My first ever job out of grad school was as a trainee scientist in a very unglamourous laboratory. The work was hellish, the people even worse, and I cried almost every night as I walked the half hour journey home. After what felt like six months, but was probably closer to six weeks, they let me go. “You don’t want to work here, and to be honest, we don’t want you to work here,” is verbatim what the people team told me. I was humiliated and relieved. At the time I felt wronged, but now I’ve come to see it – and so many other experiences in the same vein – as little redirection signs that have simply set me back on the right path. Gaby Bernstein isn’t lying when she says that the Universe Has Your Back.
“It was really a natural progression,” Denise Porcaro tells me repeatedly as we talk about Flower Girl NYC. Natural in the sense that it took her where she needed to be, but not in the chronological sense—she studied Production Design for Film at school before taking on roles as a prop-stylist for magazine and commercial shoots, and producing short films. “I found myself wanting to get all of the experiences, and just do as much as possible in those formative years,” she explains.
In the spirit of doing it all, she also started “moonlighting” at Danny Meyer’s portfolio of New York restaurants, and it was here that her interest and passion for floristry really came to life. Denise became responsible for arranging the restaurant’s weekly flowers and later trained with Roberta Bendavid, before setting up shop on her own.Here we talk to her about how she made the leap from assistant to business owner in her mid-twenties, how living in New York gave her the confidence to succeed, and why you should never sweat the small stuff.
ON FALLING INTO FLORISTRY BY ACCIDENT: I was 25 years old when I started Flower Girl. I was out of college, where I studied Production Design for Film, for only 3-4 years before I incorporated. I was doing a little of everything, as we do in our 20s. I was embracing my budding film career working on all sorts of projects, everything from short films and an independent feature to prop-styling for magazine shoots as well as commercial shoots in LA. I found myself wanting to experience everything, and just do as much as possible in those formative years. On top of it all, I was also moonlighting in the hospitality world, too. While I was cocktail waitressing at The Park restaurant, I was asked to organize the weekly flowers, which had changed hands many times up until that point. I loved it and it just stuck. In hindsight, it was a creative outlet for me in between film jobs. Little did I know it would go on to become my career and whole life. I took the love for working with flowers weekly at the restaurant and back-tracked a bit working under the ever-talented, Roberta BenDavid who was responsible for the Danny Meyer restaurants back in the early 00s. My responsibilities under Roberta included overseeing the stunning Gramercy Tavern in Flatiron. I really got to absorb and learn so many things during that beginning stage of my floristry career. I think our 20s are a major time in our lives when we really are sponges, taking it all in, and figuring it all out. That said, I’m now in my 30s and still doing that!
HOW SHE NATURALLY TOOK THE BUSINESS FULL TIME: The flower aspect of my life was taking off so it made sense. I incorporated for tax purposes, and then found myself a business owner at 25 with something that I was extremely passionate and really good at. I did struggle with the idea of investing fulling in Flower Girl, though, as I knew that I’d be letting go of what I went to school for. In retrospect, I’m so happy that I did. My boyfriend at the time told me that in trying to divide my time and focus between several different things, I wouldn’t be able to do anything well and he was right.
WHY FLOWER GIRL NY STANDS OUT IN A CROWDED FLORISTRY MARKET: We focus on lush, whimsical and unique arrangements, always with a distinct edge. We generally work off of a monochromatic pallet in the shop, stocking the most lush blooms and interesting pods and textures that reflect the four changing seasons of New York. We pride ourselves on crafting striking arrangements and bouquets and keeping it interesting for both repeat clients and daily deliveries, as well as for our brides and partnerships.
ON FINANCING THE BUSINESS & EARLY FINANCIAL PRESSURES: Everything came out of my pocket when I started. I worked out of my apartment as my “office” and rented/sought out space as needed for design based on the caliber of the event, etc. There was the cost of supplies and flowers which I paid for up front and then billed clients for accordingly. It was great when they paid on time, and not great at all when I had to chase around money and send numerous emails. I was a one woman show for a while. The first person I hired was an accountant who helped me a lot with everything from learning how to use Quick Books to business growth. I also hired assistants to help both with design, as well as paperwork and proposals as it began to become too much for me to do on my own. Looking back, these part-timers were key players in building the business. Later, with the social media craze came someone to help and manage that area, freelancers for holidays, weddings and larger events and delivery services.
