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Putting Sampaguita on the Map

By: Vicky Amor B. Camisera

I want to place Sampaguita under a different light," says Mr. Serge Igonia, Jr., a florist from Brgy. San Vicente, San Pedro Laguna. "I don"t want it to be a flower that is often neglected and underestimated."

San Pedro is known for sampaguita. Growing up in this town, Mr. Serge Igonia became well aware and exposed with the industry. Through the encouragement of his family who has also been running sampaguita and other floral service businesses, Serge started his own, Loi Floral Sense, in 1996. Although he lacked interest in the beginning, he pursued improving his inclination in the industry by attending several seminars.

Early on, Serge exerted effort in creating his clientele network. He utilized various memberships in several florist organizations and societies and relied heavily on recommendations and referrals by fellow florists and clients. He also used to participate in bridal fairs in Manila during his early years in business as a means to promote his craft. With the internet"s flourish, he also made use of social networking sites to make his connection with the clients more immediate and personal.

What catapulted Serge was his workshop with columnist and ikebana professor, Mr. Serapion Metilla who became quite impressed when Serge brought over samples of sampaguita bouquets. The event triggered a series of features on different publications which placed Loi Floral Sense and sampaguita in the florist industry map. Since then, he has worked at some of the biggest weddings in the country (mostly those of celebrities and political clans like Raymond Bagatsing and Lara Fabregas, Maricel Laxa and and Anthony Pangilinan, Mikey Arroyo and Angela Montenegro, and most recently, the Mar Roxas and Korina Sanchez wedding). He is also a regular florist for the Malacañang palace where the simplicity and beauty of sampaguita is often exhibited to visiting presidents and prime ministers of other countries. Despite of his growing fame, Serge still caters to lower budget events.

Serge did not compete head on with other florists. He chose to establish his name by specializing on a strength that was inherent to him as a native of San Pedro Laguna. "We know how to keep the sampaguita fresh for a longer period of time," he says.

"Patience is also important," says Serge. "You must be flexible and continue to improve your craft. You need to be eloquent when dealing with clients." Loi Floral Sense, like other businesses, is not exempted from road blocks. "We also encounter problems, especially with the suppliers. Sometimes, the orders come in late or the specified flowers by the client is unavailable." Diplomacy and negotiating skills with both the clients and suppliers, as he further discussed were also keys in his business" success. As an entrepreneur, these skills are vital in building a vast network with strong connections with both your suppliers and clientele which assures you of a continuing flow of transactions that will serve as the lifeblood of your business.

Although his was a niche market, Serge was able to firmly establish himself in the industry and somehow created the preference for sampaguita over other more colorful flowers therefore seemingly expanding his market – tapping segments untouched by most florists both on high and low ends. As of now, the mere mention of sampaguita brings the name Serge Igonia into the minds of fellow florists and clients.

"When Korina Sanchez was interviewed regarding her wedding with Mar Roxas, she mentioned she has a sampaguita supplier. A friend called and asked if it were me. At that time, I wasn"t notified yet so I said I don"t know. Days after, Korina called," says Mr. Igonia.

As such, Serge is now known as the only florist specializing on sampaguita. The tedious work with the flower might have discouraged other florists but it did not stop him. He became persistent in his vision for the flower and its industry. He turns the simple sampaguita into elegant ornaments whenever he embellishes the venues making balls and strands that are hung from trees or decorative arches. Although known for sampaguita, Loi Floral Sense is also able to work with other flowers. Sometimes, Serge integrates them with sampaguita. "We"re still a regular flower shop except for the specialization for sampaguita," says the florist.

The growing fame and recognition brings along fulfillment for the blooming florist. Not only is he gaining popularity and financial stability, he also helps sustain the livelihood of his town"s locals – further ensuring the continuity of the sampaguita industry by highlighting the flower"s uniqueness through its simplicity and beauty while showcasing his exceptional talents and incomparable creativity as a proud florist from San Pedro Laguna.