Test the waters. Don’t spend thousands of dollars and months of tweaking before rolling out your site because you will have a completely different perspective in 6 months. Get it out there, dangle yer goodies, see what people like and don’t like, then invest the coin on revisions.
As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create A Highly Successful E-Commerce Business”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Amy McCord Jones, the shouty mastermind behind Flower Moxie.
Amy grew up on a dirt road in nowhere Oklahoma. Imaginative and curious, Amy is a travel-lover who has backpacked over 15 countries and pursued many career paths before busting her way into the wedding industry in 2007.
Initially, Amy started a wedding planning and floral-arranging business with her sister, while her mother bought an old chapel in the Paseo Art District in Oklahoma City. Now, with over 600 weddings under her belt, she has officially retired from the local wedding scene to focus solely on her business Flower Moxie.
She founded the online DIY wedding flower company, Flower Moxie, in 2014. What began as an extra-travel-money-side-hustle, has grown into one of the most successful and resourceful online DIY wedding flower businesses.
Amy lives in Oklahoma City with her beloved husband, Colin Jones, and their quirky pups, Lady and Smithers.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’
Have you seen the Hulu bum-clencher, Pen15? Add Christian rap and poor country girl to Anna Konkle’s character and you’ll understand the allure of my younger self.
My backstory does not resemble a ladder, a straight path, or a ‘get your degree and enter the job market’ sitch. It’s much more of a 20+ years of pent-up underdog rumbling around in my tummy kind of story.
Nobody expected much from me as a kid. I wasn’t a strong student or particularly ‘hawt.’ I had bologna in my school lunches, never Lunchables. I have only recently admitted to sewing imposter Guess labels into my mom-made jeans. But I have grown stupidly proud of my scrappy nobody existence. When you have nothing to lose, you f*cking leap.
I was curious, prone to boredom, highly suggestive, and hell-bent on proving myself with every farout endeavour my brain gurgled up. This of course led to some fantastic career flops: helicopter pilot, Spanish telemarketer, forensic investigator, cardiac perfusionist. I have the BEST stories, darling.
I graduated with a Forensic/Bio degree, knowing perfectly well I didn’t want to pick maggots off of bodies for the rest of my days. But I was distracted by the 50 dollars I saved each month (waitressing) to take a big, fatty backpacking trip in Europe. My sights always focused on the next thing, like the world’s most industrious lazy eye. I just needed school to be over, so I took whatever degree I could get.
After college and some weirdness in Thailand, I took all the random jobs: Customer Service, Chemist, Biochemist… I even installed banking software while taking breaks between jobs and boyfriends to go backpack some rando country I saw in NAT Geo.
In my mid-twenties, I happened upon a little chapel that was going for sale in Oklahoma City. Although I had a good job, my lazy opportunistic eye wandered. I wanted a new challenge. Being highly suggestive and having previously watched ‘The Wedding Planner,’ I thought to myself: I CAN ABSOLUTELY BE J-LO.
Being 26 years old, and mostly poor, my mum bought the 125K dollars chapel. My sister and I started a wedding business…I taught myself how to do flowers…You see the segue forming.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
In 2013, I was at the intersection of 16th and Villa in Oklahoma City, regretting my decision to eat three Del Tacos for lunch and contemplating how dog-tired I was of the three-weekend wedding grind.
I knew I still adored flowers and empowering couples, but wedding planning wasn’t bringing me the joy it once did. (J-LO LIED.) I also darkly realized I couldn’t afford my own wedding services if I was getting married, and that I’d have to go DIY. That’s when it hit me.
“What if I sold flowers online — actual florist-grade blooms instead of b-grade grocery store cooler crap — and made Youtube videos to teach wedding parties how to do their own arrangements?”
I knew in my taco-twisting gut that I had to do it, if only to dry the pits of the brides who couldn’t afford a florist and openly wept in the silks aisle of Hobby Lobby.
Because the couples/wedding parties do the work, they get serious savings without skimping on flower quality. Plus who doesn’t want to shoot tequila while arranging flowers in their sweats with their besties? Flower Moxie gives people golden memories and all the bragging rights, with an itty bitty order minimum of just 350 dollars.
Initially, I started Flower Moxie as a side-hustle. I didn’t spend much time envisioning it would be a huge success as my goal was to earn an extra 500 dollars per month for my travel habit. It took about 5k dollars of my savings to get it going, and I built it at my kitchen table.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
There is a beetle, a literal beetle, with 7x the Insta followers as Flower Moxie. I started my business in such a small way and grew it so glacially that I was floored when anyone found my busted-ass site and trusted me enough to purchase from it. (Thanks, early day customers!) Things didn’t get tough until year two.
