When you work in the flower industry, Valentine’s Day is like the Super Bowl, World Cup finals and Formula One Grand Prix all rolled into one. And no company knows this better (at least in theory) than UrbanStems — a D.C.-based on-demand flower delivery startup that launched one day before Valentine’s Day in 2014.
That Valentine’s Day held a host of challenges, as cofounder and CEO Ajay Kori told DC Inno in this interview, because there was a snowstorm. But the brand-new company managed, and they pulled off 2015 and 2016 too by bulking up on staff for the big day.
But Valentine’s Day 2017? Well, it didn’t go so well.
— Jesse D. (@JesseD316) February 15, 2017
What happened? To judge by a mountain of angry tweets, Yelp reviews and Facebook comments, UrbanStems failed to deliver quite a few Valentine’s Day bouquets. And, well, given that emotions run high on Valentine’s Day, people weren’t shy about letting the young company have a piece of their minds (see tweet above, etc.).
The brunt of the issues seems to have taken place in D.C. and NYC — with the company’s other markets Baltimore, Philly and Austin having a “successful” Valentine’s Day, according to a spokesperson.
— Wilmon Christian III (@WilC3) February 15, 2017
The real question, though, is why did this happen? We reached out to UrbanStems, on what was surely a challenging day at the office, to get some answers.
“To put it bluntly, yesterday was the most difficult day in the history of UrbanStems,” Kori said in an emailed statement. “As a young company, we were very ambitious in our plans to send as many gifts as possible, and despite months of planning, we underestimated the staff needed to deliver on our promises. There is no excuse for that, and worst of all it was compounded by our customer happiness team not having enough people to communicate with our customers as issues arose.”
It seems incredible, and a bit worrying to be honest, that the mayhem all boiled down to a lack of preparation. This is not the company’s first Valentine’s Day around the block.
But UrbanStems is working hard to do damage control. “We have refunded every customer whose order was not delivered on 2/14 and are still working to fulfill those orders or giving users the option to cancel for a future credit,” Kori said. The UrbanStems site will be closed to new orders for the rest of the week.
The company is also sending around a pretty transparent and heartfelt note to customers, a note that includes Kori’s own cellphone number. It seems to be landing well:
— Chris Conway (@ChrisConwayDC) February 15, 2017
— Kelly Aratoon (@karatoon) February 15, 2017
I spoke to @SendUrbanStems CEO Ajay Kori today about my missed order. I was very impressed that he reached out personally, nice guy. Thanks!
— Greg (@SCUBAwithSharks) February 15, 2017
But apologizing one by one, however authentic, is long, slow work. For every tweet expressing an understanding of the situation there’s one like this:
@SendUrbanStems Second straight day waiting on flowers that never arrived. I guess I should just give up on this?
— JadoreNewYorkxo (@jadorenewyorkxo) February 15, 2017
UrbanStems is hardly the first company to experience this kind of preparation and customer service fail, and it won’t be the last. But (perhaps especially in the internet era) a company’s reputation, like trust in any relationship, is slowly built up and all too easily destroyed. So what happens now?