Marietta Floral – Keeping their Flowers Cool and Business Growing with CoolBot

Alex Lam knows that flowers aren’t something people necessarily need everyday. This is why it’s so important for him to have an edge on his competitors in the Oakland flower industry. “Why should people choose us over our competitors?” he asks. “Especially when these [other] guys have been around forever. Because I know my customer base. I know what they want.”

Alex lost his Silicon Valley job in 2002 and, after several years of searching for a new career path, decided to open Marietta Floral. He and his wife were both inspired by their former work doing wedding photography. “We just loved the way flowers looked in photographs,” he tells us. “They’re so beautiful.”

So, with zero former retail experience, Alex and his wife decided to start a flower business from the ground up. “It was like yeah, let’s create flowers, why not?” he laughs. 

In 2017, they began selling and delivering retail flowers. Initially, they were using a 3-door, small cooler. “It was a miracle to fit all the flowers into this cooler,” Alex says. “So I searched online to find a better solution. Whenever I’d come across a walk-in cooler, I’d see the prices and think they were way too much money.” But after about three years of using their small cooler, Alex and his wife admitted they needed to invest in a better cooling system. 

“We couldn’t handle so many flowers. Where were we going to put them all? We were having to throw them away, especially during the summertime and Mothers’ Day. Sometimes the flowers would get moldy if they got too warm. We didn’t know what to do.”

Alex ultimately came across the CoolBot and watched a few videos online of people assembling them before deciding to pull the trigger and make the investment. He had some help with the construction and had to have an electrician come in to get it up and running, since they didn’t actually have any power outlets nearby to where the unit was built inside their shop. Once it was ready, they were able to achieve their optimal temperature for storing flowers quickly, which is between 35-36°F. “We’ve been using the CoolBot for about one year now and no longer have to throw any flowers away,” Alex says. 

“This is our best investment. We purchased two CoolBot Pros, so now all of our flowers we get from the farms last a very long time. We save so much money on flowers, compared to before,” explains Alex. So far, he’s been very impressed with the quality of his CoolBots and in turn, the quality of his flowers.

“People think I’m nuts, using an A/C unit to cool my flowers. I tell them, look at the dates on the door and the temperature. Thanks to CoolBot, I have a system now,” he says. “I’m telling everyone, do the math. People come in and take photos of the cooler all the time. Even the guy who helped me build it was impressed.”

Alex’s CoolBots have allowed him and his wife to greatly expand their floral operation into wholesale as well. They’re now able to stock a lot of flowers for other florists to buy directly from them at wholesale rates for events or clients. “Before CoolBot, we had no space to do wholesale. But now our business has more than doubled. We offer the best prices when people buy in bulk, meeting our minimum of six bunches to get wholesale rates. Compared to the supermarket, we’ve got much better quality and prices,” tells Alex.

“And people can tell the difference when they buy our flowers,” he explains. “You can see the freshness. Most people come back to tell us how long our flowers last, especially the roses. People claim they last for up to a month in their homes. They’re always asking us what we’re doing to the flowers to keep them blooming for so long. We test all of our flowers for quality before we buy them. And we store them in the CoolBot, that’s how they last! We buy [our flowers] fresh cut from the farms, change their water often and cut the stems before putting them into a vase. That’s how to keep them beautiful.” 

“We do a lot of roses,” says Alex. “We have both low and high end flowers — from daisies to dahlias and peonies. Most have to be pre-ordered by customers. The high end stuff, we can’t keep them in stock because they’re harder to keep alive and much more fragile. People go crazy for lilies and snapdragons, which we buy from local guys. We carry all kinds of flowers. Our customer base wants lots of roses, which we have shipped in from Ecuador and Colombia.”

Alex and his wife hope to purchase a few more CoolBots in the near future. They’d love to double the size of their current cold storage capacity and are thinking of moving to another location, one with more space for their growing business. Right now, Marietta Floral’s staff consists of only Alex and his wife. Honestly, they’re “a bit worried” about Valentines’ Day coming up. “How will we do it?” Alex muses. “It’s going to be crazy. Lots of customers find us on Yelp. We get so many calls sometimes we can’t handle them all.”

“We definitely need to hire and train someone to help out and handle the ordering. We’ll need to hire some employees to keep the business coming in and to expand our website. We have retail information on our site now, but need to add a wholesale section for members with permits who have a code to log in and purchase at those rates,” Alex tells us. 

Their wholesale business has really taken off and is proving to be much more lucrative than retail — but they enjoy the retail side, as well. Wholesale has also proven to be much less competitive than retail. But for now, they’ll continue to offer both retail and wholesale options to accommodate all different types of customers

While Alex has encountered some supply chain issues lately, for example getting his custom boxes made in and shipped from China, to say Marietta Floral has been thriving over the last several years would be an understatement. Sourcing flowers locally has also been challenging at times, according to Alex. With lots of people getting sick and local flower farms being short staffed, even the San Francisco Flower Market has been low on stock. Fortunately, Alex has overseas flower providers that ship by plane to Florida, so Marietta Floral has been able to keep flowers on their shelves. 

Even during Covid, people have still been calling and coming into Marietta Floral. “People thought I was crazy to invest in this walk-in cooler during the worst moment in the history of life!” Alex laughs. “I’m not nuts. We’re still working. We do a lot of funeral services; lots of people are dying. We have regular church clients, buying lots of flowers each week. Not a lot of companies have products to deliver right now. But we do. We stock a lot of products and materials. We have inventory. And we deliver.”

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