Business

A startup idea takes root that keeps on giving

Juan Palacio, CEO and founder of BloomsyBox, displays a bouquet that is being prepared for shipping at his company warehouse in Miami Springs.
Juan Palacio, CEO and founder of BloomsyBox, displays a bouquet that is being prepared for shipping at his company warehouse in Miami Springs. pportal@miamiherald.com

Company name: BloomsyBox.com

Headquarters: Miami

Concept: BloomsyBox.com is a subscription service that sends its customers fresh flowers weekly, biweekly and monthly from fair-trade sustainable farms around the globe.

Story: Juan Palacio’s interest in agriculture sprouted from his grandfather, who worked on an arabica farm in Colombia not far from where Palacio grew up. Palacio worked on the farm and learned the value of hard work and dedication.

“Once I got old enough, I channeled my viejo’s drive and sense of adventure and moved to Miami,” Palacio said. “I had a heavy accent and was not fluent in English but worked hard to learn while selling flowers door to door to hotels in Miami Beach. I’m sure it’s no surprise to you that I was yelled at and had doors slammed in my face.”

But Palacio eventually established a clientele. He taught himself online marketing and SEO, which led to the creation of an e-commerce site that sold flowers in bulk to do-it-yourselfer brides-to-be and event planners called theflowerexchange.com, which he sold in 2009. “I then worked in more corporate roles, such as a consultant for Hotels.com, but the lasting memories I had of the farms of my youth had me longing to return to growing.”

Palacio then came up with the concept of a monthly flower subscription model, and launched BloomsyBox.com in 2015. He went back to the same farms in Colombia and Ecuador he had worked with for years and he negotiated a great rate by cutting out the flower distributor and working directly with them.

“We only work with farms that are Rainforest Alliance and Veriflora certified, meaning they follow a specific set of rules that makes them ethically and environmentally friendly. These rules cover all aspects of the business from the treatment of workers on the farm to the disposal of the flowers,” he said.

Each stem is hand-picked, arranged into a hand-tied bouquet, and delivered to the customer in less than four days. Most of its blooms arrive in bud form, so they’re guaranteed to last longer than typical store-bought bouquets, he said. Monthly subscriptions start at $39.99 with shipping included.

The secret sauce is the discovery factor. Customers will be surprised by what they are getting, and it won’t be typical. BloomsyBox works mainly with growers in the flower capitals of Latin America and also buys from Holland and Thailand. “We also wanted to walk away from the typical bouquet you can buy everywhere, so we only do single-variety bouquets.”

For instance, customers recently received about 15 stems of oriental lilies of various colors, each stem with several buds on them, in the smallest subscription box. In August, BloomsyBox shipped out 30-35 stems of lisianthus. It also offers a roses-only subscription, but they too will be unusual, maybe even multicolored, including the Free Spirit and Magic Times varieties or the deep purple Ascot.

Customers buy them for their homes or offices, but many of them gift them, often as corporate gifts. Realtors buy them as closing gifts for their home-buying customers, for instance. “We also ship to a lot of retirement homes nationwide,” he said.

The secret sauce is the discovery factor. Customers will be surprised by what they are getting, and it won’t be typical.

BloomsyBox.com now has about 7,000 subscribers and recently inked a branded deal with Costco.com. It also plans to run a campaign and contest this fall called #MyForeverBloom. Participants will be asked to submit stories about inspirational figures in their lives, and the author of the most compelling, heartwarming story will win the opportunity to permanently name a rose variety after that individual, Palacio said. “We are very excited about this campaign and hope it will spark conversation about the family, friends, and mentors who make a difference in our lives.”

Launched: September 2015

Website: www.BloomsyBox.com

Management team: Juan Palacio (CEO); Nelson Sanchez (logistics); David Salazar (customer service); Alejandra Velandia (creative)

No. of employees: Eight.

Financing: Seed round of $380,000 from a private angel investor and currently setting up a Series A.

Recent milestones: BloomsyBox has 7,000 active subscribers. The company developed a unique floral subscription plan for Costco.com, which will be available soon with the BloomsyBox brand.

Biggest startup challenge: Finding quality talent, specifically in customer service.

Next steps: “We understand that our product is a great gift, and every day we get more and more subscribers sending flowers to someone else, so we’re exploring new ways to improve the user ‘gift-giver experience’ as well as the way we communicate with the gift recipient,” Palacio said. “We’re planning on rolling out a loyalty points system in which users will be able to receive free boxes and upgrades. Customers will be able to redeem points for any occasion and will receive surprise boxes with premium flowers such as cymbidium orchids or long-stem roses.”

Advisor’s view: Roland Schambach, vice president of Elite Flower, has been a vendor for, and advisor to, the BloomsyBox team since its launch. “When I first learned about their idea of offering flowers on a subscription basis to the end consumer by working directly with farms like us, I knew it was going to be successful. I truly believe in what they call the ‘discovery’ process in which the subscription can serve as the vehicle to introduce new flowers varieties and educate the users on how to care for flowers,” he said. “They spend a lot of time and resources listening to what their users have to say about their flowers, the way boxes are delivered, the varieties they send, etc. ... As they continue to grow, their biggest challenge, I believe, is to keep that level of personalization that they've given so far to their customer service.”

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Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter: @ndahlberg

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