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How a small Canadian start-up changed the online florist industry forever.

With the boom in new technologies, and Internet access becoming available to virtually every Canadian, many industries have undergone rapid change to cater to this new world of the web. From music and movie rental stores to the postal service, there are few corners of Canadian business left untouched by the influence of the Internet.

But for every example of the way that society quickly adapted and changed their consumption habits under the mantra of “cheaper, faster, better,” just as many industries have been slow to react. Take the venerable local flower shop, for example, which had remained more-or-less unchanged for a century. And in an industry that’s estimated to be worth over $100 billion worldwide annually, it’s easy to see why the local florists were somewhat resistant to change. Even as consumers began to turn increasingly toward e-commerce in Canada, and these shops began to dip their toe in to online waters, their old-school models of existing florists fulfilling orders through wire services remained successful – for the florists.

They were less of a success from the consumer perspective, though. The cost of supporting their online operations and a physical storefront drove up overhead for the florists. And the fact that it took an importer, a wholesaler, and the florist themselves to get the flowers from the farm to one’s door only added to the end cost for the consumer, and didn’t jibe with the way things were moving in the fast-paced, online environment.

That’s what made Bloomex, a scrappy Canadian start-up founded in Ottawa in 2006, a game-changer – maybe not a revolution, but certainly a significant evolution, eschewing the traditional florist models in several ways. For one, the convoluted chain of middlemen, each taking their own cuts, was abolished in favour of a simplified direct-from-grower approach. The idea of a costly brick-and-mortar storefront, which only added to overhead costs for local florists, was replaced by a website and a centralized customer service model.

Almost immediately, the new model paid dividends for Bloomex. With the proof of concept in place, the early success of the company allowed them to open production/distribution facilities in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal and Halifax.  That put them at a competitive advantage, spreading their footprint wide throughout the country and providing shipping points within a short radius of the vast majority of Canada’s population centres. The introduction of the centralized model also meant the business was easily scalable for international operations, with the company opening production and fulfillment facilities in the United States and Australia.

The success of Bloomex’s model has inspired others to join suit, but being first on the scene in Canada has paid off for the company. While e-commerce now accounts for over $120 billion of sales annually in Canada (2012), in 2007 e-commerce sales were less than half of that.  It was a calculated risk, but with great risk comes reward. And with other sites working out their growing pains, Bloomex has become a mature business with over 20 employees working out of their Ottawa headquarters, and dozens more scattered throughout the country and internationally. The company has now fulfilled over a million orders, and can rightfully lay claim to being Canada’s largest florist – largely because of an e-commerce gamble that’s paid off big time.

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