Mill Street Florist weathers the cold Canadian

winter with a warm, inviting atmosphere
that caters to the senses.
B Y KE L S E Y E. SMI T H
W W W. F L O R I S T S R E V I E W. C O M ❘ D E C E M B E R 201 1 53
nuances
northern
ABOVE Joanne Plummer, AIFD, CAFA, opened Mill
Street Florist in 1987 and modeled her business after
a Dutch flower shop, reflecting her Dutch and
Canadian heritage. Photo by Betty Cooper,
Sugarbush Studio
TOP The 300-square-foot display area features fresh
flowers and plants among distinctive vessels, custom
tabletop fountains and other related décor.


The heart and soul of any
business is the people
behind it, and I’m nothing
without my staff.
-Joanne Plummer, AIFD, CAFA
Mill Street Florist
T
here’s nothing run of the mill about MILL STREET FLORIST. Located on the
south edge of Ottawa, in the historic waterfront village of Manotick,
Ontario, Canada, the business aims to separate the wheat from the chaff
in everything it does. And with savvy designer and businesswoman
JOANNE PLUMMER, AIFD, CAFA, at the helm, Mill Street Florist, which she opened in
1987 and which now generates nearly $1 million in annual revenue, has become a
feast for the senses, catering to established customers as well as the next generation
of flower buyers.
senses of style
Reflecting Ms. Plummer’s Dutch and Canadian heritage, Mill Street Florist is mod-
eled after a Dutch flower shop, with flowers displayed in the open air in the shop’s
300-square-foot display space. (The flowers stay fresh outside the coolers thanks to
the florist’s quick rotation, Ms. Plummer says.)
The shop is located in one of Manotick’s original homes—a two-story, 1,800
square-foot, 160-year-old house in an area Ms. Plummer describes as “having a cer-
tain cachet.” As home to one of the only operating grist mills in Canada (Watson’s
Mill, formerly Long Island Flouring Mill, which was built in 1860), Manotick attracts a
great number of tourists. And although the former township was amalgamated in 2001
into Canada’s capital city, it is considered a destination by Ottawa residents, who find
beauty and solace at Mill Street Florist after the 20- to 30-minute drive.
“When you walk into our flower shop, it’s a completely different experience,” Ms.
Plummer says. “We try to touch on all the senses. The shop right away looks differ-
Photos by Greg Newton Photography unless otherwise noted.
54 W W W. F L O R I S T S R E V I E W. C O M ❘ D E C E M B E R 201 1
ent because of the product mix. We do not sell artificial flowers, balloons or
greeting cards; it’s all about fresh flowers and any related products customers
would love to have in their homes that would go with fresh flowers. I’m big on
tactile surfaces; the shop is full of rocks and mosses and different types of wood-
en materials. And it smells different from other flower shops because there are
no artificial scents to interfere with the natural scent of fresh flowers.”
Music also differentiates Mill Street Florist from many of its competitors, Ms.
Plummer says. “I collect world music, so we may play a CD of Australian abo-
riginal music, South African music or Celtic music,” she relates. “The idea is flow-
ers from all over the world, music from all over the world.”
service is front and center
Educating customers is a key to building loyalty, and at Mill Street Florist,
interacting with them begins with always being available, no matter how busy
the workroom.
“My No. 1 rule is that if there’s a customer in the shop, an employee has to
be out in the shop,” Ms. Plummer says. “No one is allowed to go out and say,
‘I’m right around the corner; call me if you need me.’”
She notes that being present does not mean being pushy, however. There is
always busy work to be done, such as watering flowers, dusting leaves and other
tasks that allow employees to be nearby without hovering. “But then it gives us
the opportunity to interact with and educate customers,” Ms. Plummer explains.
