Season 1 : Episode 1
Air Date: June 26, 2019
Featured Guest: Christina Stembel, CEO + Founder, Farmgirl Flowers
Colleen and Carolyn sit down with Christina Stembel, CEO and Founder of Farmgirl Flowers in their San Francisco Flower Mart Headquarters to discuss the history of Farmgirl, the international cut flower trade, and being a female business owner in a traditionally male dominated market.
Interview Recording Date: January 28, 2019
[Carolyn Kissick] 00:07 Cut Flowers have long been a symbol of love around the world, roses on mother's Day from mom, an apology from a distance lover or delivered from your best friend on your birthday. And while there's a market for locally driven food and beverages, the market for locally grown flowers hasn't quite caught up yet. Our guest today started her company with a dream, a mission to change that, and it was a mission not without challenges.
[Christina Stembel] 00:31 And so what they did is they then called the farms and said, if you sell the Farmgirl we will never buy from you again. And these are very established wholesalers, super established wholesalers that have been buying from the person that's now running farms. Dad and grandfather,
[Carolyn Kissick] 00:47 Christina Stembel, shares with us her journey to lands near and far that led to the iconic Farmgirl Flowers we know today. I'm Carolyn Kissick and I'm Coleen King. Thanks for joining us on sorceress for this episode on cut flowers. What it's like to be the first to disrupt a supply chain and why these burlap wrap bouquets are more special than you think.
[Carolyn Kissick] 01:27 Welcome to Sourceress.
[Colleen King] Welcome to Sourceress!
[Carolyn Kissick] This was a really awesome opportunity to go interview Christina in the San Francisco Flower Mart.
[Colleen King] It was my first time to the flower mart. It's basically like a large warehouse that has stalls, with vendors inside and it's typically for a wholesale purchase point, but the public is allowed, so we got to go.
[Carolyn Kissick] It's just a magical little place and I think it's so cool that her or their office is still in the building. It's like literally you ring the doorbell outside of the flower mart and you go up into Farmgirl Flowers office.
Very cool that they're still there because they originally moved there partially out of strategy, partially out of necessity, and then it kind of got a target on their back.
[Carolyn Kissick] You'll hear in the interview what really went wrong, but for them to really stand their ground and still be there, like they'll get 'em girl.
[Colleen King] 02:18 So when we first started research for this interview, I didn't realize that most cut flowers are actually imported and they're typically coming from central and South America. But specifically most flowers are coming from Columbia. Let's talk a little bit about the international policies that have shaped this migration of the industry down to South America.
[Carolyn Kissick] The Andean Trade Preference Act was enacted in 1991 by George H W Bush, to encourage the Andean countries of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru to reduce conflict crops like coca from being cultivated and trafficked. And it allowed him as president to grant tariff preferences to these qualifying countries if they met certain criteria.
[Colleen King] There were multiple things passed, right?
[Carolyn Kissick] Yeah. So there was an additional piece of policy that went through called the US Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement that rolled back in port fees on Colombian flowers specifically and allowed the United States to export other products to Colombia. So it was kind of, it's a trade preference act. But that definitely was kind of like the securing piece.
[Colleen King] And I mean very quickly we saw farms in the US either going under or moving to Colombia. Right. I mean these are giant operations down there.
[Carolyn Kissick] Yeah, absolutely.
[Carolyn Kissick] When you go to Colombia, do you see these flower farms and stuff?
[Colleen King] 03:35 I would love to go sometime, but whenever I go to Colombia I typically find to Bogota and then I stay overnight because I take a hopper plane to go to the areas that I need to go to for coffee sourcing. But I talked to a few friends that live in Bogota and it's kind of cold there. It's sort of similar to San Francisco weather where it's like fall or it's spring all the time. What's really cool about Bogota is even though they have this temperate weather, they have access to all these amazing fruits and flowers because the second you go down the mountain, that's where the growing regions are. So the growing regions are northwest of Bogota and the lower elevation sort of the valleys, and then the equator is just south of Bogota. So it's sort of this perfect area to be able to do tons of growing and it's on my list. Definitely want to go,
[Carolyn Kissick] 04:19 Let's get into the interview.
[Colleen King] Here we go.
[Colleen King] Christina, thank you so much for joining us. I'd love to begin by asking you how you had the idea of starting a company like Farmgirl Flowers.
[Christina Stembel] I was working at Stanford University and one of the departments I ever saw was the events department at the law school. And when the economic downturn happened, uh, all the budgets were cut. And of course, events and marketing in those areas are always the ones that get cut first. And so I was looking through our, our P and Ls and I was just amazed by how much we were spending on the flowers and the decor for these events that we were hosting. And these were like development events where we're asking alums for millions of dollars. And so I just started researching, um, that weekend. I remember after looking at it, you know, going home and researching the flower space and very quickly shifting from the event space to the e-com space because there were basically three companies that these giant companies that just monopolize three quarters of the entire space.
[Colleen King] 05:15 Okay. And e-comm is delivery.