Inventing the wheel was brutal. My business model was the first of its kind, completely unrepresented. Meaning I didn’t have another model to follow (ahem, copy). I was making decisions as I went. Every day. Which is an excellent way to grow your own ulcer. I named mine Chad.
The toughest challenge wasn’t the brides or flowers. It was figuring out the systems, software, and applications I needed to automate orders and prevent odd details from falling through the cracks. I would lie awake at night terrified that I was going to forget to submit an order. I knew I needed a system that could bridge into Shopify, but it was hard to know what to look for and the right questions to ask. You don’t know what you don’t know, and so many IT overlords had already burned me.
Did I feel like giving up? YES. OFTEN. Selling perishable flowers to stress-ball brides is not an easy business model. The hand holding can be intense. And FedEx loves to crap the bed.
When I was still burning the candle at both ends, doing several weddings almost every weekend and running Flower Moxie, an offer to buy my diy company fell from the sky. I was so tempted to take it, but selling didn’t feel right in my gut. I knew Flower Moxie hadn’t yet reached its potential. But I also knew something had to give.
I decided to give up my wedding planning and floral business to focus exclusively on growing Flower Moxie.
There’s something galvanizing that clicks into place when you give yourself permission to lay a soul-sucking part of your life down. (That feels like the pull quote you guys have been waiting for!) I caught a second wind that blew me above the negative energy I had been kicking up. I could breathe and see a path forward with Flower Moxie! I had the space to be grateful instead of salty! I could get out of my own way and seriously perform.
As a result, Flower Moxie has grown from a company that nets thousands of dollars in sales to millions.
Takeaway: Success has everything to do with where you invest your energy and how well you transcend the bullcrap.
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Flower Moxie has grown from a company that nets thousands of dollars in sales to millions. It scares the dukey out of me to think that I nearly sold out. But people make bad decisions when stressed. I still haven’t forgiven Rose Dawson for jumping out of that life boat.
I’m eternally grateful I stuck with my gut, ignored my lazy eye, and dug my heels into Flower Moxie. It was grueling work moving forward — I knocked on the doors of *so many developers* and invested a lot of cheddar to automate, scale, hire, and add to my inventory.
I needed to make a mental shift and allow myself to take Flower Moxie seriously. When your business starts out as a side hustle, it’s hard to get out of the habit of running it like a part-time “hobby” operation. It’s like you need your business to grab you by the shoulders and say HEY, BISH! PAY ATTENTION TO ME, I CAN DO THINGS! Hold on a second, is Flower Moxie an analogy for who I was as a kid? Is this Inception?
In my tutorials, I constantly preach that if a bouquet is looking whack NOT TO SCRAP the whole thing, but to make small tweaks and adjustments. The temptation to start over is real, but it’s a short-term fix to a long-term problem.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Um, is not hiring people for years a funny mistake?
I don’t know how side-splitting this is, but the biggest no-no I did was assume people could visualize things. Example: I was on a shoe-string budget at first, so I built about ten different bouquet/centerpiece options, took photos, uploaded them to my website, and then let customers know they could have each bouquet in “whatever color they wanted”…assuming they could just imagine a picture of a pinky romantic bouquet as something more blue or peachy.
It’s like, hello, have I not watched every House Hunters episode where a couple is all, “WE LOVE THIS HOUSE BUT WE CANNOT GET PAST THESE RED WALLS. IF ONLY THERE WAS A SOLUTION.”
I deeply underestimated how overtly visual I needed to be. AND how specific. Because when people want pink, what they really want is “the exact tone of dusty rose that was featured in Joanna Gaine’s November 12th blog post.”
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
You know when you’re fixing your hair in the bathroom at a bar, and your scrunchie or whatever breaks, and the rando girl next to you is all: Here, take mine! And you drunkenly embrace and compliment each other’s outfit? That’s what working with Flower Moxie is like.
We treat our customers like the total goddesses they are — there is no budget shame, pretentiousness, or fakey-fakeness. You’d think that would be the rule in 2020. But as someone who has been in the wedding industry for 13+ years, it still feels like some stuffy exclusive (boring) club.
