Twin Cities Flower Exchange, Christine Hoffman
“Twin Cities Flower Exchange is a local and sustainable cut flower wholesale market. We source from about 24 farms in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and aggregate those cut flowers and sell to wholesale buyers such as retail florists, designers, some restaurants -- anyone who uses flowers regularly in their business.”
“I was a designer and I have a background in event design and retail merchandising. I had a retail shop, and I wasn't fond of the flowers that I'd been getting for events. I thought there must be a better option out there. I started looking for people growing flowers locally and made that a part of my retail business. The reaction was so strong from customers once they knew about the floral industry and issues around sustainability in cut flowers. So, I launched this idea to start the wholesale market.
“About 85 percent of the cut flowers we purchase in the U.S are grown oversees because of year-round climate, inexpensive labor, and there's also no tariffs on imported cut flowers. So local flowers are relatively new. American grown flowers were a big business until about the mid-seventies and it's making a comeback. It's a better option because of chemical use. Chemical use in overseas flower farms is not regulated like it is in the U.S. Flowers are not an edible product, so they're not as worried about certain pesticides used on the products.
“The industry also has a huge carbon footprint because flowers are shipped from Ecuador, Holland, Columbia, or Africa with a cold chain -- these products must stay cold. It's a lot of packaging involved. A lot of planes and trucks and everything to get it to the grocery store where you finally pick the bouquet.
“The traditional floral industry is not very sustainable for those reasons, and we are trying to provide a solution to that. “
“I think one of the things is that I came from a retail background and a design background with pretty much no knowledge of the wholesale industry. Which, I think beneficial in a lot of ways because I approached it from my background and my point of view, which is that it should be lovely, and a nice setting and I set it up like a retail store as much as I can.
“I set it up in color palettes, so it's friendly to the designers. Customer service is one of the most important parts of our business. And I think that's really helped us thrive. I think approaching wholesale from a retail perspective was the only way I really knew how to do it, but it, in the end, beneficial.”
“I think this isn't uncommon in that I started it and it grew quickly and I wasn't really prepared for that. And I wasn't prepared for the exact skillset it would take in this business, which really didn't match my skillset and my personality.
“So, by year three, things had really grown, but I was also really burned out. And I really had to take a step back and decide whether I was going to walk away and just say, you know, this isn't for me or how can I do this differently and make it work in a healthier, more sustainable way for everyone involved.
“I just took a lot of time over the winter, thankfully we have a slow season, to figure out what I needed for support and what I needed to do personally to grow my skillset and adjust to what the business needed.”
“I had used SCORE previously when I started my retail shop. I think that was 2018, probably that I reached out and got connected with a mentor again.
“She was fabulous right away. I had already shown some growth in the first year and she thought it was an interesting business model. She was instrumental being there as a sounding board and for very specific questions I had.
“As a solo entrepreneur, it's important to have that other person there that you can bounce ideas off, or to get a second opinion. And as I said, I didn't have any wholesale experience or really any business experience other than having a retail shop, and I didn't realize how much I didn't know until I started.”
“I'm very organized and bookkeeping is easy for me, but it's with Angela's help I looked at big picture financials -- taking a look at growth and projections, really looking at my sales and then traction, and setting sales goals for the next season. Also setting a couple of tiers of goals -- some that are realistic and to set a big one just so it's out there. Having those really big goals helped me a lot. Between 2019 and 2020 I saw 124% growth.
“Also SCORE helped me get a hiring plan and find good staff. Then this year we moved. We had been renting at a shared facility and this year we moved to our own dedicated 5,000 square foot warehouse. It just opens so much potential for what can happen with the space now. And that's been a goal, but it was hard to make that leap to a lot more overhead, even though it's the right thing.
“A lot of risk taking this year, but so far it's gone well!”
“This is going to sound cliche, but always trust your gut. A couple of times this year, I haven't done that. And you always go back and think, oh I knew that in my gut, but I didn't trust it. I trusted my head or something on paper instead. It's important to trust your instincts.”
“I tell everyone about SCORE because I feel like a lot of people don't know about it and I think it's an amazing resource. I would just say, take advantage of whatever services look like, they'll be a good fit for you. And I would highly recommend getting a mentor.”
“What you really need and when you've been doing it all yourself is how to figure out what you can hand off and how to find the right people for that.
“This particular business has been the hardest thing I've ever done, but also the most rewarding.”