[Christina Stembel] 05:17 Yes. The, the E-comm, like, you know, going online and ordering and then delivering anywhere nationwide that space. And so it was like three companies making up, you know, three quarters of the whole, the three point $2 billion in that space. And then I would think about like, you know, the experience I had when I would purchase from one of those companies and it wasn't great at all. I would spend an hour sorting through like 200 options and I would narrow it down to like the least ugly option is how I would kind of classify it. It would usually be like an all white bouquet cause I'm like, how can they get that wrong? And then I would, you know, think it's going to cost me 40 or 50 bucks. It ended up costing $100 by the time I checked out. And then what was delivered to my mom in northern Indiana never looked anything like what I thought it was going to.
[Christina Stembel] 06:00 And it looked like something that came from the grocery store that should've cost like $8 instead of 80. And so, um, when I was researching this space, I saw that the e-comm space was actually declining at that point. And that made no sense to me. I was like in 2010 every industry was going to econ and if it was on E-comm, it was growing so rapidly that it, you know, like hand over, you know, leaps and bounds handover feet like growth rates. And for it not to be that in flowers, I understood why because everybody was having that same experience that I was having when I was on flowers. And so it was one of the first business ideas I had where I saw a real problem. I wasn't just creating a problem to try to solve the market size was big enough that if I could take some market share from one of these three companies, um, I could take a significant PR, you know, even just a couple percent of that would be a very large number.
[Christina Stembel] 06:52 And um, I could also bootstrap it. So the last, uh, point that I needed it to tick was that I needed to be able to bootstrap the company because I don't have a college education. I didn't have a pedigree that one of the tech pedigrees from out here where you worked at Google, apple or Facebook. Um, so I knew there was no way I could go to outside, you know, to a venture capitalists and get them to invest in a company. So I had a little tiny nest egg of $49,000, and which I thought back then was a ton of money. Um, and it went very quickly, but I thought that was a significant enough amount to start a business. This was one that, because I lived in an area that had a really robust flower market here in San Francisco, I could start it here and by small amounts of flowers to start, which was really important. We'll probably get into later on the sourcing side. But that allowed me to be able to, if I was like in back in Breman, Indiana where I grew up, I wouldn't have been able to start this company. But because of where I lived, it allowed me to.
[Colleen King] 07:46 Okay, that's amazing. So you know that you can bootstrap it. Um, you're getting the know how you are making your plans. And one thing that I really respect about your brand and yourself is how transparent you are on your website, about your troubles in sourcing. I mean, you can just go on there and you can learn all about how difficult it was for you to make a change in this industry. Um, and I know one thing that was really important to you was working with American farmers early on, but that poses a lot of difficulties. So I'd love for you to sort of talk about, um, what your values were when you got started and how that related to your sourcing.
[Christina Stembel] 08:21 When I first started, it was really important to me to only use domestic flour. So that was one of the big missions and the principles that I built Farmgirl on.
[Colleen King] And why was that?
Um, I did it for a few reasons. I grew up in a farm, like I said, and so agriculture, I knew the importance of agriculture to a community. I knew that firsthand. I saw it firsthand and I was reading all these stories about local farms that were just going out of business left and right because they couldn't compete with South America pricing. And that hit a nerve for me. I thought that was really sad and I thought if I brought consumers to them, meaning like, you know, people were choosing buy from us and we were choosing to buy domestic, that these local farms would basically see me as this, you know, this, you know, super hero to them.
[Christina Stembel] 09:05 You know, I would come in on my white horse and my checkbook flailing and be like, I'm here to save the day.
[Colleen King] You guys, don't worry. Got It. We're here to buy all your flowers.
[Christina Stembel] Exactly. We'll buy them all. Didn't happen like that. I was, uh, you know, I just thought if the, the supply and demand, you know, economics would, would work for them. Um, but it didn't. Um, most domestic farmers are multigenerational. Um, so they're, they're not set up as businesses. You know, I come from commodity crops, which are run more like business operations. Flowers are not like that. Um, flower farmers. I mean, a large farm has, you know, 50 to a hundred acres, um, maybe a couple of hundred acres, you know, whereas in commodity crops, it's, you know, thousands and hundreds, thousands of acres. So it's just run differently when it's a third generation. And I've done a lot of research since and you know, multi-generational, not just farms but businesses in general.
[Christina Stembel] 09:56 You know, the second generation has a 66% failure rate. Their generation has a 92% failure rate. And that's in business in general, it's no different in farms. So, you know, when it's a grandson of the person that started the farm and they've always been doing things a certain way, they a lot of times just keep the status quo. They're not trying to think outside the box, they're not changing with anything else that's changing in the world. Um, a lot of them honestly saw me as like, you know, who is this little girl coming into this space and thinking that they're going to, you know, she's going to like come in and change things. You know, this like Internet things like a blip, you know, like that's how they were thinking, you know? And so they would like laugh at me. They would literally just laugh at me.
[Christina Stembel] 10:36 Um, and when celled me, they're like, we only sell to wholesalers. Um, so I fought that. I got a wholesale license thought then I'll just like be a wholesaler, you know, if that's what I need to do, that didn't work then they were just like, oh, now you know, we're just not going to sell to you. And then, um, you know, I fast forward, you know, I kept growing, kept growing, get a lot of great press. I thought that would help, you know, uh, New York Times today show did some really big press things and I thought, okay, well now they're going to see like we're serious. Like we're, you know, one of the fastest growing private companies, you know, like all these things. And that didn't help. Um, it really, you know, I kept trying and trying and to make it work and we were just out of flowers.
