Everything’s coming up roses for Stôk Floral & Design as they mark seven years in business creating beautiful bouquets, incredible installations and amazing arrangements to help customers spruce up their spaces.
Ali Newstead grew her career from the ground up. The owner of Stôk Floral & Design started her horticultural path in Toronto by watering plants once a week at a florist while juggling multiple server jobs in the St. Lawrence neighbourhood. One of her longest-running gigs was dishing out refreshments in private boxes at the nearby Scotiabank Arena. She later returned to the largest, most impressive suite–as a designer. Atop the marble bar at the centre of the 8,000 square foot space, Ali crafted a jaw-dropping installation of fresh flowers, air plants and preserved petals in perfectly matched hues of burgundy, beige and green.
The humble florist takes her success in stride and in fact didn’t even notice when the store was named one of Toronto’s 10 best shops for bridal bouquets last summer until friends phoned with congratulations. She keeps busy chatting to visitors who pop into her dog-friendly Church Street shop to say hello to her small team and the shop pup, Oscar. She tells to us about the roses and thorns of owning a small business.
Rogers Business: First off, tell us about the name, “Stôk Floral & Design.”
Ali: It’s the way that you would find stalk pronounced within the dictionary. It’s just a play on the idea of the stem of a flower, but a little bit different.
Rogers Business: Your shop has become a hub for the community and invites people to just stop by. Why did you decide to take this approach?
Ali: I think more than anything, it's definitely my personality and I believe in community wholeheartedly. It’s always been about making people feel welcome in our space, making people feel like we’re approachable with questions and concerns. And I think especially when you offer a service that can be so personal, like a wedding, funeral or baby shower, it’s important to have customers feel like they can come to you and talk.
Rogers Business: What’s the most memorable event that you’ve worked on?
Ali: A few years ago, I worked on the biggest wedding of my career. We did a massive installation that was suspended from the ceiling over the dance floor. It was shaped in a 15x18 foot square. Even with all my years in floral, I'd never done quite an installation like that. So that was a very big learning experience, but an awesome one.
Rogers Business: How do you feel florals and greenery change a space?
Ali: They change the space entirely! Plants change the energy, the look, the aesthetic and even the air quality. I mean, I'm super biased and slightly plant obsessed but they really do transform any space. Fresh floral also contributes in similar ways to the plants. They help to bring in pops of colour and different textures in the room.
Rogers Business: How many people do you have on staff?
Ali: I have two main girls and a freelancer that comes in once in a while. Staffing is probably the hardest thing to learn as a business owner. And you know, people warned me it'd be the hardest part, but they definitely can't warn you enough. But the people I work with now are just absolutely incredible.
Rogers Business: Weddings are obviously a huge part of the floral industry. You do not set a minimum spend, which is quite unusual. Why is that?
Ali: I think again, a lot of that goes back to my personality. I want to reach as many people as possible. When people are planning their weddings, they often have no idea what each service will cost. If you tell someone they have to spend $8,000 at minimum, it can be very intimidating. I've had a lot of couples over the years tell me that they had so many other florists turn them away, meanwhile their budget ends up being around those same minimums or sometimes more.
Rogers Business: How well do you get to know customers?
Ali: For weddings specifically it’s a more in-depth process because brides and grooms have dreamt about this day their whole lives. So, we have phone calls, meetings and maybe 40 to 45 emails. The front of our floral fridge in our store is actually covered in thank you cards we've gotten over the years from our couples. It's a really nice way to display them all.
Rogers Business: How did you manage during COVID-19?
Ali: In the beginning when everything really closed down, there was about three months where I was doing everything by myself. Even the courier company wasn’t working. Someone could call me at 2:00 PM and ask if I could deliver something for 6:00 PM in Scarborough and I just had to figure it out. I was designing, packaging and delivering. I learned a lot and, in some ways, it was like a reset to my business strategy and my mindset.
Rogers Business: What advice do you have for other women who want to start their own businesses?
Ali: Be willing to trust your gut. I think the biggest thing is to try to push away the worries and just really follow your gut, when it comes to clients, staff, projects or any other business decisions.
Rogers Business: Where can we find your business online?