Fresh N Fabulous has brought floral artistry to the creative community of Qualicum Beach, B.C. Canada
Curt Kallai came home from a long day’s work at his job in project management for a construction company about 12 years ago, when he made an announcement to his wife, Lilo.
He said, “I’m so sick of this, I’m going to open a bookstore.” Lilo laughed because, as she explains, “He doesn’t read books!”
Selling literature to bibliophiles may not have been the best option for Curt, but the couple still wanted to open their own business. They settled on a flower shop because Lilo had experience in the field when she was a single mother raising a family in the mid-1990s. “I had taken floral courses and opened a home-based business doing floral work to support my family,” she says.
As for Curt? “It’s a natural progression to come out of construction into flowers, right?” he jokes.
Curt and Lilo are now the owners of Fresh N Fabulous Flowers and Gifts, which they opened in Qualicum Beach, British Columbia, Canada, in 2008, and the shop has earned a reputation for its products, creativity and customer service.
“We’re known for higher-quality flowers that have longevity,” Lilo says of what makes the business special. “We buy directly from grower—that’s No. 1. Our arrangements are not what you would see in a grocery store or anywhere else. They’re more stylish, they have more unusual flowers, they have more of a variety of flowers. And they’re put together in a very artsy way.”
While Lilo had experience in the floral sector, Curt did not, but he did have plenty of business savvy that he was able to apply to his new career. “It was a huge learning curve for me, but I had done construction and a lot of design work—independent design of houses,” he says. “So, I thought we could figure this out.”
Curt may not have had much expertise in flowers, but as a self-employed businessman, he knew about data entry, bookkeeping and website management. “For me to have another business was just a new type of business, so all I had to do was learn the flower business,” he says.
Lilo’s floral expertise wasn’t the only reason for the decision to open a flower shop. The couple saw a need for a high-quality, high-end florist that would be dedicated to bringing flower art to the community.
“We looked at all the flower shops and studied what they were doing,” Curt says. “It was all cookie-cutter designs that were everywhere, and our community in Qualicum Beach is very big on art. There are lot of artists in this town, a lot of people doing their own artistic impressions using all kinds of media from wood and clay to painting. And Lilo is very artistic, so our decision was to open a more floral-art-style store where people can come in and say, ‘I want something that’s not like what other places sell. Can you do that?’ And that’s where Lilo started from.”
Part of Lilo and Curt’s success stems from their philosophy that “flowers don’t lie,” so they work hard at stocking Fresh N Fabulous with the best possible flowers. “I go directly to the growers, so I eliminate the stall of handling the flowers before the florist gets them,” Curt says. “They take it, it comes to the auction house and I get it, so it’s a fresher product, and our mandate is to have a very fresh product.”
The couple also takes pride in finding things that aren’t available in other shops. “If we find something unusual or even unique, we’ll have it in the store,” Lilo says. “A lot of our clientele have picked up on that.”
Also key to the operation is Stephanie Westbroek, who is so dedicated to learning the business that during a break in January, she traveled to Holland and worked in flower shops there. “She loves learning new designs, so we’re bringing stuff in that isn’t in our area,” Lilo adds.
Like all businesses, Fresh N Fabulous has felt the impact of COVID-19, but the Kallais got to work and increased their online presence and reached out to customers outside of Qualicum Beach. “Everyone’s mom lives here,” Curt says. “Our flower shop’s focus has been, from day one, to reach out to sons and daughters and family members who don’t live in Qualicum Beach. My focus was, ‘I’m going to get a good website, and I’m going to get all of our designs on there.’”
One of the biggest issues Curt and Lilo faced in the early days of the pandemic was customers not knowing if Fresh N Fabulous was open for business. “And we’re like, ‘Yes, but we’re modified,’” Lilo says. “No one is allowed in the store, but we’re here, isolating in the store, and we’ve been able to do social distancing when we deliver.”
Things were slow at first, but then a customer gave them the idea of promoting the beautiful items they had in the shop. “I did the cheapest advertising post of ‘What’s in the Cooler This Week,’ and it has been crazy since,” Curt says. “People know we’re open, and they keep ordering.”
They also cut down on staff, so now it’s just the Kallais and Westbroek working the shop.
Another key to their success during this time has been their determination to keep moving forward. “Sales and revenue dropped a bit, but we bounced back and kept going,” Curt says.
With their business a success and their former careers behind them, Lilo and Curt are enjoying so many things about this exciting endeavor, starting with Lilo’s passion for flowers. She loves the variety of flowers she works with and how every season offers new ways to meet customers’ needs.
“There’s never a dull moment in the florist industry,” she says. “It’s always changing, moving and evolving toward something to celebrate. ‘Life’s moments’ for everyone can be celebrated with flowers, and that’s what keeps me going.”
Curt jokes that his favorite part of the business is not hurting himself in construction anymore, but his dedication to Fresh N Fabulous is inspired by much more than that. “It’s continuing to drive our own destiny,” he says. “We have a level of integrity where if it’s not, right we’re going to fix it.”
The couple takes great satisfaction in presenting a design to a customer, then finding out that the receiver of the gift loved it, which makes the person who made the purchase happy. “For me, knowing that people are receiving nice gifts is really important,” Curt says.
The Kallais have also made sure that their business has evolved throughout the past 12 years. “Our design style has grown, and our clientele has grown,” Lilo says. “Our passion for flowers and plants and the work has grown, too, to the point we’re planting flowers on our property for our own cutting gardens.”
And it also takes a lot of hard work. “It’s not a job for just anybody,” Lilo says. “Lots of our customers like the ‘romantic’ notion of working in a flower shop. For Curt and me, it was quite mind-blowing, just the responsibility of dealing with a perishable product because it’s very much like working in a restaurant. Things have to move in and out quickly.”
Curt compares the flower business to that of a butcher, which may seem odd, but it makes sense because just as a butcher can’t leave meat on the counter, a florist can’t leave flowers on the counter. And flowers also have to be treated with the proper care.
“There are all those things to learn about how to handle flowers and how a flower lasts only so long, so it has to be a mover, or you don’t order it,” he says. “Or it came from the grower not well this time, so we won’t rebuy it for a while. That was a huge curve for me, learning which flowers are the best and which season they’re in.”
Lilo and Curt see themselves and their business as part of the Qualicum Beach community, and they take pride in supporting other local professionals by selling locally grown flowers. “We buy from growers who are certified organic and have high levels of their product in the auction house,” Curt says.
The evidence of their success can be seen in their storage area. When the shop opened, the Kallais thought a 4-foot-by- 6-foot cooler would handle their needs. “Within two months, Curt had to build a big walk-in cooler that takes up one wall of our store, so it’s been a growing experience, literally,” Lilo says
For the Kallais, service is about treating customers with respect, guiding them so that their needs are fulfilled and making sure they leave satisfied—no matter how much patron spends. “I don’t have a minimum, so if someone comes in and wants to spend only 15 bucks, we’re going to make that work for them,” Curt says. “If someone comes in and says ‘I don’t have a budget; I just want something really nice,’ we won’t go over the top. We work with what would work for us, to make it beautiful for them and not look at just the money.”
That’s the kind of commitment that has made Fresh N Fabulous as special part of the Qualicum Beach community.