[Christina Stembel] 11:14 We were out of an, you know, flowers from people that would sell to us. We had some amazing farms, I should should mention, we had some, still do have some amazing farms, um, just met last week with the first farm that would sell to us. Um, that is now custom growing for us as well.
[Colleen King] Okay. So you do have long standing relationships with American farmers and I'm super curious. So what do you think is the main difference between the farmers that said, I'm sorry it's too big of a risk. I can't work with you and the farmers that said, I see this as an opportunity.
[Christina Stembel] So I think the difference is, uh, people that have a business mindset versus don't have a business mindset. So, um, the farm, the first farm that would sell to us outside of the flower mart where we here are here.
[Christina Stembel] 11:55 Um, they took a lot of heat for even selling to us. So what happened? I'm just going to give you all the dirty down-low on what happens. Um, so I moved out of my apartment into the San Francisco Flower Mart when my landlord, who was a corporate attorney found out I was running an illegal business from my dining room two years in and told me I had to get Farmgirl out of the apartment. So, um, moved into an 1100 square foot space here below where we're sitting right now in the San Francisco Flower Mart. That was probably one of the biggest mistakes I could have made. So it was the most economical, um, for me to move in there cause it was much cheaper than if I in San Francisco went out and got a commercial lease here. Um, however it made me very visible to all the wholesalers. And so what would happen is the wholesalers were seeing how fast I was growing.
[Christina Stembel] 12:43 I hired my first employee in 2012 when we moved in here and you know, a year later we're at 16 employees and a year later we're at 30 employees. And, um, we kept taking on more and more space at the flower mart here. And so we became basically like a bullseye on us. Like, you know, people complaining. There was all kinds of, you know, petitions to the flower mart to try to get us kicked out. There's all kinds of craziness. The florists really didn't like us. That would be like a really soft way of saying it because we were inadvertently taking business away from them. And I didn't mean to take it away from the local florists, but that happens. That's just collateral damage. Right. And you know, I didn't, like I said, it wasn't intentional but that's what happened. And so they were upset and they were like, the only reason that Farmgirl growing is because they’re at the San Francisco Flower Mart and nothing to do with that.
[Christina Stembel] 13:28 But then the wholesalers are upset because they're seeing all the trucks that are coming in with, with things for us. And so what they did is they then called the farms and said, if you sell the Farmgirl, we will never buy from you again. And these are very established wholesalers, super established wholesalers that have been buying from the person that's now running the farms. Dad and grandfather and you know, if we are a blip and if we do end up closing our doors next month and this huge wholesaler isn't buying from them anymore, it would really hurt them even though it, you know, right now we are probably 10 times larger in what we're purchasing than any of the wholesalers here. Um, so we, you know, right now it would look really good for them and lucrative for them to sell to us, but it's a risk for them.
[Christina Stembel] 14:13 And so the first farm that allowed us to buy from them, not at the flower mart that happened, the one of the biggest wholesalers Collins and said, if you sell the Farmgirl are pulling our account. He said, he came back to me and he said, you know, I'm, I'm gonna, I'm gonna take a risk, you know, on you guys, please don't screw us. Basically. And that was probably six and a half years ago. And, um, we still have a great relationship to this day, but that wholesaler stopped buying from them for like two weeks. Great. And then needed their flowers. And so started buying from them again. And so, um, he basically called their bluff and then once they saw that this farm has a pretty large, pretty substantial sized farm, was still selling to us than other people would still sell to us at that size.
[Christina Stembel] 14:56 Now these are not huge growers there, you know, they're big for, for the United States, but there's not a lot of huge growers left to the United States because their lands just worth too much money. So they have, you know, have sold a lot of their land. Most of the large farms.
[Colleen King] And you started sourcing internationally in 2017, is that right?
[Christina Stembel] Yes. So starting in 2017, um, I should have started in probably 2015. So looking back on it,
one of my big regrets is trying so hard for so long because in 2016 we only received 26% of our confirmed orders that whole year, which is makes it impossible to run an efficient business. Um, yeah, we were getting confirmed confirmations on orders.
[Colleen King] Wait, like PO’s?
Yes. And that still happens to this day. And usually with domestic farmers, so it's not intentional. They're not, it's not malicious. They're not, you know, like I'm gonna, you know, screw Farmgirl.
[Christina Stembel] 15:43 It's not like they're confirming and then just not sending, it's at their, their business practices are over forecasting. They're under delivering, it's weather related, but they're not doing any kind of modeling that would project that for them and you know, so then they get 10% or have 20% of what they think they're going to have available and they're not going to just give it to one customer. So then everybody gets 5% of what they ordered of that. So what would then happen for us is we would have to then come to the flower mart once we moved out. So we were here for three and a half years, I think, and then moved into a bigger warehouse. And um, we'd have to come here, we'd have to buy out all the wholesalers, those same wholesalers that screwed us. There's no other word for it, but just screwed us out of our flowers.