We are firm believers in embracing customers where they’re at, never upselling them or making them feel less-than for asking questions. We listen carefully and encourage liberally. We also won’t call them “hoes” for using hot glue instead of floral glue. (Actual comment on one of our YouTube videos…)
If you work with us and don’t want a sleepover by the end of the experience, we effed something up.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Avoiding burn out as a business owner is like trying to avoid pain in life or the Indian buffet that gives you loose BMs. Burn out will and should happen because it’s a natural reset tool that will help you reevaluate the things that need to change in your business.
Initially, as a business owner, you want to be everything to every customer. That will simply not work long-term because you are a human with feelings and a sleep schedule. As your business grows and succeeds, it’s important to prune the things that consume the most time yet deliver the lowest ROI. It usually means turning away certain projects (or “collaborations” as influencers call them), but you have to think of your business’ overall health.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Ima give you a mini Oscar acceptance speech. The two biggest helps to my business are named Tiffany Hight, a friend I made on a girls’ weekend because we had matching granny sweaters, and Morgan Moran, an Internet weirdo who fell from the sky.
Tiffany is eerily brilliant and highly methodical. She is the good sense that keeps me from acting like a wacky inflatable tube man. When she left her fancy job at an oil and gas company, I asked her to be my first employee. Despite the dismal starting pay, Tiffany has stuck with me for the past three years and has been the best sounding board for all big decisions. Her belief in Flower Moxie is the tonic I need to stay focused and centered. Every business owner needs an employee who gives just as much of a crap as they do.
Morgan lives a few states up from me in Green Bay, WI. She randomly reached out freaking about my website copy, noting that it was “her favorite kind of brand tone.” What Morgan didn’t know was that I had to work for hours to make the messaging funny without sounding try-hard. As a professional writer, she can imitate the exact tone in about 5 minutes. (Rude.) So yeah, she does all of our writing now. And maybe we’ve taken some trips together…THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH SOURCING BESTIES FROM THE INTERNET.
In the end, every member of my team is crucial and essential to Flower Moxie’s success, but those are the gals that have stuck with me the longest.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The Pandemic has changed many aspects of all of our lives. One of them is the fact that so many of us have gotten used to shopping almost exclusively online. Can you share a few examples of different ideas that eCommerce businesses are implementing to adapt to the new realities created by the Pandemic?
So many brands have quickly pivoted to meet the needs of their customers. Zappos has become even more personal and amazing during COVID. They have made the online shopping experience very personal/custom to add value to a typically transactional encounter.
Fashion labels like Johnny Was pivoted production to include fabric face masks. Homeware shops like IKEA introduced contactless delivery via “Click & Collect.” DSW offered free shipping and extended return policies to 90 days. Walgreens partnered with Postmates to deliver grocery items and personal service items. Target halted major storefront remodel plans to support the unprecedented sales of essential goods — one pivot included pay raises and bonuses for employees on the front lines. Amazon is investing 500 million dollars in bonuses for employees as well as offering health insurance on Day 1 to ensure their team stays healthy and available to customers.
Takeaway: Online shopping can be bigger than online shopping. It can be literal retail therapy.
Personally, for Flower Moxie, we created Virtual Wedding Packages that are priced under our typical 350 dollars order minimum to cater to the backyard, more intimate ceremonies.
Amazon, and even Walmart are going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise retail companies and eCommerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?
We’ve all ordered that 34 dollars ‘couture’ dress from Wish which turned out to be an itchy mess that barely fits an American Girl doll. This is the ‘cheap and sad’ category that no one wants to encounter. But how does a business compete with ‘cheap and dece?’
When you can’t match the price, you need to compensate with three things: customer wow, company soul, and everyday genius.
Wow = panty-dropping service. One bride accidentally froze half of her flowers by leaving them outside. The next day she had to drive across three states to her venue. Naturally, she emailed us in a panic and we then coordinated with one of our wholesalers to leave a box of flowers in the back of their building for her to pick up on her drive to the venue since they would be closed by the time she reached them. Although she promised to name her first born Flower Moxie, we would have still moved heaven and earth to help our customer. When you’re a smaller company with a lot of heart there’s more flexibility and reach than Sam’s Club.
Soul = irresistible personality. Walmart isn’t going to answer a frantic text with a message like: “No nervous poops allowed, girl! Just fill out our flower SOS form and we’ll show those drunk peonies who’s boss!”
Genius = brilliant little shortcuts to make the customer experience easier. Like selling flowers by the bunch instead of by the box. Creating pre-designed collections to ease decision-making, and printable recipes to help with organization. Showing customers how to save hundreds of dollars on loose table greens instead of greenery garland. I could go on!
