"I am so thankful, because potentially, it’s hard to say, it could have potentially put me under."
As a kid, I could spend hours roaming through florist shops and getting lost in aisles of plants and flowers. I still could if I can find the time to escape to the local greenhouse down the street. In high school, I applied to a few shops and I would make the occasional arrangement for friends, or corsages and boutonnières during prom season. So, you can imagine my excitement when I heard from a few florist shops during the lockdown. I ended up visiting only one; but, what’s great about it, it isn’t really a “shop”! But it is definitely a business, and it is in full bloom. This next visit took me to a home-based business. The first for the Shutdown Project! Flowers by Kim resides in an addition to owner, Kim Johnson ’s house, and it’s the perfect operation. Unlike all brick-and-mortar florists, Kim has been able to stay operational for the shutdown. Which means she’s been busier than ever. I remember during my second salon visit I asked the hairdresser if people who run their salon from home could still work… and no one knew. So, when I set up an appointment to meet with Kim, I was really excited when she told me she was a home operation! I couldn’t wait to get the scoop on businesses from home! And she certainly did not let me down. She’s a power house to be reckoned with, and nothing is ever going to slow this woman in achieving far past her goals and staying true to her plans and values.
My visit landed a week before Mother’s Day, so Kim had a few spare moments to tell me about her business. I found her coming off a day of creating delivery orders and gearing up for the next batch.
“I got a notification that I could work because I am home-based. But I had to work solo, so I had to lay off my people. Usually I have a team of three or four, depending on the season. I thought, good I can keep something going. And it has been constant; every day, trying to keep up with brides and their changes. Then word got out that I could deliver. It has been insane. Like four times the normal. We are probably, now, doing the volume of what a store does (floral shop). Which was never my intent. I really just wanted to work with brides. So, I have been able to do pretty well (during covid). I’ll be able to bring my people back because they are releasing agriculture and floriculture” (from restrictions).
*When you first started this, you wanted to do events? “I specifically wanted to do weddings.”
She wanted to help brides of all budgets. Attending a consultation with a family member planning a wedding, Kim realized they might be making a bundle off of the bride. The florist couldn’t provide fresh peonies (in June) and offered silk flowers, to rent, instead. Kim was thinking, well if they can’t give her fresh flowers, and are offering silk flowers that must be returned, that should free up some of her budget for center pieces. But the florists were, ‘No, no, no, it is the same price.’ That’s when she saw a gap in the local floral industry, and a possible opportunity to serve brides.
“And that’s when I thought, I’m going to look into this. So, I made up some business cards and went to the bridal show. We went around and checked it all out because I didn’t want to leap into something that was saturated. I wanted to see what the demand was and it was very clear that there was a demand. There was a gal there that was sort of doing what I am doing now and I ended up going to work for her. I would go in after work and on weekends and help her, or take a vacation day and go work Valentine's or Mother’s Day for her. That gave me insight (into the industry) and taught me so much. At one point they wanted to sell me their Richland store, but I was married at the time and it wasn’t an option for us. So, I just thought, you know what, maybe I can do this same thing that I’m doing and work from home.”
So she started, and that first year did 17 weddings. And then next year, 35, and the next year, 70.
“We’ve done 70 to 80 a year ever since. It was just beyond my wildest imagination. And I never intended to do deliveries, but people wanted to buy flowers from us and I would have some left (from the weddings) and I needed to figure out what to do with them. So, it has transitioned into doing everything a flower shop does. Funerals, events, weddings, deliveries.”
“And now our delivery game is crazy. But that’s good. I am so thankful, because potentially, it’s hard to say, it could have potentially put me under (covid). You know, I like to think that it wouldn’t because I am pretty determined. I will figure it out. And at first I was 30% down for the month from last year. But the other day, it was only 2% down from a month a year ago. And I am like, I can’t even believe that.”
“My goal, originally, was to help every bride, regardless of their budget or size of wedding. In this industry there are a lot of florists that won’t even touch a wedding unless it’s a minimum of $1,000 to $1,500. That’s maybe because that is all they do. I just thought, every bride deserves to have nice flowers. I don’t care if she is getting married in her backyard and just needs a bouquet and a boutonnière. That was my goal and I’ve kept to that philosophy.”
