Michael Bruce located in Collingswood, NJ is the customer of the month for Pennock Floral Tri-State.
We had the pleasure of speaking with owner, Michael Bruce, and we thrilled to hear the stories he shared with us, from landing his first account to his view on the “perfect” wedding. We also touched based on essential tools to stay competitive in this market place and the magnificent power of magnets in floral arrangements and much more
How did you get started in this industry?
I graduated the college when dinosaurs walked the Earth,(lol) we didn’t have the internet or even cable television. At that time having graduated with a Bachelor in Science in Ornamental Horticulture from The Delaware Valley College, I went to work. What I found was happened back then in the landscaping aspect of the business was what your neighbor did, is what your other neighbor did, and is what you saw across the street. Everyone was landscaping the exact the same way – everyone put Yew bushes in the front window. Of course, I wanted to do something different. I wanted to put a terrace at the front window and put landscape out a little further and do whole lot of different things. It didn’t work. Very few people wanted to do what I had liked to do. I did have a couple of clients, and one of them suggested that I go to work in a flower shop. I’ve never tried that before, so I tried it and I liked it. In 1989 I opened my own business. That’s how I got into it this industry. It seemed as though everybody knows how to landscape, especially back then, everybody wanted to put bushes in front of the windows, but if you handed somebody 3 stems of any flower and ask “Show me how you would like to arrange them”, they would freeze. In some aspects I am bit of a control freak, however, I also love interacting with people I love hearing their thoughts and ideas. When the clients want to take control on the entire decision making, my favorite phrase is “You do what you know” and if you don’t know more than you know, it’s a whole other big world out there that you should learn to explore by talking with people. If you don’t talk with people and if you don’t explore what other options are out there, you limiting yourself to your own knowledge.
Was it difficult for you to get started in your own business?
It wasn’t. I started by opening a tiny shop on Haddon Avenue. I went around seeking corporate accounts. For example, I walked into Gucci, I didn’t have a single piece of clothing on of Gucci, but I knew one thing, their flowers didn’t look Gucci either. I talked to the manager, and explained that I thought the flowers didn’t represent their product line and that I would appreciate being able to come in the next day with a flower arrangement. If they thought it was the ugliest thing they have ever seen I’ll just leave. If they like it they can have it for a week. So I came in the next day with flowers, of course they loved them. The Gucci’s manager called me the following day to open an account. That was the very first account. I’ve used the same approaches with other businesses; it was a successful way to market myself. That’s how I got my weekly accounts, and it just grew from there.
What tools do you use to help you to stay competitive in this market place?
The weekly corporate accounts are one of the best things. In Philadelphia, there are plenty of restaurants, and most of them are populated with really high end florists, and I found it’s hard to break in if you are a New Jersey florist walking into Philadelphia. We’re on the other side of the river: we have different restaurants, different venues, and places I keep in contact with.
When you can show people your passion, when you can show your expertise and when it “clicks” you can then lead them on your dream rather then leading them on their dreams. You already know the destination of their dream, but if you lead them on your dream, you could take them to a thousand different places. Along the way they can say “I like it or I don’t.” It’s an element of surprise when you can carefully take them off guard and begin to show them the world as you see it. It’s a dance, you want to step together and you listen. You have to have excellent listening skills. That’s how we approach our weddings: our reputation is that we are creative. Most of the time I don’t have to think about anything, the clients have already envisioned it, they just don’t know how to bring it together. It’s really fun to hear their ideas and I’m trying to fit them to my world, and they trying to fit into their world. I always give the customers my opinion, but the whole point is it’s just an opinion; it not right or wrong. Somebody asked me the other day, “If you have to design a perfect wedding, what would it be?” I would have no idea. I think it an obnoxious to think I could make a perfect wedding. If you give me a few clues I’ll put something together for you. Besides, I’ve found that the perfect wedding seems to continue to change and evolve every few months as new ideas and products are introduced. I usually tell my bride that anything we’ve discussed today and we decided on is not written in stone. If you see something in three weeks and that makes you very happy and you would like to change your ideas, just call me up and let me know. As long as a groom stays the same we’re fine. (lol)
Name the top 3 or 5 floral design supplies or products that you just can’t live/work without?
Design magazines and books, knives, floral scissors. We use a lot of magnets; we hot glue them to water tubes, than you can attach it to a cylinder with a magnet on another side. It’s an exceptional way to get a tall look on the table without doing a normal approach. Magnets are fantastic.
What do you think about the flower industry in general?
The floral industry is coming less floral and becoming more propped based. You can have beautiful candle sticks that you put in the middle of the table and put some petals around, and it’s done. After a second event, the candle stick already paid for itself. You have to find an innovative way and put a look on the table that you are proud of, and you need to be able to make some money out of it. Flowers are getting to be more and more expensive, it’s appalling. It’s just not anyone’s fault it’s just the world we leave in. I think what is happening in a floral world are flowers just escalating and it’s becoming very hard to produce something that you would like to put out there. A thirty-five dollars price point is no longer happening. It’s really hard to make it happen
Michael, you have great reviews on the web, you won several times at the Philadelphia International Flower Show, your work has been published in many magazines. How do you succeeded in floral industry?
My mother didn’t raise me to be a florist. What do I mean by saying that it’s not who I am It’s what I do. I don’t judge myself according to my success I just love what I do.
I had a call this morning from a client who is having a party and she has no idea what she wants to do with a large table. Her mother is going to be 80, and I shared my thoughts with her. I told her about my idea about wonderful baskets of African violets, primroses and English daisies. It’s very classy, very pretty and very sweet.
She added next that she would like to have balloons too and possibly to put them in the bundle right in the center of centerpiece. I said that its fine, but you would like to do that because you’ve seen this done before. You only do what you know. I said: “You just flipped back a memory for me, it’s a very sweet one and I thank you for that.” I said: “On my mother’s 75th birthday, she has been gone for 21 years now; we put balloons all the way to the ceiling and brought the ribbons all the way down to the floor. We tied little bows from the ribbons, and it was stunning! When you walk in to the room it was fun!” So the client said it’s so much better than what she thought. It’s just different, not average. That’s what I like to do with people. I like to explore other things and show them all of the options available to them and help explore the ideas with them.