Small-town floral shops are a staple on many of Iowa’s main streets. No strangers to economic ups-and-downs, owners and operators of these uniquely Iowan storefronts are experts at deploying strategies that maintain their up-front positions – in both town squares and resident minds.
Despite the many competitive, financial and marketplace disruptions that have characterized the floral business in recent times, small-town shops have remained resilient.
Take Newton’s Fresh Flowers By Fine Things, for example. Forced by COVID-19 to close its doors in March 2020, the shop didn’t have an online platform it could rely on to continue taking orders from customers. E-commerce platforms for the floral industry must be extremely nimble, given the short shelf life of live flowers and plants.
These significant challenges did not stop the shop, a longtime staple in the Newton community. Store Manager Michaela Wood turned to social media and a good ol’ standby – the telephone – to keep business moving. She advertised each of the products in the inventory (initially overflowing due to a lack of in-person shoppers) on different social platforms, and it worked like clockwork. The platforms provided a fast, flexible alternative to the costly e-commerce platforms many businesses were forced to adopt so quickly (and without as much vendor due diligence as they’d perhaps hoped).
Notably, the quick marketing pivot was not the only reason Fresh Flowers By Fine Things thrived during the first weeks of the pandemic. Wood says much of the success the store experienced was due to the Newton community’s commitment to supporting local businesses and their owners, including Fresh Flowers By Fine Things’ Julia Prendergast, whose passion for maintaining a flourishing in-town shopping experience is contagious.
Homegrown Community Partners Aid in Resilience
A similar strategy was deployed in New Hampton by a local floral shop that’s been in the community for more than 30 years. Kayla Smith, owner of Pocketful of Posies, said her store’s orders nearly doubled during the worst months of COVID-19. This occurred despite the fact that an online ordering system the shop had planned to rollout pre-pandemic had been delayed.
However, orders from other New Hampton businesses, as well as neighborhoods and rural homesteads, continued. In fact, the community choosing to buy local, Smith said, has been key to the store’s resilience throughout the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic. Local residents choosing Pocketful of Posies over national conglomerates, as well as the local bank’s assistance with an otherwise complicated PPP loan application, were just a couple of the moments that reignited Smith’s commitment to the area.
Even as orders continued to flow in, however, inventory issues made a bumpy road even more treacherous to navigate. Because the majority of fresh flowers sold in the U.S. are grown internationally, a reduction in exports caused by shutdowns overseas was a major challenge for many stateside flower shops. According to the BBC, flower exports dropped as much as 85 percent during international shutdowns last spring.
“It’s been increasingly difficult to manage inventory, not just in quantity of fresh flowers but also in quality,” Smith said. “But even though we’ve faced challenges with inventory and technology, I feel really good about the future. I have to credit having a strong financial partner and being in a community that supports small business. We will always find a way to flourish and make it happen.”
The growing need for e-commerce technology and what’s predicted to be continued fluctuations in flower production over the next year will continue to throw curveballs at shops like Fresh Flowers By Fine Things and Pocketful of Posies. But, with the proven capabilities to pivot quickly, the strong backing of their communities, and the reliable support of a good financial partner, the shops are bound to thrive in 2021 and beyond.
Kim Berns is commercial loan officer for Bank Iowa, Iowa’s second largest family-owned financial institution. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more, visit bankiowa.bank. Member FDIC.