In this series in partnership with Squarespace, we’re highlighting the stories of three successful women of color. They speak honestly about the challenges they’ve faced, how they’ve persevered, and the ways they’re pushing boundaries in their respective industries. Check out part one and two, and read on for part three.
When Alexandra Floro launched a floral company called Under New MGMT three weeks after being laid off from an event planning job in 2019, she didn’t exactly have a plan. “I was trying to find a new gig and it wasn’t working out, so I decided to offer flower delivery to make some extra cash,” she recalls. “And it snowballed from there.”
It’s no surprise Floro had a knack for floral design. “My mom was a florist, and I grew up going to the San Francisco Flower Market and prepping flowers before school,” she says. “Flowers have always been in my life. I wanted to start a company one day. I just didn’t realize that flowers were going to be my direction until I took the leap.”
Under New MGMT has not only survived the pandemic, but thrived. For much of 2020, they focused on doing home deliveries “to brighten people’s days,” and are now back to being fully booked for in-person events. And Floro has done it all while challenging industry norms: She’s committed to utilizing fair labor practices, avoiding single-use plastic, and focuses on hiring people of color, immigrants, and members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Separately from Under New MGMT, Floro found the time to create a mutual aid project called The People’s Bodega in response to the Black Lives Matter movement in the summer of 2020. It started by asking for donations to bring water bottles to a protest and grew to include a chapter in New York.
Here, Floro shares how she’s challenging floral industry norms, managing her self-care, and embracing her emotional side as a business owner.
What sets your approach to floral design apart from others?
I think there’s always been a sense of nostalgia with my designs. When I choose florals, I’m always trying to incorporate ones you might have seen in the grocery store or corner market growing up and didn’t think were luxury. A carnation is a good example. I purposely try to help people rethink what is considered beautiful.
What was your big break after launching?
I remember an influencer I was following asked on Instagram if someone could deliver flowers that had a specific pastel color palette. I responded saying I could, and she asked if I had a website. I didn’t, but of course told her I did—and then I built it on Squarespace in one night. She hired me and from there it took off.
Why did you pick Squarespace to build your website?
It’s just so accessible. I know my way around publishing websites, and Squarespace was really easy to use and I was able to teach myself. It gave me the functions I needed, and I could customize it the way I wanted.
How has having a website helped your business thrive and grow?
It gave me legitimacy. Without it, I would have been running the business off Instagram direct messages, which isn’t very professional. The clout from having the website has been great.
I’ve been using analytics more and more. Looking at sales and days of the week that people are on our site has been helpful. I also use the scheduling component in the calendar for booking appointments for introductory client meetings instead of going through Instagram direct messages.
And the email campaign tool is also great, especially for big holidays like Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day. Email campaigns are a fun, creative way to showcase our work, and they really do drive sales. Our first Valentine’s Day, we didn’t do an email campaign and had barely any orders; the next year, we ran a campaign and it was the busiest I’d ever been.
How are you trying to shift the way the floral industry operates?
After I did the delivery for the influencer, I sat down and asked myself, “What are the three things I want to stand for if I’m going to have this business?” Fair labor practices were always number one.
The second was supporting people of color, immigrants, and members of the LGBTQ+ community in my business. I do this by being intentional about who I conduct business with. I make a point of finding other florists who are just starting out and asking them to help me on a gig so that I can foster an inclusive and open community.
Why was having fair labor practices important to you, and how have you established them?
While working in event planning, I always saw how the laborers were treated. I knew if I started my own company, I would try to rewrite that and set an example for other companies. For instance, I always have a firm stance on pricing. The pricing of my labor is not going to change based on the client, and during intro calls, I talk about fair labor practices having a pivotal role in my pricing model.
It’s scary as a young business owner to have a high rate and not know if the person will say yes or no—but for me, the rate is non-negotiable. Thankfully, 99% of my clients are ok with it.
How else are you pushing back industry norms?
When it comes to events, the industry norm has always been to find the cheapest and fastest way of achieving things. We operate differently in that I’m careful about where we put our dollars when it comes to materials. Instead of going to the cheapest vendor, I’ll seek out ones who are local to L.A. or Latinx-owned farms. My prices are more expensive because of that—but our strategy is to help our artists make a decent living.
We also try to avoid single-use plastic like floral foam. Foam is cheap and lets you accomplish anything you want to do, but it’s bad for the environment. Instead, we use chicken wire or ikebana pins that can be recycled for future arrangements.
What challenges did you face during the process of creating your business?
The biggest challenge was learning how to run the backend of a business. You don’t realize the little things you need to do to get the idea off the ground like figuring out taxes and inventory.
Beyond that, I continue to work on setting boundaries between myself and clients. I’ve experienced major burnout because I’m putting too much on my plate. With the pandemic, I never know if gigs are going to run dry, so I continue to say yes and double book myself. I have to learn how to say no and get the rest that’s needed.
What specific obstacles have you faced as a woman of color running her own business, and how have you overcome them?
As I start to work with bigger businesses, I’ve been feeling like they don’t want to pay me as much as I should be getting. I’ve been asked to lower my prices when I know another floral business has been able to get way more. In response, I try to be as firm as possible.
I’m also constantly feeling imposter syndrome. Am I doing enough for my community? Am I a fraud? To help, I find similar businesses owned by women of color and try to form an online community via Instagram.
What do you do for self-care?
As a creative person, I’ve always been messy and disorganized. But in the last couple of months, organizing and cleaning has become a form of self-care, even though getting to it is kind of hard. I also spend time unplugging and having conversations with the people I love. Prior to this business I thought self-care was a massage or a manicure, but I’ve learned that it’s about reconnecting with yourself and the people around you.
What advice would you share with others who want to start their own business?
People have always said you shouldn’t be emotional in businesses, and I think it’s important—especially for women and women of color—to know that it’s OK to be emotional as a business owner. It’s an inherently feminine trait, so don’t be afraid to be emotional and pour your heart out, because your business can thrive off that.
What are some short- and long-term goals for Under New MGMT?
In the short term, I want to streamline the products we offer and the ways we can get flowers to people. Because I do so many weddings and events, the weekly floral deliveries are sporadic, so I’d love to set days of the week when we can deliver flowers locally. In terms of products, I want to home in on three to four items we know people want and will consistently buy.
Long term, I want to continue to develop the brand as something even bigger than flowers. I’m constantly asking how I can improve and become a resource for up-and-coming florists. That could mean hosting workshops on how to run a small floral business or filing taxes or becoming a marketplace for sustainable floral tools.