Florists are like chefs these days. While there haven’t been many reality TV shows that feature floral designers, they are no longer backstage folks that mysteriously make events look wonderful. Their artistry with nature’s gifts is beginning to be recognized; their expertise in fields like art, architecture, interior design and landscaping are being woven into creations that are gracing the tables, stages, entrances, fence posts, archways, and nooks and crannies at all types of gatherings.

We talked to four owners of local floral shops who shared their philosophies, tips and trends. The florists emphasized the importance of being part of the central planning team for an event. “We get to know our clients and bring in details they want to achieve, working with all the vendors to bring it all together. It’s a stimulation of the senses and is like a puzzle, bringing all the pieces together,” says Cheri Taunton-Garner, owner of Southern Charm in Colorado Springs.

LILLI BLACK || BELLA CALLA

“THE BIGGEST THING for me is that flowers show thought to the entire room décor, a complete feel,” says Lilli Black, owner of Denver-based Bella Calla. “Flowers complete the experience.” With a background in interior design, Black focuses on making sure an event doesn’t feel out of place in a venue. “We spend a lot of time making sure a piece is right for the event, the space, the moment,” she explains. “We do architectural, interesting, textural pieces that you don’t get at a normal flower shop.”

Trends
Sustainability Focus» Using succulents and herb boxes for décor that can be given away and enjoyed on people’s desks has become popular. If fresh flowers are used and all of the guests are from out of town, clients are inviting attendees to take flowers back to their hotel rooms.
Branding Opportunity» Clients are integrating florals into their branding effort. For an Allied Financial gathering, Bella Floral designed centerpieces that were the company logo. For McKenzie & Company, flowers that played off corporate colors were used.
Spotlighting» As pin lighting has become more affordable, individually lit tables are becoming more common. “If the event is quite dramatic and there is a lot of décor, I like it,” Black observes. “But if a client is only spending $35 to $40 per table, it highlights that they are only spending that amount.”
Open to Variety» Companies are “now being open to doing a lot of looks in a room, which creates a better flow,” she says. One example is having a mixture of high and low centerpieces and colors, which is new for corporate but already happening at weddings.
Vibrant Colors» Pastels—soft shades like lavender, peach and light blue—were the rage in 2014. Colors like bright green are the palette for 2015.
Shiny but Neutral» The last couple of years, florals for seasonal gatherings have featured metallics galore with neutral flowers. For example, a tall vase of white flowers might have silver beads woven in.
Go Casual» Floral budgets are shifting away from being dedicated only to the ballroom to also including cocktail hour and lounge settings.

Tips
Design for Your Audience & Venue» For an oil and gas company holding an event at Spruce Mountain Ranch, Bella Floral used “moderately clean lines and a mountain feel” and incorporated succulents and other natural materials that appeal to male attendees instead of a lot of flowers.
Rent Containers» If floral centerpieces aren’t being given away, ask floral designers about renting containers. “It gives you more bang for the buck. I am constantly on the hunt for new containers,” Black says.
Multitasking» Centerpieces can do double duty and maximize budgets by also serving as gifts.

CAITLIN CALDWELL || VINTAGE MAGNOLIA

SOMETIMES IT TAKES TIME for a trend to trickle down into florals. A case in point is Pantone’s 2014 Color of the Year, Radiant Orchid. “We received several requests for Radiant Orchid from brides and for one corporate event in 2014,” says Caitlin Caldwell, owner of Vintage Magnolia in Edwards. “People need to see palettes and how the color is used. Sometimes, the color is actually used more the following year.”

Regardless of the colors selected, it’s especially important to develop a color palette for large galas and key that floral designers and clients are on the same page, she emphasizes. “We are very hands-on with clients and show them inspiration/ concept photos, flowers we are planning to put in centerpieces, vessels being used, and more. We like to be very visual, especially in the corporate world so the planner can show their client.”

Trends
Bring the Outside In» Being based in the Vail Valley, Vintage Magnolia receives many requests for rustic and mountain chic, which translates into using elements such as vessels covered in aspen bark, berries, pods, wildflowers, evergreen and pinecones.
Return to Classic» Elegance is back. This is especially true for weddings but also corporate.
Draping Greenery» Centerpieces are no longer restrained to being tight, compact arrangements but instead have flowing greens that loosen up the look.

Tips
Believe in Your Team» “The most important part is trusting your florist and all of your vendors; let them do their jobs. Be open with vendors and let them create what they know is beautiful,” Caldwell advises.
Don’t Forget the Linens» “Linens are just as important as flowers, especially if you are going to spend the money on flowers,“ she emphasizes. Spending $100 on a full centerpiece and having ugly house linens is not advised. However, if a budget requires house linens, the color palette for florals and décor should complement those linens.
Hire Local» “My biggest pet peeve with a corporate event is when a centerpiece clashes with décor that is already there, like linens and chairs,” Caldwell shares. “Hire someone local who knows the venues.”
Honor Thy Destination» “Pinterest is good and bad in our world. So many people bring in ideas, but they may not fit the venue or Colorado,” she says.

Tips for the Budget-Minded:
Go Big in a Few Places» “Instead of wimpy centerpieces on 20 tables, do two dramatic pieces for the entrance and onstage and have candles on the tables,” she suggests. Do a walk-through of the venue and see where people will notice the florals. Why spend money on a bar arrangement when it typically gets moved or in a hallway that attendees walk through once?
Divulge Budget Early» Being upfront ahead of time regarding budget parameters gives designers a chance to come up with concepts to fit the budget. For example, florists can pick larger flowers that sometimes are the same price as smaller blooms.
Use Props & Rentals» Items such as lanterns and flashy silver votives can help increase the size of centerpieces.

