Slow Flowers Summit and the Farmgirl Story

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Debra Prinzing. Photo by Kathy Jentz.

I’m a big fan of Debra Prinzing and her amazing Slow Flowers movement, which I generally describe as “local and seasonal flowers” but Debra explains a lot better in this guest post.

One of the many cool things that Debra does is put on wildly successful Slow Flowers Summits, and I was able to attend the second of them, here in D.C. It brought about 100 “doers and thinkers” together from across the U.S.

Right out of the gate, the keynote speaker Christina Stembel, CEO of Farmgirl Flowers, blew me away.

Christina Stembel

The business world seems wowed by her, too. Forbes is following her closely:

Farmgirl Flowers in San Francisco will clock $15 million in revenue this year. ..Stembel’s strategy: source flowers locally and slash waste by selling a very limited number of arrangements direct to consumers from her website. She wraps her bouquets in distinctive burlap donated by nearby coffee roasters.”

Unlike any speaker I’d ever heard at a gardening event, Stembel talked really fast and used business school/Silicon Valley terms like “What’s your value prop? and “We only have 12 SKUs.” And her chutzpah was obvious, telling us she’s determined to grab $1 billion of the $3 billion e-flowers business.

The Silicon Valley language is no surprise, given her location in the Bay Area, her previous job doing events for the Stanford Law School, and her husband’s career at Facebook. Her lack of a college degree obviously isn’t holding her back.

Cyclists do all the Bay-area deliveries of Farmgirl bouquets. Great advertising!

More on how Farmgirl Succeeds

  • As a result of offering “fewer, better options” – basically whatever is available at the time the order comes in – it has less than 1 percent waste. Customers can choose color palettes but not particular plants.
  • She discovered the surprising demographics of e-flower buyers: they’re mostly women (78 percent) buying for other women.
  • While the leaders in e-marketing of flowers spend an amazing $19.22 per unit on marketing, Farmgirl spends just $10, a number Stembel said she wants to increase. 95 percent of her marketing is digital.
  • Farmgirl makes its bouquets in-house, which is atypical for online companies.
  • Stembel doesn’t worry about the pop-up companies that copy everything Farmgirl does and charge less. “You can’t fight them, anyway.”
  • Focus groups works! For example, she hates bromeliads herself but focus groups loved them and they’ve turned out to be a hit with customers.
  • Lawyer-up to protect yourself.
  • Spend time on company culture (even if it means slowing growth). In Farmgirl’s case that means more than Donut Fridays.

Addendum: The Problem with Pot

Through some post-summit googling I learned that Farmgirl’s goal of sourcing all flowers locally has been stymied by the legalization of cannabis in California, which has created a gold rush of farmers switching from flower production to the more profitable pot. So now Farmgirl is sourcing some of its flowers from Ecuador, targeting growers who treat their employees well, according to their announcement about the change. (Corrected thanks to a commenter.)

More Summit Pics

Debra with the Slow Flowers Summit speakers. Photo by Fetching Social Media.


Kelly Shore of Petals by the Shore in Maryland.

Mud Baron was on hand to create wearable floral art for participants, like Kathy Jentz (R), editor of Washington Gardener Magazine. (Mud directs an urban community farm in Pasadena and his #flowersonyourhead photos are a thing.)

Thanks to the Summit, I got to hang out with some of my favorite locals – like Kaifa Anderson-Hall, recent winner of the AHS Horticultural Therapy Award.

9 COMMENTS

  1. It was a terrific meeting and I loved connecting with slow flower growers and floral designers from all over the country, who came to visit DC for this (and the AIFD meeting). What a dream to “play with flowers” as a full-time career!
    Also, big props to Deb Prinzing for putting it all together!

  2. Great story about Farmgirl Flowers. Your statement that they currently source 80% of their flowers from Ecuador kinda threw me for a loop though, so I went to their website, and I think you might have gotten the numbers wrong (or maybe you have another source?). On their website, it says “We will continue to buy the majority of our flowers from US growers (at least 80% right now), and will be subsidizing with flowers we can’t get enough of here”, NOT that 80% of their flowers are sourced in Ecuador, as you state. Also, apparently they also give you the option of only using American-grown flowers in your bouquet, which is really nice.

    • Thanks for the correction! I see their many U.S. growers still listed on the website, so 80 percent domestic looks to be still possible. I wish I could now find where I read the 80 percent figure the other way – possibly about just sourcing for Valentine’s Day?

      • Yeah, I’m sure at certain times of the year it’s a lot harder to source flowers domestically.

        I’m curious about the flower farmers switching to growing pot. Here in Oregon farm country, there has been an increase in the number of pot grows since it was legalized, but I’ve not heard about other crops being switched out for pot. Our regulatory agency just recently put a moratorium on applications to establish either a pot farm or processing facility though, so maybe things are different here than in CA…

  3. A favor for readers who receive Garden Rant in our inboxes, please: add the author’s name to your byline or headline, or at least sign the piece. It appears nowhere as we receive it and I must go to your website to see whose voice we’re enjoying. Thanks.

    • Thanks for letting us know about the problem. Our site was moved recently and getting the Feedblitz settings right is something I’ve written to our developer about so she can fix it pronto. Susan

  4. I am so jealous (but in a good way!). I have been wanting to go to a slow flower summit since my dream Is to have a flower farm. I have been following her for a while and have learned much from her. And may I say those flower and botanicals crowns are epic and gorgeous!

    • Not yet that I know of. Though I remember hearing that there WOULD be video available of the talks, and I’m eager to hear a couple of the ones I missed.

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