Eschewing everything traditional is the key to success for this Minnesota flower retailer.
Rebel Girl Floral is not your traditional flower shop. At least that’s the belief of owners James and Sothea Keller, who wanted to create something different when they started the Long Lake, Minn.-based business in 2019, noticing that most sympathy flower arrangements were put together in bland designs. Their philosophy was simple: “If you’re celebrating somebody’s life, wouldn’t you want something beautiful to remember them by?”
“I really wanted to do my own designs and be in control of the entire creative side,” says Sothea, who serves as head floral designer for the Long Lake, Minn.-based shop. “I started with funerals because I noticed most funeral flowers were extremely bad. When you’re celebrating someone passing on, it should be big, grand and beautiful— something the family could take home to remember their loved one and celebrate his or her life.”
Rebel Girl Floral started partnering with an area funeral home—David Lee Funeral Home & Cremation Services—making arrangements for their celebration-of-life ceremonies. “We know why everyone is there, to remember someone they love, but I wanted them to find beauty in such a sad place,” Sothea says. “Unlike other funeral arrangements I saw, which were mostly carnations and mums, it wasn’t what I considered a standard of celebrating a person’s life.”
Initial clients were so charmed by Sothea’s sympathy designs that requests for wedding flowers started to come in as people saw the flair she had for arranging flowers. As more requests came in, Rebel Girl Floral began to expand its business into creating made-to-order everyday flower arrangements.
“I don’t accept many weddings because I want to focus on the celebration-of-life aspect and the daily orders,” Sothea says. “There are so many wedding florists, and I wanted to focus on areas that no one was really paying attention to. It’s not only wedding ceremonies that can enjoy these different and beautiful flowers.”
James, who operates the business side of Rebel Girl Floral, explains the idea was to flip the normal floral shop around a bit. “We’re a floral studio, and we do everything custom-made to order, but we still provide daily order services, same-day flower arrangements and the like,” he says. “Our website is built around daily orders. We don’t have that big sign on Main Street like a traditional shop so that everyone knows we are here. We’re primarily in the internet space.”
Today, Rebel Girl Floral serves the Twin Cities West Metro area with one-of-a-kind flower arrangements of lush, seasonal and extraordinary botanicals.
James’ mother is a florist, so it was she who first got Sothea interested in floral designing. “I started working with her more than 10 years ago, helping out at weddings,” Sothea says. “But then we moved to New Zealand for about five years, and when we came back, I renewed my interest in the field. At that point, I was working with James’ sister, who was also a florist.”
But the couple decided it was time to do things on their own, and they started Rebel Girl Floral last year. “We still have walk-ins, and when they come in, we take their orders and, of course, we’ve been doing more curbside pickups the last few months, but we don’t have all the additional overhead and staff that many traditional flower shops have,” James says.
That’s important to Sothea because it’s her artistic creativity that gives the business such a great reputation. “We generally tell people, ‘You can look at the pictures online, but you’ll never get the same arrangement twice’ because I’ll never make the same arrangement twice,” she says. “You will get the feel and the character, but I don’t have a specific recipe; I have a color scheme, and I will use whatever flowers are in season.”
Sothea’s designs will reflect the season, and she will use only the freshest flowers available in the desired colors to create a perfect picture.
Rebel Girl Floral was well prepared for the changes that came about due to the coronavirus pandemic because its website was already designed for online local ordering. “Our business has actually increased because everyone went online to find something—especially around Mother’s Day—and a lot of local florists just don’t have that online presence, or they have a more traditional look or just a lot of wedding photos,” James says. “We saw a big push in business, for sure. About 80 percent of our orders for Mother’s Day came in via the website. If we had received phone calls. like many traditional florists do, we would have had to hire more staff and spend too much time writing down orders. A lot of this can be hands off.”
An interesting thing the Kellers noticed is that the age range of people buying flowers has gone down during the pandemic because younger people started ordering for the older generations who they weren’t able to visit. “Members of younger generations like to see things online, so if they can’t see photos and have an experience, they tend not to order,” James says. “Our photos speak for themselves.”
Sothea’s goal for the future of Rebel Girl Floral is not much different than what she wanted when she founded the company: She wants to bring distinctive flowers to everyday arrangements. “I don’t want what I would call ‘grocery store’ flowers,” she says. “I would love to see more daily orders for exotic flowers, and yes, that might be more expensive, but I feel people need to see those and understand the different types of flowers that are available. There are so many, and people shouldn’t stick to just the three or four they know. They will get something unique and different from us.”
Sothea also hopes to push the boundaries of what is possible in floral design, such as new ideas like IllumaFloral (rgfloral.com/illumafloral).
On the business side, James is planning to grow the online presence even more and bring more awareness to the great work that florists do. “Competing with grocery store floral departments is a challenge because a lot of them in our area are putting out nice product, and no florist can really compete with that space because of their volume,” he says. “But we’re showing how important the creativity side is and what we can do for people and their arrangements. We are a premium and are more expensive, but we are unique and offer flowers and floral designs that consumers are not going to get elsewhere. That’s our difference.”