feature story

Florists on opposite coasts share their remodeling experiences and how the changes have improved their businesses.

by Kelsey E. Smith

    Ron Johnson knows how to party. He and his wife, Debbie, have hosted four open houses each year since opening their original 4,000-square-foot home décor and gift shop, The Thicket, in 1997. Since then, they have opened two more shops. The Nest, a 1,000-square-foot fresh-flower shop where Mrs. Johnson spends most of her time, opened four years ago, and Branches, a 1,000-square-foot shop with stems of quality permanent botanicals and containers, opened two years ago. All three shops are in the same strip center in Springfield, Mo., providing a destination shopping experience for the residents of this southwest Missouri community of about 150,000. And the open houses, which sometimes span several days, have gotten bigger and better.

    In today’s tough economy, an image change can be risky. But staying the same can be even riskier. Here, we introduce you to two florists who remodeled their shops in an effort to update their images and attract new customers. Although each faced challenges, both agree that the payoff in customers’ reactions has been tremendous.

the pink petunia
    When Michael and Katelyn Bowman bought their business in April 2006, All Seasons Florist, as it was known at the time, was 30 years old, and the building in which it is located was nearly 80 years old.
    Today, after a name change and three phases of renovations costing approximately $100,000, The Pink Petunia brings in three to four times the annual sales of the previous business and offers an array of giftware, clothing and accessories that no other shop in Cheshire, Conn., a community of about 28,000 people, sells.
    “We wanted to make it our own and give it a fresh image,” Mrs. Bowman says. “And with the space we have, we thought it was smart to grow the gift shop area as well as update the florist area.”

going through phases
    The business encompasses 4,000 square feet, about 2,500 square feet of which is retail space. With such a vast area, the renovations were done in three phases.
    The first phase, which began immediately after the Bowmans purchased the business and took approximately two months to complete, entailed a complete change in the overall aesthetic of the business, indoors and out. In addition to adding molding and beadboard (wood panels) to some of the walls for textural interest, they painted the walls in the front of the store—the area that houses most of the gift items—pink and green to give the area a more unified appearance. Previously, each wall was a different color.
    In addition, the Bowmans revamped the checkout area and added a new computer server and two new computers: One in the back is used mainly for order taking but also functions as a register, and another serves as the front register.
    Also in the first phase of renovations, the Bowmans converted an attached greenhouse in the back of the building to display area. The greenhouse, one of two on the property, previously had a concrete floor, so the owners had carpet installed for a more comfortable, finished look. They also added a new 120-square-foot cooler that is accessible to customers from the front and has doors to the design room in the back. The design room, along with an adjoining office and a breakroom for the shop’s 10 to 12 regular employees, encompasses around 800 square feet.
    The other greenhouse, which comprises approximately 700 square feet and remains a functioning greenhouse, underwent a few cosmetic changes, including new glass panels, although the Bowmans plan to completely revamp it in the future for greater efficiency.
    The main entrance to the building, which is situated on a corner lot, also changed during the first phase of renovations. The previous owner had customers use only the entrance to the side, which leads to the now-converted greenhouse. Although customers still are welcome to use that entrance, the main entrance is now in the front. “He had piles of sand, whiskey barrels and wild grass out front,” Mrs. Bowman describes. “I thought it was important to invite people to park out front and use the front door, so we cleaned all that out and put down gravel and a brick walkway and opened the main entrance again.”
    During the second phase of renovations, which took approximately two weeks following Valentine’s Day 2007, the Bowmans added an 8-foot-by-12-foot shed, custom-designed by an architect, near the display cooler in the converted greenhouse. With the appearance of an outside shed, complete with a potting bench, this new area allows the business to create seasonal themed displays with outdoor appeal. Last Christmas, the shed featured a tree adorned with natural materials, and a recent summer display featured a picnic table with picnic baskets.
    Several additional changes took place during the most recent renovations, which began immediately following Valentine’s Day this year and took approximately three weeks. With the cooler in the back large enough to accommodate daily design work, the Bowmans removed an inefficient old drip cooler from the front of the shop and replaced it with a dressing room for the shop’s clothing lines. The dressing room gives a boutique look to the area, which also displays designer flip-flops, jewelry and other fashion accessories. Hardwood flooring also replaced carpet in this area.
    Lighting and display fixtures also were focuses of the third renovation phase. Modular wooden shelves, cabinets and a wrapping station complete the converted greenhouse and allow the Bowmans to easily reconfigure displays. The Bowmans also purchased some white shelving units with recessed lighting and glass shelves to showcase the business’s serving pieces and bring in new lines, including its most recent addition, Mariposa serveware.
    Mrs. Bowman relates that in addition to the recessed lighting on the shelving units, new overhead track lighting and recessed lighting have helped give the business a new look.

