Late last fall, I came home to find a surprise bouquet of flowers waiting on my doorstep. It wasn’t my birthday, or a special occasion, but the bouquet, carefully wrapped in a piece of denim and fastened with twine, was addressed to me. The flowers were sent to celebrate the launch of Tonic Blooms, a new on-demand flower delivery service in Toronto that gets locally grown, seasonal bouquets delivered to your door within two hours. The thoughtful gesture (and clever marketing) peaked my interest right away, and I’ve been a huge fan of the business ever since. Here I chat with the Founders of Tonic Blooms, Raphi Aronowicz and Michael Smaye, about their flower-filled life that all started because of a personal order that had gone wrong.
Gracie Carroll: A lot of people often come across issues, problems or inconveniences throughout their daily lives, but don't often take the initiative to fix them. What was it about the flower delivery business that made you decide to take the plunge and try to improve it through your own service?
Raphi Aronowicz: I think what makes a business or an idea great is that it provides a practical yet elegant solution to a real life problem. My journey with Tonic Blooms started when I began running into problems with sending flowers. I had placed an order through one of the well-known third-party flower broker services online to send a beautiful arrangement to my girlfriend’s office on Valentine’s Day, and they never showed up. When I called the flower broker company to see what happened with my order, they had no idea.
Through this awful experience, I began to learn about how the flower delivery business actually worked. I realized it was a broken business model from start to finish. I was amazed that something as simple as flowers had such a complicated business structure, and that my experience was not unique; pretty much everyone I spoke to about this had a similar disappointing experience.
That was my “ah-ha” moment where I realized there has to be a simple solution to this problem, and I think we found it.
GC: What is it about the Tonic Blooms service (and flowers) that's different from any other florist or flower delivery company in Toronto right now?
Michael Smaye: I want to say that there are some amazing local florists in the city doing great work, but we think there are a few things that separate us from the pack and it also starts with our business model. Our goal is to provide our customers with a seamless flower gifting experience from start to finish.
First, we offer a limited selection of bouquets, at different price points and styles. This is important because it allows us to manage our inventory by buying only the freshest seasonal blooms, keeping our waste to under 1%. Flower waste is typically the biggest cost to a traditional florist, so by eliminating this cost, it means more affordable bouquets for you!
Second, we offer an on-demand delivery service in Toronto. This is something truly unique in the city and our customers depend on it.
Our last point (and it is probably what we are most proud of) is our customer service. We will never become a faceless organization. When our customers contact us, they deal directly with us, via email, over the phone, or in person.
Oh, and, of course, THE DENIM WRAP.
GC: What have you learned in your first year of business?
RA: Considering that we really knew NOTHING about flowers when we started, I would say we have learned more about flowers than we could have ever thought imaginable and we’re starting to feel like botanists. I don’t think Mike could have spotted a tulip from the crowd when we started!
The most important thing I’ve learned throughout this process is that you need to follow your gut and trust your instincts. You have to be prepared to take risks and with that come mistakes, but it’s the only path to growth.
MS: I think what I learned was that the flower business is really the business of helping people. It’s helping people say things they are uncomfortable saying, helping someone through the day, or helping someone celebrate a joyous occasion. That’s what it’s all about it and when we got caught up in the, lets just say, not so fun parts of the business, we always try and remind ourselves of that. It makes my day to see our handwritten recipient notes say “just because” or “these will cheer you up” – you can really say anything with blooms. Our price point allows you to send blooms more often.
GC: What has been the most surprising thing about your business so far?
RA: I would say the love we get from our customers. Having worked in the finance industry you certainly have client interaction, but with Tonic Blooms we are making people’s day every day and the overwhelmingly positive feedback and support we get in return has surprised me. The vast majority of our customers are repeat customers, and most recipients become customers to and we love that about the business.
GC: I know sourcing flowers locally is important to Tonic Blooms, how do you work with local growers and how did you find them when you first got started?
MS: We really gathered all the information the old fashion way, rolling up our sleeves and doing some Sherlock Holmes-style investigative work. We had no background in the flower business so we were really starting from a zero knowledge base. But we got out there, met some great people, made A LOT of phone calls, visited the markets and the farms, and our network just grew from there.
GC: What was the initial reaction from your family and friends when you told them you were dropping everything to get into the flower business?
RA: At first it was definitely a bit of a shock to the family. After giving them the pitch I still don’t think they were totally convinced. It wasn’t until our first orders started coming in that they really started to pay attention. I have to give Mike credit here, because when we were developing the site he suggested we just throw something up on the internet in the meantime, saying ‘text this number for flowers’, basically, and people were texting us! And sending us money by e–transfer! I couldn’t believe it. I think when I told my family about that they started to buy in. But I have to say they were very supportive from day one. Without their support I don’t think this venture would be possible. My mom actually does all of our graphic design!
GC: As two dudes who spent more time on Bay Street and in the finance world before launching your business, how did you learn to create beautiful and seasonal bouquets for your clients?
RA: I grew up in a very artistic household. My mom is an incredible fine artist and graphic designer so I think I inherited some of those genes. Never in a million years did I think I would be designing bouquets for a living, but when it comes down to the design, it’s a little bit art and a little bit science.
MS: We did a lot of research and came up with a set of rules, or a framework, for designing bouquets and it has been working really well. It all starts with what’s in season and what blooms we want to feature as the star. From there we choose a colour palette to complement the feature blooms and provide some contrast where needed. Last, we finish the bouquets with a selection of greens and textural elements to give it our signature look.
GC: How would you describe the Tonic Blooms customer? Who are they?
MS: It’s a good question and it’s hard to answer. I mean, we have customers in San Francisco, New York and Australia! But I think our customers are people who appreciate service, style, speed, and quality. Those are our core values.
From a demographic standpoint, our most active customers are urban professionals with very busy lifestyles who rely on us to help them with their gifting needs in a very efficient manner. Our service matches their fast paced lifestyle and I think that’s where the fit is.
GC: What are some of the next steps for your business? How do you plan to expand and grow in ways that we can know about right now?
MS: We’ve got big plans for Tonic Blooms. First we are expanding the zone to allow for deliveries to Mississauga to the west, Markham to the north and Scarborough to the east, with plans to go Nation Wide! We will be featuring some amazing add-on products, and we are introducing a new “farm style” bouquet, where each design will be completely unique using 100% Ontario grown farm-fresh blooms. No two bouquets will be alike. We are really excited about that.
For more info, please visit https://tonicblooms.com/