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By Martha Aaron, 2019 Recipient of AFE’s Arizona Retail Florist Education Travel Grant

An experience of a lifetime, not only for myself but for three of my team members as well. While only two of the members actually attended conference classes with me, our shop wedding coordinator and designer. The third, our sales associate, became inspired so much so, that we are now working towards her becoming a designer as well!

Held within the gorgeous backdrop of the Paris Hotel in sunny Las Vegas, the sophisticatedly styled ballrooms were lavishly adorned in Parisian flair, gold accents, and intricate crown molding was the perfect backdrop for this fabulous conference.

Our journey began Sunday night, once settled we wandered the halls of the ‘Partners’ Showcase & Book Fair’ while exploring and discussing some of the latest trends, flowers, and products our industry had on display. It is always such a fantastic experience to attend an AIFD conference, meet new people and see the stunning exhibits created by some of our favorite vendors. Some of these vendors included Accent Decor, Smithers-Oasis & Floral Supply Syndicate. Stunning florals were showcased as well from the Japanese Flower market, Amy’s Orchids, Floral Greens Farmers of Florida and some stunning Lei work out of Hawaii!

We decided to rise and shine with the ‘Bright and Early Sessions’ at 7 AM. Previous experience has taught me to plan ahead, these hidden gem classes pack a lot of punch with great information and the small business florist can really get their money’s worth! The three of us split up as much as we could to experience different classes and then regrouped after to share and discuss what we had all learned. We were so overjoyed with all there was to take in that I could go on for pages.

Day 1:

“Color Shifting” with Gretchen Sells sponsored by Design Master; wonderful class, some great new colors are coming out–need a moody blue hydrangea? Try the new Just For Flowers Thicket–It’s amazing! We thoroughly enjoyed remembering and refreshing techniques while watching a fun ‘Game Show’ inspired program emphasizing the Principles & Elements of Design. I was absolutely blown away by the level of creativity presented by Lana Chernyavsky, AIFD CFD, her work with Pine Needles was beautiful, to say the least. However, her unique use of natural materials mixed with glass, wax, and dried elements was awe-inspiring. The first thing I did when I came home was check my front yard for pine needles, I have lots of them and I can’t wait to weave them all together.

We ended the day with an amazing funeral program that brought all three of us to tears. So emotional, yet so beautiful. Denise Gehrke, AIFD CFD PFCI presented some really thoughtful ideas to help family members truly celebrate, honor and pay tribute to the hobbies and lives of the departed.

Day 2:

Up bright and early again at 7 AM, the team and I went to an outstanding class presented by Jackie Lacey, AIFD CFD and Renato Cruz Sogueco of Floriology in Florida. This fun duo presented on branding and connecting to the world through social media. If you have questions regarding social media, how to take high-quality pictures, what type of equipment to use, etc, these are the two to watch. I feel like we learned more from them in our two-hour class than from any webinar or article I’ve ever read on the subject. If you get a chance to buy a video from the symposium, buy this one–or better yet follow them on YouTube, they produce great instructional videos and I am so happy we attended this early morning class.

After learning the world of social media we were immersed in the fantastical works of Harijanto Setiawan. With over the top flower works and a floral teapot over ten feet tall. Just stunning! We saw some sophisticated and well thought out wedding designs by Michael Derouin; fabulous and creative–he not only showed us the amazing designs but also gave us an inside look at mechanics and how he built them. It is important to be inspired, yet equally as imperative to get that inside look and know the fundamentals to each design. Following the fun of conventional classes, AIFD held our very own couture fashion show with Shonda Cunningham AIFD, CFD, joined by couture designer Galina Mihaleva. Their designs featured environmentally friendly materials and some really impressive fabrics.

Day 3:

Our ‘Awaken’ journey ended with the most inspiring program by world-renowned designer Gregor Lersch. It was so amazing, and I am so glad to get to check this off my bucket list and with my team, at that! I’ve always wanted to take a class from Gregor, while this was only a presentation, I was moved more than ever to try new and adventurous designs! His conceptual sense of perspective and design is unparalleled. If you have the opportunity to take a class or see a program by Gregor Lersch, do it, you won’t regret it!

All in all, I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to attend, much less take my team to, this showcase of industry design and talent. If you haven’t filled out your application for the 2020 AFE Arizona Travel Grant; what are you waiting for? Two of our team members were so inspired that they have just started classes to get their AZMF (AZ Master Florist) certification! It may sound cheesy, but knowledge is power and the more we educate and grow, the more our businesses and our industry will flourish. Take these opportunities to nurture the passion that you and your team bring to work every day.

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