The Ecommerce Story of Valentins: Calculated Romance

Before the interview I imagined the office of Valentins, one of Germany's leading online flower retailers, as an indoor-garden of rich colors. Sprays of composite flowers attracting bees through windows in tilt position. Everything a romantic inspiration for another successful day.

My fantasy is shattered when CEO Nicole Scholz reveals the real approach behind their success. “Numbers, numbers, numbers”, she tells me. “Up-to-date-data is crucial for all that we do.”

She takes us on a tour through an unexpectedly data-driven business.

One day at the office

Nicole's morning starts with a strong coffee and a number-packed performance report sent to her cell phone at 7AM sharp. "This gives me a complete overview. Numbers about our B2C and B2B sales; numbers showing how the different channels are performing. Tools that help you make sense of your business are invaluable."

These numbers are the guiding force behind the rest of the day. "Each day is different, of course, but I can say that I spend around 30% with colleagues, pushing new projects, discussing strategy and operations. The other 70% I spend on analysis, preparations for these talks, and assortment decisions."

I could place the obsession over data better when Nicole explained me about the complexity of her business.

"Selling flowers is not like selling books or wine. Flowers are fresh products, so we need fast logistics. The variety is also extremely high. To be relevant we need a hugely diverse inventory that connects to almost all needs. The seasonal rhythms only make this more complicated."

"Our year starts with Christmas, then we move towards Valentine, Easter and Mother's Day. Different types of flowers are desired in each of these seasons." Data analysis seems the only way to make sense of this complexity and come to the right decisions.

Start on fertile ground

The early morning shot of data has its roots in how the company was started, by two business consultants on their way to work.

"The original two founders left the company around 8 years ago", Nicole explains, "but the story goes that they came up with the idea because of an article they'd read on the train. It was about the booming flower market in the USA, and it made them wonder why there weren't any online flower retailers in Germany yet."

In line with their consultant background they crafted a 100 page, number-heavy business proposal. This document became their key in securing the necessary investment to set up Valentins.

In 2007 the company was bought by Hubert Burda, one of Germany’s biggest media enterprises, and the two founders left the company. Currently Valentins employs around fifty employees, more or less evenly distributed between administration and florist production.

When you order at Valentins, each flower batch is assembled by florists’ hands. Next they are packed in special boxes that maintain the 7-day freshness guarantee.

Besides SEM, SEO and affiliate marketing, partnerships have been crucial for Valentins' growth. They recently teamed up with LIDL, one of Germany's main supermarket chains, running its flower-retailer website lidl-blumen.de. The next step is a website re-launch.

"In eCommerce you have to stay flexible," Nicole tells me, "you have to keep improving and try out new things. With the new website we will try something new, but not without keeping a close eye on our search engine rankings."

Where's the love?

My disillusion about the structured approach doesn't go unnoticed. “I know it doesn’t sound too romantic, but at the end of the day the human factor is still what makes our business."

"Some think you can run an online business and hide behind your emails. They're wrong. Personal contact is crucial. Talks with other people that run an online shop are my most important source for new ideas, inspiration, and staying informed. And the happiness of the people working for you is crucial for your company's well being."

This is reflected during 'inspiring team-moments' such as last mother’s day, the best-selling day in Valentins’ history. The extraordinary number of orders forced employees from all tiers to gather on the shop floor to prepare bouquets for transport, including CEO Nicole.

Nicole (centre) helping out with flower packaging

What's more, working at Valentines provides some interesting insights into human nature. Nicole explains that on Valentine’s Day they receive many orders from women who send flowers to their own office desk. “I imagine they do it to make their colleagues jealous. Or maybe they just feel they deserve a present. It's interesting to see the scale at which this is actually happening.”

Whether it's for love or vanity, you can count on Valentins to help you out.