Two times a week, a dozen flower arrangements of varying sizes are delivered to the Sofitel in Northwest Washington.
The hotel — which has a $10,000 monthly budget for fresh flowers and landscaping — takes its plants seriously, says General Manager Pierre-Louis Renou.
“Botanicals are one of the key elements at Sofitel,” he said. “We want pieces that are well-designed and have a French elegance.”
For more than a year, Renou has relied on H.Bloom, a New York-based subscription service founded in 2010, to design, deliver and maintain its flowers. Bryan Burkhart, the chief executive of H.Bloom, said business in Washington has been so good that revenue has increased three-fold since last year. Washington area sales are expected to hit $1 million this year.
“We literally started our Washington office in someone’s basement,” Burkhart said, adding that the company has since moved to a location at 11th and H streets NW. “But we’ve had extraordinary growth and now we have a bustling space that’s half-office, half-botanical gardens.”
Locally, the company has 14 employes and more than 100 clients, including Georgetown Cupcake, the Tory Burch store in Tysons Galleria and Haworth Office Furniture in the District. Prices range from $29 for simple bouquets to $85 for orchids.
The benefit of a subscription model is two-fold, Burkhart said: It eliminates the need for costly retail space and makes it easy to predict demand so that very few flowers are wasted.
“The flower industry is a $35-billion-a-year industry, but it hasn’t seen much in the way of technological innovation,” Burkhart said. “We thought, why not take this antiquated industry and make it more efficient?”
The flower industry hasn’t exactly been operating in the dark ages. Web sites such as FTD.com, founded in 2002, have made it possible for customers throughout the world to order flowers quickly and easily on the Internet or by phone.
Burkhart, who studied entrepreneurship at the University of Pennsylvania, decided he wanted to take the technology a step further. He teamed with Sonu Panda, an engineer, to start H.Bloom. Panda wrote the software that the company now uses to handle accounts, place orders and coordinate deliveries.
“It’s like a trading platform for wholesale flower purchases,” Burkhart said, adding that H.Bloom has raised two rounds of venture funding, totaling $18 million. “We buy centrally for all five markets and remotely manage thousands of deliveries with our iPad app.”
At BlackSalt Fish Market & Restaurant in Palisades, flower arrangements are delivered every Thursday morning before the restaurant opens.
“It’s different every time, but there’s never been one that doesn’t look good,” said Jim Sole, the restaurant’s general manager. “People look around and say, ‘Oh, who does your flowers?’ We get that all the time.”