Culture | April 5, 2022 1:05 pm

How Miami’s Juan Palacio Got on the Inc. 5000 List — With Flowers

Palacio tells us about the meteoric rise of BloomsyBox, and gives us a recommendation for authentic Colombian food

Juan Palacio of BloomsyBox. We spoke with the Colombian entrepreneur about how he built his hit subscription flower service in Miami, Florida.
Juan Palacio of BloomsyBox.

Colombian immigrant Juan Palacio founded BloomsyBox, a flower subscription service, in 2015. Just six years later, his humble endeavor landed on the Inc. 5000, a list of the fastest-growing private companies in the U.S.

With BloomsyBox, Palacio is sharing the beauty of his home country with weekly, bi-weekly or monthly bouquet deliveries to customers nationwide. (Colombia is the second largest exporter of flowers worldwide, trailing only the Netherlands with more than $1 billion worth of exported flower bouquets each year.)

Palacio’s business boomed during the pandemic — with 330% growth in 2020 — fueled by people working remotely from home and looking to brighten up dreary quarantine life.

InsideHook chatted with Palacio about how he got started, the business behind flowers and his favorite Colombian restaurant in Miami.

InsideHook: How did you first get into the flower business? 

Juan Palacio: In Colombia, we grew up surrounded by flowers. It was always very natural to have flowers all around us. When I came to the States almost 22 years ago, I met somebody in the flower industry, and I started my career selling flowers door-to-door to hotels on Miami Beach. It was very hard, and it helped me build my character. Eventually I started getting good at it, and I transitioned to selling flowers to flower shops. 

Back then the distribution chain was very well defined. You had the farm, the importer in Miami, the wholesaler, the retailer and the end consumer. The importer would buy from the farm, and work out an inventory, like a commodity exchange. I would get daily inventory with multiple faxes, aggregate all the forms and start cold-calling flower shops. 

Eventually I built a website to sell flowers directly to event planners nationwide, and it was very disruptive at the time. I had the business for nine years and sold it in 2009. That was the first platform that helped me professionally to develop my online marketing skills. 

I thought I was leaving the industry for good. But once you’re in flowers, you always go back to flowers. When I learned about Birchbox, I was blown away by the model and I couldn’t believe that somebody would be willing to pay on a consistent basis to receive unknown cosmetics. I became obsessed with that model and started working on a business plan that became BloomsyBox.

For a lot of businesses, the pandemic was a real challenge, but it seems like it was a boon for you. How did you manage to successfully navigate the crisis, and why do you think BloomsyBox did so well during this time? 

It was very scary at the beginning. The first two weeks of the pandemic, I wasn’t sleeping. People started canceling subscriptions, and we stopped getting orders, so it was a really dark future that we were looking at. But then, as things dragged on and the world began to adapt, we started seeing growth. As bad as the pandemic was for many businesses, it was really good for us. We grew a little more than 330% in 2020. We grew so rapidly that we almost collapsed — just managing the orders, the website and customer support. What we expected would take three years of growth happened in just nine months. As a result of that growth, we made it onto the Inc. 5000 list last year. 

What really helped us is the amazing infrastructure we’ve set up with our farm partnerships, so we had everything in place before the pandemic to facilitate our rapid growth. We have the infrastructure to deliver flowers so quickly at a large scale, and we have access to the best product. That put us in a really good place to support the demand. 

Miami is your headquarters for BloomsyBox and you’ve lived here for more than 20 years. What do you love about the city? 

It’s so colorful. Miami is different from any other city because it’s a blend of cultures, and it’s so warm, both literally being warm and sunny, and figuratively, from the people. You have so many people from so many places…Cubans, Colombians, Venezuelans. The mix makes this city feel so welcoming and you feel like you’re at home. I love the benefits of living in the States, the security and opportunities, and having this warmth from the people that you live with. 

Most of our operations team is in Miami and we have a multicultural team, with people in Colombia, Argentina and Nicaragua. Mainly Latin America. Every time we have a company meeting it happens in Miami. It’s very easy for everyone to get here. Plus, being able to go find amazing Cuban, Brazilian, Colombian and Peruvian food.

Speaking of food, what’s your favorite Colombian restaurant in Miami? 

The one I like the most is called Mondongo’s Restaurante in Doral. It’s the closest thing to being in Colombia. From the utensils they use to the food, everything about it is so authentic and real. Everyone working in the restaurant is Colombian, and when they greet me I just feel like I’m at home. I like getting the mixed plate, called tipico, which is basically red beans with pork skin, chicharrón, with rice, ground beef, sweet plantains, potato and a fried egg on top of everything. It’s a lot of food. But this plate is something that everybody in the country, no matter your social class, would eat. 

When I visited the post-harvest farm operations in Colombia, I saw some flowers being arranged by machine, like a roulette wheel. But for BloomsyBox bouquets, all the flowers are more carefully arranged by hand. Why is this important to you?

When you’re selling flowers to grocery stores, you need to have the scale. You need to produce large numbers of bouquets in the shortest possible time. Basically, it’s like comparing McDonald’s to a gourmet burger. The flowers can come from the same plant, but we’re cutting the flowers at a different opening stage, depending on the variety. With roses we’re looking for a thicker stem and larger head size. These flowers are shipped either to Miami or directly to the customer so you don’t want the customer to wait seven days and the flowers haven’t even bloomed. For us the inspection process is critical and more thorough, something that you cannot accomplish with a machine. 

Your mixed bouquet deliveries are a surprise. What are some of your personal favorite flowers that customers can look forward to this spring? 

There’s a specific rose called Free-Spirited that’s my favorite. The way it opens, the scent and sunset colors. I also love tulips, because they are so elegant, although we’re shipping tulips from California rather than Colombia. I love that tulips keep growing even after you cut them. You cut them and put them in water and they still grow — it’s amazing.