From left, Gregg Weisstein, Farbod Shoraka and David Daneshgar are college friends who came together to launch BloomNation, an online platform that gives independent florists access to new markets and customers.

The neighborhood florist is not what it used to be. According to the New York Times, nearly 40 percent of America’s flower businesses have closed since 2000, as national wire services like squeeze independent merchants into oblivion with steep commissions and marketing fees.

Floristry startup BloomNation is trying to change this downward trend by transitioning mom-and-pop stores into a friendlier, less expensive online marketplace. The Santa Monica-based business, founded by CEO Farbod Shoraka alongside college friends David Daneshgar and Gregg Weisstein, provides a digital toolset that exposes florists to new audiences and drives revenue directly into their bank accounts.

About 3,000 flower shops leverage the BloomNation platform, submitting photos of their bouquets and other hand-crafted items to a dedicated web page — functioning like an Etsy for flower arrangements. Along with hosting a store’s website, the startup offers email marketing and inventory management as well as SEO and social media advice.

We’re plug and play,” Shoraka says. “[Participants] can build a beautiful custom site based on how they want to represent their brand. BloomNation is like a gym with tools to grow your business and make it stronger.”

The ultimate goal is to increase a floristry entrepreneur’s retail sales and build their online presence. Unlike other ordering services that tend to layer on high fees as part of membership, BloomNation’s cut is 10 percent, including credit card fees. The platform isn’t limited to florists, either. While the company mostly deals with flower shops, independent garden centers and plant delivery services also benefit from this new foray into e-commerce.

“The biggest thing we offer is exposure to new customers,” Shoraka says. “It’s the equivalent of walking into a flower shop, where customers leave reviews and (florists) build up their reputation [online].”

Shoraka left his job as an investment banker to start BloomNation. He had been working on a deal related to the industry, and noticed the difficulty smaller shops were having in competing with middle market brokers. An aunt who owned a flower store also shared her personal struggles with keeping the business afloat.

“With everything going online, she didn’t know how to handle the switch,” Shoraka says. “She used big broker sites that charged too much and didn’t let her connect with customers.”

Shoraka and his two partners heard similar tales from other frustrated florists. Building the company from scratch allowed the founders to make connections with small business owners from around the country. This empathetic attitude has helped BloomNation double its revenue annually. Meanwhile, shop owners who sign up for the company’s premium site — a service that includes personalized marketing assistance and other perks — have increased their online sales by 30 percent.

“We have (clients) saving for their kids’ education or buying new delivery trucks for their businesses,” Shoraka says. “When you build empathy around people, that creates the right mentality to build a great business.”

Douglas is a Cleveland Heights-based freelance writer and journalist. In addition to Garden Center, his work has been published by Midwest Energy News, Crain’s Cleveland Business and Fresh Water Cleveland.