Episode 250: Sarah Hinton, Floral Designer turned Software Entrepreneur
June 15th, 2016
How do you manage all the paperwork that goes into planning, budgeting, and producing a successful wedding or special event?
According to today’s guest, Santa Barbara-based designer Sarah Hinton, it took years of struggling with spread sheets and clipboards before she was inspired to develop a software program that simplifies all that paperwork into one online tool called ULARAS.
When I first learned about this project of Sarah’s I wasn’t aware of any other program like hers.
Since then, other programs have also hit the marketplace so be sure to check out “Florist App Comparison,” a useful comparison guide that our friends at Mayesh Wholesale recently published.
Basically, Ularas handles all the facets of floral event planning — including managing weddings and events contacts; writing estimates and contracts, and managing product orders and the production workflow.
I’m eager to share Sarah’s story with you. Her journey feels so universal to me ~ she’s a highly creative person who ran into a “need” that didn’t seem like anyone was addressing and felt motivated to help others in her industry with a solution.
Before becoming a software entrepreneur with business partner Paul Dillow, Sarah spent 13 years operating a retail floral, gift and art gallery; that was followed by RowanOak Events, a special event floral design studio.
The origins of ULARAS began when she asked Paul, lovingly called the company “programmer and geek,” to help her correct a mistake in “a very elaborate Excel spread sheet.”
Like magic, within ten minutes, Paul repaired and returned the complex, hot mess to Sarah with one question… “What do you use this for?”
Paul has owned Houston Computer Solutions for more than 17 years. He saw in his mind’s eye a beautiful software program that sparkled and twinkled where Sarah only saw hours of frustration in a spreadsheet she kept breaking.
Basically, Paul looked at what Sarah had created on her own and suggested turning the tool into a database software platform for florists.
Check out Ularas’s “QuickStart” video (17 min) to get a flavor of this robust system and how it might work for your business (bel0w). The video and all of the slides included in these show notes are easily found on the special page for the Slow Flowers Community here.
She jumped at the chance and the two spent four years turning the original DIY-planning system into ULARAS. “I had tried everything on the market, and I hadn’t found anything that had the features that florists like me needed,” Sarah explained. “With ULARAS, I no longer need pen and paper. And no more spread sheets,” she laughs. “The program is all about improving internal organization, increasing profitability and streamlining the recipe writing and ordering process.”
As a wedding and event designer Sarah has used Ularas to plan each event, great and small, for more than three years. “I am not a sit-at-the-computer for hours and days happily writing proposals kind of girl… I want to spend time with my clients and design their events, not type at the keyboard. Ularas saves me hours per client at the computer (and saves me from myself with stupid mistakes!).”
ULARAS is now available as a subscription software service with pricing beginning at $48 per month. The program includes a series of proposal and contract templates, each of which is fully customizable. A few standard templates are provided, with flexibility that allows for personally tailoring forms to each florist’s needs.
For example, Sarah uses template for elopements, as well as small cocktail parties and corporate dinners. “Instead of recreating from scratch every time I write an event proposal, I start off with one of the templates and then add or delete items to fit the needs of that occasion,” she says.
Nearly 300 commonly-used flowers, foliage and other design ingredients appear in the planning database. Customers can also upload additional images to reflect their own regional flower sources. The program walks designers through the entire event planning process — from a client intake form that resides on a florist’s web site to proposals, contracts, payment tracking, floral recipe development and production reports. Ularas has partnered with WePay payment solutions to offer safe, secure, and integrated credit card and bank/ACH payment processing. Ularas users can invoice their customers and receive payments that are automatically applied to the customer’s balance.
“This is particularly helpful for those of us who produce a number of weddings or events in a single week,” Sarah explains. “It breaks down ordering by flower type so if you need the same hydrangea for all of your events in one weekend, you can order them at one time.”
Here’s a little more about Sarah Hinton:
They used to say that freckles were a sign of one possessing an ‘excess of spirit’. With her flaming red hair, Sarah admits that whoever said that was spot on! Excess of spirit, yes she is!
Sarah has a love for brilliant colors, laughing so loud people glare, food, wine, and raising her daughters (Julia, 14, and Maia, 17) with humility, kindness, respect, and the confidence to live without apology.
She admits to usually pausing just long enough to read every warning at the cliffs edge before jumping off with confidence and fierceness. Sarah says: “I know for a fact there are no great successes or adventures without ultimate faith in one’s self and in the vastness of possibility.”
Sarah was raised by an artist, farmer, hippy mother who grew brilliantly colored flowers, painted, and airbrushed magnificent creatures and delicate flowers on every surface available. Her mom instilled in her a deep well of creative energy and a fearless approach to art.
The name of her design studio RowanOak was named for the rowan tree, which was favored by ancient druids as a protector; its wood is strong, resilient and often used to make tools for tradesmen. The oak tree represents ancient wisdom and great balance. An oak trees roots reach as deep into the earth as its branches reach into the sky. She says: “I appreciate the symmetry of that and when I’m in a grove of California native oak trees I just breathe easier… I feel my feet planting and my arms reaching.”
An avid believer and supporter of doing business small and local, Sarah is dedicated to using Slow Flowers-grown design ingredients, predominately from boutique California flower farms. When she uses imported flowers, Sarah is conscientious about her sourcing practices.
Her favorite quote comes from Hans Christian Anderson: “Just living is not enough,” said the butterfly, “one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.”
As we mention toward the end of our recorded conversation, Sarah and Paul provide financial support as sponsors of Slowflowers.com, the online directory. I’m grateful for their partnership and I wanted to share their cool venture with you.
Follow Ularas on Facebook
Find Ularas on Instagram
If you’re intrigued to learn more, ULARAS is offering a 14-day free trial to listeners of this Podcast. If you decide to subscribe to the service, be sure to mention that you are a “Slow Flowers Podcast” listener and take advantage of the generous offer of 2 additional free months, valued at about $100, thanks to Sarah and Paul. Contact Sarah at email@example.com or sign up for the trial.
Before I close I have an announcement to share about the first Slow Flowers Creative Workshop, which will take place August 20-21 in Bonny Doon, California (near Santa Cruz)
I’ve teamed up with Teresa Sabankaya, founder and creative director of Bonny Doon Garden Co. (and past guest of this Podcast), to lead an intimate group of fellow professionals — floral designers and farmer-florists — for an inspiring, two-part workshop taking place over the course of 1-1/2 days.
Focus on floral storytelling and media messaging for your business. This valuable experience is designed to help you clarify, document and communicate your personal artistic message. Go deep into Slow Flowers “brand building” and find your own voice as a floral storyteller.
You’ll also explore and expand your approach to garden-inspired design. Working with Teresa, you’ll identify the inspiration for your floral designs. Participate in her hands-on exercises that build support for your design’s inspired floral elements and complementary elements; and focus on how to make the mechanics that support your style work as you create an arrangement of your own.
This all takes place in the setting of a beautiful garden, where you’ll feel right at home with beautiful flowers, gardens, farm animals and new friends!
You won’t want to miss out on the chance to hone your message through words, images and flowers. Find Registration and Details here.
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The content and opinions expressed here are either mine alone or those of my guests alone, independent of any podcast sponsor or other person, company or organization.
The Slow Flowers Podcast is engineered and edited by Andrew and Hannah Brenlan. Learn more about their work at shellandtree.com.