Being competitive as a small business is crucial to success, a fact Nic Faitos, owner of Starbright Floral Designs in New York City, is no stranger to. After nearly 30 years in business, he’s learned that standing out often means branching out. His shop goes the extra mile when it comes to company culture, customer service, and putting kindness out into the world.
Nic shared tips for how he cultivates relationships with customers and makes lasting impressions that keep them coming back.
1. Spread positivity
A foundational tenet of Starbright is spreading positivity. The happier you make people, the more they’ll want to be around you. In the case of a local business, that often translates to sales.
“No matter what you do—no matter if it’s flowers or if you’re selling charcoal—if you can go to work every day smiling, and you can transfer that feeling you have to your employees, to your culture, to your customers, you will never, ever, ever, put yourself in a position where you have to feel like, ‘Where do I go from here? What’s next?’
“And it’s that transference of feeling, that electricity, that emotion, that positive vibe, that you’re passing along to your clients that makes them want to come back. And it’s not trickery. It’s not a magnet that you’re creating in order to just build your business. Is it all altruistic? No, it’s not. But you have to recognize that you’re gonna be a much better business person and much more liked if you transfer positive feelings to your customers—and have them want to come back. Not because you’re the only choice, but because you’re the one that they want to be with.”
Even over the phone, Nic is looking to be a bright spot in his customers’ days. Receiving flowers is a feel good moment, so why can’t ordering flowers feel the same?
“Placing an order over the telephone to have flowers sent to somebody clear across town or clear across the world, you do not know what those flowers are gonna look like. All you know is the voice on the telephone that you’re talking to,” Nic said. “And I want that voice to be confident. I want that voice to smile. I want there to be enthusiasm and I want there to be knowledge. I want the customer service to be excellent, but that’s not enough because anybody can offer excellent customer service. I want it to be an enthusiastic conversation. I want the client to come off that call and say something to the effect of, ‘How can an organization that has it so together—how can a person that is so enthusiastic, so positive and so nice—how can that person possibly send ugly flowers? That cannot happen.’”
2. Diversify your offerings and your network
Being open to change and taking chances can unlock new opportunities for growth and keep customers coming back for more. Starbright is a flower shop, but with some creativity and quick thinking, it was able to expand to meet even more customer needs.
When longtime customer and Yelp Event Manager Ali S. was organizing a networking event for 50 people, she needed an event space. Starbright not only let her host the event in the shop but went above and beyond by offering a flower arranging class that let attendees mingle, create, and walk away with a beautiful bouquet—and fond memories.
“Nic qualified me. He made sure to meet my needs as the event host and then went above and beyond to put on an amazing event as my partner, not just as the venue that I hired,” Ali said. “So your traditional event venue is really just elevated to the maximum because you’re using creativity. That event was four or five years ago now, and it is still talked about by the business owners that I connect with on a quarterly basis.”
Nic also opened his shop to DivaDance after meeting the CEO, Jami Stigliano, at a networking event put together by Ali—partnering with the franchise to host a dance class at Starbright.
“From that point on, I decided I would do everything I could to make sure we became friends,” Nic said of Jami. “I just saw a brand who had a lot of the same philosophies that we did, was definitely success-minded, and approached marketing from the same side of the table. And I saw that there was a partnership brewing there.”
By opening his shop to new experiences, he was able to network with an unlikely partner, increase his brand reach, and get a whole new group of people talking.
3. Make noise
Starting the conversation about your business can be challenging, especially in a large city like New York, but Nic knew getting the Starbright brand in front of people was critical to differentiating himself from competitors.
“When you’re in a highly competitive media market like New York, it costs a lot of money to advertise. It’s very hard to make an impact because the market is so expensive. So what you really have to do is make a lot of noise. And you gotta make noise in different ways and find ways to make noise that are impactful.”
Nic builds a community of followers he affectionately calls “sneezers” because of how quickly loyal customers can spread the word about Starbright—much like how someone who sneezes without covering their mouth can spread germs. Nic ensures he tries different tactics and channels to market Starbright; however, his main goal is to create marketing with staying power.
Through creative social media posts (like having flower photo shoots on the subway) and saying yes when asked by AT&T out of the blue to be in a commercial with Chris Gardner (author of “The Pursuit of Happyness”), Starbright is able to exist on high-traffic sites indefinitely. But even the photos and videos themselves aren’t the most important thing, according to Nic. What really matters is using those experiences to continually promote yourself.
“That commercial is still online, and you can still find it years later. Chris and I are still very good friends. I’m his florist. But is that the most important thing? No, it’s the fact that I can talk about it and make the noise.”
4. Listen for opportunities and give back
Nic is constantly listening for opportunities to highlight Starbright, even if they won’t necessarily increase cash flow. Instead, he asks, ‘How could this work to my advantage? How can I benefit from this?’
“Whatever the case is, I will look for some way to make it work and be beneficial enough that I can springboard from it. It’s not all altruistic, but there are some times where you just have to take a step back and say, ‘It’s not just about the money. It’s not just about the revenue. It’s not about growth. It’s about the community.’”
Five years ago, Ali emailed Nic asking if he rented out greenery so she could decorate a stage for a concert she was putting on. To her surprise, Nic offered her all the plants she needed, expecting nothing in return. If she wasn’t already a customer for life, this act of kindness would do the trick. And little did Nic know, Ali promoted his business at her concert, ensuring all the attendees knew the plants were from Starbright.
“What you put into the lives of others comes back into your own,” Nic said. “And you never know where it’s gonna come back from. All I know is that, if you sprinkle enough pixie dust, it’s gonna come back. You’re building a life story that is more than just, ‘Hey, come buy flowers from me.’”
When it all comes together
As Nic said, “It’s not a color by numbers business. No business is.” Every entrepreneur will have to develop their own marketing and customer service strategies through some trial and error. However, the effort is worth it when customers feel what you’re trying to do and recommend your business because they love your brand.
“Starbright is anything but your average floral shop,” Ali said. “They’re selling emotion of fun and thoughtfulness and reliability. And most importantly: quality. And they’re giving that to customers while simultaneously making them feel like family and part of this community. The cherry on top is that you’re getting a gorgeous bouquet in all of that.”
Interviews by Emily Washcovick
These lessons come from an episode of Behind the Review, Yelp & Entrepreneur Media’s weekly podcast. Listen below to hear more from Nic and Ali, or visit the episode page to read more, subscribe to the show, and explore other episodes.
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