanks to our Floral Forum for your advice on avoiding these sticky situations! To sum it up, try to be as honest & transparent as you can with your client, focus on selling a “feeling” rather than a specific flower, and if all else fails, include a clause about substitutions in your contract! And as always, if you have anything else to add to the topic, please tell us in the comments below!