[Christina Stembel] 16:23 One of them literally two weeks before mother's Day went to the farm, told them if you sell, if you give those peonies, that Farmgirl’s already ordered from you. We're pulling our account. The farm got scared. So it took our peonies and then that same wholesaler came back to us and said, I hear you don't have any peonies and sold them back to us for 50 cents of stem. More like literally these are the games that are played and flowers and that's a difference of like $30,000 difference that you have to pay. Cause these are like huge amounts of ordering 100 hundreds of thousands of of stems of things that we're ordering. So it's not like it's 50 cents a stem and it ends up being 500 bucks. It's like no, it's a difference of $30,000 is what it costs us out here for that. And just one one crop.
[Colleen King] 17:01 Is this why you said you think you should have started sourcing internationally earlier?
[Christina Stembel] I should have way earlier, but I tried and tried and tried. And what it boiled down to, like the, the kind of defining moment for me was there's a really large farm here in the u s that would not sell to me direct, um, to, to at farm. And uh, he, I tried everything. I went to Washington and lobbied with them cause he's in the cut flower commission here. I tried everything and would not sell it to me. He kept saying that I don't sell to retailers only to wholesalers. Um, I knew that he sold to one of the large giant e-com companies or two of them. Um, he said those are the only ones that I sell to. I don't sell to any of the new like e-comm ones. And then I got an email forwarded to me of one of our competitors that's male owned and younger than us and smaller than us with their order from this farm and proof that they had been ordering from this farm and buying for this farm for over a year.
[Colleen King] 17:56 So they just didn't want to sell to you.
They just don't want to sell to me. And I had to go, uh, basically threatened a gender discrimination lawsuit and say, there's no other no other reason that you're not selling to me other than I'm a woman cause I've been in business longer than this company. I have more revenue than this company and yet you're, you're lying to me straight up. And here's the emails that you told me that you weren't selling retail. And, um, they were selling to me the next Monday after I said if I was going through my lawyer's the next week, if I wasn't able to buy direct, but the fact that I have to go buy from people that I have to threaten with gender discrimination lawsuits to get them to, so that was the moment that I said, and I also talked to the head of the California Cut Flower Commission who told me that my responsibility to this industry just sit there with that for a second.
[Christina Stembel] 18:43 Like, I have a responsibility to an industry that won't sell to me, um, is, uh, that I stumped my growth in order for them to catch up and decide they want to sell to me. Wow. Um, yeah, that week of that happening was a real defining moment for me where I was like, why am I working so hard to fight for an industry that doesn't want saving it? Like I was literally like, I am trying so hard to do this, to bring, you know, local agriculture back since it was such a huge part of, you know, the California landscape here and for what? For what? So I just then decided, no more, I'm done fighting. Um, it was like I said, probably two years after when I should have done this and come to this realization. And so I just started, then I went on a trip down to South America.
[Christina Stembel] 19:37 I went and met farms. Um, a good friend of mine in the industry. He, uh, used to buy for the large companies and he, um, connected me with farms that he knew ethically would meet the, um, requirements that I would want to make sure, um, that the farms were doing with, in, you know, medical with for their teams, paying them, living wages for the country.
From your experience, how common is that?
[Christina Stembel] Um, it's not, I think that when I first research international sourcing, I heard the worst case scenarios and I read the worst case scenarios and I saw the worst case scenarios on the videos and most of those were from like the 80s. Um, things have changed a lot since then. Uh, I needed to see it for myself to know that that was the case. And I have to say all of the farms that we work with in South America, um, that I have met, treat their teams and have better resources and, and benefits for their teams than I would say 90% of theUS farmers that we work with.
[Christina Stembel] 20:36 And I understand why from the US farmer standpoint though, I mean, we do not make it easy for companies here in the US at all and we expect them to compete with, um, imports that it's an impossible playing field for them. It just is. I understand it. So I'm not trying to like beat anybody up. It's just, it's different.
I mean international sourcing is just so complicated, but it really helps to be able to be on the ground and see how your money is being used. That impact.
[Christina Stembel] Yeah. I mean one of the rose farms we work with, um, has built a school for all the kids. Um, cause it's mainly women that work. They're harvesting the crops. And um, another one is building homes where
they're doing like a combined, uh, interest, you know, loan with a bank with lower interest rates for them.
[Christina Stembel] 21:17 I mean they're just starting, you know, they have washers and dryers there which bought them back a full day of doing laundry, um, manual lasers. They're just doing really great things for their teams. And, um, I didn't see that, you know, when I was researching until I went down there and actually saw it. Um, from what I've heard it was pretty bad, you know, and then it's been regulated now since then. And now there's newer countries like in Africa that are getting involved in the floral trade and those are not regulated yet. And so it's to be careful of those areas. So it's just really knowing where your flowers come from. Just like everything else when you're sourcing to make sure that you're working with farms, that you believe me, you know, the, the values that you want.
[Colleen King] 21:58 I'm really curious how you're received once you went down there. I mean, you're having so much trouble sourcing in the u s and then once you went down to South America where you sort of received with open arms and they were like so excited to do business with you.
[Christina Stembel] Yeah, it is. Now. At first it was funny, I thought that I would go to South America and be really anonymous because I'd only ever bought flowers here. But because I had gotten so much great press, which was amazing for us, for our growth, they knew who I was and they weren't happy with me because I was basically touting how great American flowers are and that we should only be supporting American. And I'll never forget when, uh, I was visiting one of the rose farms down in Ecuador that we work with an amazing farm, amazing family farm. Uh, and we were picking up, we're going to dinner but picking up, uh, his son, it's very familial.