“For example, if they are looking at a Protea, and we hear a person say, ‘Look
at this weird flower; I wonder what it is,’ that’s our cue to go over and say, ‘I
see you’re looking at that beautiful king Protea. Isn’t it amazing? It’s the nation-
al flower of South Africa. When Nelson Mandela was here, we filled his room
with them.’ Customers love it when we share these kinds of things with them.”
consistent clientele
Mill Street Florist’s revenue is divided evenly between corporate and person-
al sales. Noncorporate clients tend to be well educated and well traveled, with
mid- to upper-level incomes. And while not all customers have large disposable
incomes, Ms. Plummer says one thing they do share is a love of fresh flowers
and a tendency to buy them regularly.
“It doesn’t sound like much, but that person who spends $20 a week every
single week for 25 years is more valuable to the business than the person who
spends $5,000 on a wedding and we never see again,” she says.
Ms. Plummer shares that the demographics of Mill Street Florist’s clientele
have shifted since she started the business. “When I opened, we were appeal-
ing to the 35- to 50-year-olds, but now our customers range from kids—who are
maybe 12 years old and come in to buy their mothers single flowers—to their
grandparents. I think that’s a much healthier demographic.”
catering to the next generation
There are several reasons for Mill Street Florist’s increase in young customers,
the main one being its family-friendly atmosphere. “We befriend the children of
our workforce, and we encourage them to come in,” Ms. Plummer explains. “If
the kids of our employees have to come in and spend a few hours at the shop
with us, it’s no problem.”
She explains that this keeps employees happy but also works well for get-
ting the word out about Mill Street Florist to the friends of the children, many of
whom are entering young adulthood.
Ms. Plummer also caters to the younger generation through her employees.
Of the 12 people who work at Mill Street Florist, three are younger than 30.
ABOVE The sales area of Mill Street Florist is frequently refreshed and
appeals to customers’ senses with a colorful array of flowers from
all over the world. Display fixtures range from antiques to sleek
Scandinavian pieces and are rotated throughout the display area,
consultation room and other areas of the 1,800-square-foot shop.
BELOW Mill Street Florist rolls out the red carpet for its customers.
The welcoming destination shop is located in one of Manotick’s
original homes, built approximately 160 years ago. Owner Joanne
Plummer says its front porch is a great selling feature for the busi-
ness and is a popular photography spot for brides as well as fam-
ily Christmas photos. As such, it is decorated with fresh flowers
and other botanicals at all times, and anything that is used to
adorn it is considered part of the florist’s promotions budget.
at a glance
mill street florist
OWNER: Joanne Plummer, AIFD, CAFA
LOCATION: Manotick, Ontario, Canada
ESTABLISHED: 1987
SHOP SIZE: 1,800 square feet
(including 300 square feet of display space)
NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES: 12 (6 full time,
6 part time), plus freelance as needed
CLIENTELE: mid- to upper-level income;
all ages from preteen to elderly; even ratio
of men and women
AVERAGE FRESH FLOWER SALE: $75 CAD
ANNUAL SALES VOLUME: nearly $1 million CAD
REVENUE BREAKDOWN: 82% fresh flowers,
5% plants, 13% giftware/home décor
WEBSITE: www.millstreetflorist.com
“They bring a fresh attitude and perspective,” she says. “I love the way they see things as
fresh and new. When I see avocado green and tangerine orange, it’s like ‘Oh, not again,’
but my youngest employee, who’s around 21, will say ‘No, that’s fantastic!’ So having
younger employees is a good way to stay on top of trends.”
Mill Street Florist also accepts co-op workers from local high schools, colleges and uni-
versities, which Ms. Plummer says is another great way to market the business while pro-
viding practical, hands-on experience at no expense to the business. (See “Marketing
Magic” on Page 32.)
weathering the day of love
According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, the average Feb. 14 temperature for Ottawa
over the last 10 years has been -9 C (16 F). And last Valentine’s Day was the first since
1989 that the temperature has been above
freezing—albeit barely above, at 1 C (34 F).
When factoring in wind chills and precipita-
tion such as snow and sleet, Ottawa winters
bring much adversity to the delivery process.
