Fact: Austin, Texas, is the fastest-growing American city. Four-hundred new companies moved to Austin in 2017 – with one-fourth of them from California – and Austin’s citizens are some of the best educated, with 38 percent holding college degrees. There are 4,000 tech companies, including Dell, and a great food scene anchored by Whole Foods Markets, all headquartered in Austin. There’s the famed music scene, a gazillion events and a huge wedding industry. In my Austin Google marathon, I discovered a hotbed of amazing floral designers serving this corporate, event and wedding Mecca. Among them, Marcela Bogado Dhar, owner and founder of Malleret Designs, stood out with a wedding style that harkens Europe, but with a hip Austin vibe. I tracked down Marcela to learn more about the Austin wedding market and how she is thriving amid the growth and change.
Q: How did you get into the flower business?
I grew up on a farm in Buenos Aires, Argentina, amid the smells of jasmine, pine and laurel. My mom had French roots, and our home was ﬁlled with elegant touches put together in an effortless, beautiful way. You don’t realize how these early inﬂuences affect your life. Equally important, my parents were both entrepreneurs who demonstrated that if you have an idea, work hard and love what you do, you can and will be successful.
With this great foundation, I went off to university, studied business and went to work for Dell. I met my Asian-Indian husband in Argentina, and we moved to Boston when he was accepted to Harvard’s masters program. He was offered a great job in Austin, and so we moved. We were both pursuing business careers when I began to think about doing something more akin with my passions of architecture and design. We’d also had our ﬁrst child, and the arrival of children often makes you rethink how you are living your life.
I’m a planner, and I like to get to know things well, so before I jumped in any direction, I embarked on learning about design. Along the way, I learned from Paula Pryke at her London school; Preston Bailey in New York City; and Jim Johnson, here in Austin at Texas A&M. I was ready! In 2002, I opened my design studio, naming it Malleret, the middle name of my mother. My ﬁrst client was an acquaintance, who knew about my career change and journey and was willing to let me do the ﬂowers for her event. From that moment on, my business has grown and expanded. Here I am, 16 years later, and I can’t believe how far the business and I have come!
Q: What percentage of your business is dedicated to weddings, and where does the rest of your business come from?
Sixty percent of my business is wedding based. I love this work, and over the years, I’ve built a reputation and a style that people have embraced. As my husband’s heritage is Asian-Indian, of course I’ve become ﬂuent in the ﬂoral design of his culture, and I do lots of Indian weddings. I work by consultation only, and I meet clients at my design studio. Austin is an out-of-town wedding center and a place for destination weddings. I often don’t get to meet my customers until the day of the wedding, doing all of the planning and communication via email or over the phone.
I’ve recently established Petit Malleret, a service for people planning small, intimate weddings. I can do all of their ﬂoral and décor or just a little.
The other 40 percent of my business comes from corporate events and ﬂorals to enhance homes. I’ve developed a new brand, Ma Maison, offering in-home ﬂoral design, serving clients who use me monthly, biweekly or weekly and always when they are doing a party. I think there’s growth potential here.
Q: What key lesson have you learned over the years doing weddings?
The size of the wedding is not as important as the creativity and the permission the client gives me to collaborate with them and others involved in their wedding – like the wedding planner, the person doing the lighting and even the company doing the lettering. This allows me to do my best work, my most beautiful designs, which fuel me, help build my reputation and, ultimately, grow my business.
Q: What about Pinterest brides?
I do like it when clients come with Pinterest boards; it gives me an insight into their taste and personality. I ask a lot of questions, and I want to see images of things they like, as I will incorporate this into their overall design. I’ve started to do more sketching of designs, and my clients are responding well to this form of communication. Really, I use my knowledge as a guide, asking questions and listening. For people who have no idea as to what they want, we meet and talk. I listen and then create three style ideas to help their decision making.
Q: How about pricing?
We want to do beautiful things, and at ﬁrst, I bought too many beautiful things! My business and planning background has been useful in deconstructing and pricing design and events. Of course, we can all take apart a bouquet, pricing each ﬂower and piece of foliage. That’s a great and valuable exercise, but a bouquet cost is about the type and quality of the ﬂowers, and clients often don’t know that the cost of peonies depends on the season or even that they might not be available.
Plus, there’s the design portion, and most people are not used to thinking about this as a value. It’s all about education, and I spend lots of time educating clients. The piece that’s often surprising to wedding clients is the cost of the event to be staged and the number of people, delivery vehicles and all kinds of support it takes to get these living things installed at their wedding locations.
Q: How many people to do employ, and what are their roles?
I work with a team of senior designers who have been working with ﬂowers for 15 or more years and a team of junior designers. They are available on contract. When I land a new project, I build the budget and hire my team accordingly. I have a separate team for setting up and breaking down. Austin is a center for all kinds of events, so there is amazing talent and availability. My business background trained me to be a great project manager, which is important in this line of work.
I also have an accountant, a bookkeeper and a part-time personal assistant, who round out my team.
Q: How do you stay fresh and relevant?
I get great energy from being connected. Austin is a booming city with great music, events, people visiting and moving from all over, new hotels, and businesses. I respond well to this and like to get out, feel that energy and maybe connect with a new business opportunity. I attend every ﬂoral education event. I love the American Institute of Floral Designers (AIFD) National Symposium. I’m a serious member of the Texas State Florists’ Association (TSFA), and I go to conferences organized by the International Live Events Association (ILEA).
Q: What’s next for your business?
I’m in the throws of moving my studio to a much larger space, which is exciting. It’s a sign of success and a challenge for the future. I’m thinking that I have enough space that I might teach some classes, which is appealing to me. I’m strategizing about how I might break into some new markets and venues. Many events have been using the same designers for years, so that’s a big challenge. Then, I’m thinking about my roots; the Latin American market could be ripe for me to return and do ﬂoral design there, too. Wouldn’t that be fun?