[Christina Stembel] 22:43 They're like, you go and you like hang out with her families and stuff, which is amazing. We're picking up his son from his school before going to dinner and his son when I was in the car then was like, why are you here? Like really kind of with some animosity like, why are you here? You don't like Ecuadorian farms, you don't like us? Like, and I was like, oh my goodness. Like I messed up. I, so I needed to apologize. And also I needed to learn. I like, I was ignorant, I was completely ignorant to this and I needed to admit I was ignorant and say I'm sorry and I was wrong. And I, you know, went with what I read, which was not always true, at least not true. 30 years after the research had been done. And so I needed, I didn't start off on at zero. I started off at like negative 10 with them and had to build up to zero. And now it's amazing. It's like we get almost a hundred percent of our confirmed orders internationally. We still probably only get about 50% of domestic, 40 to 50%.
[Colleen King] 23:46 Wow, that's amazing. And the quality is just as high.
[Christina Stembel] 23:49 Yes. The quality is amazing. The transportation has been difficult to figure out the transportation here with such high perishability. So that was a big thing for us. But the quality is amazing. They also, because they're real business people and this is their livelihood. It's not like they inherited a hundred acres of prime real estate from their grandfather or their father. Um, they need it to feed their children, to feed their families. And so they, they do business very differently than most of the American farms that we work with.
[Colleen King] 24:19 Interesting. And so I'd love to go dive deeper into the international sourcing. So from what I understand, we import significantly more flowers than we actually produce ourselves. Is that right? Yes.
[Christina Stembel] 24:30 80% of the flowers are sold in the United States or are imported. And that was from 2010. Um, that statistic, if we did this statistic again, especially after cannabis has been legalized, I would say it's probably like 90 to 95%. Um, the flower industry is trying to kind of keep that quiet. I'm not sure why. I mean, if they're making more money, I'm growing cannabis and grow cannabis. I mean, like it's, you know, what they need to do to stay in business and I actually applaud them for switching and actually thinking outside the box and doing something that's going to be financially more lucrative for them. Um, you know, so if they can get a dollar 50 a square foot for, for greenhouse space for cannabis versus 5 cents and growing flowers per square foot, then do it, you know, but, um, you know, that has definitely impacted the flower space though a lot.
[Colleen King] 25:19 Well, that's an even larger number than what I had even imagined. So that means when I'm running late for a dinner party and I just run in and grab a bouquet from somewhere, I'm almost, certainly that's not coming from American farmers. Yes.
[Christina Stembel] 25:31 Okay. Um, what's interesting to me is, you know, there's some negativity around buying from us because it's not supporting local florists. And I get that. Um, I totally understand that I'm all for supporting small businesses in your community. Um, what I find is really interesting is that most people assume that because they're supporting the local Flores, that means are locally grown flowers and I 99.9% of the time. That is not the case at all. Um, there's a great resource called slow flowers.com or if you want to find American grown flowers and florists that use them, you can go on there and look by your area and find someone who will. And I encourage people to do that. I think that's amazing. Um, especially, you know, smaller farms throughout the United States and Midwest and stuff, they have a lot of like great florists there that will use their flowers and then the transportation costs, the oil that's used in even getting them to and fro is so much better, you know, but for the most part when people are just like, oh, you're, you know, buying all these bad imports from this company and then, you know, go support your local florists, they're coming from the same place, you know.
[Christina Stembel] 26:28 So yeah, we actually probably buy more American grown flowers then 99.9% of any of the local florists.
[Colleen King] Okay. So you did achieve your dream?
I did. I did a teammate, it just had to change a bit. So I mean we still bought like last year, um, we probably spent about 8 million on flowers. We probably about $8 million with flowers and of that last year at least 3 million were domestic. So that's a lot of domestic flowers to be buying. Um, the year before that it was 80% were domestic. So it's gradually going to more important because we need to. Um, and because there's not with canvas, there's not as many flowers here. Um, but we're still buying as much as we possibly can. We still support the American flower farmers that can provide the flowers, says we buy it from them first when we can, um, are all the time, as long as they have transportation to us, even if it cost us double what that stem would cost us in Ecuador or something like that.
[Colleen King] 27:26 Okay. So I would love to touch on the perishability aspect because a lot of people don't know this, but coffee is perishable and there's an embryo. It's alive. Um, and the most stressful part of my job is getting everything shipping in time, um, to make sure that that quality remains super high. Um, so I'm super curious about the things that you do in order to get this, these flowers, which the purpose of is to be beautiful and alive and smell good, um, and to enhance your home and your life. And it is so fragile. And I'm curious, how long does it take? Let's say from a farm in Columbia, I know that they have a huge export industry, um, to get their flowers to your warehouse in San Francisco.
[Christina Stembel] 28:07 It depends how you're transporting it. And this is something I had to learn. Um, so you really have to know each individual flower and how you should transport it. So if it's, if it's flowers that are extremely perishable and bruise easily, you might want to fly it here. So FedEx IPD will fly it, or the farm to your door and it gets to you in 72 hours. Whereas other ones that have longer perishability, you know, carnations are, you know, as you know, they can go for weeks, you know, which is amazing, which is why so many people use them so much. Um, but you know, tulips have a longer life, um, you know, bulb, anything that grows with a bulb has a longer life span. So, you know, you would fly it to Miami and then truck it from Miami and then it's going to be here and you know, four days.