  renovations overview

the pink petunia

Michael and Katelyn Bowman
Location: Cheshire, Conn.
Shop size: 4,000 square feet (about 2,500 square feet is retail space)
Renovations timeline: three phases of changes began in April 2006 and wrapped up in March 2008
Catalyst for changes: new owners wanted to give the shop a more youthful look and modern appeal
Notable changes: created a boutique look in the front of the shop, with clothing, jewelry and other designer fashion accessories; added several lines of giftware; painted walls, installed molding and beadboard, and replaced flooring; converted one of two greenhouses into display and consultation area, including a custom-built 96-square-foot display shed and a new 120-square-foot floral cooler; replaced glass panels on functioning greenhouse; installed new computers; replaced an inefficient cooler with a fitting room; installed new lighting and display fixtures; reopened main entrance to the shop and made exterior more inviting with attractive landscaping
Total cost: approximately $100,000
Customers’ response: increased traffic; annual sales more than triple those of previous owner’s; more young customers attracted to business



a more youthful outlook
    In addition to the cosmetic changes to the business, the product lines also have shifted. The Pink Petunia now offers a much larger variety of giftware. Mrs. Bowman relates that with more consumers purchasing flowers at grocery stores and other mass merchants, she and her husband believed that offering an array of giftware and garden products as well as stylish jewelry and clothing would help to not only retain existing customers but also bring new customers into their store. And they were right.
    “Traffic has increased and been more continuous,” Mrs. Bowman relates. “We attracted younger customers by carrying flip-flops, jewelry and a wide variety of accessories. Being able to advertise that we sell popular product lines in the gift shop brings people in who are looking for those items and also shows them that we have so much more to offer.”
    Mrs. Bowman, who is in her late 20s and selects her gift lines based on things she likes and those she sees at gift and accessory shows, admits that although it can be risky for flower shops to add so much inventory, it made sense in her community. “The gift shop in general was a bit of a gamble in that we brought in a lot of higher-end products,” she relates. “But our town doesn’t have a shop that offers merchandise quite like ours that people may have gone out of their way to buy previously, so, if anything, it made our shop more of a destination.”

please excuse our progress
    One of the greatest challenges during the renovations, which spanned nearly two years, Mrs. Bowman relates, is that the business kept its regular schedule and remained open the entire time. “We redirected traffic and had certain places closed off at times, but we did a lot of work on weekends and at night. We kept it as clean as we could, and nothing was too big of a mess at any time. Being a new business owner is a challenge in itself, but I’m very happy with the way everything has come along.”
    Although the installation of the hardwood floor took longer than anticipated—one week rather than the two days the Bowmans had predicted—Mrs. Bowman says none of the projects went over budget. “My husband owns a plumbing and heating company, so it was always someone he knew that we contracted, or he did the work himself,” she relates. “We knew what we were getting into and what was a good price.”
    Mrs. Bowman advises florists who are thinking of renovating their buildings to take a critical look at what they have to work with and what they can afford to do. “You have to prioritize,” she says. “Ask yourself, ‘Am I investing in the right things? Which do I do first?’ Keep updated. See what is in style and what you can do to better your shop that’s going to stay in style—not too trendy but enough that it’s going to attract new customers. Once people see the changes, word will spread.”

“After” photos courtesy of Kimberly Lynn Photography; Southington, Conn.

blooms & bears
    For Blooms & Bears, an Irvine, Calif., shop approximately 800 square feet in area, renovations were a long time coming. When LuAnn Schwab bought the shop in late 1992, the neighborhood shopping center in which it is located, built in 1988, was still fairly new, and the shop needed only minor changes. But after 14 years, Mrs. Schwab decided a major remodel was in order. She and her husband, Carl, who has a job outside the floral industry but helps out at the shop when he is available, proceeded with renovations on the 400-square-foot retail portion of the shop during the first week of January 2007 and met their goal of being finished before Valentine’s Day that year.
    “Even though the carpet had held up nicely, the shop was getting a little tired looking, and we were ready for a change,” Mrs. Schwab says.

