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Michelle J. Stenson, founder of Chartreuse Flower Works in Kingston, Ont. (Jason Office/Image One Photography for The Globe and Mail)
Michelle J. Stenson, founder of Chartreuse Flower Works in Kingston, Ont. (Jason Office/Image One Photography for The Globe and Mail)

#TakeOff

How bookmarks helped a florist’s business bloom Add to ...

The #Takeoff series is about crowdsourcing issues important to Canadian small businesses. They tell us about their defining moments and we write about their stories, the issues, and strategies for success or how to overcome obstacles.

Bookmarks are a promotional winner for Kingston, Ont., florist Michelle J. Stenson. After founding Chartreuse Flower Works, a full-service flower shop, just over a year ago, the 34-year-old fledgling entrepreneur has distributed more than 7,000 of her distinctive chartreuse coloured “business bookmarks” around the city, mainly by leaving them as a giveaway at Starbucks and other popular neighbourhood spots. Each one is printed with her contact information and tied with bright string – another signature trademark that’s repeated on many of the shop’s floral arrangements. Those bookmarks – her own idea – have brought her a lot of new business.

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“I thought it would be cool to have a bookmark, instead of those little florist enclosure cards, so you could keep it and use it afterwards,” says Ms. Stenson, who has university degrees in environmental studies and education. “What’s cool is that I go into places now where I didn’t leave them and my bookmarks are there. Other people are spreading my bookmarks around.”

Since Ms. Stenson does the outdoor flower planters for her area Starbucks, they let her leave the bookmarks there. She also puts flowers inside Starbucks gratis, placed along where people wait for their coffee. The staff are so enthused, she says, they often remind customers to take one.

Kelly Askew, retail managing director with consultancy Accenture in Toronto, says the bookmark is interesting if people keep and use it.

“Like a fridge magnet or anything else, the more that you can be top of mind with your potential consumers, the more they’re likely to choose [your company] when they go to purchase your particular product.”

In addition, every floral arrangement Ms. Stenson sends out includes a couple of bookmarks plus an unusual card, all attached to the package with a clothespin. She collects new and vintage cards, and also uses vintage mason jars or recycled containers for flowers – which all helps to differentiate her business.

“Pretty much as soon as someone receives one of my arrangements, I’ll get an order from that person,” says Ms. Stenson. “Recently I bought some vintage paper dolls so I’ve been putting the card message on the back of the paper doll clothes, and then putting it on a screwer in the flowers. People like the use of these different paper things.”

Ms. Stenson also has a Facebook page with positive reviews of her business.

“It looks like she’s doing a good job on social media, as well,” Mr. Askew says. “She’s very active on Twitter and Facebook so it seems she’s staying very much front of mind for her customers there. She’s got over 600 likes on her Facebook page, which is more than 600 people for which she now has a digital bookmark that shows up in their feed every day when she makes these posts. She should continue to promote her social media presence because that probably has as much impact as the bookmark, if not more so. The bookmark is a static message in time. Using her social media feed, Michelle has the ability to take advantage of that dynamic bookmark to put her message out there and stay relevant with her flower customers for different promotions throughout the year.”

Irene Stickney, founder and owner of The Make Den, a Toronto sewing studio that gives workshops and classes, suggests that, while she loves Ms. Stenson’s bookmarks and her guerrilla marketing ideas, she should invest in a good camera to better document and share her work.

“She’s in a visual field so her website needs to reflect a sense of style and design. If she can invest in one more thing, she could also take some graphic design or Photoshop [photo editing] classes with a private tutor and classes on using [website platform] Wordpress, as well. This really helped me when I was starting out. I’m not suggesting that she hire a graphic designer or a Web designer because I think it’s better as a startup that she learn as many of those skills as she can herself.”

Some areas Ms. Stenson says she’d like to promote more are teaching craft classes (she’s offered workshops around building a terrarium or miniature fairy gardens) and possibly hosting children’s birthday parties. With 1,300 square feet, she has work space at the back for 12 people, but hasn’t had much luck in filling classes with paying customers.

“It sounds to me like the workshops she’s offering don’t capitalize on all of her strengths,” Ms. Stickney says. “With her experience in the floral industry and a degree in environmental studies, she could really offer some incredible classes. Personally, I’d love to learn more about gardening for small spaces with succulents and air plants, flower arranging, food security and even food as it relates to social justice. Asking customers what types of classes they’re interested in is always a good idea. She could try giving a few free workshops to get people into the space, or even offering workshops at high schools as a guest expert to build her reputation.”

As a parent as well as retail strategist, Mr. Askew liked Ms. Stenson’s idea about birthday parties.

“Birthdays are a continually growing industry. Parents are under a lot of pressure to do something unique for birthdays. A flower arranging type of birthday party for children could be pretty fun to do. They could build something beautiful to take home as a replacement for a loot bag. Anything unique and engaging for the children is sure to be a hit in the birthday party circuit. I’d certainly encourage her to try a few different kinds of events in the back space.”

Ali Rahnema, co-founder and co-owner of Bearfoot Play, an indoor playground in Vancouver, says birthday parties have been the strongest revenue driver since they opened.

He also shares his social media marketing experiences.

“Raising awareness has been focused exclusively on social media. We have a strong active presence on Facebook and that’s been our main mouthpiece for announcing promotions, camps or classes. We originally shelled out for print advertising with the party-destination message but it wasn’t reaching our target market. Instead, we worked with mommy and daddy bloggers who have newsletters and blog posts, as well as child-related websites based in Vancouver, and put some banners on their websites. We’ve been listed on some as one of the best new kids’ destinations in Vancouver. We’ve also worked with Google AdWords on a pay-per-click basis. It sort of snowballed into what it is now.

“Michelle could try to integrate herself into these communities of mommy bloggers and parent groups. A lot of parents of young ones coalesce together to create these Facebook groups where they share what other parents might find interesting. Having good relationships with these groups is very helpful.

“We also started having mock birthday parties to show people what we’re capable of doing for a party. It’s really an open house where we invite people from our customer base and give them 20 per cent off if they book a party during the event. We have the birth dates of all the children on our database, so we can narrow it down to those with birthdays coming up.

“Michele already has very positive feedback on Facebook, so she could spread the word that way. Then she could get 10 kids in there with their families and show off what she’s capable of doing.”

As a qualified teacher with kindergarten experience, Ms. Stenson is perfectly positioned to make that happen.

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