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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Blossom as a floral designer

By Linda White
Special to the Toronto Sun


Across the country, floral designers are recuperating from their biggest day of the year. Each year, Valentine's Day is a test of their patience as they create one bouquet after another. But it's also a day when their knowledge of design and commitment to customer service must be in full bloom.
Flowers Canada and associations like the Canadian Academy of Floral Art (www.cafachat.com) offer professional accreditation programs for interested designers. (Flowers Canada, photo)


"The week of Valentine's Day is very busy," says Carolyn Slinger, owner of Bloom The Flower Company in Rosedale. "It's like a beehive in here. There's a lot of energy in the store. It's a fun atmosphere, but a challenging one. We're all exhausted the next day."

SERVICE INDUSTRY

For Canada's estimated 5,000 professional floral designers, a passion for flowers and customer service is key to success. "We truly are a service industry. We look for staff who are personable, who enjoy interacting with clients," Slinger says. "We put our heart into everything we do. Flowers are very emotional. It's about connecting people: the person who decides to cheer up a best friend, send wishes to someone in the hospital or just wants to say 'I love you.' "

Dealing with a perishable product makes the task of running a flower shop especially challenging. "It's always a challenge to make sure you have an interesting supply of fresh flowers," Slinger says. "We like to stock unique flowers, therefore the team we have has to be very knowledgeable."

There's much more to being a successful floral designer than knowing how to make a beautiful arrangement. "What goes on behind the scenes is more complicated than most customers realize," Slinger says. "It's quite hectic and very fast-paced. It's very on-your-feet thinking. We do weddings and funerals and special occasions ... It's a matter of being very flexible."

Though some people have a natural flare for floral design, pursuing it as a career typically takes education -- especially if you want to set up your own shop.

Albert Graves is a Flowers Canada member and freelance designer. Visit www.flowerscanada.ca. (Flowers Canada, photo)
"You can walk into a florist shop and get a job, but if you want to pursue it as a career, you need to get education," says Deborah Woodcock of Flowers Canada.

"There's definitely a science and practice to floral design. It's quite technical. At school, you learn about focus, emphasis, harmony and line. You learn about flowers -- what to use based on cost as well as look and feel," Woodcock says. "There's a difference between being a designer and running your own business. To do the latter, you have to be creative and be able to crunch numbers."

Floral design and retail floristry programs are available at community and private colleges and some high schools. (Visit www.flowerscanada.ca for schools, seminars and industry links.)

Seneca College in Toronto offers both a part-time floral design certificate and a full-time retail florist design certificate. "There are definite principles to floral design: proportion, line, colour and space," says program co-ordinator and professor Marianne Seuss.

In addition to floral design, Seneca's full-time program offers courses in computer skills, customer service, art and floral design history, botany and photography. Students also complete a work placement.

Anyone interested in setting up their own shop should get their feet wet first and be prepared for ongoing education.

A BUDDING CAREER
Graduates of a retail florist program may find employment as floral designers, sales consultants/advisors and management trainees in retail flower shops, department stores, garden centres, interior landscape businesses, wire service organizations, wholesale and distribution outlets, gift shops and floral decoration firms. There are also opportunities to work as a freelance floral designer.
"You're working with a perishable product and should experience different venues before opening your own shop," Seuss says. "If you want to be good at floral design, you have to work at it through education and attending seminars."

Flowers Canada and associations like the Canadian Academy of Floral Art (www.cafachat.com) offer professional accreditation programs for interested designers. "We offer accreditation as a floral designer, floral manager or master florist. It recognizes the skills and knowledge you've developed, either through education or experience," Woodcock says.

As the industry evolves, flower shop owners must work to be successful. "The industry is growing and the market you serve is changing, largely because of the impact of 1-800-wire services and the Internet," Woodcock says. "Knowing your area and the customers you serve is important. The best thing is to find a niche market, to become known for something that's unique or different."



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