Meet Seven of the Amazing Black Entrepreneurs Behind Our Floral and Fruit Bouquets/?php print $breadcrumb; ?>
In celebration of Black History Month, we asked several of the gifted Black-owned florists in our BloomNet® floral and gift delivery network to share what inspires them, how they’ve met the many challenges of the ongoing health crisis, and their unique perspective as diverse business owners. Their collective passion for flowers led them to the floral industry, and each of these amazing artisans hopes their stories will encourage other entrepreneurs to follow their dreams.
You can share some of their stories on LinkedIn here.
Pamela Drakeford, Owner of Lottie G’s Florist in Columbus, OH
Connection to Family: Pamela’s mother loved flowers and floral arranging. With her mother’s recent passing, Pamela’s profession as a florist has kept her close to her mother’s memory while helping build a future. “My mother and my son shared a passion for design,” she says. “So, I want to leave that legacy for him – of both my mother's life and mine.”
Biggest Pandemic Challenge: As with many small businesses, the pandemic impacted walk-in business and drove up costs. “I'm spending more on merchandise,” she explains, “and on trying to get customers to my shop.”
Future Goals: “I hope within the next few years to have stable, repeat customers such that I can open another store in another state, or even in the same city.”
Favorite Floral Story: “I had a customer call about her daughter getting married that evening at their home in a very small ceremony,” Pamela remembers. “She needed a bouquet for her daughter – something pretty, but not too expensive. I sent her a picture of the arrangement before we delivered it, and she started to cry.” Turns out, the family had recently fallen on hard times. “She said they had lost everything, but that I had made a floral arrangement that looked like she spent a hundred dollars on her daughter. That made my day, too.”
Wisdom for Budding Florists: During the hard times, Pamela says, “Pray and keep the faith.” But always “stay focused and have passion and heart in what you do. It is not going to be all successful in the beginning, but it’s worth the wait.”
Shamieka Ellis, Owner of Too Pretty To Eat in Rochester, NY
Why I Do What I Do: “I love to create things and make people happy,” says Shamieka.
A Family Affair: Shamieka’s shop specializes in catered cuisine, cakes, and sweets, as well as mouth-watering arrangements from FruitBouquets.com®. She cites her mother, Cynthia Wallace, as her inspiration for starting the business. “She was great cook,” remembers Shamieka, who runs her shop along with her 17-year-old son Jayleon, who (like his mother before him) is in culinary school.
Biggest Pandemic Challenge: Her primary challenge during the pandemic was simply to stay open, with the increased cost of produce – or produce simply not being available. And, as others in the industry have faced, there were few large-scale weddings and other parties being held. “I have closed a couple times,” she says. “And I had to cancel planned weddings and birthday parties.”
Points of Differentiation: “I promote my diversity by doing interviews and hosting women-in-business meetings periodically to inform the community,” she says. In addition, her business is unique for the area. “I don't know a place like mine around.” She is also proud of the mellow atmosphere she has cultivated. “Everyone that comes into Too Pretty to Eat says they just want to go to sleep – because it’s so relaxing,” she jokes.
Wisdom for Budding Florists: Says Shamieka, “The biggest risk is not taking any risk.”
Travis Gabriel, Owner of Concrete Rose Floral in College Park, MD
Why I Do What I Do: “I originally started as a delivery driver and enjoyed being around flowers for both the beauty and the joy they provide,” says Travis. “I love being able to create and to experience working with different varieties of flowers, in all different shades, to make arrangements that bring happiness to the recipient.”
Pandemic Silver Lining: Along with millions of other Americans impacted by the pandemic, Travis at one point found himself without a job. This challenging time turned out to be a blessing in disguise. “Having newfound freedom, I wanted to build a business where I could do what I love and still enjoy my life,” he says. “The skill and experience were always there but having the time and freedom to finally make the jump was all that I needed.”
Representation Matters: “There is still more need for minority-owned representation in the event industry, as well as an appreciation for our work's worth,” says Travis. “While lesser known than some major floral design studios, many minority businesses are equally as talented and deserve to be compensated the same.”
Favorite Floral Story: “There was one arrangement I delivered personally due to not having a driver available,” remembers Travis. “It was a very small arrangement – money-wise, it would seem not important. But when I delivered this arrangement, I saw this elderly lady's face light up. The excitement and gratefulness she exuded reminded me that, no matter the size of the arrangement or the price, being a florist with the ability to spread joy is what's important.”
Wisdom for Budding Florists: “Be willing to learn as much as you can from others,” he says. “There's always a new way to do things that may be better. Freelance as much as you can, and remember, this industry is hard work. Flowers are beautiful and creating stunning arrangements is rewarding, but there are a lot of blood, sweat, and tears that come first.”
Deadra James, Owner of The Flower Shop of Chicago in Chicago, IL
Why I Do What I Do: “The sheer beauty and joy that flowers bring offer much satisfaction,” says Deadra. But flowers are also in her DNA. “My father maintained a beautiful rose garden in our backyard. And years after opening my business, I learned that my maternal grandmother did wedding flower bouquets for ladies getting married in her community of Greenville, Mississippi. I suppose flowers are a part of me.”
Entrepreneurial Spirit: “The idea to start my own business stemmed from the desire to be self-reliant and, as much as possible, in control of my destiny,” says Deadra. “Many businesses were forced to close during the pandemic. I had a choice. I chose to continue to serve my customers and help them express their love, gratitude, sympathy, and celebrations with flowers.”