[Christina Stembel] 28:53 So it's, it's knowing the flower type and then determining the transportation that you want to get to. If it's coming from, you know, coming from east from like Europe, then you're going through Miami, then you might fly it from Miami here where you might truck it depending on what the flower is. So it's every vendor we work with, every farm we work with, um, we have a little bit different, um, transportation method based on the flower type. There's also, you have to have people consolidating them, um, you know, at the, at in Miami and some flight at lax and some go to Miami. So it's, it's, it's, it's a big puzzle. And with perishability, I just, I mean, if I had known how hard perishability is, I never would've started Farmgirl. I say that with 1000% certainty. Um, I'm really glad I did start Farmgirl
[Christina Stembel] 29:39 So I'm glad I was really naive with that. But it is the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. And I often joke that I think after doing this, you know, having a PR, highly perishable product, uh, that needs to be then not just perishable coming to us, but perishable going out. So we have to overnight ship everything and we have to make everything with our hands. We have to redesign. Every single thing is designed. So it's not like I'm making a sweater in China and I make one pattern and then they're making thousands of them. I need to have designers that have to design every single product every day that will exceed our customer's expectations every single time. It's the hardest thing. I think that after this, I could go do anything and it would seem like a cake walk. After this. We basically have three days, so we can't mess up.
[Christina Stembel] 30:25 Yes, we have three days once it arrives to get it back out. Um, and we ship everything overnight so then it can have the longest. You can have a week, um, in our customer's hands to be able to enjoy them. And so if we mess up our ordering, it can break our entire company. And we're 100% bootstrapped still. So it's not like we have $5 million sitting in the bank. You know, our margins are so slim, we run it basically a 0% net profit margin for the year in order to grow the company and put it back into marketing, um, to fuel our growth. So if we over order by 10%, that's enough to, I mean be a huge issue for us.
[Colleen King] 31:03 And what are the, some of the things that you have control of, um, that can maintain quality? So for example, I read that it's really important to have them in sort of a controlled environment at a specific temperature.
[Christina Stembel] 31:13 Cold chain is really important. Um, so all the trucking companies we use have to have cold, like not break. Cold chain is our goal.
[Colleen King] And that's a specific temperature.
[Christina Stembel] Yeah. So it needs to be a specific temperature. It needs to stay refrigerated until it reaches our door. So the big shifts in temperature, there's a lot. You can, you can test this. There's these little a temperature gauge controls you can put in your boxes and test it to make sure it's not breaking cold chain to see if the trucking company says that it's in our reefer truck, but it's actually not in a reefer truck. And you'll see it can get up to like the 80s and those boxes if it's not in a refrigerated truck, cause there's so many of them with oxygen, you know, in those trucks. So it can become basically like a sauna in there if it's not in refrigerated trucks. So, um, it's really important you pay a lot more for transportation and reefer trucks, but it's really important to do that. So that's what we do from Miami. It'll be in a reefer truck the whole way.
[Colleen King] 32:02 Okay. So is that why sometimes you order flowers online and then they get delivered to you and they're sort of like wilted and just kind of look like they've been through a rough journey?
[Christina Stembel] 32:10 They may have been refrigerated. It's pretty standard to have them refrigerated. However, what's not standard is how long. A lot of companies will keep flowers in house when they shouldn't. So the three days is our, um, that's like our criteria for when we'll get rid of it. We won't send out flowers that we know are not fresh. It's just, it's not what we would do. It doesn't fit our values and other companies. Um, the reason we use very different flowers and what most of our competitors, I haven't seen any of our competitors, all the flower varieties that we use. Um, and the reason they don't is because they have a much lower lifespan than other ones. So the reason that everybody, you know, it's a bad rap that I love carnations, but carnations gets such a bad rap. Carnations and Alstroemeria and mums button moms, all those get like, you see them in every grocery store, you see them in every like E-com company, the big ones that you go and look at.
[Christina Stembel] 33:02 It's because you can keep those like on a pallet in a warehouse for two weeks. And that's what's happening. They're going from the farm to their distribution centers throughout the United States. And then they're sitting on pallets and then those, you know, basically third party shippers, three pills will then take them off the pallet, put them in the box and ship them out to the customer, which could be a week and a half after that pallet arrived. We wouldn't do that. So that's just, you know, but we also can use them much higher quality, more expensive, more amazing flowers that women actually want to receive because we're keeping them for three days or less.
[Colleen King] It's so amazing because I feel like you found people that no one was talking to in the market and knew what they wanted, but in order to execute it, you had to have these very tight procedures to make sure that everything was in place in order to actually pull it off.
[Christina Stembel] 33:50 Yes. Basically that's what every woman wants. What another thing that was surprising to me was that women are the consumers of flowers. So when I started firing [inaudible], when I started researching it, before I started it, I was blown away cause I was like, what 80% of people to buy flowers are women, which didn't make any. I thought there was all men mind for women because that's what all the marketing that you see is like, oh, we get our, all these red roses and babies breath ugliness, you know, like blah blah, blah. You know? And for some reason teddy bears, which I feel is a little bit like a pedophile, but like, yeah, it's so weird. I'm not seven, I don't want a teddy bear, you know? But, um, so I just assumed it was men, but it's not, it's women buying for women because every woman knows how it feels to receive flowers.
