When the going gets tough, Lena Malouf, CSEP, gets going. Malouf, an international event specialist based in Sydney, Australia, credits a severe recession in 1990 for helping her focus on expanding her floral business into the special event industry. "Floral retail was affected very badly," she says. "You had to implement every skill you knew to survive."
She also credits the advice of her counterparts for helping her during the tough times. "My American peers in the floral industry told me that specialization, and offering more services with fewer people, was the way to go," she says. As a result, Malouf expanded her floral business-which attracted the likes of Elton John, Prince Charles and other celebrities-into planning special events. Today, she produces up to 100 events a year, 80 percent in Sydney and the rest in other Australian cities. Malouf employs a core team of eight people, but may recruit as many as 60 to handle her larger events.
Fresh out of school, Malouf opened her first flower shop in 1957 in Wollongong, Australia, 50 miles outside Sydney. Over the years, she became involved with the American Academy of Florists, the American Institute of Floral Designers and Professional Floral Commentators International, becoming the first person in Australia with three prestigious floral accreditations from the United States.
The author of seven books, Malouf also serves as vice president on the executive committee of the International Special Events Society. "I encourage people to join ISES because here they will meet the true professionals," she says. "This gives them mentors and a reason to perform at a higher level within their business."
Working at her parents' general store at the age of 7 taught her customer service, which Malouf says is the key to success. "Over the next few years, 80 percent of new clients will come from referral business. Assume nothing. Follow up with your clients after their event to find out if they were happy or how you could have improved the job, and they are more likely to give you repeat business."
TEAM 'WE' "Team up with competent companies. When we run an event, we need to forget the word 'me' and channel energy and expertise in the word 'we.' It's a team effort that will give us an organized result, rather than an excuse."
SELL YOURSELF "Relationship-selling is key: People will buy from you first and from your company second. If the client likes you and your persona, they'll buy. We must listen and pay attention to what they're telling us they want."
LEARN FROM MISTAKES "I've become an 'avoidance person' by being aware of what could go wrong and looking for ways to avoid potential problems. We all make mistakes, and as long as we learn from them, admit them and rectify them, our competence level shifts to higher performance."