“Weather is the No. 1 challenge for
Valentine’s Day,” Ms. Plummer confirms. “We
know we’re going to have bad weather;
that’s a given. The biggest challenge is get-
ting everything wrapped so that it doesn’t get
frozen or, conversely, burnt to a crisp in the
delivery vehicle.”
Flowers get four layers of wrap to insulate
them from the winter elements. The first
layer—a gift wrapping of silver mylar tied
with a ribbon—is purely decorative, with no
protective qualities. A layer of tissue paper
comes next, followed by 40-lb.-weight kraft
paper. Finally, the package is wrapped in
plastic. Ms. Plummer notes that it is important
to have air trapped between the kraft paper
and the plastic because the air acts as an
insulator. And depending on how cold it is
outside, there may be an additional layer,
consisting of bubble wrap, between the kraft
paper and plastic.
Ms. Plummer explains that the extra time
it takes to wrap each item for delivery—
between five and 10 minutes, depending on
its size—multiplied by the large Valentine’s
Day volume, which can be up to 400 orders,
means employees can expect to be working
at practically any hour of the day or night in
preparation for the holiday. “Sometimes our
wrapping teams start at 1 o’clock in the
morning so that we’re ready to get on the
road at 8 o’clock,” Ms. Plummer relates.
Strategic routing is a key to efficient deliv-
Though there is no particular “recipe” for it,
this style of design is typical for Mill Street
Florist. Natural grapevine lends texture to
the composition, which sells for approxi-
mately $75 CAD.
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56 W W W. F L O R I S T S R E V I E W. C O M ❘ D E C E M B E R 201 1
eries at any time of year but especially for Valentine’s Day. In addition to the winter wrap-
pings causing fewer items to fit into the shop’s delivery vans, drivers must be aware of
road conditions. With the exception of residential orders in the immediate vicinity of Mill
Street Florist, the business delivers commercial orders first when there is snow or ice on
the ground because commercial streets always are plowed before residential streets.
There has been only one year in the shop’s 25-year history when Mill Street Florist
had to close on Valentine’s Day, Ms. Plummer recalls. “There was an ice storm about 10
years ago that knocked out power from the rural region south of Ottawa right through
Montreal, and some areas were without electricity and water for up to 30 days,” she says.
“Everything froze, and then as it started to melt, everything flooded.”
Despite being closed for five days, Mill Street Florist’s customers were understanding
because everyone was in the same boat. And the business even pulled off décor for a
huge government event in Ottawa before
shutting its doors. Although there was no
electricity to operate the shop’s coolers, their
insulation kept the product at a constant tem-
perature, and Ms. Plummer and her staff
worked by candlelight to finish the job.”
valentine variety
Though many florists find success with
shop specials for Valentine’s Day and other
occasions, Ms. Plummer says themed
arrangements don’t go over well with her
clientele. “We’ve tried a special called ‘The
Love Letter,’ which was made with flowers
that had specific meanings in Victorian
times,” she relates. “It included a beautiful
scroll, tied with cording, that explained all
the meanings of the flowers in the arrange-
ment. We’ve also tried making heart-shaped
arrangements and having heart-shaped con-
tainers. All are great for garnering interest
and getting the buzz out, but they’re not big
moneymakers for us. When it comes down
to it, men just want to buy what they know,
and that’s roses.”
What has worked very well for the florist
in recent years, however, is educating cus-
tomers on the longevity of certain other
flower varieties. Orchids are now equal in
popularity to roses for Valentine’s Day.
Because of their high demand among cus-
Orchids have become favored blooms among Mill
Street Florist’s customers and are equal in popularity
to roses for Valentine’s Day. The shop offers about a
dozen varieties of orchids daily, including top-selling
Cymbidiums. Textural elements including mosses
enhance the displays.
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tomers, orchids are purchased in large quantities, which pushes the prices to the same as,
or even less than, roses. The business offers about a dozen orchid varieties daily, and
Cymbidiums are the most popular.
promoting through giving
Ms. Plummer aims to keep Mill Street’s promotions budget at no more than 5 percent or
6 percent of annual sales. That still allows plenty, though; with annual revenue just shy of
$1 million CAD, she allotted $40,000 to promoting the business last year. Most of the pro-
motional budget is used to provide floral décor for two major charity events each year. The
largest event, a homes tour benefitting a local hospice, draws approximately 3,000 people.
