In what is one of retail’s more amusing ironies, the floral industry is not particularly green. The products are, of course, but the industry itself – particularly the segment of the market dedicated to the delivery of fresh-cut flowers – does not have a particularly inspiring environmental record. Flowers are water- and power-intensive to grow – and delivering them on demand can burn a lot of fuel.
When John Tabis founded the digital flower delivery service Bouqs seven years ago, his goal was to make the flower industry more sustainable. And while “sustainable” has become an increasingly favored (and thus increasingly vague) descriptor for many direct-to-consumer (DTC) businesses looking to take a new bite out of an old vertical, Bouqs was designed from the ground up to change the way flowers on demand are sold, by changing the supply chain that brings them to market.
As Tabis explained, the problem with the flower market is opacity – whether the customer walks into their local florist or picks up their phone to order a quick bouquet online, they don’t really know where those flowers originated or how they were grown. And the odds are good that the seller doesn't know, either. The flowers come from a middleman, and their origin is largely unknown.
Bouqs’ signature innovation is cutting out that middleman in favor of direct relationships with the growers themselves – 140 farmers around the world who meet the brand’s standards for things like organic growth, waste minimization and use of recycled rainwater. As Tabis noted, it can ensure and certify those standards using the power of technology.
“Until you have a direct relationship with that farmer, you can’t hold them accountable to sustainability or labor standards. We deploy technology at the farm itself, and having that relationship with the farm makes it possible to ensure sustainability all the way through the supply chain,” Tabis said.
Since its founding in 2012, Bouqs has been a wholly digital enterprise. Their products can either be purchased a la carte – Mother’s Day bouquets, for example – or via subscription. The offerings can be used by consumers, but are more popular with the brand’s B2B customers. In recent years, the company has secured some pretty big name-brand partnerships – AT&T and Fandango both recently became subscribers.
And while growing their digital footprint and audience – both consumer and enterprise – is critical to the brand’s future, the bigger-picture vision involves expanding that footprint into the physical world. Though the company is 100 percent digital today, the retail writing on the wall is clear, Tabis noted: In the future, he anticipates fully participating in the omnicommerce direction the entire industry is taking.
“Long-term, I think for any eCommerce company, that omnichannel presence, that ability to be in local retail and be digitally-driven, really is the sweet sauce – it is not just one or the other,” he said. “And so while we are 100 percent digital today, we at some point see a physical retail future for us.”
Moreover, Tabis said, Bouqs likes to believe they can affect a better future for the entire flower industry by fixing what is, at base, a broken and highly wasteful supply chain. Flowers are highly perishable and very delicate, he noted – the more they are squeezed, pruned, picked and pushed around, the faster they wither in the vase.
The process that dominates the industry today, Tabis warned, is bad for the planet, bad for the farmers who are often underpaid for their goods and ultimately bad for the customers who receive a product with its shelf life cut in half by a damaging delivery process. Bouqs’ goal, he noted, is to build an improved process that works better for everyone except the middlemen who contribute the least to it – and to return some of the joy to fresh-cut flowers.
“Since the life of a flower is short, it seemed obvious to us to get rid of the wasted time in the middle steps of the process,” Tabis told the Smithsonian. “When the recipient gets their flowers, the last time they’ve been touched [is] by the farmer. We restore a connection that’s been lost.”