A colorful new startup has landed in New York: UrbanStems hopes to beat out its competition in the pricey flower delivery market by carrying fresh bouquets, wound tightly in the company's signature burlap cloth, to your door within an hour for just $35 dollars (including delivery).
The company was conceived when cofounder Ajay Kori lived in New York and sent flowers to his girlfriend in Philadelphia for her birthday—or thought he did: "I sent flowers to surprise her, but the flowers never came."
It got him thinking that there had to be a better way, and after hearing "story after story of people having bad flower experiences," he called up his college buddy Jeff Sheely in Washington, D.C., and asked if he wanted to get into the flower business.
With little background or experience—"most of knowledge came from sending flowers ourselves," Sheely said—they got to work learning the ins and outs of the industry, and figuring out how they could simultaneously cut costs and produce a superior product.
Soon, UrbanStems became a labor of love. "Once you start doing it, you get more and more into it as you go," Sheely said.
He explained why ordering from the big flowers retailers like 1-800 Flowers or FTD leaves so much to be desired: "All [the big players] operate on a wire service. They create something in their studio, send a wire to a local florist and the florist is responsible for re-creating it."
The big flower companies are essentially just networks of small businesses, and those little businesses get little glory and even less profit for their floral creations. The big, impersonal system also creates a lack of customer loyalty and customer frustration, two things that the team at UrbanStems set out to fix.
UrbanStems offers three hip bouquet options for delivery; these options rotate seasonally. The limited variety help prevent the company from wasting unused flowers, which is one way that UrbanStems keeps costs down. Similarly to some other flower delivery services in New York, like Ode a la Rose, customers receive a photo of their bouquet after it has been delivered to the recipient.
All of UrbanStems' flowers are grown on farms in Colombia and Ecuador, where eternal spring-like weather creates the perfect conditions for growing lush flora. The Rainforest Alliance and Veriflora-certified farms are run by a 90% female staff, and UrbansStems claims that the wages, much like the farms, are sustainable.
UrbanStems kicked off business in Washington, D.C., this past Valentine’s Day to much fanfare: From there, business took off, and the company now has seven full-time employees. The natural next step was to plant seeds in New York City and continue to grow the business there, with the company's official Big Apple launch scheduled for Tuesday.
In the company's early days, Kori and Sheely delivered the flowers themselves. "An early lesson we learned is that people love when you walk in the door with flowers," Kori said. Now they have teams of couriers in D.C. and New York, and the company says many more couriers are "clamoring" to deliver happiness (as opposed to serving legal papers).
Plans for expanding to other cities are still under wraps. While its low prices and stylish bouquets may help UrbanStems grow, the big question is whether or not the company will be able to stay true to its sustainable values and low price points if its operation scales. Nevertheless, it's clear the UrbanStems team hopes to engineer a total urban floral takeover.