a clean sweep
    Aside from wanting new paint, flooring and several other cosmetic changes, Mrs. Schwab says her biggest desire was to declutter. “We went with a ‘less is more’ approach,” she explains. “We removed some of the display units and furniture and got rid of all the clutter. In effect, we had an empty box. And once we finished painting, we were careful not to bring back all of the old display racks and furniture.”
    She notes that some of the display pieces were given away; some were trashed; and some are being stored in the business’s 1,600-square-foot design center, which is located about a mile from the shop and used mainly for holidays and event work. The design center also was helpful for accommodating phone and Internet orders during a few days when the retail location was closed for flooring installation.
    Mrs. Schwab relates that the flooring was the biggest—and most expensive—issue related to the remodel. She and Mr. Schwab visited several flooring shops to become educated on the many options they had and ensure they made the right decision. They decided on 18-inch-square reddish-brown porcelain tiles. In addition to being durable, the tiles’ textured surface helps prevent slipping when the floor gets wet. The tiles cover the 25-foot-by-16-foot retail area and extend into the cooler, replacing its former indoor/outdoor carpet and giving it a more unified and professional look.
    The Schwabs painted the walls a warm, sandy beige color, which beautifully complements the earthy tone of the porcelain floor tiles. To add an even more cohesive look, they added wood baseboards and stained them reddish-brown. The shop’s built-in front counter was stained to match for a relatively inexpensive facelift.
    Mr. Schwab also found an economical way to duplicate the look of crown molding while replacing a dated wallpaper border. “We wanted some type of transition between the wall and the ceiling, so we put up what I call ‘poor man’s crown molding,” he says. “Crown molding is expensive, but if you buy chair rail or baseboard and tilt it out a bit, it looks like crown molding. So I ran a strip of wood up at the top and then put on the baseboard.”

  renovations overview

blooms & bears

Owner: LuAnn Schwab
Location: Irvine, Calif.
Shop size: approximately 800 square feet (about 400 square feet is retail space)
Renovations timeline: early January to mid-February 2007
Catalyst for changes: shop had become crowded with clutter and needed a cleaner, more up-to-date look
Notable changes: decluttered retail area by removing several display fixtures; replaced carpet with 18-inch-square porcelain tiles; added extension to facade of floral cooler and full-color-spectrum lighting inside the cooler; painted walls; added baseboards and stained front counter to match; replaced outdated wallpaper border with faux crown molding
Total cost: $5,000 (after $1,200 tenant improvement subsidy from landlord)
Customers’ response: many comment on how much larger, more modern and more inviting the shop looks



time for a cool change
    In addition to the impact provided by the floor tiles in the cooler, a height extension gave the cooler a noticeable “floor-to-ceiling” look. Previously, there was a gap between the top of the cooler and the ceiling. After checking to make sure their desired look would not violate any fire codes, the Schwabs covered the space with plywood siding that matches the cooler’s facade. This relatively inexpensive improvement—costing only $50—created more visual appeal as well as display space for wreaths or framed posters.
    The Schwabs invested in full-color-spectrum lighting for the inside of the cooler as well, which makes the flowers look more vibrant. “With standard fluorescent lights, the flowers aren’t as bright as they are with a full-spectrum light bulb,” Mrs. Schwab says. “The bulbs cost a bit more, but they’re well worth it.”

the price of perfection
    Blooms & Bears’ renovations totaled approximately $6,200. To keep costs under control, the Schwabs bought all of the supplies and did all of the work themselves except for laying the tile, which they hired a contractor to do. A couple of Blooms & Bears’ four employees helped with packing and painting as well while the others did floral work at the design center.
    The Schwabs say having a good relationship with the building’s landlord also worked to their advantage monetarily. The shop’s lease was coming up for renewal at about the time of the renovations, so they requested a subsidy to help offset the $4,000 cost of the new floor. Their landlord granted them a $1,200 tenant improvement subsidy, bringing the net cost of the renovations to $5,000. “It doesn’t hurt to ask your landlord,” Mrs. Schwab relates. “Even if your lease isn’t up for renewal, remind them that you’re making a permanent improvement.”
    Comments from customers are a testament to the overall new look of Blooms & Bears. “Our customers still comment on it,” Mrs. Schwab relates. They say things like ‘It looks larger,’ ‘It’s really up to date,’ ‘It looks new,’ and ‘It’s inviting.’ It wasn’t a huge renovation, but it made a big impact.” The finished look did not come without a few headaches, however. The Schwabs learned a valuable lesson about hiring contractors during the flooring stage of the renovation.
    “In retrospect, I would have been more particular about having a written contract and having a retainer,” Mr. Schwab explains. “I’m a good-natured person and thought I knew the person and trusted him, and I paid him in full when I should have paid him only 80 percent. That would have given him a reason to come back.”
    Mr. Schwab shares that the contractor never came back, so he ended up dealing with some mortar issues himself.
    Mrs. Schwab offers the following advice to other florists who want to update the looks of their businesses. “Go for it, but be smart about it,” she says. “If you don’t have a plan, you may not get what you want, you may not get it when you want it and it will probably cost you a lot more. The key is to evaluate what you’re trying to accomplish, what it’s going to take to do it, whether you can afford it and how you can control the costs.”

Contact Kelsey Smith at ksmith@floristsreview.com or (800) 367-4708.

Has your shop undergone a major renovation in the past year, or are you planning one in the near future? If so, let us know! Send information to editors@floristsreview.com.

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