For most couples, being married for half a century is quite an accomplishment. But for Carmen and Carlos Segrera, their 50-year union is about more than marriage. The pair are also business partners and owners of a company that specializes in creating elegant arrangements of delicate orchids for homes and businesses.
It all started more than two decades ago as a hobby for Carmen Segrera.
“I have always been fascinated by orchids,” Segrera said. “Ever since I was young, I have been in love with them. I have grown them and made arrangements with them. My friends and neighbors loved it. It was also a welcome reprieve from the stress of working in corporate America.”
After years of working for a major airline, Segrera wanted to turn her passion into a business. The Segreras turned her hobby into C.S. Orchids, a company that has been in business in Miami for more than 12 years.
“I knew this is what she loved to do,” Carlos Segrera said. “And after so many years of watching her, I developed a passion for it too. It’s really a pleasure watching the joy and beauty that orchids bring into people’s lives.”
With little more than passion and a will to succeed, the Segreras opened their business in 2003. The couple’s first client was former University of Miami President Donna Shalala. “She really encouraged us when my husband and I were starting out,” Segrera said. “And she remains a client to this day.”
With a client list that now includes major professional and residential buildings like the Wells Fargo Center and Gables Condominium, the Segreras are looking to expand. The company offers a variety of services including custom arrangements that can be purchased or leased and maintenance of private orchid collections. But they wanted to explore ways they can grow the business using tools like social media and the Web to market their company and increase sales. The couple also wanted to look at developing a business plan to create a targeted road map for growth and finding out more about local and state grants to help small businesses.
Neither of the Segreras is a marketing expert, however, and the couple instead turned to the Miami Herald for a Small Business Makeover to help them find the best way to achieve their goals. The Herald, in turn, brought in Miami SCORE, a national nonprofit organization of retired volunteers who have been successful entrepreneurs and built thriving businesses. SCORE volunteers use their entrepreneurial skills and offer mentoring services to small business owners at no charge. SCORE identified three counselors to help C.S. Orchids get on the road to expansion.
The SCORE team included Sandi Abbott, the owner of Xpresso Content Café, a digital marketing agency that specializes in helping small businesses grow their sales and referral network by using the latest online marketing tools. Abbott has had a long career in corporate communications, including stints at Hertz Car Rental and as a vice president for AmeriFirst Bank in the 1990s. Lorinda Gonzalez is a grant writer and owner of Grant Ink, a firm focused on providing clients with access to quality grant writing services. Gonzalez has helped clients secure grants in a variety of industries and works closely with SCORE clients to help them identify viable grant opportunities for their businesses. Sam Shirley is an associate with Prudential. He has built a long career in the financial sector and has worked for major banks including Wells Fargo and Bank of America.
After working with C.S. Orchids for a little more than a month, the counselors identified several areas of the business where the Segreras could realize immediate improvement. First, the company needed to focus on its website and explore e-commerce. The company also needed a business plan. The company also wanted help to understand what opportunities were available in terms of securing government grants and participating in public procurements in an effort to maximize growth.
The counselors agreed that the Segreras needed to concentrate on the business plan and incorporating e-commerce into their website. To accomplish these goals, the SCORE team had the following advice:
Develop a business plan and run more efficiently: “This business has been around for over 12 years but never really had a formal business plan,” Shirley said. “To grow and successfully move toward expanding the business, C.S. Orchids is going to need one.”
Shirley recommended developing the plan to breathe new life into the business. “By taking the time to put together a solid business plan, C.S. Orchids will be inspired to set new goals
and objectives and take their business further,” Shirley said. “It’s going to give the company the opportunity to approach running their business in a more systematic fashion and allow them to focus on growth.”
Shirley also suggested a multipronged approach to finding ways to save money and run the business more efficiently. He advised the company to review all insurance policies for both the business and the Segreras personally to help save money on monthly premiums.
“The company should also review workers’ compensation policies, auto policies and business liability insurance to see where they can save on premiums,” Shirley said. “Another opportunity to save money and run more efficiently would be to look at working with FPL to find ways to reduce their energy usage in maintaining the orchids.”
Explore government grants and public procurements: As a seasoned grant writer, Gonzalez saw prime opportunities for C.S. Orchids to benefit from government grants.
“C.S. Orchids should definitely look into the mom and pop grants offered by many MiamiDade County commissioners,” Gonzalez said. “There are also great opportunities out there for minority and women-owned businesses to get grants.”
Gonzalez also recommended getting certified as a minority-owned small business to take advantage of public procurements.
“If the company were a certified small business they could take advantage of Requests for Proposals and other public procurements for their services, which includes plant maintenance.”
Embrace e-commerce and social media: “The company’s website is due for an update,” Abbott said. “I recommend going to a WordPress template that is mobile-friendly and easy to update.”
Abbott also recommended adding an e-commerce area to the site to take orders online, a blog to the website that is updated regularly and adding a photo gallery to showcase the company’s products and services.
“Photos are a very engaging way to sell a product,” Abbott said. “They could include a sampling of the arrangements for sale or lease, the gift baskets they make and the larger corporate installations. While it’s not necessary to include pricing, they could at least give potential clients an idea of what services are offered and give them a reason to stay longer on your site. I would also include a personal touch by telling the story of how the company got started and their philosophy on providing quality service.”
Abbott also recommended including a customer referral form and testimonials on the website as a way for people to get in touch with the company. In terms of social media, Abbott recommended making the company’s Facebook page more robust by adding more information in the “About Us” section and a link to the website.
“The company should create photo albums of their installations and post images of the staff doing fun things like making arrangements or even dancing in the office,” Abbott said. “And when they go to events, take pictures and tag people in the posts. They want an ideal mix of about 50 percent entertaining posts that encourage folks to like, share and comment. It’s important to share content that is engaging. The more engaging your content, the more Facebook will show it in the newsfeed of your fans. Another 30 percent of the content posted should be industry expertise and the last 20 percent should be about the company.”
For their part, the Segreras plan on taking the counselors’ advice and reassessing how they are doing at the end of this year.
“We are so blessed to have met this wonderful group of experts who are helping us to get our business to the next level,” Carmen Segrera said. “My husband and I are grateful for the opportunity that has been given to us and will implement all of the recommendations offered to help us grow.”
by Tasha Cunningham
Special to the Miami Herald