CHERI TAUNTON-GARNER || SOUTHERN CHARM

AFTER BEING RAISED IN COLORADO, Taunton-Garner moved to Texas and worked in the events industry. She was inspired by the sophisticated, hospitable and over-the-top nature of events in the Lone Star State and was determined to bring a Colorado/Texas flair to Southern Charm, the business she established three years ago. “We needed to kick it up a notch in Colorado Springs,” she says.

Trends
Vintage & Rustic Chic» No longer really a trend, this simple, gathered style has demonstrated its lasting power. “It’s more freeflow and laidback. It doesn’t have to be a perfect shade of pink, for example, just pink in there somewhere. We get to make it as creative and beautiful as possible,” Taunton-Garner explains.
Bigger Budget for Blooms» “I see a lot more corporate events becoming more sophisticated, using upgraded linens and florals to enhance the look,” she observes. “Budgets are going back up, and planners are willing to spend more for the overall experience.”
Fresh & Refresh» Most clients are going with fresh flowers versus plants. “If they are going to be there for a few days,” Taunton-Garner says, “we go and refresh arrangements to keep them looking great.”
Succulent Solutions» Even though fresh flowers get a lot of play, succulents have been “huge and have played from weddings into corporate,” she notes. “They are so unique and become a conversation piece.”
Mixing it Up» Instead of just one centerpiece on the table, corporate gatherings are now using more of a collection style on tables, such as multiple vases with blooms.

Tips
Sharing Ideas» The more information florists receive regarding what a client is looking for the better. “Garden style means different things from me to you. Help us achieve the desired look. Communication is key,” she says. 
Know Your Florist» Sometimes a florist doesn’t even meet the client, which is okay but not ideal. “Coming to me direct is a big thing. You need to trust the florist to create your vision,” she says.
Maximize the Money» Take the money you do have and create something really special.
Use Bold Blooms» Dahlias are big, bold flowers that can stand alone. “They offer a lot of bang for your buck,” suggests Taunton-Garner.
Reuse Flowers» Donate centerpieces that out-of-town clients and attendees can’t take with them to hospice care centers, nursing homes, etc.

ARTHUR WILLIAMS || BABYLON FLORAL

Growing up on a farm in Paonia, Arthur Williams loved plants. He started working in a greenhouse, transitioned into landscaping and discovered a talent for floral design. All of these experiences culminated in the opening of Babylon Floral 10 years ago and designs that focus on the tension between lines and organic shapes.

“I try to work with people differently and take any limitations with space and budget to another level,” Williams says. “The materials are the biggest inspiration, with each item dictating what goes in next.” These ideas don’t have to be budget busters as demonstrated by Williams’ recent work for Denver Botanic Gardens’ annual Fête des Fleurs fundraiser. The organization’s garden club masterminded the centerpieces, and Williams was given the freedom to design the signature pieces, which ended up being a colorfully painted tumbleweed chandelier and two floral headdresses.

Trends
Rejuvenate Trends» Williams goes to international events to gather new ideas and integrates them into Babylon Floral’s own unique style, which he defines as “garden meets really highly structured.” He explains, “I take a trend and recreate it.”

Tips
Trust the Artistry» “I am branded as an artist, so I’m really lucky that I can be crazy and do what I want,” he says. “I avoid doing samples, but I have a lot of photos of what I’ve done and have clients bring in photos as well.”
Be Flexible» Williams prefers not working with people who say, “Here are my ideas and how much will it cost?” The benefit of being flexible is that something better might happen before the event in terms of prices and availability of unique materials, he says. “I will stick to budget but need freedom with the design to do the best I can.”
Surprise People» Use a unique combination of things that most wouldn’t expect to be part of a centerpiece.
Go Out of the Box» Williams challenges the corporate world to break out of the box. “The corporate world is limited by what is expected; you can incorporate florals in unexpected ways,” he says. For example, look beyond the standard format for centerpieces by considering a tablescape scene or focusing on big impact with a couple of really unique floral designs instead.

Tips for the Budget-Minded:
Plant Sculptures» Williams frequently uses live plants as sculptural pieces and rents them.
Know Thy Budget» “Go with people who are qualified in the industry and know the budget, period,” Williams emphasizes, noting that most people know the amount they have to spend when buying a car but tend to be more vague when ordering florals for a gathering. “A realistic budget is the most important part so I can provide ideas feasible for your budget.”
Provide Floral Freedom» Prices of flowers vary enormously week-to-week due to shipping costs, weather and availability. Babylon Floral teams up with other shops to buy in bulk as much as possible, so Williams values flexibility to change directions and take advantage of opportunities. 

Recruiting in the meetings and events industry can be challenging in any economy. When times are good, top candidates have many options, and when times are bad, employed people don’t want to make a move. As with any challenge, it’s important to tackle it strategically. When it comes to acquiring talent, having your sourcing strategy and process in place should happen before you even need to hire someone. You may be wondering why you need a search strategy before you need candidates.

 

These interviews are part of a series that highlights new hires within the industry. Have you recently started a new role or do you know someone who has? Submit your ideas to lauren.pahmeier@tigeroak.com.

Theron Gore was recently named the chief marketing officer for East West Hospitality.

1. What are you looking forward to the most in your new role?

 

Organizations take valuable time out of important face-to-face retreats to engage in what many organizations refer to as “team-building.” Buyer beware, as much of what you are seeing is team-building junk food. It’s time together, but just as in the true nature of junk food, these experiences can have a damaging effect on teams and the experience.