“Covid made me realize, okay, maybe I have done all the right things; because the fact that I work from home is frowned on, a bit, in the floral industry. Not everybody, but ‘Oh yeah, she works from home.’ Nobody needs to be in competition with anybody.”
If someone is able to dismiss Kim as a legitimate florist, they have a huge lesson to learn the hard way. The 60’s and 70s may have been known for flower power, but she’s bringing it back and she’s in her best groove yet. Storefronts and floral shops were told to completely close, and weren’t even allowed to deliver. No “to go” orders. And now, consider that the Tri-Cities has a larger population than people think because of how spread out we are.
“Exactly. I am so thankful they released the agriculture, our category, before next week, because I thought, ‘What if I am the only legal operation for Mother’s Day?’ Usually, I am cranking out orders, bringing in eight other people. So, I am super thankful for them (other shops), that they can work and that I am not going to be flooded.”
*If you did have a storefront, do you think that this could have sunk you?
“It would have, probably, yeah. Just because the bulk of my income is through weddings. The fact that I have done what I have done in the last month, blows my mind, because there is no wedding money coming in right now. A lot of them do deposits and some of them had gone into that first payment. But their weddings are on hold so we aren’t collecting the payments. But, yeah, it probably would have because I wouldn’t have been able to operate that first month. And for a month, they weren’t allowed to deliver or be open, period (florist shops). And so, you figure I would have had rent.”
But it could have gone a completely different way.
Covid could have put her out of business.
At first, the project had no guidelines. Really, I just wanted to, visually, bring people into the vacant establishments and show them the owners. But, as it has progressed, I just want to document things as they are during this shutdown. Open or not, everything is affected in some way. She talks about how impressed she is by other business owners that have flipped on a dime to adapt and work to keep their shops afloat.
*What hit hardest over the shutdown?
“So, I think the hardest part was having to lay off my people and, two, not being prepared for the solo volume that I was going to do. But I did it.”
In the beginning, she ran her business solo for the first two years because she wanted to know what it took. You could say it was training for what would happen 9 years later.
“Because, how do you hire people and have an expectation if you haven’t done it yourself.”
*Do you value willingness to learn over credentials?
“Yeah. I haven’t hired anyone with a floral background. In high schools, now, they teach floriculture. I’d rather people not be accredited, and all that stuff, because I want to teach them the way I do it.”
*Is there a most impactful moment while running your business?
“Back in my day, college wasn’t really as much of a thing for girls. I worked at Gesa for 13 years, right out of high school. So, I think this is a culmination of all the different things I have done up until now. That I have been able to take banking, office management, creative home décor, and put them all into one. It just kind of happened. And I pulled it off. And I am doing exactly what I set out to do…help brides. I have met some incredible people. Yeah, I don’t have any specific (moment), just that I pulled it off,” she laughs. “That what I thought I wanted to do in this realm, has gone beyond my wildest imagination. That was my number one goal…everybody deserves to have nice flowers.”
Kim has definitely grown her business exactly how she set out to. And it’s not wilting any time soon. As I was leaving, an arrangement of flowers sat on the front counter. Kim picked it up and said it was for me. For a second, I realized how few times I’ve ever received flowers, and how pleasant it is to have someone who thought about you, and then spent their money or efforts getting you a floral arrangement; just for you. It won’t be forever; they won’t get to enjoy it… it’s just for you. And that’s what is so amazing about florists; we need them. What’s funny is, as a kid, I always wanted to work in a florist shop; work with flowers, spend days just taking care of plants and cleaning up after them, and yet I never cared for cut flowers on my table. Something I never thought I would need, oddly enough, something that didn’t appeal to me, is something that can deliver 100 different emotions straight to you. And no matter how swamped I was with more shutdown visits, and more highlights to write, and things in life that weren’t getting done…leaving with that arrangement in my hands…I felt thought of, taken care of, calmed, and relaxed. And I can only hope that you give Kim the chance to do that for you! She’s busier than ever, thanks to covid19, and she’s adapting with it. I imagine she’ll be adapting with what life grows at her long from now. Kim, it was a pleasure to learn about you, and the business you’ve grown.
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