Brown’s The Florist is Victoria’s staple flower shop, and we can hardly imagine Greater Victoria without it. With three locations in Sidney (2499 Beacon Ave), Downtown Victoria (757 Fort St), and Langford (102-2972 Jacklin Rd), Brown’s The Florist has been helping Greater Victorians with their special occasions for over 110 years. Coming out of their 110th anniversary, we sat down with Marketing Manager Katherine Olmstead at their Langford location to learn more about Brown’s and their story.
What is Brown’s The Florist and what is the mission?
“Brown’s The Florist is a full service flower shop with three stores. We’re in Sidney, we’re Downtown on Fort street, and we’re here next to the Hull’s Corner Starbucks in Langford. One thing that I think people know about Brown’s is that we’ve had a consistent mission since Mary Brown started the company back in 1912—which is to do more than just meet people’s needs. We always go above and beyond and do what we can to make sure that people feel taken care of and that they have everything they need.”
How did you get started with Brown’s and what is your experience?
“I’m actually from Toronto. I came out here on a road trip and that’s not an unusual story—I thought I would have a temporary travel job and that was five years ago. Brown’s is a store where we’re not always hiring but when we find someone who has floral experience it’s really exciting, because we all have our own design background to add and you can see that in our shops as well. My background is horticulture—I was a horticulturist in Toronto. So I started with growing plants from the ground up, and now I’m arranging them!”
Katherine also explains that she just finished her International Masters in Floral Design in the Netherlands.
“I went to the Netherlands to the Boerma Institute to get my International Masters in Floral Design. There are fewer than 42 people who have it, and I was the only one from Canada, and I didn’t know until the end that I am the only one from Canada who has done it. It was two semesters with lots of assignments, and it was taught by Gregor Lersch who is considered to be the Master of the masters. He comes from Germany and a long line of floral designers in his family. And the Netherlands are the place of the flowers. We got a lot of our florals sponsored, a lot of them were from Royal Floral Holland which is the biggest flower trade center in the world. So it was obviously an amazing experience to study there. And it wasn’t just one teacher, it was a whole bunch at that level. Because in floral design there are so many levels of education, which I didn’t know until I started going down that route too. So I’m hoping that we can bring that education here and increase the standards to an international one in our stores as well.”
What is the workplace culture like here?
“Work culture is everything here because the flowers are an element of culture and so it’s all about making sure we have good communication. We all have a family relationship because we spend so much time together. And beyond that, we are here for people’s most personal moments—births, and birthdays, anniversaries. We’ve actually been here for people’s full marriages. A man was in here the other day who said that we had been here for his first anniversary and his thirtieth. So it is kind of a full circle work culture and people work with their relatives here. It’s meaningful work and it means a lot to us, so I feel it when I come to work.”
How does Brown’s The Florist positively impact the community?
“Oh there’s so many things. I mean, even just Downtown on Fort street, environmentally we were the first in that little part of the street to start our recycling program. Everybody in that section of Fort street got to join in on that environmental initiative. I mean, there’s so much to touch on with the community aspect because we donate to the Grizzlies, and we support a lot of our local community businesses. And we support our local growers as well. We are the face of our growers and that’s huge, because we love our growers, they’re just amazing.”
Part of the community aspect for Brown’s the Florist is the historical relationships with their long legacy in Victoria, Katherine explains.
“We still work a lot with the Empress. As I mentioned, we’ve been here from the get-go and there are a lot of relationships even just within the people who worked for Brown’s a hundred years ago, and then have gone on to do their own thing. Francis Jewellers is one of them—that was a Brown’s staff member who started that business. So when you look back at that history we are all connected.”
What sets you apart from the competition?
“We’re not necessarily competitive—I mean a lot of times, we will help each other out with flower stems if we’re short on something or someone needs something for a wedding. But with Brown’s, a few years ago, we realized we had 365 years of experience collectively with all of our designers. We have people who have been here for 50+ years, just with Brown’s. So I would say our experience and the breadth of our team makes us unique. But it goes for all florists—if you know a florist, you will have worked for a florist at some point, whether it’s delivering, or it’s helping write cards, or it’s just cleaning flowers. It’s a team effort.”
Do you have any favourite memories from your time working with Brown’s?
“There’s so many stories. I mean, my first experience with flowers was at a garden nursery, and it’s one that we sell to and buy from, so we are all connected that way. But I think my first flower story was when I worked on Valentine’s day and I had an order for a gentleman in the military that was in Ontario and it was to surprise his seven-year-old daughter that he hadn’t seen in months at a dance recital. But I mean, we have so many great stories that we get to be a part of. There’s people who have reconnected with family that they didn’t even know they had. Not to mention, I think one of my first times in the Downtown store, there was a gentleman who came in and he was going to propose to his girlfriend. It was a big celebration to tell us that she said yes, and it was the back and forth about how he bought the ring from Francis Jewellers, and then he brought it in to show us, and then he went to go and propose. And so we got to be there for every step of the way. Yeah, so just all of those big life moments.”
If someone had never heard of Brown’s The Florist before what is one thing you wish you could tell them?
“I think we covered a lot of it in what we just talked about in how involved we are in people’s lives, but I think that they should know how much we care—because we really do care about our flowers, we care how long our product lasts, we really care that people feel welcomed when they come into the store. And we have a long history of doing this, so if you don’t know what you want—or if you don’t know what your mom wants—we probably do know.”
Katherine also notes that Brown’s is not necessarily just flowers:
“We have plants and planters as well! And we also love to repurpose—if people want to bring in their own vase or their own container, we are so happy to work with that. I mean the more fun the better! We do a lot of arrangements but it’s so nice to get creative.”
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
“We actually were just at the Vancouver Island Wedding Awards where we won two awards, which was really exciting because we’re not strictly a wedding and events florist. And we have so much amazing competition in Victoria and across the Island. So we are still kind of reeling in the positive news and just feeling really grateful that we were able to have a team go out that night and get to experience that.”