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This article was published 2/10/2018 (415 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Catherine Metrycki likes to say she is in the business of sharing special moments.
Her two-year-old online company, Callia Flowers, is using technology to change the way people send flowers, offering three standard bouquets for $49 with an "executive" delivery experience — the flowers are delivered in a specially designed box — and a simple five-click process to complete an order.
After growing by about 700 per cent in its first full year of operation — the service has been available in Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver — Callia is expanding this week to Regina, Saskatoon and Kelowna.
Using a variety of delivery partnerships, targeted digital media marketing and reliable fresh-flower wholesalers in British Columbia, Callia has built a growing business that Metrycki believes is increasing the number of opportunities that people can take to actually send flowers.
"Part of the essence of our brand is being part of making special moments," she said. "That is why we started the business."
With an almost fanatical devotion to ensuring quality and excellent customer experience, Metrycki is very attuned to customers’ responses. She said many were asking her when the service would be available elsewhere.
"Our customers speak and we act," Metrycki said.
The expansion to Saskatchewan and Kelowna was the result of that customer demand.
"I took a call from our Google rep," Metrycki said. "He’d never seen a startup like Callia track so many five-star reviews with such glowing comments. He jokingly asked if I was paying people."
The company is on the verge of cracking $1 million in annual sales — a rarity for a female-led, technology-enabled company — and, in addition to a round of angel investors last year, it recently received financial support from the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) to allow it to undertake its latest expansion.
Marshall Ring, CEO of Manitoba Technology Accelerator (MTA), of which Callia is a client, said Metrycki and Callia remind him of another former MTA company when it comes to the kind of attention it pays to customer experience.
"Just like the folks at SkipTheDishes, they are extremely passionate in pursuing that customer experience," he said. "This is a technology-enabled business, but there is a really powerful customer experience that is her competitive advantage."
The company has developed its own delivery team in Winnipeg, its largest market to date, and partners with service-delivery firms in other cities that use Callia’s own protocols, including text confirmations for every single email, notifications when the driver is on the way and when they arrive and specific confirmation on exactly when the flowers are left.
While she said "it is pretty groundbreaking in the industry," it is also the kind of standards that can make it challenging to find the right partners.
"We have a 25-step process for on-boarding our delivery partners," she said.
Unlike other e-commerce companies, Callia deals with temperature-sensitive, perishable products often with very time-sensitive delivery schedules. It makes it that much more challenging.
"Other e-commerce companies looking to expand are fortunate because they can just partner with a FedEx and start shipping wherever they want," she said.
There’s a bit more involved for Callia, with margins that are tight to begin with, and Metrycki said every dollar spent on marketing has to be very targeted. The company has now broadened its product offerings, with deluxe and super-deluxe versions at higher prices points.
"Because it is such a technology-enabled company, we can’t just survive in one market area because Callia is investing heavily in technology," Ring said. "As Catherine scales into markets, that will really help on the profitability. The growth goes hand in hand with profitability ambitions."
Callia has blown through previous sales projections, "going well past what we thought was possible," Ring said.
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.