Nic Faitos spent 15 years in finance before he decided to open a flower shop, Starbright Floral Design in NYC. Marla F., full-time foodie, part-time cook, was the lucky recipient of one of Nic’s bouquets. The experience left her compelled to leave a review. We catch up with Nic and Marla to learn about why it’s all “in the details.” Nic shares how making small adjustments and investing in the extras can make a big difference—especially when it comes to revenue. Hear how Nic was able to make a lifelong customer out of a gift recipient.
On the Yelp Blog: Discover Nic’s effective advice for small business longevity and customer satisfaction.
MARLA: I’ve never reviewed a flower shop ever. I usually stick to bars, restaurants, home services like handymen. I do dentists, lots of medicine as well. So I was, I was really encouraged to write the review because I’m going to use Starbrite floral and I have since then, I’ve used them several times.
EMILY: That’s Marla. She lives in New York city and has a real passion for local businesses. Not only has she written over 350 reviews on Yelp, but she feels it’s her role as a consumer to support and spread the word about great local spots.
MARLA: If I want businesses, local businesses to continue to thrive around me. And if I want to continue to live in a city that is full of five star businesses, I need to reward them and give them that feedback. It’s my job to do that. And that’s how I feel as a consumer. So I feel like the more I share and the more input I give to businesses, the better they can grow. The better service that my friends and I are going to receive. So I feel like that’s a big part of my job, you know, and it’s a job, both ways, it’s a job to be a consumer and it’s a job to be a business and we’ve really got to work together.
EMILY: Man! I love that mentality. It’s a job to be a consumer. But even Marla admitted that she has certain industries she reviews more, and some types of businesses she’s engaged with, but hasn’t reviewed. Some of that is due to frequency and interests of course. You eat 3 times a day, you hopefully only need to get your car repaired ever so often, so naturally an avid reviewer will have lots of restaurant reviews in comparison to other types of businesses. Today we’re talking about one of Marla’s reviews for a flower shop. And the reason it’s such a great story, and incredible learning opportunity for all entrepreneurs, is because what compelled Marla to share her experience was the way the business went above and beyond, paid attention to the little things, and actually wanted to hear from customers if their product wasn’t perfection. Those sound like high standards to achieve, but Nic – owner of Starbright floral, will join us as well, to share his side of the story and how he’s achieved such an incredible reputation on and offline.
First, let’s start with Marla’s review.
MARLA: Had surgery and three of my coworkers ordered flowers to be delivered to me. They found Starbrite on Yelp because it seemed to be the most elegant arrangements in this part of town. Man, did they not disappoint! They were packaged so beautifully and carefully. Not one single pedal was brown, not one. And don’t get me started on the vase. Startbrites all about the little details that other florists overlook. Instead of a cheap bow, they use a trendy string and they make it look like hay. Instead of a clear vase there aren’t just stems and water, they line it with beautiful, full palm leaves. Also the note from the sender is attached with a beautiful pearl pin instead of a fricking staple. These things matter to me. They do. What a company. These details are phenomenal.
EMILY: You might be thinking to yourself – Wait a second! Marla didn’t even order the flowers herself, or find Starbright when she was looking for a florist? Her first review of a flower shop was when she was the recipient?! Which is exactly why I chose this review. Marla was so moved by these flowers that she wrote a review. The experience was so superior in her mind that she had no other choice. My first question of course was what about the other flowers she must have received during that time? Did she review some of those other shops as well? But nope, none of the other arrangements moved her the way Starbright’s did!
MARLA: I have a love, hate relationship with flowers. One because they die right in front of you. And two sometimes they remind me of funerals. So I feel like you have to be very careful as a flower shop when you’re creating bouquets that are celebratory in nature, or best wishes or get well.
So it’s funny because I was ill for several days. And when I was looking around the room, it was probably day five, and at almost the same time, all of the other bouquets were decaying and Starbright was lasting the longest. So from a consumer perspective, I want to purchase the flowers that are gonna last the longest. In the back of your mind, it’s almost like, oh, these people care about me the most.
EMILY: These people care about me the most. That’s the feeling that Starbright created with their superior product. That’s what her coworkers paid for, and that’s how Nic thinks about each and every bouquet his team makes. Honestly, it’s why he got into the industry!
NIC: I had a 15 year career in finance before I became a florist. I worked on wall street, and I think I had a midlife crisis a little bit earlier than most, at least that’s what my wife says. I was trying to find a way to shed my jacket and my tie and my suspenders, uh, and let my hair grow and flowers were the perfect fit.