Secret to Success: “Spoiling my customers is just what I do,” says Deadra. “I’ve been told that I’m the customer service queen. I adopted Marshall Field’s motto – “Give the lady what she wants. And I love to learn. I’m constantly improving my technique and expanding my skill base.”
Favorite Story: “One of our out-of-town customers who ordered for someone locally made a point of visiting me while they were in Chicago on vacation, because they appreciated our service so much.”
Wisdom for Budding Florists: Deadra encourages entrepreneurs to be optimistic and believe anything is possible. “99.9% of the time, you will get what you want,” she says. Also, “Follow the money. By that I mean, know where your money is going and don’t spend what you don’t have.”
Kateen Morris, Owner of Kateen's Floral Designs in Fishers, IN
Why I Do What I Do: “What drew me to the industry is my love for flowers,” says Kateen. “No matter what sort of mood or experience a person is having, flowers are the answer. I love to provide a reason for someone’s heart to smile.”
How I Got Started: “Since I was a small child, I have always played with flowers,” she says. “As I grew older, I would make arrangements for myself. Then I did a couple of weddings for family members and started to receive more requests. So, I decided to start the business.”
Supporting Diverse Businesses: “I do find that more and more people are looking to support Black-owned or women-owned businesses,” says Kateen, who serves as chair of Black Girl Florists, an organization which celebrates and supports Black women-owned businesses in the floral industry. She is currently redesigning her website to highlight Black ownership and working toward official diversity certification of her business. “I see my business eventually hosting workshops and teaching future black florists.”
Favorite Floral Story: “There was a time when I was second-guessing myself and my work,” she remembers. “I received a very large order. There was no card message, and the only instructions were to create the biggest most beautiful arrangement ever. Turns out the order was from my son – to me. It was the most memorable moment I have had as a florist.”
Wisdom for Budding Florists: “Know your craft, know your niche, do not be afraid to ask questions, and go for it,” Kateen says. “The world is a big place, and the floral industry is bigger than what it may seem. It’s yours – get after it!”
Taheerah Taylor, Owner of Jatcoia Floral Design in Las Vegas, NV
How I Got Here: “A series of mistakes – and being in the wrong place at the right time – led me on a 20-year journey,” Taheerah says. “I was asked to create a small centerpiece during a church service. I had no clue what I was doing, but I accepted the challenge and started googling and viewing lots of videos online. This continued for years.”
Why I Do What I Do: “I encounter happy people prepping for a wedding, but I also encounter people laying a loved one to rest,” she explains. “I feel like I was placed in this industry to make people feel at home, like I’m one of the family. I cry with my customers, and I laugh with my customers.”
Handling the Pandemic: “The pandemic hurt us but helped us,” she says. “During that time, I had a home-based business. When the pandemic hit us all, it actually increased my sales and Google presence. I had to open a store front because we became so busy with customers requesting to pick up orders.”
Favorite Floral Story: The Upshaws TV show called requesting arrangements for the cast. Taheerah thought it was a prank call – until the show started sending bottles of wine and charcuterie boards emblazoned with the show logo. Taheerah remembers, “The whole staff laughed for days because I was in disbelief!”
Wisdom for Budding Florists: “Before starting your own business know your niche and work towards that,” she advises. “If you don't know your direction, you tend to make financial mistakes finding what your niche is.”
Mattie Shoemaker Young, Owner of Veronica Shoemaker Florist in Fort Myers, FL
A Family Affair: Veronica Shoemaker Florist dates to 1975, when founder Veronica (Mattie’s mom) started her shop. “My mom originally worked for a gladiola farm grower where she fell in love with flowers,” Mattie remembers. While working part-time in her mother’s shop, Mattie also fell in love with floral design. She would later leverage her managerial experience from a master’s degree in Supervision and Administration and a career in the public school system to eventually run the shop. Now, Mattie’s two adult children are getting involved in the business. “Hopefully, they will be the third generation to take over the florist shop in the future.”
Continuing Education: “I have been to several different schools, and they all are unique in how they approach floral design,” says Mattie, who continued her education through Floriology Institute®, powered by BloomNet. “Floriology Institute is more modern and contemporary in style in their approach to design. They are very supportive, providing one-on-one guided practice with critique. They stretched and challenged me to learn floral design.”
Pandemic Silver Lining: “The blessing was we did not close our business,” says Mattie. In fact, it was very busy. “We found that the pandemic increased our retail floral sales. We locked our front showroom door and instead provided curbside pickup and deliveries. There was less traffic on the road during peak traffic hours, which helped with deliveries being timelier since everyone was social distancing, homeschooling, and working from home.”
Handling Hiring Challenges: “One of the biggest challenges is finding, or in some cases training designers, who want to work in the florist business,” Mattie explains. Luckily, she has two future new hires ready to go. “Succession planning includes my adult children. They just need to be trained in floral design.” Mattie plans to enroll her children in online Floriology Institute classes to round out their experience.
Wisdom for Budding Florists: “Stay in the business and commit to education and lifelong learning about the floral industry,” Mattie advises. “Join floral organizations and associations to connect and learn from professional colleagues in the business. It does not matter how many years you have been in business – you must stay up to-date with trends to be relevant. Get to know other florists in your community. They are not a threat and will not take your business. Remember, your customers like what you do, and their customers like what they do.”