“We’re given a house every year to decorate completely with fresh flowers, and other
florists do the same with other houses,” Ms. Plummer explains. “I view it not as a competi-
cost-control
tips from
joanne
plummer
Though Mill Street Florist is in no
danger of closing its doors, owner
JOANNE PLUMMER, AIFD, CAFA, says
the business has not been immune to
the recession. She has implemented
several cost-cutting strategies in her
business over the last 25 years, some
of them recently. Consider the follow-
ing for keeping your business finan-
cially sound.
• Employ smart staffing
strategies. Ms. Plummer shares that
she used to have all full-time employ-
ees. Now, with half of the shop’s
employees working part time, costly
overtime pay is avoided. For large
events and holidays, Ms. Plummer
hires several past employees on a free-
lance basis. She is a firm believer in
never laying off her staff, but there is an
unspoken policy that employees may
leave early during slow times as long
as all work is covered. She relates that
saving as little as 10 hours a week on
payroll makes a big difference.
• Be transparent with employ-
ees. Keeping tabs on individual com-
ponents, such as greenery, in arrange-
ments is important for maximum prof-
itability. Ms. Plummer recently began
posting Mill Street Florist’s cost of
goods and sales in the workroom for all
staff to see. “It’s really helpful because
if they can see that our cost of goods
is going up a bit, and I’ve explained the
consequences of that, then they’re
going to work hard to help keep us
healthy financially.”
• Route strategically. Because
of its location on the south side of
Ottawa, most of Mill Street Florist’s
deliveries are 20 miles or farther away.
To save on time, fuel and vehicle main-
tenance, Ms. Plummer is being much
more careful in allowing time-slotted
deliveries. “I make sure that we’re not
going back to an area with one parcel
at a time because it’s too expensive,”
she says.
• Have regular meetings with
your bookkeeper. Ms. Plummer has
a brief meeting once a week and a “full
fact-finding mission” once a month.
“We go over all the figures so we know,
at all times, where we are and where
we have to be,” she says. “It’s not
enough to just meet with your book-
keeping staff once every three months
or six months.”
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tion but as a perfect way for everyone to see
what we can produce. I’m a firm believer that
our product sells more of our product.”
The other major charity event is a golf
tournament that raises funds for childrens’
camps. Meals are included, and Mill Street
Florist creates different looks and changes
the floral décor throughout the day for
breakfast, lunch and postgame events.
Approximately 250 people attend, but Ms.
Plummer shares that the business’s exposure
goes far beyond those who partake in meals.
“It’s all the peripheral people who are
involved, too,” she relates. “Because our
donations are generous and we go above
and beyond in making sure it’s fabulous, the
organization becomes our client, their work-
ers become our clients and the people who
attend their functions become our clients. I’m
a big believer in promoting the business in
this way because when we give and people
see that we’re good at what we do, the word
spreads throughout the organizations.”
Like anything else the business does, these
events are team efforts for Mill Street Florist.
“The heart and soul of any business is the
people behind it, and I’m nothing without my
staff,” Ms. Plummer says, adding that some of
her employees have been with the business
since she opened 25 years ago. “I talk to so
many business owners who look at their staff
as problems or a necessary evil. I see my staff
as my success. If they do well, I do well. It’s
definitely a team environment.” ■
Contact Kelsey Smith at
ksmith@floristsreview.com or (800) 367-4708.
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62 W W W. F L O R I S T S R E V I E W. C O M ❘ D E C E M B E R 201 1
A red leather purse provides two gifts in one
when lined and filled with romantic blooms
and ivy. Though each arrangement is differ-
ent —this one would be priced at $125
CAD—handbag designs are popular for
Valentine’s Day and begin at $75 CAD.