From a small dining room to 48 out of 50 states, Farmgirl Flowers has certainly grown in the last few years. With some out of the box thinking on how to utilize a cash back business card, founder Christina Stembel has found success – and shows no signs of slowing down.
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Business is blooming for Christina Stembel, founder of Farmgirl Flowers. Stembel launched the company from her San Francisco, California dining room nearly nine years ago.
“I moved to California in the late 90s and I caught the bug,” says Stembel. “I think it was bound to happen living this close to Silicon Valley, but I knew I wanted to make something – and make something big.”
So, she brainstormed ideas and hosted impromptu focus groups with just about anyone who would listen – and respond. Stembel landed on an idea for a company that delivers exquisite floral designs. It checked all her boxes: The business had to be within her financial means, scalable, solve a problem (there was a poor selection of beautiful bouquets in the e-commerce space) and ethical.
“My mission was to support domestic farmers,” says Stembel. “Since we’ve grown, and started sourcing both internationally and domestically to keep up with our demand for flowers, I’ve expanded that mission to support farms that have the same employee-focused values that we have.”
Stembel’s strategy has been remarkably successful. Farmgirl Flowers has employed over 130 people and is poised to pull more than $30 million in revenue this year. Here’s how one particular credit card helped the business blossom.
Let’s start at the beginning – what was it like for you?
One of the biggest challenges I faced when opening Farmgirl Flowers was getting domestic shipping going. When I first started in 2010, I thought I’d have it up and running in the first year, but it took until 2015 to begin shipping. It wasn’t even until 2016 that we were able to service other states. Today, we ship to customers all over the lower 48.
The challenge then (and now) was the cost. To ensure our bouquets reach our customers in top notch condition, we need to send them via overnight service. Even with negotiated rates, we’ve always had to subsidize this cost.
As a bootstrapped company, this financing was something we had to prepare and save for. As we’ve continued to grow, that price tag has only gotten bigger as we’ve gone from shipping hundreds of arrangements daily to thousands.
At what stage did you bring a credit card into the picture?
Not at the initial launch, but close to the beginning. I started the company with $49,000 of my savings – but with the cost of flowers, vases and staff, I had to begin hiring to keep up with the demand. And that money went fast. So, I started looking at credit cards.
Which credit card did you land on and why?
I wanted a cash back rewards card that was easy to use. My focus has to be on scaling my business – not if I’m spending in the correct categories to earn rewards.
Once I got my Spark card, I aimed to put as many purchases as possible on it. From flowers and vases to shipping boxes and recipient cards, I use my Spark for the majority of my business purchases. This allows me to earn cash back rewards and manage the cash flow for Farmgirl.
Using a credit card for cash flow probably sounds a little out of the box (or crazy) to some, but with the account management tools Capital One offers, I’m able to get a snapshot look at where we are financially whenever I need to.
Are you usually leveraged?
We don’t have the “luxury” of carrying a lot of debt. There are normal, larger expenses that I use my Spark Cash card to finance. For example, a bigger order of custom vases that won’t land in the warehouse for a few months. But to date, we are a profitable company.
What kind of unique expenses go into running your business?
We spend more on shipping than we do on any other category, including flowers and labor. That’s saying something since we run a manufacturing facility in one of the most expensive cities in the U.S.
Most e-commerce companies have the benefit of being able to ship products ground – or at least the less expensive forms of expedited transport. With a few exceptions, most of our product needs to go overnight. Even with negotiated rates, it’s still expensive.
One place we’re able to avoid an expense is with some of our packaging. The burlap we use to wrap our handtied bouquets is sourced from local coffee roasters.
Once the roasters have opened and emptied the bags, we arrange to pick them up and bring them back to our warehouse, where we cut them down to size. We pay for the labor to do this, but we’re saving because the bags themselves are free.
The best part? The bags are also compostable. So, not only are we saving money, but we are also saving the plastic that we might otherwise wrap the bouquet in – and that is a common industry practice.
If you could do anything over, what would it be?
I’ve learned a lot of hard, expensive mistakes since starting Farmgirl.
When I first started out, I had this idea stuck in my head that once you got to year three of the business, it would be all gravy from there. I thought that the most trying times would happen in the first two years.
Once I did hit that mile-marker, I’m not sure what I expected but I kept looking around for this magical summit. But things just kept getting more difficult.
The hard truth of business is that with more money comes more problems – and bigger bills! I feel incredibly grateful for the growth my team and I have been able to achieve but I’ll be honest, it’s come at an incredible cost at some points.
In retrospect, I think that every mistake has turned into a lesson that has made me a stronger, wiser, more efficient leader. And that experience, everything I’ve learned in the “trenches,” is not something I would ever trade or give back.
What have you learned about using credit cards for the business along the way?
A lot! I use my credit card in a much different way than most business owners I know. I feel like it’s common to view credit as a safety net – something to lean on during leaner months.
For me, it’s my bread and butter when it comes to spending. We’ve specifically negotiated with our vendors to take credit cards as payment so we can maximize our expenditures on our account. This not only helps me maximize rewards but also helps me to have a pretty holistic snapshot of our spending at any moment.
I’ve learned diligence is probably the most important quality to have when you’re borrowing money – at least on credit cards. I’m in my account daily to make payments and check on spending. This helps me avoid surprises and smartly manage cash flow.