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Innovative is a word that’s rarely used in the floral industry. But Meagan Chapman is one major exception. The lifelong entrepreneur founded her online business, Ogden-based Eco Flower, in January 2014 on the idea that bouquets of flowers didn’t have to shrivel up, die and eventually be thrown away.
Instead, Chapman sells floral bouquets made of wood—tapioca plant for the flowers and bamboo for the stems—in a variety of colors from traditional red to the trendy marsala, and scents from Japanese cherry blossom to banana cream pie. Each bouquet in the online shop is unique, and many incorporate other recyclable materials such as corn husks, paper and burlap to complete their distinctive look.
Chapman’s business started out very slow, but after being on the local news while she was trying out for ABC’s Shark Tank, she received a call from fellow entrepreneur Alex Ledoux, who was interested in partnering with her on her business. Though Eco Flower didn’t make it onto the hit TV show, after partnering up, Ledoux did help Chapman land an investment from South Jordan-based JW Capital.
“From there it’s exploded,” she says. “I was working out of my garage until the investment firm invested. Now we’ve had to move warehouses twice in the last six months to keep growing. Last year we did $10,000 in sales, and this year we’re on track to do $300,000 to $400,000. That’s quite a big jump in a year.”
But launching an innovative product in an industry that’s been virtually unchanged for decades hasn’t always been easy. “I wouldn’t say we have made any horrendous mistakes, but I definitely think there are things we needed to pay much closer attention to in the past, and we definitely will be going forward,” Ledoux says.
Marketing is Crucial
Early on, Chapman and Ledoux hired an SEO company to get Eco Flower’s ranking higher on Google, but Chapman says they found more success with Facebook ads, social media and word of mouth.
“Nobody knows to Google ‘wood flowers,’ so we have to present the product to people,” Chapman says. “The best way to do that is through social media with tagging, sharing and commenting. We use Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest, and you really can see a difference. Sales will go down and then I’ll put up a Facebook post and sales will spike for the next hour.”
If your company is selling a new product that hasn’t been seen before, you need to get it in front of as many people as you can, she says. “The market will test itself. If friends are responding well and their friends are buying it too, then you might have something good,” Chapman says. “If you can’t get two likes on Facebook for your product, then that’s scary.”
It’s OK to Have Some Debt
“Before [we started working with investors], we were all about organic growth because we didn’t want to get into debt, but they showed us it’s OK to have a little bit of debt in order to keep up with your growth,” Chapman says.
Having a line of credit has allowed Eco Flower to move into a large warehouse that will accommodate the growing company for a long time, she adds.
Preparation is Key
Valentine’s Day 2015 was a hard day for Eco Flower, Chapman says. “We knew Valentine’s Day would be better than November, but we didn’t know it would be that big,” she says. “Preparation, by having things made ahead of time and spending money on [seasonal] employees, is really important. We barely survived because we weren’t prepared.”
Chapman recalls watching orders roll in on her site like “a clock was ticking.” She was used to having a handful of sales a day, but during the Valentine’s Day rush, Eco Flower received a handful of sales a minute. “We’ve got such a different product that there wasn’t really any [data] out there to look at, but we didn’t do our research to see what other florists do for Valentine’s Day,” she says.
As soon as Valentine’s Day was over, Chapman made sure the company was ready for its next big holiday—Mother’s Day—by ordering enough flowers and supplies to make twice as many bouquets as the company sold during Valentine’s Day.
Don’t Hire Friends and Family
Because they weren’t prepared for the Valentine’s Day rush, Chapman says she didn’t have much of a choice in who she hired during that time. She was desperate for help, so she had friends and family join the payroll to help fulfill orders—but she wouldn’t do that again.