While I can’t deliver the same prices as Sam’s Club or Costco, we’re a heck of a lot more likeable, helpful, and resourceful. That’s worth something.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start an eCommerce business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
#1: Assuming that your customers think like you do. I’ve seen so many company leaders dump a ton of money into development before the market has had the opportunity to say if they even WANT or LIKE the idea.
You are not your customer. And you really don’t have a beat on your eCommerce business until it’s had about 6 months in the marketplace. I urge new business owners to avoid perfecting their first launch — this is beta, baby. It’s the Wild Wild West out there and you need to make sure your idea survives before you send it to finishing school.
Instead, put something out there that is ‘good enough,’ track and record customer response, and then revise like hell. Here’s an acronym for you: GETMO aka Good Enough To Move On.
Don’t waste the resources until you’re sure you have a winning concept.
In your experience, which aspect of running an eCommerce brand tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
Killer copy. People think good pictures alone will sell the product. So they’ll invest in stunning imagery then come up short with generic, snooze-fest writing.
Yes, photos and videos are important. But they aren’t your secret sauce. If they were, we’d all be perfectly happy going to a beautifully filmed movie with crap for dialogue.
The messaging is ALWAYS the hero. Humor, sarcasm, metaphor, poetic nostalgia about looking at your lady bits for the first time in your Caboodles mirror — that’s how you relate and differentiate!
A 100,000 dollars video shoot with a girl in a floppy hat looking emo will not win any hearts. This is why we all root for the nerd who makes a handwritten mix-tape over the rich but banal heartthrob. SAY IT WITH ME: P-E-R-S-O-N-A-L-I-T-Y.
Snatching someone’s attention with magnetic copy is something even the smallest companies with micro budgets can do.
Instead of: We guarantee 100% fresh florals and excellent service!
We say: Our flowers won’t leave you hanging with your boobs flapping in the wind.
Can you share a few examples of tools or software that you think can dramatically empower emerging eCommerce brands to be more effective and more successful?
Zapier, Trello, and Kintone have been the biggest ass-savers to date. You have to understand that eCommerce sites like Shopify do not include CRM or OMS systems that are needed to scale a business.
Zapier easily moves order and data information into another software or web application, and can automate workflows, emails, and notifications. It’s been a perfect way to bridge between the store and the software that actually manages the store.
Kintone is our new Order Management Application. It’s extremely customizable and dead easy to use, meaning I don’t have to pay a developer to set it up or pester someone every time I need to make a change. I’ve been blown away by the price, customer service, and functionality.
As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies an eCommerce business should use to increase conversion rates?
Transparency eases any newcomer friction and gels a person from visitor to customer status. Here’s how Flower Moxie stays straight-up with wedding couples:
- Disarm them by acknowledging any fears or biases they might be feeling.
- Offer specific teachable moments. For example, we disclose THE GOOD and THE BAD of each particular flower on every product page AND include detailed care tips. Other diy sites just say: Give the flower a fresh cut and place in water.
- Offer a helpful prompt, like an automated chat greeting.
- Help them visualize the path forward, start to finish, to show them you’re IN THIS with them and sincerely vested in their success.
- Offer more in-depth learning resources as evidence that you’re not an Internet scammer working out of a storage shed.
- Be likeable and reachable AF.
Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that an eCommerce business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
Channel a persona, then live up to it. Who does the brand act like at its best? Is it real yet reliable, like Jennifer Lawrence? Does it middle-finger the world like Rihanna?
Flower Moxie leans Mindy Kaling. Funny. Vulnerable. Caring. Brave but never recklessly so.
You just trust Mindy. Just like you notice when brands have policies that only work in their own best interests. For example, many online DIY floral companies require a customer to ship back any bad product (at their own expense) to be ‘inspected’ before issuing a refund. Meaning people have to eat the cost of at least 50 dollars to overnight flowers, which is sometimes more than the refund! Imagine the fury of dealing with this nonsense 2 days out from your wedding.
Like any long-term relationship, trust, love, and a solid reputation take time. It is built one customer or problem at a time. So if a mistake is made or someone isn’t happy, I just think, ‘What would Mindy do? Is it better to save face in this scenario? Lose 100 dollars here to make someone less stressed? Or is it important to stand up for the company here?”
Treating the brand like a personality instead of a profit-machine is key.
