Pursuing social responsibility, one flower at a time

For Flowers for Dreams CEO Steven Dyme, creating a positive charitable impact has been at the core of his business since his petal pushing days in college.

By Steven Dyme (as told to Wells Fargo Works)

We started selling flowers at high school graduations in 2010 to make extra money for college. At the same time, a few of us were volunteering for Supplies for Dreams, a nonprofit that provides backpacks and school supplies to Chicago Public Schools in need. We saw an opportunity to combine our selling flowers with providing backpacks to students and turned it into a little seasonal business. Every bouquet we sold at a graduation would donate a backpack to a student with Supplies for Dreams. Parents and schools loved it and so did we.

At the time, the only business that appeared similar to our model was TOMS® Shoes —they gave us a lot of inspiration. Once we witnessed first hand the power of this kind of charitable model, we realized it was a tool to create a meaningful business and make a meaningful impact at the same time. That was enough motivation for us to marry the two more permanently — flowers and philanthropy — and create a business with profit and purpose. We named it Flowers for Dreams.

When we officially launched in 2012, a lot of the challenges we faced were associated with our newness but we used our youth as a means, rather than a crutch. A lot of people have called us the “millennial flower alternative.” Customers believe that our aesthetic preferences and commitment to giving are particularly millennial values.

We see ourselves as a sort of hybrid between a local mom-and-pop florist and an online florist. As our business grew, we knew that to be a successful flower delivery service we had to have a really strong e-commerce shopping experience paired with an authentic and truly local fulfillment model. We think we’ve combined the best of both worlds.

When it comes to marketing our business, we look at every customer as an influencer. They all have their own important micro-network that informs how friends and family act, so we're constantly working to build their loyalty with goodwill experiences like “Free Flower Friday” or a delivery ride-along in our branded truck.

We like to think our flowers are best received when actually seen, felt, or experienced in person. We've used social media, chiefly Instagram, as a way to communicate with customers, which has allowed us to reintroduce our mission and our business every day in new and creative ways.

But the thing about balancing profit and purpose is that there’s no single way to be socially invested as a business. It comes down to being an authentic steward to a cause, and the only way it will be authentic to your customer is if you’re passionate about your purpose as a business owner. We believe we have many responsibilities beyond giving, including considerations for our environment, our employees, and our community.

As part of that responsibility, transparency is also a big value for us. We think being open and honest is motivating for our team, and equally motivating for our customers. Our community really appreciates that we truly indulge in making a difference, and look forward to making a more robust impact each year.

At the end of the day, the real power comes from creating something that offers value to someone’s life. And when you can align a product with your values — charitable giving or environmental standards, for example — that makes it all the more meaningful.

Talking business with Flowers for Dreams

Here are five ways to be a socially responsible business, according to Flowers for Dreams CEO Steven Dyme.

  1. Stand for a cause (or 12).
  2. Consider every stakeholder.
  3. Put your people first.
  4. Share more, not less.
  5. Speak your values.

Image courtesy of Kale Green.