What’s so funny about authenticity, integrity and transparency?

Sources: Instagram/@farmgirlflowers
Feb 23, 2021

Face it.  Outside of the Big Four — Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas — flowers are special occasion purchases. So, how is Farmgirl Flowers on-track to hit $100 million in sales during the pandemic? The online florist offers a minimal number of products and doesn’t even guarantee exactly what flowers you’ll get. It is also not afraid to partner with organizations like Planned Parenthood, post videos on arranging “supermarket flowers” and canceling and reshipping orders during snowstorms when products won’t be as beautiful as promised.

Christina Stembel, founder & CEO of Farmgirl, attributes the company’s success to authenticity, transparency and integrity.

What I love about the company:

The mission, path and decision criteria are consistent, clear and meaningful to me.

Farmgirl is an eco-conscious company developed with the mantra that it’s a place the founder would want to buy from, sell to and work for. Business decisions — even painful ones, like pandemic furloughs — are freely communicated to customers. When surveyed during the pandemic, customers rated the company (not its flowers or service) as the number one reason they shopped at Farmgirl.

The founder is still the face and driving force of the company.

The business is a 100% bootstrapped organization, and everything that goes with being an entrepreneur is part of the brand. Ms. Stembel doesn’t shy away from pivots, like moving from the original U.S.-only sourcing strategy to using a global supply chain because it would ultimately reduce waste from 40 percent to two percent.

The flowers are beautiful, the packaging recyclable and you get a special surprise.

You don’t know exactly what you’ll get — you order an arrangement “style” that is guaranteed to be beautiful, fresh and attractively packaged. There are no crinkly plastic or cookie-cutter clear vases that go to Goodwill. This is why some individual customers have supported Farmgirl, spending $20,000+ during the pandemic.

What’s so funny about authenticity, integrity and transparency?
Photo: Patricia Waldron

The communiques are fun, informative and stylish.

Farmgirl kept customers updated on real-time business challenges during the pandemic with frequent blogs, extended video posts and direct communiques. When the dust settled customers asked Farmgirl to continue this pace, so now there is a weekly news update. Following the shutdown in March 2020, Farmgirl saw an 80 percent order decrease. Updates helped normalize levels in three weeks as customers rallied to back Farmgirl.

Authenticity, transparency and integrity are reasons for consumers to shop, and Farmgirl’s results are proof that standing up for something can help retailers stand out this and any year.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Why do so many retailers and brands seem challenged when it comes to demonstrating authenticity, integrity and transparency to consumers? What lessons can others learn from the Farmgirl Flowers experience during the pandemic?

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"It is much easier to demonstrate authenticity and transparency when you know that a large majority of your customer base aligns with your 'authentic self.'"

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17 Comments on "What’s so funny about authenticity, integrity and transparency?"

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Shep Hyken

Who wants to do business with someone or a company they can’t trust? Authenticity is always important, but what customers really want is confidence. The retailer that creates confidence could have a competitive edge. That confidence comes from authenticity, integrity and transparency.

Start with something basic: Do what you say you will do. If you promise delivery by tomorrow, it has to happen.

Be proactive with bad news: If the promise is going to be broken – or if there are any other problems – can you let the customer know before they find out on their own?

Be genuinely polite: That’s part of authenticity. Please and thank you are sometimes underrated. Showing appreciation is not an option.

These are the ways Farmgirl and other retailers have forged stronger relationships with their customers.

Patricia Vekich Waldron

Proactive with with bad news is so important, especially for perishable special occasion products!

Bob Amster

More transparency from many retailers would be a welcome, refreshing approach to doing business. Some, I am sure, believe that one does not air one’s dirty laundry and, therefore, would not tell all. On the other side, some skeptical consumers may interpret sharing bad news with consumers as an excuse for higher prices or poorer service. It would be a delicate balance.

Evan Snively

The diversity (and let’s not overlook affluence) of their market demographic. It is much easier to demonstrate authenticity and transparency when you know that a large majority of your customer base aligns with your “authentic self.” Brands that serve wide demographics have a much greater chance of ostracizing part of their audience when they pull back the curtain in order to hold candid conversations with their audience. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try to do it — but it is hard and comes with risks that must be assessed.

Chuck Ehredt
Think about the brands that people are loyal to (not necessarily you, but some cohort of customers). They have two things in common; 1.) a personality and 2.) no points-based loyalty program. Farmgirl Flowers among a handful of other brands stand for something(s) and have developed a personality that resonates with people, while most other brands seem to think a Teflon coating around their business is the way to go to market. It is simply difficult for real people to relate to corporate corporations. Furthermore, once a company becomes too corporate, it is hard for people to distinguish between one company and the next – so they need to introduce loyalty programs or other gimmicks to try and stand out. However their Teflon-ness ends up driving the gimmicks and loyalty programs to also be undifferentiated. This is about leadership and values. Each entity that wants to build affinity with customers and partners has to be on a worthwhile mission that people are willing to get behind in a consistent way. That is possible for a… Read more »
Gene Detroyer
What is not to like about Farmgirl? What is not to love about Farmgirl? In my mind this is how all business should be run, consumer or otherwise. Why do so many retailers and brands seem challenged when it comes to demonstrating authenticity, integrity and transparency to consumers? Because they believe it is their job to fool the customer. “Fool” is a strong word, but I believe it gets the point across. They feel or actually know that if they were truthful about everything, they would lose some business. The reality is, of course, like Farmgirl, who gains business by their mantra, that others lose business in the long run. As an aside, as a professor of International Business, I am pleased to see “… moving from the original U.S.-only sourcing strategy to using a global supply chain because it would ultimately reduce waste from 40 percent to two percent.” On the surface that is hard to imagine, but when one spends time understanding global supply chains and why they exist, it is not surprising… Read more »
Patricia Vekich Waldron

