Emily Ellen Anderson loves math, science and adores art. At university, she studied structural engineering and sculpture, eventually qualifying to be a landscape architect. Emily now owns Lola Creative, in Edmonds, Wash. Her company is renowned for creating amazing events, often for the science and tech industries prevalent in the Seattle area. In learning that her company name is an abbreviation for Life Outside Landscape Architecture (LOLA), I knew there was a great story to be had and tracked Emily down to tease it out of her.
Q: How did you get into the flower business?
In the 2008 ﬁnancial downturn, 50 percent of jobs in engineering were lost in the Seattle area. I was practicing as a landscape architect and waiting for the shoe to drop. I thought I better have a back-up plan, so started to do ﬂoral on the side. My parents had owned a lavender farm, I’d done ﬂowers for weddings of friends and I had the sculpture background, so I thought I’d give it a go. I cobbled together a little business and, quite miraculously, Seattle University picked me up to do their ﬂoral work and events. Surprisingly, I didn’t lose my landscape architecture job. Architecture requires lots of sitting at a desk working on a computer, and the ﬂoral work had not much of that, so as long as Lola stayed small, I was enjoying both jobs. I was offered a promotion to become a project manager in my engineering company. I knew there would be no time for ﬂowers, so in 2011, I gave up on landscape architecture and embraced Lola full time.
Q: Where does your business come from, and who are your customers?
Seventy-ﬁve percent of our business comes from work with corporations and nonproﬁts, and 25 percent is attributable to weddings and social events.
As business changes, so does the work we do for corporations. Events have been an integral part of a company’s marketing and public relations plan, and we are skilled at working with corporations to help them deliver their goals.
Today, we are doing lots more work for creative and scientiﬁc companies, which allows us to do very sculptural and often nontraditional displays and ﬂowers. The newest events are “inﬂuencer events,” where any company with a product invites those with social media inﬂuence to come see and learn about their lines or items. The idea is that the inﬂuencers will get the word out. These events are fun to stage because they are all about the photo op, so you have to be super creative and visual. We have more of these events going forward.
Much of the work comes via word-of-mouth. We have developed a reputation for exceptional and unusual events, and our next work will come from work we are doing now. This has always been the case. We also do presentations for companies we think we would like to work with, who do events and are known for experiential marketing. This is and will be a future source of business for us.
As well as the big stuff, we are the neighborhood ﬂorist where parents come with their kids and where we give each child a ﬂower. It’s the place to pick up a prom corsage or a ﬂower for a friend.
Q: What staff do you employ, and what are their roles?
We are a core team of ﬁve – all women who know their way around power tools as we build, fabricate, weld, lift and move. Flick Stevenson, event manager, manages all logistics, schedules and client communication. Kathleen Le Coze, event designer, takes the creative concepts and establishes the overall event design and its components. Paige Payseno, content designer, does our web, blogs and social media. Johnna Brady, production assistant, ﬁnds all of the components and elements we need to create every event. As creative director, I work with the clients, develop much of the creative, do all of the ﬂoral, manage the ﬁnances, dabble in the web and everyone else’s work! In this kind of work, you need a multiskilled and talented team to be able to be able to produce complex installations and ﬂowers within a tight production schedule. We have an amazing team, and I’m very lucky and appreciative.
We do have on-call staff we bring in, on a contractual basis, when we need lots of hands on deck.
Q: Where and how do you buy your flowers?
We go local ﬁrst, working with a circle of farmers around the Seattle area. If we can’t ﬁnd what we need from our farmers, we head to the growers market at our wholesaler. If we need 2,000 of the same ﬂower, we order directly from a grower or supplier.
Q: Your business is built on sustainable practices. Why and how do you do that?
We are about creating honorable events, meaning that the good created by an event should not be overshadowed by irresponsible waste. We use only biodegradable products, preferring to build with Bioboard or ridged paper. We tend not to paint, leaving our structures natural. When we build, we look to reuse our structures at other events, and part of our 2,000-square-foot studio is warehousing for this. We do not use ﬂoral foam or plastic foam. This approach is more expensive for the client who loves this concept but would, I’m sure, opt for a cheaper version, with lots of stuff going to the landﬁll, if we gave them the cheap option – but we don’t!
Q: What’s the biggest challenge to your business?
I need to build a larger business without micromanaging. I must keep this amazing team. It’s hard to make a proﬁt in this line of work and so, this year, I’m being more intentional in ﬁnances and pricing.
Q: How do you stay fresh and relevant?
I have a 2 1/2-year-old son, which has been good for my workaholic lifestyle. I love to go to museums and am a science and materials nerd. I like furniture and design. I read lots of magazines. I know that my creativity and my success are based on amassing lots of ideas.
Q: If you could travel anywhere in the world in support of learning for your business, where would you go?
I’d like to take a masters class in ﬂoral design, but mainly I want to travel to absorb all things different. Central Mexico is appealing; I’d like to see those textiles and architecture. Heck, I’ve not been to the Getty Museum yet!
By Jane DeMarco