THE CHALLENGE OF REMAINING HANDS ON AS YOUR BUSINESS GROWS: This is a tricky part for sure. Unfortunately, at one point everything was happening so fast that I had to focus all of my time on the areas that would help the business grow. I remember a time when I hadn’t touched flowers in months. Finding the right people has been key. Thanks to technology, I can still see and approve what’s being created and stay extra-connected. For events, samples are made and then freelancers follow formulas and the arrangement in front of them as a guide. These days I have restructured in order to both have time for all of the back end of the business, but also to work in the shop a few days during the week and visit our off-site weekly clients myself. It is not only about the balance of the business but the balance of my brain as well. I needed to be back and have my hands in all aspects of the company.
HER ADVICE? FOLLOW YOUR INSTINCT WITH PRICING: Many things factor into setting prices. There is the basic cost of goods and labor based on whatever your product is to start. In the beginning, you will constantly have to rethink your prices, especially in creative businesses with items that don’t have a set rate because they are custom to a specific event or require you buying from a market where prices fluctuate. I will say you find a rhythm and it does get easier as time goes on.
WHY TAPPING INTO YOUR COMMUNITY IS IMPORTANT IN THE EARLY DAYS: I grew up in New York, and believe that it helped me in the beginning stages of growing my business. I was comfortable here, it was my city, and all of my people were around. My business grew and first customers began with people that I knew, or a friend-of a friend, friend-of-a-business initially, and that’s still true today.
THE THREE KEY GROWING PAIN SHE’S OVERCOME: Flowers are a luxury to have and therefore a luxury business. People do not need flowers to live (although I have met people that have argued this point!) so they can be one of the first things to be cut in a restaurant or hotel setting when budget becomes an issue. That said, with us being in a big city like New York, we’re not as affected. There have also been moments in scaling up that have been a bit of a chicken-egg moment, whether it be with bringing on a new staff member or opening a new location, but I believe that you make the right decisions for your business at that time and then ride the wave, and keep making decisions. Some say that businesses with partners are difficult but there have been times where I wished that I had someone to bounce ideas off of or who love and lived the business as much as I do. I think finding a sense of community of other like-minded business owners whom you admire and respect is a good place to bounce ideas around and ‘talk shop’ with.
ON EXPANDING BEYOND FLOWERS INTO A FULLY-FLEDGED LIFESTYLE BRAND: I had always wanted to do a lifestyle/hard goods branch off of Flower Girl. I had all of the ideas in my head for a while. The ‘gal’ candle was the most natural extension and came early, and then the ‘guy ‘candle followed shortly thereafter. The push for the remaining hard goods came when we opened our location in the first Gansevoort Market, which was in a very touristy block leading up to The Whitney Museum. Being that we were one of the only non-food vendors in a food market we had to tap into the market that we had in front of us. It was time to bring all of the ideas that I had in my head to life. I wanted the tourists and fans of Flower Girl that couldn’t buy our fresh bloom, plants and terrariums to have something as a token to take home. Our handmade soaps, colorful branded pencil packs, tote bags, ‘gal’ and ‘guy’ denim aprons ‘girl power’ pens, custom incense and ‘flower power’ lighters all seemed like the right things at the time. We are currently embracing a few more items in the form of handmade, small batch body products using our repurposed blooms to launch this year, so stay tuned for that – it’s going to be all sorts of goodness!
ON CONSTANTLY EVOLVING: We are inundated with the way things look from the outside whether it be a business, an Instagram account, or a human being. It’s a bit of smoke and mirrors mixed with a lot of hard work and longevity with my business at this stage. That said, I am constantly working on evolving the business, as I do with myself. There are always things to re-evaluate or adjust. I always tell my team that we are small and even though we’ve been around for over a while, there is always work to be done and things to flesh out. We are in a competitive market in NYC so I also think staying fresh, on trend and reinventing over time is important.
WHAT SHE’S MOST PROUD OF & THE ADVICE SHE WOULD HAVE GIVEN HERSELF WHEN SHE STARTED: I have these moments, whether it’s in the middle of a beautiful wedding or a random day at the show, where I realise that I have a 13 year-old business, that I created out of nothing in my hometown of NYC that people love and that I’m passionate about. If I could go back. I’d remind myself that a business is a long-term commitment. It will change and morph and change again. Welcoming and accepting those changes – the good and the bad – is a huge part of the years that you will clock. Being able to shift yourself to allow for those changes, problem-solve, and see things through other people’s eyes is really important. I would also remind myself to surround myself with people that I love to be around and work with.