[Christina Stembel] 34:29 And so you want to give that to all your girlfriends and sisters and moms and everybody. So, um, you know, I think that most of the other, well all of the other companies that I know of that are large scale or 100% owned by men and uh, they don't, I feel like they just don't understand that, you know, if the consumer is women, women, they want different things, they just do. So, you know, we've done focus groups around it. Um, Valentine's days are our least favorite time of the whole year because it's the only time that men buy flowers. It becomes 90% male and 10% female. Um, and what male consumers want is very different. I even did a focus group two years ago after Valentine's Day where, um, two or three years we heard it was the first time that I had heard all these crazy, it was 2016 where the, you know, customer service, like, you know, we're hearing this feedback that the, their boring, the flowers are boring and they're men.
[Christina Stembel] 35:21 And I'm like, what's man? I don't know what that means. You know. So I called a couple of the men that had complained and well first of all I called customers complain. I found out they're all men. Okay. Cause it's Valentine's Day. And I was like, this is their, they couldn't like put their finger on it. They're like, well they're smaller than I thought. I'm like, I've never heard that before. When talks about how big our bouquets are and I just couldn't figure it out. So I did an email focus group where I took, had 40 women and 40 men, um, that had bought from us more than three times. And I just asked, hey, you'll receive a free bouquet if you just answer one email question for me. Filled up that focus group in like three minutes flat and just send them two pictures.
[Christina Stembel] 35:56 And I made both of them. One was a vocation that was um, our normal, you know, we usually pick like two bold colors and muted tones and neutrals that are complimentary, you know, like burgundy and peach and orange tones. And then I sent one and you start like regular bouquet or regular flowers now. And so it was like Kelly's and, and garden roses and peonies and things or [inaudible], things like that. And then the other one, um, you, it was, we call it a Crayola box. It had every color of the crayola box in that bouquet. And they were really big headed flowers like sunflowers and Gerber daisies and things like that. And it looked twice as big as the other one. They both had 20 stems. They're both were $78 retail. And I said, which one do you prefer? And send it out. And um, it was the, it was fascinating. So, um, of the 40 women, all 40 chose our regular standard bouquet. And of the men, 39 out of 40 of them chose the crayola box. Yes. And then I was right. So typical, yeah, it was like size mattered. The colors they wanted to in your face. They wanted it gaudy. They're like this other Pale thing. There's nothing special about that. And we're like, no, no, no. Look at the David Austin Rose in it.
[Colleen King] 37:14 That's so funny because it sounds like you're sort of describing like a conventional bouquet. And I don't want to say that in a bad way, but it's sort of just meant to like fill up a vase. It doesn't feel as like personal. And for me, I love textures. I love weird looking flowers. I like things that sort of look like they should grow under the sea, but somehow or like miraculously growing above ground. Um, and it's, it's always been hard to receive that kind of bouquet.
[Christina Stembel] 37:37 Definitely in the perceived value for men is in the size of the bouquet and in how loud it is, where the perceived value for women in the UK is the delicateness of it and the design of it. And that it was like thoughtful and design, thoughtfully designed and um, the little details that are sometimes a tiniest things really matter to them.
[Colleen King] That's fascinating.
[Christina Stembel] So now we, we've changed what we do for Valentine's Day. Based on that you do the larger ones or we do, we added one more bold color in it. Um, we do a lot of red roses mixed into the bouquets to make them happy because I think red roses are what they are that women want you to know they aren't. But then we mixed them with like [inaudible], which is actually what women want. So we try to like just kind of like game game them a little for it.
[Colleen King] 38:21 So funny. Okay. So I think we pretty much covered everything that I wanted to, but I have a few extra questions, um, if you don't mind. So do you have a favorite flower and if so, will you describe it to me? Yes.
[Christina Stembel] 38:33 So, um, my favorite flower changes from time to time. I think my, my staple favorite flowers, a king protea just because they're so different and they're so expensive so we don't get to use them very much, so I don't get tired of them. Um, they look like these giant, almost like microphones. Um, and they're in this really pretty light pink color. Yeah, they're just beautiful. They're so stunning. Um, any kind of protea I just love not any kind of most, um, I'm not a big yellow flower person, so there's some yellow ones that aren't my favorite, but, um, proteins are amazing. Um, marina is, there's some new varieties of Vernon kilos, uh, that are just amazing and look just like peonies, but even prettier. I think. Um, Icelandic poppies are really hard to use in arrangements, but they're beautiful. Is it? Oh, do you know the, um, the trick of lighting? Uh, the bottom of them, the stems to get them to pot to get them to open. Um, if you cut the stems and then you take a lighter to the bottom and uh, and burn singe the ends, it'll help them open quicker. So. Cool. They're beautiful.
[Colleen King] 39:35 Thank you so much, Christina. It's been so wonderful to chat with you and learn from you. I have one more question. If you could wake up tomorrow and be an expert in sourcing in any other fields, what would you do?
