A great story, like the history of Dobbie’s Florist, captures you from the very beginning. It includes some excitement, intrigue and challenges; plus colorful characters and an ideal setting. Combined, these elements provide an ideal book for success.
We recently chatted with owners Bruce and Brenda Vandersluys about their shop’s fascinating and storied history, and what they foresee in the next chapter:
Can you tell us a little bit about the history of your shop?
Bruce: Our shop was established in 1888. It’s Niagara Fall’s oldest florist, even older than the town itself. Dobbie’s is also Canada’s oldest original family-owned florist. The 132-year-old business was also one of the first FTD members and the first Canadian member. My great grandfather, John Dobbie, immigrated from Scotland in 1869.
Initially, he was a teacher and principal at a school in Niagara Falls. Being keenly interested in botany, he brought back a few plants from a trip to Rochester, New York. His friends and neighbors soon wanted them too, and as a result decided to work full time in the flower industry. He built his first greenhouse in 1888 on the property directly across the street from the shop’s current location. Deliveries were by horse and wagon, except in winter, when sleighs were used. Four generations later, my wife and I are running the business.
Why do you think your shop has been able to survive all these years?
BV + BV: We believe that you have to do the best you can all the time—be honest, don’t cut corners, and provide outstanding products, value and service. We always take great care in filling orders, go above and beyond, and listen to and address any complaints. We’ve enjoyed ongoing support from the community, but it’s also important to give back by volunteering or holding fundraising events. It’s also essential to stay technically up-to-date and be on the cutting edge. Dobbie’s was one of the first FTD members to take on point-of-sale as a beta shop. Education is also critical and we continue to educate ourselves and staff via FTD webinars, conferences and more.
How are you getting through the pandemic?
BV + BV: Being a husband/wife team saved us. For months, it was just the two of us running the shop, when most other florists closed. We did curbside pick up and safe deliveries. Mother’s Day was huge for us, so we pulled in family members and some staff to help, keeping a safe working distance. Many reached out through our website. Later, we kept our doors locked and our coolers half full with pre-made arrangements. All it took was a simple knock on our door for customers to come inside or get a curbside pick up.
What is your experience with the floral business?
Brenda: Bruce grew up in the business, working in the shop and making deliveries. For eight years, however, he went to work for a wholesale company to learn a different side of the business. He would often visit up to 30 different shops a day. Being on the road opened his eyes, but it also made him a better florist. A teacher and avid learner, Bruce has also presented his own designs at FTD conventions in Canada and the US. Bruce will often wear a kilt to these events because he is proud of his Scottish heritage, but also as a unique way to meet new people and be remembered.
What do you enjoy most about the industry?
BV + BV: We like that everyday is different. Some can be all roses; others all thorns. Regardless, we are ready to get up and face the joy or challenges that day brings. We’ve also learned to be flexible—when one door closes, another opens.
What business practices did you carry over?
BV + BV: Although we have come a long way since our founding, we have carried lots of traditions forward. For example, we still fulfill hundreds of standing orders for cemetery decorations that the shop has had for almost 100 years. As a nod to our history, we have an antique horse hitching post outside our shop. It came from the original shop that was across the street.
What are you doing to stay relevant to today’s consumers?
BV + BV: We know you can’t stand still in this business. Our website and point-of sale systems keep us online 24/7 with a simple click of a button. We have a presence on social media, radio and communicate via email campaigns. We are also keeping up with today’s trends by attending many design and business classes. Our shop now offers a vast line of local and exotic imported flowers and plants in addition to other gift products.
What’s the #1 thing your customers thank you for?
BV + BV: We often get told that our flowers last longer than most. We are very careful in our handling–we clean buckets daily, and use proper foods and solutions.
What exciting things has your shop done?
BV + BV: We have a rich history that includes providing flowers and decorations for the British Royal Family when visiting Niagara Falls including King George VI, Queen Elizabeth, Prince Phillip, Princess Margaret, and Princess Diana and her two sons, Prince William and Prince Harry. Other memorable moments include providing floral arrangements at a reception for President William McKinley in New Buffalo, NY, where he was sadly assassinated. On a happier occasion, Dobbie’s supplied flowers and props for the movie, Niagara, starring Marilyn Monroe.
What are your goals for your shop for the year ahead?
BV + BV: Our goal is to try and survive this pandemic and economy. We plan on continuing to work hard and give it our best effort. We hope to get back to “normal,” whatever that is going to be. We are thankful each morning that we have work and are able to pay our bills. This pandemic has given so many of us a new perspective.