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  • Flowers Spoken Here, Part 1
    By Valerie J. Nelson

    Ethnic celebrations offer a market opportunity to any florist who's willing to learn about them.

    The very idea of marketing to a specific ethnic group sometimes makes florists uncomfortable. No one wants to appear exploitative or patronizing. Yet some florists fear that's how it will look if they make a point of reaching out to particular groups. And in fact, sometimes those who are most successful at "ethnic marketing" are those who don't think of it that way. Rick White echoes other florists when he says of the majority Hispanic population in McAllen, Tex., "There is no specialty marketing we do for them; they are integrated into our society."

    Yet White's shop, Hewlett-White Florist, has placed ads on local Spanish-language radio in years past as part of a well-rounded marketing strategy. And today the shop does its fair share of quinceañeras, the Latin celebration that marks a girl's 15th birthday. To win and retain that business, the shop makes sure it "respects and promotes" the Hispanic culture, says White. In other words, he and his employees have taken the time to understand the ceremony and how the flowers fit in.

    Understanding other cultures is the key to getting their members as clients, several florists say. Reaching out to grasp the meaning of a celebration, be it the African-American Kwanzaa or a Jewish bar mitzvah, can go a long way toward building a bridge to new business. "You have to feel comfortable making suggestions," says Ty Leslie, AIFD, a floral designer who works for an Atlanta wholesale company. "You've got to do research. People can sense if you aren't comfortable."

    Seeking Knowledge

    To become familiar with the traditions of others, consider seeking out an authority on the subject, as Leslie did. "I went to a rabbi, who was more than happy to give me the background information I needed, such as which things Christians used that Jews did not use," he says. "It was very enlightening."

    Frank Laning, AIFD, AAF, PFCI, who owns Flowers by Frank Laning in Chappaqua, N.Y., became well-versed in Jewish culture partly by turning to Jewish friends. "I asked a lot of questions at one point," he says, "such as, 'What is the bar and bat mitzvah about?' They would explain these celebrations." Laning has also expanded his knowledge of other cultures in his local market, such as Greek-Orthodox, by reading books and attending ethnic weddings.

    A more secure knowledge base also can come from employees — and simply from responding openly to customer requests. At Edelweiss Flower Boutique in Santa Monica, Calif., Liz Seiji will work on up to 20 quinceañeras a year. Seiji says she came to know the intricacies of the tradition, such as the custom of making a floral offering to the Virgin Mary, from being surrounded by people who have celebrated quinceañeras, which includes most of the salespeople who work for her.


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