[Christina Stembel] 39:44 Hmm, that's a great question. Um, after this, I think I would really like to do something non-perishable. So, um, I would probably do sourcing for like, uh, textiles like sustainable textiles or um, something in the beauty space that still has some perishability but not three days, something like that.
[Colleen King] 40:14 Awesome. Thanks again to Christina for taking the time to chat with us. You can find more
about Farmgirl Flowers @farmgirlflowers and farmgirlflowers.com and stay tuned for our music segment where our music curator discusses the musical and cultural identity of the region and product discussed in the episode. And if you haven't yet, please like and subscribe. You can find us online at sorceress underscore, underscore, we are a small group of radical women trying to make it happen and your support means so much.
[Danielle Maggio]: 40:58 Hello. Hello, this is Danielle Maggio delivering you the sonic sauce of Sourceress. Today I'm focusing on music from Colombia, although many of the genres and instruments and dances definitely traverse borders through Ecuador and also Panama. Our playlist is going to feature traditional music, all that originated in Colombia as well as contemporary pop music. But for this segment, I want to feature the traditional styles and think about how their examples of musical hybridity. Colombia has an incredibly rich cultural heritage. I mean it really acts as this intangible reflection of the influences and cultures from indigenous communities, Spanish colonialism and settlers and forced African migration. Like many countries in the Americas, indigenous peoples inhabited and lived and thrived or centuries prior to the arrival of colonial powers. You had native groups such as the Choco Indians using song and dance as a way to structure life events, whether it be social or spiritual.
[Danielle Maggio] 42:08 One of the things that I find, so moving about indigenous music making is the idea of talent and performance really doesn't exist in the way that we understand it. So this idea that to be a musician or to be a performer, you have to have a certain amount of talent, some kind of skill, perhaps even training that just doesn't exist in the indigenous context of music making. With the arrival of the Spanish. At the end of the 15th century, indigenous Colombia was forced to assimilate to European religious, political, and cultural systems. The forced migration of west Africans via the transatlantic slave trade began in the 16th century and lasted until 1851 the traditional music and dance style of quota allow from the Afro Colombian coastal region provides the foundation for a lot of genres throughout the country. This style is most heavily influenced by the music and dance of West Africa, so you'll have musical characteristics like call and response, which is a huge indicator of that in the Andean region, one of the predominant folk styles is bound Buco, which essentially sounds a lot like Spanish guitar music infused with Afro Colombian rhythms.
[Danielle Maggio] 43:27 The beat structure is actually similar to a European waltz and bum Buco is performed as a couples dance in the Caribbean region. The folk music style Avaya Nat though originated from cattle farmers who inherited the tradition of Spanish street performers known as who? Gladys, which roughly translates to gestures keeping in the classic tradition of folklore via Natto is said to have begun with Francisco a longer day or Francisco, the man who allegedly defeated the devil in Amy's school contest. This folklore myth of a man crossing paths with the devil in order to legitimize his musical talent is a common trope amongst the African diaspora. So here I'm thinking specifically of the African American Delta Blues Tradition. Well via not though uses the indigenous cooled Shabaka and the African cowhide drum. It's the European accordion, which has come to really define the genre. So you have three main instruments that make up one genre, which originated three separate continents and cultures.
[Danielle Maggio] 44:35 Without a doubt. The most popular style of music and Dancing Colombia is Cumbia. Cumbia originated in the Caribbean region. During the Spanish colonial period, Colombia actually began as a courtship dance practiced amongst the west African population in order to Mimic Colombia Spanish colonizers and how they danced originally using only percussion and vocals. Columbia has evolved to include Morocco's and gay does. And of course now modern groups use saxophones, trumpets, keyboards and trombones. By the 1950s and more refined, I. E. Middle-class, modern westernized form of coolio was established. This is due in large part to the expansion of musical hybridity that happened when Colombian music started to incorporate American elements like jazz. And Big Band and swing ethnomusicologist. Steven Feld introduced the idea of sound structure as social structure. Colombian music has evolved out of its very own cultural hybridity. You have a mix of indigenous roots, European conquest, and forced African migration, creating this dynamic and tense soundscape for its society, whether it's indigenous communities making music in a ritual context or farmers making Spanish street entertainment into their own unique folklore or west Africans mimicking the ruling colonial class. The sound structure of Colombian music is inseparable from its social structure .
[Danielle Maggio] 46:16 To listen to this week's playlist, as well as access playlists from past episodes go to Spotify or apple music and search for sorceress. That's S O U R C. E. R. E. S. S. The playlists are public, but we hope you'll consider subscribing to our podcast so you can get fabulous fresh updates each week and easily access the playlist. Thank you all so much for your support and we hope you enjoy the sonic sauce of Sourceress.
[Carolyn Kissick] Sourceress is written, directed, and produced by Carolyn Kissick and Colleen King. Our music curator is Danielle Maggio, theme music by flat broke robot. Special thanks to our donors who all helped make this possible. Megan King, Ray King, Christopher Kissick, Dev Maggio, Gus and Maryann bonder hide the staple status. Courtney Minnick, Jen Apodaca, Vanessa Brown, Jonathan Joseph, and Max Kelly. We couldn't have done it without you. Thanks for joining us on Sourceress. Till next time, stay curious.