When the entire wedding industry pumped the brakes on the season during the coronavirus pandemic last year, so did Lauren Bercier and Laken Swan, the two cousins behind Southern Borrowed Blooms.
Their Lafayette-based rent-and-return floral boutique that offers silk centerpieces and bouquets at a much cheaper option than real flowers was staring down a frightening path as weddings were getting postponed. According to theknot.com, more than half of couples scheduled to get married last year altered their plans in some way with most either postponing just the reception or the whole event until a later date.
So the two went to work immediately on basically what go to them to that point: customer service. They offered an option to cancel with no fees and took away any blackout dates. At the end of the year, the blossoming company’s numbers were up only 35% and not the 150-200% that had been customary.
But then they looked back on it. The year, they realized, was not bad.
“That, I think, gave us an opportunity to show the industry how we’re so different from a traditional florist,” Swan said. “Yeah, we grew. COVID definitely gave us a platform. Now, coming off the back side of that, we have room to really shine.”
Now looking back, that 35% growth rate in the COVID year heading into a time when the industry will burst at the seams with pent-up demand is worth noting. Investors have taken an interest in what has become the latest shining star to emerge out of Lafayette’s tech start-up environment, and the company is in the middle of a significant growth stage.
Work began last week on a 10,000-square-foot addition to its Max Drive location that could be ready Sept. 1, and it’s a safe bet to say by next summer it will double its employee count. The company recently landed a $1.5 million investment from a Louisiana venture capital firm, bringing its total funding raised to $2 million since 2015.
“For us, at first, we had to change our mindset because 35% year-over-year growth was low for us,” Bercier said. “We were at first really disappointed, and when we really sit back and look at it, we’re like, we had nine months of COVID impact when the rest of industry was dead to the world. We still had orders coming in. That is another huge selling point to investors: What can you do when things really open up?”
Things have opened up, and reports indicate the year could be a big one now that restrictions on large gatherings have been lifted and more Americans are getting vaccinated. Zola, a website that specializes in all things wedding, predicted a big year in weddings this year with ceremonies that will feature “more meaning, intention and optimism than ever before.”
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Something Borrowed Blooms, now at 20 mostly full-time employees, recently added its first outside tech-focused employee, Bercier said. It will also be more aggressive with its advertising on social media platforms to reach more customers.
“By the end of this year we’ll be scratching about 1% of the U.S. wedding market,” Bercier said. “Our ultimate goal is toward 10% of the U.S. wedding market. I know that sounds a little aggressive, but we’re down for it. David’s Bridal has been successful capturing 25% of the wedding market, and that’s solely based on pricing. There’s no reason why we can’t get 10%.”
Customer service has helped fuel their growth. Much like other successful tech companies in the current market, it has made its mark by giving customers a unique experience while raising its visibility through social media platforms, including Instagram and TikTok, along with Google and Facebook.
Bercier and Swan were pioneers of sorts when they went forward with the idea to allow couples to rent flowers nearly six years ago. The idea, Bercier noted, came during a time when the TV show Rent the Runway was becoming popular as was the do-it-yourself trend.
Now others have entered the market, but Swan noted that at this point there’s no need to worry.
“In this industry, competition is a good thing,” Swan said. “When we first set out to do this, we were a team of one educating an entire market, and that was a huge undertaking. There’s enough space for other players. What we do well is customer service, and we’ll continue to be the leading player there in the industry. We take a lot of pride in the fact that we built this market.”
They did after on an idea hatched partly from Bercier’s own unfavorable wedding experience with her floral arrangement and the hundreds of money spent. Now those costs have escalated with real flowers costing about $1,500 for smaller ceremonies and up to $5,000 for large ones, according to weddingwire.com.
The average cost of a wedding in 2021? In Louisiana, try $35,000.
“We kind of had the itch to do something together, and we were set on something different,” Bercier said. “We wanted to upset a stagnant market, like really revolutionize something. And that’s what we did.”