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Globe and Mail Update

One of the first things Janet Waldon and Bernard Gauvreau did after they'd decided to set up their own flower shop was go out and buy a map of Edmonton. Then they compiled a list of every florist in the city—at the time, in April, 2004, there were 108 of them—and put a pin on the location of each one. "We're probably the only people on the planet who actually made a pin board," says Waldon. But their project helped them identify which neighbourhoods were underserved. "We really did our research," she says.

Working together wasn't a new thing for Waldon and Gauvreau. They'd met four years earlier, when Gauvreau became Waldon's ice-dancing coach. Soon they began travelling together for workshops and skating events around Western Canada and the United States. "On all these trips, we realized that we were drawn to the same things," says Waldon. "We were always attracted to visually artistic things, and we kept finding ourselves in flower shops." No real surprise, considering Gauvreau was working as a designer for an Edmonton florist, and Waldon had studied flower design and worked in handful of flower shops herself.

Waldon and Gauvreau had had a few casual conversations about opening their own shop one day, but nothing concrete. Then they spotted a florist in Seattle that broke all the rules: It didn't have a cooler, it was only about 100 square feet, and it had nothing but flowers and vases. "I remember standing there looking through the window at this place," says Waldon, "and it was an 'aha!' moment because it allowed us to think, Wow, we could really do this—and do something different."

Almost six months later, they opened Ultra Violet Floral Studio, inspired by the artistic approach of that Seattle shop.

With 108 rivals in the city—and with big-box retailers and grocery stores selling flowers—Waldon and Gauvreau knew they needed an edge. "Grocery stores can buy in such enormous volume and ship so quickly from their own growers that they do have a huge impact on some of the smaller florists," says Waldon. "The only way we could survive was to not even try to compete with them." The pair decided against hooking up with a company like FTD or Teleflora; instead they went high-end, creating an open-concept store where all the designing would be done in front of the customer, in a gallery-like setting, using exotic and unusual flowers.

How they did it

Janet Waldon and Bernard Gauvreau were ice-dancing partners before they decided to open Ultra Violet Floral Studio in Edmonton in August, 2004. But with 108 competitors (including big-box retailers) in the area, they needed an edge. That's why they decided to go high-end and create an open-concept, gallery-like studio, where all the work is done in the centre of the store, in an interactive environment.
Construction and renovation: $52,000 (including $15,000 they got from their landlord toward the reno)

Equipment: $18,000 (including fixtures, work station and cooler)

Start-up inventory: $14,500 (including flowers, vases, ribbon, tissue paper and other supplies)

Total start-up costs: $84,500

Rent: $1,800 a month

Inventory: $8,000 on average (depends on the season)

Other monthly expenses: $2,700 (including delivery service and store maintenance)

Total monthly expenses: $12,500

Number of $100 bouquets they need to sell each month to break even: 125

"We needed a location that would allow us to create a work space in the middle of the room," says Waldon. After about three months, they found just the spot in Edmonton's Inglewood neighbourhood, a 970-square-foot space that got their interior designer's stamp of approval. A bonus: There were three flower wholesalers within a 10-minute drive. With a business plan complete and financing in place (personal assets plus a $20,000 bank loan), they were all set to start renovations. But just as they were about to sign an agreement with a contractor, Edmonton was hit with a monster hailstorm. "All of a sudden this contractor had more business than he knew what to do with," says Waldon. He bowed out of the florist project in favour of more lucrative work. He wasn't the only one. "We had already signed our lease and felt pressure to get this thing up and running," she says. "And every contractor in Edmonton was booked."

Luckily their friends and family stepped in. "We were so fortunate," says Waldon. "They knew this was a dream come true for us, and they put their hearts and souls behind what we were doing." For eight weeks straight, 30 relatives, friends and even friends of friends—including a few skilled tradespeople and a contractor—worked 'round the clock to finish the reno.

Just six weeks behind schedule, Waldon and Gauvreau were ready to open. They'd decided to forego a point-of-sale system in favour of an electronic till and not to bring in any additional designers or staff. But before filling their cooler with exotic flowers, they invested $4,000 in branding—everything from business cards to stickers to delivery slips. Plus, they got going on designing a website, something that would attract significant traffic once it was up and running.

The pair opened their doors on Aug. 24, 2004, with $4,500 worth of flowers and $10,000 worth of ribbon, vases and other supplies. They'd hoped to do more marketing before opening, but because they'd spent so much time managing the reno, they ended up relying on word of mouth, signage and a small letter board they put on the sidewalk that said, "Ultra Violet Floral Studio. We're different." To help promote their artistic philosophy, they started sponsoring local theatre productions and art shows.

Nearly two years later, Gauvreau leads the way with the floral designing, while Waldon does the number crunching. Since opening, she's learned a thing or two about keeping on top of the books. "Purchasing and collecting fluctuates widely in this business, and it's really critical to stay on top of it," she says, explaining that she often has to pay for the flowers upfront, but doesn't collect from her customers until weeks later.

Ultra Violet got a clear sign they're on the right track in May, when they were invited to create a bouquet for Queen Elizabeth, who was visiting the Royal Alberta Museum. "It was unbelievable that as a new florist we were asked to do this," says Waldon. "It just felt amazing."

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