by Marta Redigolo
The marriage between economy, marketing, creativity and willingness is the heart of Zou Tong’s business. She is a young passionate entrepreneur with the desire of enhancing the network between people through a network of flowers.
The alarm rings early in the morning. A flow of thoughts, like a sudden aura, unconsciously starts blooming all around the bedroom. Time flies. Online meetings are scheduled, customers are waiting, and it is almost Mother’s Day.
This is just the beginning of a normal workday for Zou Tong, the young CEO of “花样生长” or “Black Coffee Diary,” a floral business in Shijiazhuang, the largest city in Hebei Province.
“I always imagine a lot. Especially before getting up, I think a lot,” Zou said.
At 28, she has already developed her own start up that includes an online flower shop and a physical storefront.
In recent years, the booming development of planting flowers in China’s horticulture industry has enhanced the profitability of the flower retail industry. China has an average annual planting area growth rate of 1.05 percent, an average annual sales growth rate of 21 percent, and an annual average exports growth rate of 28 percent. As it is estimated, the national flower consumption is expected to exceed RMB 200 billion by 2017.
Instead, based on data analysis, the list of China’s top ten online florists reveals that at present, the operating models of Chinese online florist are various but they have several limitations. Flower orders can be delivered to clients in three hours, but the quality of flowers and the service usually is of lower standards. That is why Chinese florist websites often fail.
Zou is not your average businesswoman. She is a thin young woman with slender fingers that hold a huge bag full of papers and her mobile phone with a “Starry Night” by Van Gogh case. Her clothing is delicate, reflecting her personality.
She lived in the countryside during her childhood and she enjoyed spending her time looking for flowers in the garden near her home. She attended Hebei University to study IT at the School of Economics, but a small flower shop next to the campus caught her attention. She asked the owner if she could help manage his online shop, but was rebuffed.
One year before starting her real business, Zou was already determined to show her abilities to the shop’s owner. He eventually hired Zou and gave her own office and she began working on an innovative approach for the online shop.
“I understood that knowledge means power,” Zou said. “And that one should never give up but rather try to go beyond limits and obstacles.”
Her enthusiasm has motivated Zou to keep learning by herself in the field. On countless mornings at 4 a.m. she practiced how to combine red roses and wild flower species, or followed step-by-step online tutorials on a computer, that was given to her by her mother as a gesture of support.
In 2009, Valentine’s Day changed her life. Rather than finding the love of her life, she found heaven for her soul. She was selling roses on the street when a policeman blocked her and seized all 100 flowers.
The incident reminded her about all those times people wanted to buy flowers but couldn’t find a vendor. “What if a man is coming out from work looking for flowers to give to her wife and there are no open shops?” Zou thought.
A couple months after that day, Zou opened “花样生长”-“Black Coffee Diary” the online shop she designed. Half a year later, she made her dream of opening a real shop in Shijiazhuang come true.
During the first stage of her entrepreneurship, Zou didn’t receive any financial support from the government, and she decided to take advantage of her do-it-yourself abilities to design her own brand.
Compared with other famous flower-related companies, her business is relatively small. But now, she believes, “it is time to build up the brand in order to make it stronger and stronger from every point of view.”
Her close friend Catherine from Beijing strongly supports Zou and believes in her dream: “Now, after eight years, the shop of Zou is becoming the shop number one in Shijiazhuang, it is getting famous, everyone talks about her.”
Everyone may be talking about Zou, but she’s talking about flowers.
“Flowers represent the connection between me and all the other people,” Zou said.
This slogan is brought to life in the introduction of her innovative system of flowers delivered in boxes. She is applying a user-centered strategy in her business, because she strongly believes in the value of each person and in the idea of the flower being a tool to connect people.
This is why “花样未完成” was born. Zou said she designed the packaging of a DIY composition of flowers that can be sent from Hebei Province and delivered to Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou.
The box itself is filled with flowers and meanings. For Zou, it is imagination, knowledge, innovation, determination, and it mirrors the guidelines of Zou’s business and life which drive her forward on the road to success.
“The marketing strategy is to provide a perfect product to the customer in order to gain her heart,” she said.