Did you know that every FTD order is handled, with love and attention, by a local florist? At FTD Canada, we partner with floral shops across the country to deliver fresh and exciting bouquets every day of the year.
Today, we’re sitting down with one of Edmonton’s top floral artisans and FTD Canada partner, Heather de Kok. She has over two decades of experience in the industry and valuable insight into the industry. So if you want to learn what it takes to be a florist or simply want to hear a story or two from a floral expert, you’ll enjoy our interview below.
Can you walk us through your history in the floral industry? How did you start? How did you get to where you are now?
When I was about 14, my dad started a flower company called Grower Direct.
I want to say it happened kind of by accident. Before the flower shop, he fixed video games for a living, arcade games such as Pac-Man and Donkey Kong. As you can imagine, I was the most popular kid in school!
One day, he came across a single wrapped rose at a 7-Eleven and thought, “You know what? I can do that.” So he went out and got himself a wholesale license and started buying roses. At the end of the week the roses he didn’t sell, he’d offer to our neighbors at a discounted price.
Before you know it, the neighbors were buying from him more than the 7-Eleven. So he ended up opening the very first Grower Direct location.
Not long after that, he started Grower Direct. My evenings and weekends were mostly spent rolling roses on my Grandma’s kitchen table with my family to help get them started.
Then I moved up to the Grower Direct clown that waved at traffic on the street. I got my little clown outfit out there and waved at passersby. Hilariously enough, that advertising gimmick brings people into your store!
Fast forward a few years later and I was preparing to leave for college. My parents sat me down and said, “Do you want to do this instead?” I realized that I did.
So at 21, I took over my parents’ business while my dad went on to franchising. I started running my own store and I’ve been doing that now for 24 years.
When did online flower delivery start to boom in Edmonton?
I would say by even 2000 to 2004. That’s when I noticed a shift online. There were still a lot of phone calls coming in at that time because people weren’t quite as savvy online buyers as they are now.
By 2009, it really became a big force. Now, after COVID, it’s unprecedented. I really don’t think it’ll ever be like it was. The flower business has changed; I’m not sure retail will ever come back.
How do you think the industry has changed since you were 18 and working with your dad?
I feel as though it’s come a little bit full circle. When my dad first started, it was a lot of fresh-cut bouquets. We didn’t do arrangements or designs or any of that stuff. At that time, it was the number of flowers that mattered. You know, good deals and things like that.
As the business has changed over time, we started doing design work. But today, I’m finding now that people are starting to go back to wanting just a great deal on quality flowers.
It’s also worth mentioning that florists are experiencing a massive shortage of flowers. For example, it’s becoming really difficult to get roses. If you don’t have good relationships with suppliers, you’re probably not getting your roses.
When COVID hit, the farmers lost a lot of manpower because of the emergency distance laws. Gone were the seasons of 2,000 workers on a farm. So they had to wean down their bushes. I think this is one of the biggest effects on the global floral industry.
Do you see local florists as artists?
I do. Like any form of art, whether it’s painting or sculpting or floral, there’s going to be people who are just so naturally gifted at it that they just make it look so easy.
And then there are people like me who are self-taught. I take a lot of classes in order to hone my craft. I’m always watching YouTube videos or going to floral shows and stuff. Honestly, I like to design. I also love to teach flower shops.
What makes a florist an artist is that we’re never satisfied with the product. We always want to improve.
What else is there about the floral industry that you love?
Comradery is very important to me. Like when we meet at the Maple Leaf Cup, which is a design competition that I hold here in Edmonton. I started it so that florists from all over can get an exciting view of the industry and meet other people.
The one thing I know about florists that I’ve surrounded myself with is they’re so open. They want you to succeed. We’re such a tight-knit community because we understand the plight of the florist and the fun that’s involved in the business, too.
Unless you’ve been in the industry, you don’t quite understand the intricacies. The support and appreciation we have for one another is tremendous. When we get together, whether at a convention or a small meetup, it feels just like coming home to family.
Can you talk a little about your relationship with FTD?
I’m still thrilled to be a member of a 100+ year-old company. I think they do a lot of good. As we continue to explore our relationship with FTD, we really want to be a partner that supports them. At first, I admit it was a business decision. Now, years later, I can say it was the right one.
Can you tell us a little about a specific career highlight?
Helping with the floral arrangements at the White House was probably the biggest honor I’ve had. I’ve done so many amazing things, and I don’t want to discount the other achievements, but that one was very important to me.
There were four of us at the event and we worked with the head florist of the White House. They have a little flower shop there and they were very direct. They said, “We need it to look like this.” And we said, “You got it!”
What would be some advice for someone who is interested in starting a flower shop?
It’s such an exciting industry. My advice is that you have to be really passionate about the floral industry. And when I say passionate, it’s not, “I’m going to retire and own a flower shop.” Florists hear that sentiment a lot.
This industry can be stressful. No one wants to send the wrong flowers to a wedding or funeral, for example. So I would say if you have the passion, the money will follow. Make sure to put yourself out there and get to know the community. Maybe intern for a day a week. See if there’s a flower shop out there that would love to bring you on to show you the industry and go to every single thing that you can go to.
You don’t necessarily need to go to school. I mean, I didn’t, I’m doing alright. But I also have that passion to continue learning. It’s the passion that drives sales.
Finally, what is your favorite flower?
That’s easy — the rose!
Growing up, I didn’t realize what my family was building. I was more just irritated because I couldn’t hang out with my friends. But now the rose to me is a symbol of destiny. And I get goosebumps every time my husband sends them to me because he knows how much they mean to me.
We just wanted to thank Heather for such a fantastic interview. If you’re looking for same day flower delivery in Edmonton, try FTD Canada. We partner with top local florists like Heather to bring the freshest bouquets across the city and Canada wide, too!