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The path to excellence - the why and how of floral education and accreditation

Have you ever wondered what all those initials behind a florists name mean? Or maybe you know what they mean but arent really sure why someone would go through all the rigorous testing, continuing education and expense that comes along with putting those initials behind ones name.

When you see the alphabet soup that follows the names of so many industry professionals, it means that they have participated in an accredited program designed to test, monitor and uphold prescribed industry standards.  Being one of thoseflorists who sprouts a few of those initials after her name, lets see if I can clear things up just a little and explain what they really mean and why they are important. Not just personally but to the overall credibility of our craft and to the perceived professionalism we portray in our communities and to our customers.

Let me start by saying that professional certification is quite common among other professions. A lot of them. Even Ball Room dancing has a certification requirement. These professions require individuals wanting to enter into it ,to study specific courses, attend customized programing, login numerous hours of study and apprenticeships and all requiring testing to evaluate a persons knowledge, skills and overall comprehension of their profession. Certainly not a bad thing. Really the main objective of this process is so that the industry within itself remains professional, and that outwardly industry can be perceived as professional.

The argument usually arises when one considers what we dowe arrangeflowers. Oh, if it were only that simple. How many of you florists have cringed when someone remarked I would love to work with flowers all day, it must be so much fun.Well truth be told, it does have its rewards but those come only after a lot of hard work, long hours, a whole lot of demanding physical work and most importantly a clear understanding of of all aspects of the floral business. Dont believe me?…take a look around at how many empty flower shops dot the country side. If youve ever muttered the words why dont florists get any respectthen maybe its time to give certification a second thought.

Most people embark on certification for one or more of the following reasons. All have their merit and in themselves are good reasons to become certified.

  • To prove to themselves that they have the skill and talent that the profession requires.
  • To be perceived as a professional within the industry and within your community.
  • To gain exposure or accolades within the industry and among your peers.
  • To join a group of like minded professionals.
  • For greater educational opportunities and to find networks in which to grow your professional attributes.
  • As a marketing tool for your business. 

Ive always looked at certification as a outward expression of an inward passion. For me it was a opportunity to display that I took what I did seriously and although wars would not be won or lives would not be saved by these skills, what I did was important and important enough to completely study it, engage in it and participate in it. If I wasnt going to take my profession seriously then why would anyone else take it seriously?

By becoming certified I am able to say, without a doubt, that I know my stuff. However what it  does not mean is that I know everything, nor does it mean that for as long as I practice my craft Ill never again need to educate myself again. Those who come into the certification process thinking this, usually do not obtain certification and if they do they usually dont stay long. Certification is a continual process and one that requires that you expose your skills and talents to an often critical group - your peers.

Which certification program is the right certification program? That really is a personal decision and one that requires a little soul searching on your part. Knowing what you want and need to get out of certification will usually help you determine if you want certification to enhance the professional business person in you or the artist in you or both.  There is no right our wrong answer. The choice is yours.

Here are some things to consider.

  • State association certification programs usually combine both design and business segments into their criteria. Their design portions are usually meant to evaluate above average standards in design skills and the ability to execute the elements and principles of design.  Their business portions usually require care and handling, flower identification and include understanding the core basics of daily business operations. This type of certification is perfect for flower shop owners, managers and design staff. It can be a great marketing tool to help promote the professionalism of your flower shop to your customers and community. It really says, I am a professional RETAIL FLORIST. Most will start with this type of certification before moving on to others. People with this type of certification will often be called certified florists or master florists.

  • If you do not own your own business and your passion drives you to a more artistic expression of your profession do not fear, there are certification opportunities for you as well. This type of accreditation requires a higher level of design skills and a deeper understanding of design with an emphasis on creativity and innovation. Although there may be a little businessmixed into their criteria, design is the main focus. The process can be rigorous and it can mean having to do a lot of extra curricularstudying and practicing. From a business point of view it could seem that this type of certification is more a self improvement  or self promoting journey, but if you want your flower shop to stand out and be more than just typical, known for trendsetting ideas and innovative concepts then this type of certification is very beneficial to the shop and to the person who achieves it. Those achieving this certification are often referred to as accredited designers, master designers or certified designers.

  • Professional recognition credentials. Similar to certification this type of recognition does not usually have a testing component to their criteria. They often have a intensive application process in which the applicant will be evaluated on a prescribed criteria that demonstrates a higher level of industry involvement, education, and leadership which spans over years or decades. Just because they may not have a formal test involved, do not mistake them for a lesser thanachievement. The criteria is sent very high and often takes years of hard work and dedication to even begin the process. This type of recognition is usually achieved after other certifications and accreditation have been.

  • Certification makes you more valuable to employers. In an industry where job training is often done on the joband where we often see designers claiming they are self taught, it makes it difficult for a potential employer to evaluate a real skill set. Certification clearly states what a persons skill set is and often alleviates the disappointment that can happen when hiring someone without any formal training.

  • Certification helps your business stand out from the competition. Being a certified floral professional is something that should be shouted from your flower shop roof top. Too often we see people going through the process and once acquired they sit back and wait for the magic to happen. Truth is, once someone obtains certification the process is really just beginning. Put another way, becoming certified opens doors for you, but ultimately you have to not only make the decision to step through the door you have to continually make a decision to take action once through the door. For those who promote their elevated knowledge and professional recognition, it makes you stand out from those without it. When there are several names on the list that all look equal, the person who is certified and is proud to share that, will usually stand out on top.

  • Certification usually takes time. Few if any pass through the the process without previous training, continual education, support from fellow florists and without the real desire to succeed. One must be willing to do the work. One also must be willing to expose themselves to criticism - usually constructive - but criticism none the less. In addition you need to be willing to change your direction and explore your own potential. It is not uncommon for people to take certification tests a second, third or even a fourth time. Testing is hard. Its meant to be. Not passing on the first try does not say anything less about your professionalism. Those who bravely come back until they achieve their goals have always said that they are better for going through the process. Keep in mind, If the test were easy and everyone could pass the achievement would be less meaningful and less desired. 

So there you have it. Why go through the process? Is certification for me? Is it all worth it? Does anyone even notice? Hopefully Ive answered a few of those questions. If youre looking for a more definitive answer, here it is. YES certification is for you, its important for your professional growth and it is important to the overall consumers perception of your craft.  And yes, it is very much worth it, and of course people will take note of your new level of professionalism.

If youre wondering where to start, I encourage you to look into certification within your state floral association. If your state does not currently have a program dont give up, there are other programs out there for you to participate in. Ive included a few websites below that will help you get started. If you have any questions or want additional information please feel free to contact me. Im here to help!

Be inventive, have fun and celebrate all things creative!

Suzie Kostick AIFD, CFD, CF, PFCI, FTD Master Florists
Director of Marketing
Fitz Design

National Alliance of Floral Associations - Certified Florists - CF -

American Institute of Floral Designers - AIFD -

Society of American Florists - Professional Floral Communicator International, PFCI, American Academy of Floriculture, AAF  -

European Master Certification - EMC -

Canadian Academy of Floral Art - CAFA -

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