The Retail Florists Alliance is described as a regional organization for retail florists in the Northeast. It was founded by two smart people with a long history in the flower business, both former board members of Real Local Florists.
The formation of this new group, and their inaugural brunch, says about florists, and floral industry associations and events. It says that florists still want both – they see the value of associations and enjoy getting together to exchange ideas.
Because the Regional Florists Alliance describes itself as regional it’s worth looking at some of the other options for florists in different parts of the country.
There are some truly outstanding associations serving retail florists that continue to thrive. On the national level there is the Society of American Florists and the American Institute of Floral Designers. At the regional level you have associations like the Michigan Floral Association, WUMFA, Florida State Florists Association and several others (for a comprehensive listing of associations serving retail florists and the floral industry please check out the floral industry resource guide, maintained by FloristWare).
There have been several others that have declined, sometimes even disappeared, over the last decade. This is unfortunate, because the formation of new groups (like Florists For Change/Real Local Florists and now the Retail Florists Alliance) over the same period suggests that florists do want to belong.
It seems like somewhere along the way a lot of florists started to expect a complete idealogical match with the organizations they belonged to. For example some florists take issue with the fact that an association might accept the support of companies commonly perceived as villains, like the big three wire services. The thing is that these companies are often generous contributors, providing financial support that makes it possible for the association to function.
Maybe it was Facebook that caused some of this. Facebook made it so easy for anyone to create a group with a very specific philosophy and agenda, and maybe that led people to think that there should not be any compromise on ideology. Unfortunately it led to more, but smaller and less powerful groups with access to fewer resources.
There are great associations out there. You might not agree with every single supporter, but take advantage of what they offer. And if you want to go a step further and get involved – makes your feelings known and try and cause change from the inside.
The greatest ever online resource for florists is called the Florist 2.0 Community (formerly FlowerChat). It combined everything that was great about a university – an outstanding library in the form of more than a decade of research, discussion and debate, a social component (like the campus cafeteria or pub), and lively discussion and debate.
FlowerChat wasn’t perfect. It meant engaging with people with different opinions, and different degrees of passion for those opinions. And sometimes opinions and beliefs unrelated to the flower business intruded. In that sense it was like work – you had to deal with people you might not agree with or like.
As it became easier to set up independent forums and groups many florists did just that – setting up smaller groups of like-minded florists. That solved one problem but created another – there was less conflict but less exchange of ideas as well. It went from a debate to a dinner party among close friends. Perhaps more enjoyable, but there was also less to be learned.
Facebook was probably the biggest problem. It’s very easy to set up groups, and most people are on it several times a day – making checking those groups very easy.
But Facebook just isn’t a good forum for serious discussion. It’s easier, and it’s more fun, and participation in work-related groups may make one feel like they are doing something work-related, but it’s not the same as traditional, well managed forum like FlowerChat. It’s like college if you took away the classrooms lectures and library, leaving just the cafeteria and water cooler.
But the Florist 2.0 Community is still there, and it remains a remarkable resource for retail florists.
Just as the formation of the Retail Florists Alliance shows that florists want to belong, their brunch shows that florists still want to get together and exchange ideas. Hopefully they will continue to provide these kinds of opportunities to florists in the Northeast.
For florists in other parts of the country (if not the world) there are great options... just not as many as there once were.
A decade ago there were many strong regional associations that produced big, exciting floral industry events every year. Today there are far fewer.
For example: Southern Retail. This was a big and well attended show just a few years ago. Today it is gone completely. Most other floral industry shows and conventions have continued to dwindle in size and attendance as well.
Shows and conventions were never easy. They always involved a considerable commitment of time and money. And, for a while, it was convenient to think “well, there is nothing there I can’t get online” and just stay in the shop.
But there are things at a convention, some more tangible than others, that can’t be had online. And the continued success of regional shows like the Great Lakes Floral, the exciting recent growth of the SAF Annual Convention, and even the Retail Florists Alliance brunch indicates that florists realize that. There is tremendous value in being in the same place with your peers, sharing ideas and knowledge.
For those interested in design the annual AIFD Symposium is probably the most important event on the calendar. The Southern AIFD chapter also puts on a very affordable event each year.
SAF adds business content to the curriculum at their annual convention – an outstanding event in all aspects. The commitment (in terms of both time and money) can seem daunting, but relative to similar events in other industries it is actually an incredible value. An even more important message comes from the attendees, who almost universally state that it was a great investment (along with a desire to return the next year!).
For shops not quite ready to take that plunge they can test the waters with the SAF One-Day Profit Blast format. This is a one-day event, usually on a Saturday, designed to provide the greatest possible return-on-investment – the best floral education for the least amount of time and money. Profit Blasts take place throughout the country, a few times a year, and are a great way for florists to experience the kind of amazing content SAF delivers.
There are also outstanding regional shows – shows like the Great Lakes Floral Expo, The Northeast Floral Expo, the two FSFA events each year and more (for a complete listing of floral industry events please check out this floral industry events guide).
Don't let the names scare you off – people from Kentucky and Arkansas gladly make the trip up to Grand Rapids Michigan each year to participate in the Great Lakes Floral Expo even though it is presented by the Michigan Floral Association.
It's great to see the Retail Florists Alliance bringing a new option to florists in the Northeast, and giving them a chance to get together and share ideas. But if you live elsewhere don't despair – there are lots of opportunities for you too.