Sometimes the global supply chain is indeed more effective. Your wife will not be disappointed

Lisa Goller

Some brands use opacity as armor, hoping it will protect them from criticism. Yet brands that embrace vulnerability by being real, imperfect and honest earn consumers’ empathy, trust and business.

Farmgirl Flowers can inspire other brands to be personable. Replacing the hard sell with serving consumers, sharing prompt communications and adding value helps brands show they care.

Di Di Chan

Farmgirl Flowers’ is successful because Christina Stembel is in charge and represents her business story. Farmgirl Flowers is a direct reflection of Christina Stembel’s vision and values. She is the critical leadership and can grow the company in alignment with what she prioritizes most.

For many large retailers and brands, the founder is no longer a significant part of its story or culture. They’ve gotten so big that it’s a group of shareholders running a collection of stores and brands. When there are many different shareholders, there are likely many different values represented. It will first require an agreement and alignment of leadership and shareholder value before a company could transparently lead with those values.

Evan Snively

Agreed – this is a critical call out Di Di. This point also brings up one related misconception I often see: “alignment of leadership” doesn’t mean that everyone brings the exact same POV to the table – it means that everyone agrees on the goal or outcome, and then they work together with their different POVs to get there.

Dave Wendland

Consistency, reliability, and genuineness cannot be faked. I applaud the transparency and openness of Famrgirl as it honestly communicated its shortcomings and remained true to its values.

Although more difficult during our present circumstances (divisiveness, mistrust, COVID-19, speed-to-market, and social media), brands such as Farmgirl are demonstrating that authenticity matters.

Ricardo Belmar

People buy from people. When consumers associate a face to a brand that they can trust, they will buy from them again and again. Authenticity is about telling your customers what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and what customers can expect as a result of taking those actions. By doing this, you don’t leave any room for ambiguity or deception – the enemies of authenticity and integrity. Farmgirl Flowers shows retailers how this is done. Even in times of crisis and when the actions being taken might not normally be popular ones. By being upfront and honest about the decisions and explaining why there is a benefit not just to the company, but to the consumer and to something the consumer cares about (reducing waste in one example) Farmgirl is able to “win over” customer opinion by simply being open and honest about their decision process. What a refreshing approach!

Cynthia Holcomb

For Farmgirl Flowers the product itself reflects simplicity — beautiful flowers arranged naturally, it’s easy to understand and order. The backbone behind this simplicity? A founder staying true to her ideals. Not distracted by chasing business, but by building a business based upon what most consider real-world values. Proof positive of this is $100 million in sales during a pandemic.

Craig Sundstrom

I suspect authenticity and transparency don’t scale very well (certainly if the former includes the owner having an active involvement in each sale). Integrity – or the lack of same, really – is harder to excuse, other than the sad realization that cheaters prosper — at least in the short run.

Mohamed Amer

Companies that retain a founder’s mindset are more prepared to be authentic, transparent, and communicate with integrity. Among established companies, these consumer-facing qualities become pillars and habits when the company’s internal culture reflects these positive attributes. Don’t expect a fear-based or my way or the highway company culture to generate an authentic customer culture.

Phil Rubin
7 months 24 days ago

The headline says it all. The combination of authenticity, integrity and transparency add up to trust. And trust is more important than ever and when it’s paired with a focus on customers, the payoff is clear. Customers are loyal to brands that are loyal to them, and brands like Farmgirl Flowers embody that beautifully, pun intended :). So does a Glossier.

The notion of building a business with products you would buy and as a place you’d want to work for is a beautiful model and exactly what we set out to do at rDialogue: create the place we all wanted to work.

Therein lies a challenge for many retailers. They don’t trust customers or employees nor treat them especially well, similar to suppliers. Too many don’t put their money or their mouth in the same place, and in the 21st century that doesn’t work.

Rachelle King
Really appreciate this story. It exemplifies brand promise, reason to believe and brand purpose all in one. What makes this work is that the company was born this way. So many retailers and brands are challenged when it comes to authenticity, integrity and transparency because too often they sit in a room (or hire some one to sit in a room) and think this up. It has to come from a place of meaning and purpose in order to exude meaning and purpose. One lesson here is that she didn’t take out a billboard saying we operate with transparency, she just did it; during a time when we all needed brands to be a little more human. She removed the veil and let customers in. Arguably, one reason why she’s able to do this is that Farmgirl is still a small company. Global operating machines are the way they are for a reason. It will be something to see if she’s able to maintain this same level of authenticity, integrity and transparency as the company… Read more »
"It is much easier to demonstrate authenticity and transparency when you know that a large majority of your customer base aligns with your 'authentic self.'"

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