Getting the foundations right for exponential growth with Bouq’s John Tabis (episode 287)

John Tabis is the founder and chairman at The Bouqs Company, an online florist. Founded in 2012 they have sold 100s of millions of dollars worth of flowers to millennial females.

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About John

John didn’t start out in eCommerce. He began his career as a strategist at Bain & Company and the Walt Disney Company.

eCommerce wasn’t really a focus in his career until he got the itch to get into the VC backed startup world and started looking for a job that would combine his experience with a fast growing company.

He landed at shoedazzle.com — a subscription fashion business where he was the VP of brand and strategy. This served as his first real introduction to the world of eCommerce.

At the same time he reconnected with his future co-founder and started talking about the idea of Bouqs. The conversation progressed quickly, and within 6 months of the Shoedazzle gig, John left to get Bouqs up and running.

Why Flowers?

The flower market is pretty crowded, but the barrier to entry is low. The number of players is shrinking dramatically, especially in the US where the market has shrunk from 50,000 13,000 today.

Perishable inventory and competition from huge, dominating competitors make flowers a challenging industry to succeed in. On the flip side, it’s an 18 Billion dollar industry in the US and 1-800 Flower does about 1/2 billion dollars of revenue in floral exclusively — not the monster market share you might expect.

As independent florists are pushed out, John saw an opportunity to be the leading brand in the space, especially for consumers looking for a more boutique feeling experience.

His co-founder, who comes from supply chain management background saw an opportunity to offer supply chain transparency and amplify cultivation and purchasing done in a more sustainable way with ethical standards and relationships becoming part of the brand story.

Challenges

The floral supply chain has 5 or 6 layers between a farmer and consumer. This meant that retailers participating in the standard supply chain really couldn’t make any promises about sustainability, freshness or even where their product was coming from.

This also meant that retailers had very little control over the designs they were able to promise consumers. John and his partner wanted to offer modern, transparent, online experiences, which has set them apart. 

Starting Small

When John and his co founder started Bouq, they had no capital. They were able to raised $13,000 from friends and family and this small seed money meant that they committed to running the business with very little inventory.

John says that in that way, they kept their inventory at the farm where the flowers were being grown — something that appealed to their customers anyway. By pursuing that line of thinking and offering unique types of designs John says they now lead the industry in customer loyalty.

John points out that starting from a blank slate is freeing and allows you to be nimble and build the business around what works.

John says they started Bouqs with men in mind — expecting to build the brand marketing to guys who wanted to send flowers to the women in their lives. They pivoted quickly when they realized that 2/3 of their buyers were women. 

Custom Website For Supply Chain Logistics

Bouqs started with a developer in their core group who used open source software to build an entirely custom built website. In 2017, the infrastructure could no longer handle the volume, so Bouqs rebuilt the site — again custom.

John says the unique challenge of not having a warehouse with skus means that understanding the location and travel time of flowers is a critical part of their website structure. No off the shelf solution really worked for that. 

Subscription

Subscription has always been something Bouqs has offered but they have evolved it over time. Today they have three subscription strategies:

  • Automating delivery is the most standard way they do subscription. This is essentially a recurring delivery that is offered with a large discount
  • The Scheduler: This product allows the user to set a recurring subscription for specific dates. Bouqs then delivers every year on that date, so customers don’t have to worry about missing a special date.
  • Just Because — random timelines for deliveries — but John says no one used it so they integrated the just because into the scheduler subscription. 

The Team

The Bouqs  platform is designed to have the network do a lot of the sourcing and work automatically so the team is made up primarily of people who  spend their time enabling those operations.

The bulk of Bouqs employees are in marketing, engineering and product and finance, HR etc. Focusing on building scalable solutions is how they can keep the team small and still grow the business.

eCommerce Book Top Tip

eCommerce Traffic Top Tip

  • You need a really great story. Because the competition is so enormous, you need a story and relationship with the customer to be competitive. 

Tool Top Tip

  • Give space between meetings to cut out unnecessary chit chat and the stress that comes along with it — John’s co-founder has gone down to 15 minute meetings only.

Growth Top Tip

  • Create a robust email capture and captivating drip

Interview Links

Related episodes

  • JJ Resnick explains how stories have been at the heart of his eCommerce success
  • Farm Toys Online’s Julia Lowe the team, product, and focus requried to turnover £500,000 a year, mainly at Christmas
  • Ashley Merrill from luxury sleepwear brands Lunya & Lahgo talks about evolving sales channels

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