Within the flower industry, there is a lot of grey area surrounding the word "local". For some, American grown means local. For us, it is much closer to home – supporting New York growers. The American farmer is a dying occupation and for the good of our environment, our products and of our cultural fabric, it has to be a priority to keep them going.
Former lawyer turned founder of Petal by Pedal – Kate Gilman – on shifting careers, what it’s really like to start a small business and how she’s changing the congested flower marketplace.
Give us the rundown, who are you and what is Petal by Pedal?
I’m Kate Gilman, a 28-year-old entrepreneur living in New York City. I had the idea for my disruptive flower business, Petal by Pedal, after graduating from law school at the University of Virginia two years ago and moving back to New York.
Petal by Pedal is a disruptive e-commerce flower business that sources the freshest local flowers daily, packaged sustainably in mason jars with typewriter cards tied with twine, and delivers by bicycle throughout Manhattan. We’ve been simplifying the congested flower marketplace for a little over one-and-a-half years now and I’m happy to say, no regrets on the jump!
How did you make the transition from a lawyer to a sustainably-minded florist?
The transition was an uncertain and intense one – fear can get the best of you and I almost let it keep me from this chapter of my life altogether. I had to take a pause long enough to see what I wanted clearly and that it was possible to have it.
We’re still going through that chapter! Any tips for someone just starting out?
Financially and personally, there can be a great cost to starting something new, especially when it is unexpected for those around you, including yourself. Ironing out a solid business plan and having enough runway to get Petal by Pedal off the ground was the first step. Getting others to see my vision was the next. I’d say that one of the best, and hardest, lessons learned has been finding a way to receive constructive criticism and not fall in love my own narrative, while still keeping conviction and silencing out unnecessary fear and noise.
So it’s not all roses and butterflies? (laughs)
Most people think that working in the flower industry is all romance – the image is a tempting one to get lost in and I myself was guilty of it at the start. I pictured picking up flowers at the farmer’s market each morning, creating a few bouquets and putting them in a bike basket for delivery. The reality is that much of the work of a small business, no matter what the product, is logistical hustle. Ours in particular operates within perishability, local sourcing and bicycle delivery, to name a few daily challenges.
When conceptualizing Petal by Pedal, what were your biggest concerns when it came to how your new business would affect the environment?
One of my biggest concerns, which remains one to this day, is figuring out how to make our business as predictable as possible. This lessens our waste, from flowers to water to time. The average floral shop throws away half of its flowers each week – it’s a low bar to beat and we already are, by a long shot– but to be profitable and to thrive, we want to keep growing our predictable business, from individual and corporate subscriptions, to our workshops. This allows us to really select only the best local crops, only the best riders, to give only the best possible service to our customers.
What does the term “local” mean to you?
It means intentionality within every arm of your operation, at every possible avenue. Within the flower industry, there is a lot of grey area surrounding the word “local”. For some, American grown means local. For us, it is much closer to home – supporting New York growers. The American farmer is a dying occupation and for the good of our environment, our products and of our cultural fabric, it has to be a priority to keep them going.
Where do you source your flowers from?
A variety of local New York farms, ranging from Upstate and Long Island family-run operations to young Brooklyn urban rooftop growers. Our flowers change each week (sometimes each day) with what is actually growing on the seasonal calendar and we pride ourselves on our clean, rustic, long-lasting bouquets.
How do you share your messaging with consumers so that they know their purchase is making a minimal impact?
We like to remind customers of the farms on which their flowers are grown and who brought it to their door, through our website and our social media – to bring the story home from where it began. From farm to vase, or seed to centerpiece, or any of the “slow flower” catchphrases, it’s a very powerful thing but it’s only as clear as the story we tell. When you look at a flower, on a website or in person at a shop, there is no government mandated labelling on where it comes from – most often thousands of miles away – and it’s up to us to put our story out there as often and as transparently as possible so that there is some education in the flower marketplace. Most people, including myself before starting this business, had no idea what the floral industry was like and just how green it wasn’t.
What responsibility do you think falls on consumers before they make a purchase?
Consumers have the opportunity and responsibility to be more educated than ever about what they buy and where it comes from. We have seen food head this way, with conscious consumption playing a large role in the evolution of the industry and the farming behind it. I hope and believe that flowers will follow suit.
How would you like to see this conversation evolve?
I think generationally, consumers want more accountability out of the brands they support and this will filter into all avenues. Additionally, the desire for tangible experience is higher than it has been in a long time. So with better tech, we get more transparency and accessibility, but also the desire to go back to the basics and work with our hands and understand the start and end to a product and story. It’s hard to touch all pieces of an operation anymore and our little business tries to execute exactly that each day.
As a small business owner, what does a typical day look like for you?
The simple answer is that no two days are exactly alike – it’s part of the adventure – but I can tell you that my mornings look a lot like iced-coffee, french bulldogs, flowers and endless emails.
How do you stay organized?
I’d be lost without my iCal for meetings and I’ve always been a sucker for a simple Moleskine notebook. I set all sorts of digital reminders for my daily activities but when it comes to the growth of Petal by Pedal and brainstorming, only writing things down pen-to-paper is truly effective for me. I like to keep the notebook around for whenever ideas hit.
In a nutshell, how did you get to where you are today and did you hit any bumps in the road along the way?
I got here through an open mind and a lot of trial and error. I think the messiness and ambiguity that comes with entrepreneurship can feel like failure but with the right idea, support, work and luck – all of those bumpy moments along the way are exactly what create your brand and its legacy.
What has been your proudest moment so far?
My proudest moments are always when I hear the impact our flowers have on people’s days and the effect of our business on our farmers’ lives.
Do you have any exciting events or collaborations coming up?
We just started a partnership with FEED, an inspiring organization that has set out to fight world hunger. Having our flowers on the FEED supper tables in New York City and in partnered events will be an amazing extension of the sustainable work we do and introduce us to a new space and a new customer.
Where would you like Petal by Pedal to be in the next five years?
Putting some conscious consumption back into the flower industry and inspiring others to take the leap.
What are your hopes for the next generation of entrepreneurs?
That not only will people move into more passionate work within their own lives, whether as their career or as their side mission, and live those interests visibly, but that we will start to disrupt economies and industries that haven’t been touched in a long time – whether for political reasons or otherwise. Specifically for me, the belief that there is a lot of untapped talent within our shadow populations and that anyone can become anything with the right mentorship. Check out Defy Ventures, which creates second chance (truly, first chance) entrepreneurship opportunities for those with criminal records. I love volunteering my time with them — it’s impossible not to be inspired by the innovative (legal) hustle.
MOVERS + MAKERS / conversations that fuel our vision.