Chicago Florist Staying Positive Amid COVID-19
When Kelly Marie Thompson was 22 years old, she had a big dream of starting her own flower shop. “I didn’t really have a business plan, just a lot of love for flowers,” she says. “That meant I learned a lot of things the hard way, but over the years, I started to educate myself and grow the business through the knowledge I was picking up along the way.”
She moved from her original small 800-square-foot shop in Chicago’s Logan Square to a larger store, and then moved again to an 1,800-square-foot store, and today she is the successful owner and creative director of Fleur Inc., a lifestyle boutique and full-service floral design studio in Chicago, which celebrated its 18th anniversary in April.
“It’s pretty great. We do much more than flowers in our lifestyle boutique,” Thompson says. “We also have a 1,500-square-foot design studio where we produce all of our wedding flowers.”
Early on, there was no social media to help the business, so her business strategy relied on a lot of grassroots efforts—going to neighborhood meetings and spreading the word. “Because of my age at the time, it was a little tricky to say, ‘Trust me to do your wedding flowers,’ but as we grew and showed our customers what we were made of and what we were willing to do, word-of-mouth really spread,” Thompson says. “We were able to create a wonderful following. We are in such a great neighborhood and have received such great support.”
One thing that helped was starting to offer a larger collection of gift items, which Fleur Inc. began doing after about three years. Thompson also expanded deliveries and did more weddings.
“It’s always good to have multiple sources of revenue for your business because you never know when something is going to happen,” Thompson says. “COVID is a perfect example of that.”
Like most florists, Thompson’s store faced lagging sales because of COVID-19, and business dropped to record low numbers. “It hit us really hard,” she says. “Fortunately, we were shut down for only a couple of weeks, and we were able to offer curbside pickup and deliveries.”
But because Fleur Inc. wasn’t really set up for online ordering, Thompson was forced to pivot fast and change her company’s entire point-of-sales system so that it could offer everything they sold in the store—including flowers—online.
“From the wedding perspective, we are losing our entire wedding season this year,” Thompson says. “We did three weddings in January and February, and all of our other weddings have been rescheduled for 2021. That has been a big challenge.” sure we can service our clients. From the very beginning, when we realized the shutdown was happening, we reached out to as many farmers as we could to ensure them we would carry their products as much as we could.”
Her Chicagoland customers can now get curbside pickup orders and next-day delivery by ordering through Neighborhood (shopneighborhood.com), a new marketplace for local retailers.
Thompson was even a recent guest on the Brick & Order podcast where she explained her strategy to listeners, something she shared with Florists’ Review.
“The No. 1 thing I have done is stay positive. I chose that mind-set from the beginning, and even when I’ve had bad days, I just keep that mind-set, and I think it’s a game-changer,” Thompson says. “My focus now is on safety. The health of my staff and customers is really important to us. In terms of our business plan, I am looking at ecommerce more and getting even more creative with offerings.
For instance, the store is creating kits to make things more interactive and hosted a floral design class through Zoom. Customers bought kits from the shop and took them home,
and then followed along online to learn how to create the floral design.
“It’s actually fun to break away for a moment from designing weddings and develop more creative designing for our retail,” Thompson says. “Usually, you can’t focus enough creative energy on both, so it’s been nice.” More kits and classes are scheduled in the weeks and months ahead.
Thompson notes she’s grateful for her entire team at Fleur Inc., and many of her employees have been with her for more than five years. She has specialty wedding designers who she is in awe of, and everyone engages in a strong work culture.
Her team also share a design philosophy, and it’s what’s helped distinguish the shop from some of the competition. “I studied art history in college, and I have a huge love for Dutch Impressionist paintings, and so my designs are a little on the wild side but still tailored,” Thompson says. “We try to stay away from too many cookie-cutter arrangements. Our floral arrangements might look like sisters but not necessarily twin sisters.”
One of Thompson’s favorite things to do for weddings is bring out a “moon arch,” which is a crescent-shaped arch that she drips in flowers and greenery. “It’s fun to design on, and there’s a lot of versatility in terms of what kinds of design you can create on it,” Thompson says. “It’s a beautiful backdrop for ceremonies, and it’s definitely one of my favorite things to make.”
She notes that there are both good and bad days in the florist business, but, for the most part, she’s glad that she decided to follow her dreams 18 years ago and take a chance on opening her own florist shop.
“It’s really important to me that we’re there for people, to create a little happiness for their celebrations or when they experience a loss,” Thompson says. “Especially during COVID, when we were allowed to start offering deliveries again, we were doing it on a limited scale, and we were selling out of our delivery slots days in advance. That reminded me of why we do what we do. To provide people with a little bit of floral shows how important nature is.”