‘Get curious, get uncomfortable.’ Flower Farm’s first foray into digital economy finds 7-figure success
Melanie Harrington is the founder and owner
of Dahlia May Flower Farm.
Melanie Harrington ended 2020 much in the same way she started it – reflective and contemplating the future.
Although this year, as she looks to set goals for 2021, she can look back with immense pride at how she was able to impressively navigate a pandemic and transform her flower farm business from a local, homegrown initiative into a thriving seven-figure force in the digital floral industry.
It was a tough task, one that she can hardly believe she achieved.
“Our business had previously revolved around being a destination farm for visitors so when we were forced to lock our doors, we had to figure out a way to get our flowers to the public. We had a website, but we weren’t offering delivery at all. We had to learn a lot very quickly or we were dead in the water,” she explained in a recent interview from her Trenton, Ontario home. “It was tough. We made a lot of mistakes but it paid off completely. I would rather move 180 degrees in the wrong direction than stand still.”
Melanie was one of thousands of Canadian business owners who turned to e-commerce in 2020. The number of businesses accepting online transactions jumped by nearly 400 per cent in the last five years, with half of those businesses going online just last year, according to a recent study by PayPal Canada.
Offering delivery was a huge part of her pivot strategy as well as rebuilding her website so that it was optimized for mobile shopping and included PayPal as a payment option, which she found a lot of her customers were most comfortable using.
By April, the shop was delivering 200 orders a day, four days a week.
When the pandemic hit, Dahlia May Flower Farm
was inundated with delivery orders.
For Melanie, 34, flowers have been a family passion from the time she was a baby. In fact, the name of her business, Dahlia May Flower Farm, pays homage to the land and family’s history. The farm was once two separate pieces of land, one belonging to her parents and the other her grandmother. Melanie’s dad’s favourite flower was a Dahlia and that was the name he affectionately used to call his wife, while May was her grandmother Kathlyn’s middle name.
Her family history is also the reason why she is determined to see her flower farm blossom into a burgeoning business.
With her mom permanently under care in hospital from the time Melanie was a young toddler, her father found himself with no choice but to work a shift job at a paper mill factory. It wasn’t what he had envisioned for himself but knew this job would pay him well. He couldn’t afford to take chances with a family to support on his own. He saved every last penny with the goal of giving his daughter a fighting chance at a different future. His struggle left an impression on young Melanie who developed a keen entrepreneurial spirit. When she was just 13 years old, she started a candle business and would sell them to the nurses at the hospital where her mother was staying and to her father’s colleagues at the paper mill.
“My parents always told me I was smart, capable and could do hard things. At the height of the pandemic, I kept reminding myself of that over and over again in order to push through all the challenges,” Melanie said. “I knew my dad didn’t want me to have the same experience as he did and I wanted to use the money he saved in a way that would make him proud. It also made my mom incredibly happy because it was a second chance for her as well – an opportunity for her to see her daughter do something special.”
Though her parents have since passed away, Melanie knows that they would indeed be proud of the business that has flourished out of the family home, and the way their daughter has tackled obstacles along the way.
Melanie with her beloved mom.
(Photo by Ashley Slessor Photography.)
As a result of the pandemic, Melanie expanded her staff and tackled e-commerce head on, and within months, had a smooth operation flow. But even Mother Nature had a hand at making 2020 extra challenging. In September, Ontario unexpectedly went into a deep freeze and Melanie, as well as a lot of other farmers in the area, lost a significant amount of their crop.
“I had to take a deep breath and focus on what’s next and look for opportunities,” she said. “I focused on cleaning for the season early and selling bulbs online.”
She also looked at the money she had in her PayPal account, which she had always put aside as a rainy-day fund.
“We looked at our PayPal money and realized we had enough to build an extra greenhouse in order to hopefully avoid another surprise deep freeze in the future.
Melanie Harrington built her
flower farm business from the ground up.
“We farmers are eternal optimists,” she said laughing.
Being online this year has not only saved her business, it helped it grow to the next level.
Next on the agenda for Dahlia May Flowers is tripling their Dahlia crop, helping home gardeners across Canada by shipping them materials, and a second retail location in Belleville, a nearby town.
“The second location wouldn’t have been possible without the success we saw this year,” she said. “Us being online was critical in growing our customer base.”
As far as advice for other entrepreneurs who are still trying to find their way, Melanie says she is never afraid to ask questions.
“Get uncomfortable, get curious, don’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s totally OK to feel overwhelmed and not know what you’re doing. I have spent the last six years feeling that way and I still managed to build a seven-figure business,” she said.
For more information on how other business owners have found success during the pandemic and how PayPal has helped them grow their business, visit our Newsroom's Business of Change feature. Also, for tips and expert advice, including how to get started with PayPal Checkout, Invoicing, Seller Protection and more, check out our Small Business Resource Guide.