I took a product that was in some ways, sadly at the time, treated like a sack of potatoes just thrown around and I elevated it to where I felt it deserved and needed to be. We worked on a certain set of principles that served us well then, and we have not forgotten since. Sending flowers to somebody should be a happy experience. Okay. Not a frustrating one . If you’re going to give me your hard earned money and ask me to deliver happiness and smiles to somebody, and in return, I provide you with loads of frustration, whether you’re right or wrong, I have not done my job. Because we’re the funnel, that you used to send your feelings to somebody else. Okay. And if there’s something wrong in that process, I need to address it and I need to make sure that you’re as happy as can be and that the person that received it is even happier.
EMILY: Ok, I let Nic get a LITTLE ahead of himself there, but he’s just so passionate about these things, and he’s right! His mentality and the culture he’s created over the last 24 years in his business is one that recognizes the customer is always right. The details matter, and they are the thing that makes Starbright memorable. When I talked to Nic about these philosophies he shared so many incredible stories and pieces of wisdom, so today I’m going to focus on a few key moments that connected directly to the experience that Marla had. One of the questions I asked Nic was – what about the cost? Those pearl pins or palm leaves for example – does he build those into the cost of the product? And how about costs of ‘making things right’ and engaging with everyone who feels like their expectations were not met? Words of wisdom from Nic’s years in the industry after a quick break.
EMILY: Let’s jump right in. Here’s Nic sharing his philosophy on those pearl pins and extra touches Marla mentioned.
NIC: Specifically to the pearl pen or the raphea that we tie instead of a bow – we’re trying to match the details to the moment. You can have the most beautiful flowers ill presented and although, the flowers will be beautiful, the entire presentation will not be lush. It won’t scream luxury. And some things, you just can’t quantify in terms of price and you just can’t think in terms of what is my return on this pin? Am I going to recover the cost of the pin in the arrangement? No, I never will, and I don’t want to, that’s not my goal, but you want to know something. It was proven to me in this review that that pin and those extra touches, whether it was the vase or the leaf wrap, or any other aspect of the arrangement, those little touches gave us the opportunity to develop a client relationship with her. So where did we recover those costs? In the future orders in the future relationships that were built over time, with the recipient of the flowers and the opportunity that we were given to make the recipient a customer. Not only a customer, but, what I would call a sneezer. Okay. And in the age of COVID, you don’t want to be sneezing on people. But, the reality is I want everybody that we work with to love what we do so much, that they’re willing to sneeze and spread the germs of Starbrite to others. And that’s where my return comes from. Not to mention the reward of a satisfaction in the work that we do.
EMILY: A sneezer! But seriously, I think this perspective is so crucial. Nic is the kind of business owner who pays attention to the little details. He’s willing to spend the extra money on pearl pins, rafia and palm leaves to catch the eye of that detail oriented recipient. And he really cares about making an impression on both his paying customer and whoever the recipient of their arrangement is. He looks at these moments as opportunities for his business to have an impact on someone. To make them feel a certain way. Let’s go back to another key learning Nic shared. If someone spends their hard earned money with his business, and in return, they go through loads of frustration, whether they’re right or wrong, Nic feels that Starbright has not done their job. And he takes this seriously. Very seriously. So serious in fact – Marla even mentioned it!
MARLA: If it is not perfection, let us know immediately. They want the feedback. Whether that’s in terms of writing a review or giving them a call or leaving them feedback on their website they want to know when any of the littlest things go wrong. And I feel like larger floral shops can’t be bothered with that. They’re sent, they’re done, packaged, delivered, call it a day. But in terms of Nic, he wants to know so that maybe he can reach out to that consumer and remedy that purchase or to educate his employees on maybe packaging better or whatever that is. And just all around feedback. So that’s why he has such a stellar reputation is, he does want any negative feedback. He wants it.
EMILY: That confidence she has as a customer of Starbright is thanks to Nic’s approach to customer service and a high quality product. Nic points out that this is invaluable in his opinion. He truly feels that if someone’s expectations are not met, it’s his responsibility to reach out and make it right.
NIC: Once we have made contact, our approach is whatever it takes to make this right. Okay. I don’t know if I’m right or wrong in developing this formula. It’s part speculation, but I’ve always believed that a bad review costs $10,000 in revenue.
Okay. Lost customers, lost opportunities, lost sales, and even more importantly than that, lost the image for the brand. And when you put all that together, what cost to make it right is too high to change the experience?
EMILY: I’m not going to argue with that logic, and you’ve probably heard an equivalent comparison in your lifetime – a happy customer tells 10 friends, an angry customer tells 100? That sort of thing. For Nic, this mindset has proven to pay off. His reputation is stellar, but there have been times where he’s received critical reviews. I asked him specifically about those instances and if they were ‘worse’ than the times an angry customer has called the store and asked for a refund, made a complaint, etc.
