Role: Whipping up beautiful bouquets and floral arrangements is just the beginning of a professional florist's responsibilities.
Don Waltho, the managing director of the Canadian Institute of Floral Design, a private career college registered with the Ontario Ministry of Education, said in an interview that florists must also understand which flowers are in season, where to source them, and how to condition and store their highly perishable stock.
It doesn't hurt to have good customer service, merchandising, and time management skills, too.
"I've been in the industry for 38 years, and every day is a different day," Mr. Waltho said.
Ensuring that rush orders are on the delivery truck on time usually occupies a good portion of a florist's morning, while afternoons are typically spent preparing floral arrangements for larger events like weddings and corporate parties.
"Traditionally, weddings are on Saturdays, so a professional florist would start the week before with ordering the product," he said. "A lot of the time the product comes in too fresh and we have to condition the flowers, get those lilies open, get the peonies open, get the hydrangeas at their peak. We sort of do that in the afternoons leading up to the wedding date."
Education: While there are no licensing or educational requirements for the job, florists require wide-ranging knowledge of the various types of flowers and arrangements, and their seasonality and care, which is why many would-be florists seek training.
"If a bride comes in and says, 'This is what I want for my wedding,' a professional florist has to identify the flowers, [know] if that type of flower is available for their wedding, and source it accordingly," Mr. Waltho said. "A large part of our program is the care and handling and conditioning of flowers, because 85 per cent of consumers talk about how long the flowers lasted, so that's a big part of our training as well."
The Canadian Institute of Floral Design offers a three-week, 150-hour crash course in Toronto, while colleges including Niagara College, Humber and Seneca, as well as the University of the Fraser Valley, offer floral design certificates. There are also a wide variety of independent floral schools across the country.
Salary: Recent graduates and new entrants to the business typically make about $14 or $15 an hour. Grocery chains like Metro and Loblaw, many of which now incorporate full-service floral departments, typically pay florists between $16 and $18 an hour, while their managers typically make between $22 and $24 an hour, according to Mr. Waltho.
"With professional training and one or two years' experience, they can make over $20 an hour, but the real money in our industry is owning and operating a flower shop," he said.
Salaries range widely for the owners of retail shops, depending on the store's size and location, but because flowers are a perishable product, Mr. Waltho said that margins are high, not unlike perishable foods.
Job prospects: With major grocery stores now entering the floral design space, there is a large demand for florists across Canada.
"I have flower shops that are calling us looking for people all the time," said Mr. Waltho, adding that independent flower shops in diverse cities like Toronto are typically in the market for staff who understand the cultural preferences of the local clientele.
Challenges: Working with a perishable product like flowers is not without its challenges, especially in winter. Mr. Waltho said that poor driving conditions can wreak havoc on some of the busiest flower-buying days of the year, including Christmas, New Year's and Valentine's Day, as heavy snowfalls can delay deliveries and prompt mass cancellations.
"Florists have bought thousands and thousands of dollars worth of roses and were unable to deliver them," he said. "You can't call the customer up on February the 15th and say 'We couldn't deliver them to your girlfriend yesterday; do you want me to deliver them today?' because of course guy will say 'No, yesterday was Valentine's Day.' "
Why they do it: Floral design is among the few artistic professions that provides a steady income, Mr. Waltho said.
"It's an art form," he said. "If I paint an oil painting, I have to hang it on the wall for a year and hopefully somebody will walk by and buy it, but this kind of art is something we need on a daily basis."
Mr. Waltho added that florists also enjoy being surrounded by the sights and smells of Mother Nature in the workplace, and have the gratification of seeing customers enjoy their artistic arrangements.
Misconceptions: According to Mr. Waltho, untrained hobbyists often give the industry a bad name because they lack the training to ensure the longevity of their product.
As a result, customers who spend good money on flowers, only to see them die a few days later, often elect to spend their money elsewhere. Mr. Waltho added that most flowers, if cared for properly, should last several weeks, not days.
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