Q&A – Jane DeMarco
“Jenny Thomasson, AIFD, PFCI, EMC Design Director and Principal of Stems Florist.”
Jenny Thomasson, AIFD, PFCI, EMC, design director and principal of Stems Florist in St. Louis, Mo., opened her first store at the fresh age of 23. Within five years, she’d moved to a location with twice the space. Fourteen years into her business, I found her in her latest shop of 6,000 square feet reflecting on where she and her business have come as well as her excitement for the future.
How did you get into the flower business?
I was the kid who always had paint and glitter embedded in her bedroom carpet. My mother was a high-end interior designer, so I was surrounded by the beautiful things she created. Mom was a gardener, so I worked with her and gained a love of flowers early. When I was at university studying graphic design, I found a part-time job at a local flower shop, and that was the beginning of all of this!
How did you know that you should be a floral designer who owns a shop?
While I was in college, I worked for a few floral shop owners who helped me form the concrete idea of doing this as a career and owning a business. One owner identified my raw talent and gave me responsibility for large and complex designs, way above my experience. I loved it, and it propelled me to want to do more. The desire to own a shop came out of working for a store owned and operated by a multi-generational family. Grandpa would still stop by, bringing fresh-cut holly at Christmas time, and children would be in and out. I liked this approach, the feeling it gave me, and I could see this as a model for my family of the future.
Where does your business come from, and who are your customers?
Sixty percent of our business is weddings, and we have become the destination floral designers for weddings in our region. We are just 30 minutes from all of the popular downtown St. Louis wedding locations and 45 minutes from wineries that host weddings. We have won all kinds of wedding awards and are thoughtful in growing this lucrative business. Twenty percent of our business is from our online store, 15 percent is from sympathy work and 5 percent is from community walk-ins.
Did your store end up being the multigenerational dream?
In some ways it did. My mother, Kim Brannon, is our marketing director and principal, working full time. She brings her interior design, business and marketing know-how to the team. My husband, Joe Thomasson, left his career to become our operations manager, taking care of all logistics including HR and payroll. I do all of the design work as well as manage the vision and overall business direction. We have part-time staff and part-time delivery drivers, plus we contract with designers when we have big events. We partner with TeamFloral for our web and have an accountant to keep us on the right path.
Contrary to the early dream, our 15-year-old daughter is steering clear of the flower business. She sees how hard the work is and has declared that she is going to be a movie director or a writer, requiring us to audition for any small parts in her movies!
Where and how do you buy your flowers?
If you’re in our business, you have to be on trend. We are in the luxury business and must be aware and very present in what we offer in color and design. Trends start with fashion, so I walk around department stores, read magazines and look online.
I head to furniture stores and places with high-end interiors looking at color saturation and combinations. Once we create something trend forward, we feature it on our website because this is where our future customers are looking.
What’s the biggest challenge to your business? What will be your business focus in the next year?
Keeping staff passionate and motivating them to keep going for it is key. We can’t stay locked in, and we have to be constantly adapting. We know that walk-in retail is diminishing, so we have to accommodate for that. I just finished a three-day workshop for 11 industry professionals and am excited about educating and education. I’m off to Phoenix to do a hands-on workshop in January.
If you could go anywhere in the world to learn more about the business of flowers, where would you go?
I’m hungry to see flowers in the fields, all over the world. I’d like to travel our country as well as South America, Holland, Israel – anywhere to see farms and learn the stories of all of the flowers I work with every day.
How are you feeling about the industry in which you work? What do you see happening?
I’m so jazzed! In my work with Teleflora, I travel the country and meet new young designers who are passionate about our business. I’m grabbing them and telling them that this is a business of high regard, and it’s prestigious and well compensated. Artistry in floral design was the best in Europe, but that’s changing, and it’s really vibrant and exciting here. It’s a great time!