Flower cafés emerge as new hope amid slump of flower sales and fierce competition in café industry
Instead of the expected scent of coffee and waffles, the fresh fragrances of spring flowers greet visitors at the door of Blute, a flower café in Hannam-dong, central Seoul.
On a Saturday afternoon, surrounded by bundles of flowers and plants, a barista made hot Americanos while a nearby florist skillfully created hand-tied bouquets. In case you are still wondering, a “flower café” is a combination of a flower shop and a café.
A couple got up from their table and went to the cashier where the man bought a small bouquet of flowers. His girlfriend was busy snapping pictures of the caf with her cell phone.
“This is my first time here, and I found new interest in flowers. You know how hard it is to find a place in the city where I can be surrounded by nature. I am happy to have found such a great place where I can enjoy both coffee and flowers,” the girl in her 20s told The Korea Herald.
Cafés, which are in fierce competition in the overcrowded cafe market, have been coming up with new themes such as “book café” or “pet café” to attract customers. Flower cafés are just one of the latest trends.
Many flower cafés have sprung up during the past few years in popular café
streets such as those in Myeong-dong and Hannam-dong in central Seoul, and Sinsa-dong in southern Seoul.
A view of Blute, a flower café in Hannam-dong, central Seoul. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)
Such cafés are also a breakthrough for small flower shops which are having a hard time with fewer people buying flowers.
There was no increased demand for flowers during the graduation season in February, according to Yangjae Flower Market, the biggest of its kind in Korea.
Sales of cut flowers in fact decreased in February about four percent compared to the same season last year. The decrease in sales has been attributed largely to weak domestic spending caused by increased prices in consumer products and oil and the shift in gift preferences from flowers to IT products and luxury goods.
In addition, several large flower brands such as local brand Soho & Noho and British brand Jane Packer are gaining strength in the market, making it even harder for small-sized shops to survive.
Flower cafés also offer beverages and various desserts just like any other café. Some run florist classes, hold small exhibitions and rent out their premises for parties as well.
“Desserts and flowers are both handicrafts which do not last a long time and are difficult to sell. They cannot be mass produced and are usually custom-ordered. Having them together in one shop could bring a synergy effect in the long term,” said Gang Min-ju, co-CEO of TORCH, a flower café located in Itaewon-dong, central Seoul.
A view of TORCH, a flower café in Itaewon-dong, central Seoul.
Gang, who is dessert specialist, opened the café with her sister, a florist, last year. They grew up in the U.S. where they were used to seeing cakes decorated with flowers, said Gang.
“About 30 percent of our customers visit the café just to pick up some flowers. But most of the visitors know how to make the best use out of our café ― they come here for both flowers and cookies, or cakes, which make great gifts together,” she said.
Mixing two different kinds of shops could be a shortcut to success but also a risky choice without proper preparation, warned Song Jin-hwa, florist and owner of Blute.
“It would be better to focus on one thing than to manage a flower café in an awkward manner. It is not as easy as it seems ― you are going to need a bigger space, because regular flower shops are not large enough to accommodate many tables and all the supply you need to open a regular café,” said Song.
“Although flowers are our main theme, we still work hard to make our food and beverages tasty. Some underestimate the importance of taste because they focus too much on flowers, but there are so many themed cafés nowadays that you could immediately fall behind if you neglect even the slightest detail. Opening a flower café requires both the effort of opening a café and a flower shop.”
By Park Min-young (firstname.lastname@example.org