SAN FRANCISCO—At 11 p.m. on Wednesday, May 13, Farmgirl Flowers, a flower delivery service, officially announced on Instagram that it is permanently shutting down its San Francisco location due to business strains posed by COVID-19 restrictions.
CEO Christina Stembel, “The farm girl behind Farmgirl Flowers,” as she calls herself, founded the company in 2010 inside her San Francisco kitchen with $49,000 of her savings. In 2019, Farmgirl Flowers earned $39 million in sales and has been growing by nearly 80 percent year to year.
As business bloomed, Farmgirl Flowers moved out of Stembel’s apartment to a San Francisco facility where it has processed 90 percent of all orders for four years.
In response to the coronavirus pandemic, Mayor London Breed closed all non-essential businesses in the Bay Area on March 16. Within a week, sales dropped by 60 percent forcing the company to make large budget cuts and compost $150,000 of unsold flowers. Regarding the latter, Stembel admitted to ABC7 News, “I cried a little.”
After facing difficulties with its landlord, Kilroy Realty, the flower company decided to restructure.
In an Instagram post on Wednesday, Farmgirl Flowers explained that amid COVID-19 business shutdowns, Kilroy Realty did “not offer their tenants any deferment or relief services” and “refused to even deduct CAM [Common Area Maintenance] fees for services not rendered while their tenants could legally not be in the building.”
The flower service has redistributed its business over six locations, two of which are in Ecuador and one which is 90 minutes south of San Francisco. It partnered with Kitayama Brothers, a Watsonville-based florist, to sustain bouquet production.
These measures have supported the company so far, especially with the boost from Mother’s Day sales, which brought in more revenue than before COVID-19. Farmgirl Flowers expects a typical 30 to 50 percent lull in sales during the summer.
To keep her business afloat in its new structure, Stembel has been applying for the Paycheck Protection Program, a government loan intended to help small businesses keep workers employed. After being denied the loan the first time she applied, she addressed the challenges of the application process in a 26-minute long YouTube video that currently has nearly 18,000 views.
She applied during a second round, where she submitted 18 applications, one of which got approved, giving Stembel “more than a glimmer of hope.”
As COVID-19 destabilizes the small business economy, Farmgirl Flowers looks different than it did three months ago. To say a public farewell to its San Francisco site, the company wrote on Instagram, “It definitely feels like an end of a very long but great chapter.”