How do you compete in the flower business, an industry flush with both local competitors and big delivery sites such as 1-800-flowers and FTD? You solve a problem that few other brands have tried to solve--and you go after a different customer entirely. Here's the story of how two computer guys launched H.Bloom (#252 on the 2014 Inc. 5000).
When my partner Sonu Panda and I set out to automate operations for mom and pop floral shops in 2009, we knew the only way to build good software was to really understand floral shop owners. So we went deep in our research--really deep. We decided to start a flower shop ourselves.
It made sense: We were software guys who had no clue about the floral business. We just knew that it was massive in size and hadn't seen much technology innovation. Here we were trying to disrupt a big, old industry that had complex logistics and a highly personal product. So we opened a flower shop in New York City. We hired floral designers, bought coolers, leased delivery vans, and started taking orders. We did that for a year with a larger goal in mind: to understand how the business works and what manual operations we could automate with software. In the process, I found a big pain point that almost all small florists face: spoilage of unsold flowers.
That problem became an opportunity in our minds. We looked around and saw how restaurants, hotels, and retail stores always seemed to have fresh flowers. So we created a subscription business where those corporate clients could get a recurring supply of flowers without having to re-order every week. The business model gave customers convenience and helped us know exactly how many flowers we needed to eliminate waste.
We created a national brand called H.Bloom, offering weekly flower delivery, plant installation, and maintenance--as well as flowers for events and weddings. In 13 cities, we sought out the best flower designers who mainly focused on weddings and events, which was business that tends to happen on the weekends. We offered them corporate subscriptions, which would mean work that happens during the week. Rather than selling H.Bloom franchises, we partnered with those flower studios and share revenue. Those shops began operating under the name H.Bloom, wore H.Bloom uniforms and used our software, which automates everything from order entry and subscription management to flower buying and route optimization. It's that arrangement that allows us to serve nearly 1,000 clients across the country, growing our sales to $7.2 million in just four years. We chalk up that growth to literally getting into the weeds with our customers.
As told to Inc. contributing writer Jennifer Alsever.