Serving as the in-house floral designer for the JW Marriott Houston Downtown has been work I am very, very proud of.
With that said, I’m ecstatic to introduce to you Jelle Vanderbroucke, General Manager of the JW Marriott Houston Downtown.
Jelle has been with the JW Marriott Houston Downtown for the past 5 years, and before that, he worked for the Four Seasons in Los Angeles, Seattle, and Boston.
He offers an incredible amount of knowledge on the ins and outs of the hospitality industry. Let’s get blooming.
Jelle Vanderbroucke: Hotels choose florists because we’ve seen their work or a proposal that we really liked, or you come highly recommended. You were all 3, if I remember correctly.
For me, it’s also about the relationship you build and having two-way communication with your florist. For example, a GM may not know it’s not sensible to ask for purple flowers all year long. It’s all about communication and building a professional relationship.
Franceska McCaughan: I completely agree. One of the things I tell those who are thinking of becoming hotel florists is it’s all about the relationship.
Pick up the phone, sit down with your client, and have a conversation. Get the measurements, the specifics. Florists need to ask the right questions so they understand the expectations and can deliver every single time.
And it goes both ways. As you said, if the GM asks for all purple flowers, I know as a florist, that’s not realistic, and that’s something I need to communicate to the hotel client. So I can give you alternatives, and we can meet in the middle.
I love that you bring that up right off the bat because relationships are crucial to success in the hospitality industry.
JV: The hospitality industry is about taking care of people, not just customers, but vendors, staff, associates – it’s all-encompassing.
FM: When it comes to flowers in a hotel’s lobby, why do you think having flowers is important?
JV: First impressions. For me, coming into the lobby needs to be an arrival experience for our guests. That speaks to the identity of your hotel. Every JW is a little different in how they look and feel. We are in Downtown Houston, so there are lots of metals, and it’s more modern. Your flowers are a representation of that.
FM: You are a part of the hospitality industry, not the floral industry, and you’ve been a GM for several years. What is one thing you wish you knew when you started your career?
JV: That is a very good question. I’d like to say be more open-minded. I come from a culinary background, and I thought that was always going to be my career. That was my focus. That’s all I concentrated on rather than taking bits and pieces from all different types of people and professions. A hotel is a perfect environment for that. You are surrounded by passionate people about what they are doing, even if it’s Accounting. There is something to learn from them, from everybody. I wish I would’ve realized that earlier.
FM: I think we can all relate to that – being very focused on one particular goal or achievement and losing sight of all the other bits of valuable information that cross our path and make us more well-rounded professionals. Do florists make your job easier?
JV: That last part – exactly. It’s about making the General Manager’s life easier. 99% of GM’s do not come from a floral background, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t in the back of their minds and is not important. As a GM, I try to surround myself with specialists because I don’t know everything about every part of the hotel. But I want to know enough to be in on the conversations. So again, it’s about communication. But then, I want to give that responsibility away to someone who knows better than me and that I can learn a few things off of.
FM: What do you look for when hiring a florist?
JV: If I trust that you can get it done correctly, that’s who stands out to me.
FM: I’m always encouraging students in the Hotel Florist Profit Method that the #1 thing in the hospitality industry is to take care of people. A hotel’s job is to take care of guests. A hotel florist’s job is to take care of the hotel. And what we do makes a GM’s job easier. They don’t have to worry that the flowers will die, are not on-brand, or the florist won’t show up.
What advice would you give a florist pitching their services to a GM like yourself?
JV: Be prepared. The floral industry is very visual, obviously. So I don’t mind if you have a video presentation or a flipbook with pictures. I need to see something to make a decision. But it’s not just “I can make this” or “I have done this,” it’s also a business plan behind it.
Be able to communicate and negotiate because what a hotel is willing to spend is involved in the decision-making. In negotiation, be flexible and ask questions: “What do you need? What is your ceiling? Your bottom? Here is what I can provide in that range. We can add something or take something away. What do you need on each floor? Do you have a spa? An executive lounge?” Saying, “Oh, I have to get back to you on that or let me figure that out and get back to you,” you need a ballpark figure and have that conversation early on.
The contracts won’t happen overnight, right? These are 12-24 month contracts, and there is a lot involved, so be prepared for that.
FM: Exactly. It’s about being detailed. It’s about doing your due diligence. It’s about showing up from a place of service.