flower delivery services have been around for decades, however the overall experience of ordering + receiving those flowers has barely evolved. This is where UrbanStems steps in—D.C. born, but now in Baltimore, Austin, Philadelphia + New York City, this flower delivery start-up is taking each order personally to help elevate expectations + change the industry overall. Whether it's by personally creating the bouquets, handwriting the notes, personally delivering the order via a rapid in-house courier service or their smooth, hi-tech ordering experience, UrbanStems is quickly cementing itself as the go-to delivery service for city residents. We met with co-founder Jeff Sheely at their Philly headquarters to learn more about the changes they are bringing to the industry, including rapid, same-day delivery in dense, urban markets.
hg: tell us a bit about the background of UrbanStems + when/how/why it was founded:
jeff: it was personal experience that inspired us to start looking into the flower delivery industry. My co-founder Ajay Kori and I had dreamed of starting a business together since our days as classmates at Duke University. After one too many frustrating + disappointing flower deliveries (including one that nearly led to a breakup for him)…
"…we realized that the floral industry had not fundamentally evolved in decades and was in desperate need of innovation."
We set out to create a fresh, tech-savvy approach that would solve the issues around customer service, quality, reliability + transparency.
We launched UrbanStems in the middle of a rare DC blizzard on Valentine’s Day 2014 along with the three additional members of our founding team: Jereme Holiman, Operations; Chetan Shenoy, CTO; and Scott Simpson, Creative Director. Since then, we’ve expanded to New York City, Baltimore, Philadelphia + Austin, and are looking forward to adding many new cities this year.
hg: how did you want to differentiate yourselves from other, more traditional floral delivery services?
jeff: we differentiate ourselves in several ways...
- Free On-Demand Delivery: our bike couriers hand-deliver flowers + gifts same-day for no additional cost.
- Responsibly Grown, High Quality Blooms: we own every step in its supply chain, sourcing flowers directly from farms to ensure the highest quality.
- In-House Floral Designer: every bouquet is designed by our White House-trained in-house floral designer Cameron Hardesty
- Personalized Service: our bouquets are hand-delivered in our signature flower tote with a special hydration pack to keep stems fresh until they are placed in water. A personal note is included + senders receive a photo confirmation once their gift is delivered.
- No Third-Party Shipping Carriers: we hand-deliver our flowers and gifts, ensuring complete control over the delivery process and a seamless customer experience.
- Fair Pricing, No Hidden Fees: by working directly with farmers to grow flowers specifically for our bouquets, cutting out the middleman typically found in the floral industry. We are able to provide higher quality products at more affordable prices.
- Superior Customer Experience: customer questions and concerns are handled by our Happiness Team, whose sole job is to do whatever it takes to help customers make someone’s day.
hg: you’re born in DC, but have recently expanded to Baltimore, New York + Philly. What are some common themes in these markets that you’ve picked up on? Any key differences?
jeff: while our customers everywhere have embraced the concept of “Send Happy,” each city certainly has its own distinct flavor + personality. That’s why we’ve chosen to take a really community-focused approach to our growth + expansion to new cities. We could pack our flowers in a box and ship everywhere, but instead we look at each market uniquely + focus on creating the best experience for the people in that area. We believe that only happens with a physical presence in each city, and a team on the ground that is truly a part of the community.
hg: how has success in the DC market extended into the other regions you serve? How do you expect UrbanStems to shift what customers expect from flower delivery services?
jeff: we truly believe that the customer experience we provide is the reason we have been able to grow and spread the “Send Happy” message. The flower delivery industry ranks last in customer satisfaction of e-commerce companies. We aim to change that with our attention to the customer experience. From the thought + care that goes into the bouquet designs, and the clean, concise layout on our website to our incredible Happiness Team + the photo confirmations we send upon delivery, we strive to leave the customer feeling like they’ve truly made someone’s day.
hg: we recently opened in DC + Baltimore and will soon be in New York. What is some advice you can offer to small businesses setting up shop in these new, competitive markets?
jeff: we’ve found a lot of strength in empowering teams on the ground. Much like Philly, each of your new markets has a strong local culture, and…
"…it’s really important to get involved in those communities and figure out how your brand fits in with the city."
For a market like New York, the exciting + challenging aspect is its sheer size. We operate a team in Manhattan as well as in Brooklyn to service our area, and we are constantly looking for innovative ways to get in front of as many people as possible.
hg: aside from beautiful bouquets, you also offer delivery of succulents—something not typically found in other flower shops. Why the focus on including these resilient plants?
jeff: our Head of Products and Lead Designer Cameron Hardesty and her team are immensely creative and are constantly designing + curating unique floral and non-floral products for our collections.
The succulents were something we added not knowing how they would take off, but they have become so popular that we’ve even added a few different varieties like our Dinosaur Succulent that our customers really enjoy.
hg: do your offerings change seasonally with what is available? What are some popular offerings from each season? Do the selections change based upon region as well (given the local farms you source from)?
jeff: our collections change each month. We work with a selection of farms that practice responsible farming. Depending on the growing season and the availability of local stems, there may be some regional variances. We do have our Jackie bouquet, a bright + bold design, that has become a mainstay due to its popularity.
hg: most of your deliveries are able to be made by bike—how do you safely transport the flowers via bike? How quick can someone receive a bouquet from one of your shops via bike delivery? Same day service?
jeff: our in-house bike couriers are one of our greatest assets as a company. We fully employ them. and they are an integral part of our customer experience. T hey truly go the extra mile to make sure our recipients get their flowers. When an order is placed in one of our markets, the local team receives the order, assembles the bouquet with the handwritten message into our custom floral tote and passes it along to our bike couriers. They are then able to hand deliver the bouquets to their recipient in as little as a few hours + send a photo confirmation to the gifter.
hg: usually, when the time comes to order flowers, we’re scared off due to the pricing. Your prices are consistent + considerably lower than the competition. How are you still able to deliver the same quality arrangements at the lower cost?
jeff: our fully integrated supply chain cuts out the middleman and allows us to not only price our bouquets lower than our competitors + offer free delivery, but we are able to offer fresher stems that are are higher quality and last longer—the best of all worlds!