NIC: I like bad reviews. Okay. I don’t like a lot of them. I like sincere critical reviews. And, as a consumer I’m speaking now, using Yelp, I would say that a business that has upward of a hundred reviews, let’s say 200 reviews and they’re all five stars in my eyes is not a real business.
It’s impossible to serve that many people, because we all know what the ratio is between the number of people you serve and the number of reviews that you get. The percentage is very, very low. Not everybody writes a review, but it’s impossible to serve that many people get 200 reviews and they’re all five stars. When that happens. I think that the business seems fake. It doesn’t seem real. And it’s a little bit out of touch, if not shady. Okay. And I will say that and I’ll scream it from the highest mountain. When a business has two to 300 reviews, okay. And sprinkled into the 300 are two to three to five, one star reviews, this is a real business. Now if I had hypothetically 300 reviews and my last 10 reviews were all negative, that’s one thing. Okay. But if 10 reviews over a 25 year period, um, were something less than positive, with a storyline on how it was addressed, I think that that’s positive. I think that’s right. I think that’s good. I think it’s healthy.
EMILY: But remember, Nic attributes their overall success to the principles and core values that he started his business on. The thought that the customer is always right, which ultimately means he’s dealing with upset customers infrequently. I asked Nic specifically about scale. Most businesses struggle to stay true to their values, or in the case of Nics arrangements – attention to detail and a superior product, when they grow and increase their volume.
NIC: Well, it’s a matter of keeping your principles and no matter how much you grow you want to do it with some controls where you don’t lose sight of your original principles, whatever they may be, whether your principles are based on price, whether they’re based on value, whether they’re based on quality, the overall customer experience, all the little things, that make the big picture of the experience solid and worthwhile. What it comes down to is you want to have the systems in place so that your infrastructure is always a little bit ahead of your growth. Our resources are always slightly more than we need in anticipation of the growth that has yet to come, so that when that growth does develop, we’re able to handle it, and nobody is able to notice any difference. Once we achieve that level, again, we build our infrastructure a little bit higher to go to the next step.
EMILY: That’s incredible advice for businesses in any industry. Let’s take a quick break, and when we return, hear from Marla and Nic about the confidence Starbright has built in customers and the approach Nic takes when reaching out to negative reviewers.
EMILY: Principles. Quality Standards. Controlled Growth. These are the things that contribute to the feeling Starbright customers get when they order or receive an arrangement. These are the things that have called so many customers of Starbright to share their experiences through online reviews over the years. What elevates their brand is the reputation they have for always wanting feedback, and stopping at nothing to make things right. These efforts do not go unnoticed. Marla said it best, so I’ll just leave it to her.
MARLA: Whenever I use Starbright, I know nothing will be wrong, nothing. And if it is, it’s going to be okay and the business is going to be on my side, a hundred percent, if we need to remedy that.
EMILY: To wrap up the incredible expertise Nic had to offer, I asked him about that differentiating factor. His customer service and dedication to connecting with anyone who didn’t have an exceptional experience.
NIC: Usually I will start off the conversation, whether it’s on email, whether it’s public online on Yelp or however else we reach the customer, and in a true empathetic, Faitos fashion, with a lot of sincerity, I’m going to say something like, I wish I could turn the clock back and make this right in your experience the first time. At that point, to be honest, I’m not concerned about getting the person to change the hypothetical one star review to a two star review or a five star review. I’m not looking for more stars. Okay. And I want to talk about that for a moment. I’m looking to express sincerity. I’m looking to express care and I’m looking to express – what can we do to make this right?. Is it a store credit? Is it a refund? Is it redelivery? Is it a combination of any of those things? Is it an upgrade on your next order, regardless of what you would like to see happen – I will make sure it happens. We will always close with something similar too, along with my apologies, I would like to express to you that whatever it is that would make the situation right, please let me know and I will follow your lead. At that moment you’ve made a commitment. And when you’ve made a commitment, you better keep it. And once you’ve kept that commitment, your conscience is clear that you’ve done your best, you’ve addressed the situation in an empathetic way, and you’ve used it as a teaching moment for your staff in your constant, seeking of perfection.
EMILY : On that note, I just want to take a minute. Hear it again.
NIC: I’m not looking for more stars. I’m looking to express sincerity.
EMILY : And THAT is why his reputation is so incredible. Each customer is the most important customer, and if they have a true Starbright experience they will be blown away. If for whatever reason their experience is less than Starbright standards, they may even become a bigger fan, after Nic reaches out in true Faitos fashion.