One of the main benefits of shopping online is the ability to read reviews. Consumers love it! While good reviews are of course positive for a brand, poor reviews can be very damaging. In your experience what are a few things a brand should do to properly and effectively respond to poor reviews? How about other unfair things said online about a brand?
Imagine if people had public reviews to help you learn their dateability:
Brad H — 4.8 out of 5
-Paid for dinner. Sprang for the good wine. Asked deep questions.
-Absolutely hilarious and easy to talk to.
-That face! If Ryan Gosling and Drake had a baby. *Swoon
-Brought up his mother in bed. Would not recommend.
You can have 99% awesome reviews and one dumpster fire that everyone gloms onto. Worse yet is when a customer writes a negative review to spur you into action if you don’t answer their email within 5 minutes. Worst of all is when a customer trashes you when they are in the wrong. (I’ve had people knock Flower Moxie because they didn’t read our instructions to know they were supposed to put their blooms in water.)
If I get a bad review, I take a deep breath, try to lay down my emotions, and read slowly. After evaluating the sitch, (my bad, their bad, no one’s bad) I try to figure out the teaching moment so I can be as relevant as possible in my response. Was this a failure in our process or system? A lack of establishing expectations or education? Human error? Or am I being trolled?
I then ask myself two more questions: What is most helpful in this moment, to this customer, and what is most illuminating to the newbies reading my response?
For the most part, I feel responding is always appropriate. I can own up to any issues, try to find a solution, and tell my side of the story in a tactful manner. Context is really helpful when responding, so I never post a generic “Sorry you were unhappy, please email me so I can look into this.”
If the review is unfair or unreasonable, I won’t pander. That is insulting to all the customers who got it right and loved their results. I won’t be a total dick, but I will be very straightforward in my response. Personal accountability comes into play here.
Example: “Our flowers were all half dead and we had to buy new from the grocery story.”
Me: “When you leave a perishable product boxed up without any water for three days, your results will not be awesome.”
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful e-commerce business? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Test the waters. Don’t spend thousands of dollars and months of tweaking before rolling out your site because you will have a completely different perspective in 6 months. Get it out there, dangle yer goodies, see what people like and don’t like, then invest the coin on revisions.
- Make your shopping experience ‘stick.’ The companies I faithfully return to always have a little something extra up their sleeve. Human Unlimited, for example, sends handwritten raps and poems with every order. If people are shopping with you, they are fully aware you aren’t Amazon and want more of a pulse with their purchase. Show them you’re alive! Be daring with copy, include fun extras in their shipments (Glossier loves stickers), make the email including their tracking number exciting with a subject line like: Let’s the obsessive order stalking begin.
- Put on your big girl bra and do the. Page 2 of Google Search Results is basically the dark web. Learn enough to be dangerous, then hire someone from Upwork to get your site set up correctly. (It ain’t just about keywords, it’s about helpful, relevant content and links from external sites to yours.)
- Be intentional with email campaigns. Are you offering a discount, making a panty-dropper of an announcement, or sharing a mind-blowing teachable moment? If not, your message had better be hilarious or hella relatable to the current context. Avoid going down the passive aggressive ‘we haven’t heard from you in a while’ route. Total lurking ex vibes.
- Don’t be static. Your super cool unique idea will be everywhere in no time, so you constantly need to add value. Expand distribution, offer sassy chat bots, launch a referral program, back-load your site with educational resources, send out feedback quizzes. You have to be constantly moving to survive.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would love for “30 under 30” lists to go away, and for our society to celebrate people of all ages pursuing their dreams. Hey, 52 year old businesswoman who is slowly dying at work — start that flower farm! Sup, 65 year old dude who wants to finally get his GED — you my hero!
I’m so over the obsession of figuring your life out young and strapping on 100k dollars of debt to do it. How many eyes of fresh MBA-holders have I looked into who ‘did what they were supposed to do’ yet had no freaking clue what they wanted to do? You learn through experience. And the experience that excites you will change as you age.
I used to test drive careers by cold-calling folks in whatever industry I was interested in. I did this casually, without applying to formal schooling, while waiting tables. And I credit those internships, ride-alongs, and candid conversations to guiding me to the career I adore, saving me time and hefty tuition loans, and making me the weirdest person to talk to at a cocktail party.
Put yourself out there until you leave this world tits up.
How can our readers further follow you online?
The easiest way to follow us is on Instagram, @FlowerMoxie, from there you can easily access our site, blog, and Facebook account.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!