Family-owned floral businesses rarely survive the transition from the first generation to the second. As a matter of fact, in this day and age, they are becoming more and more obsolete.
Many studies have shown that there is a high impact on family-owned and run businesses on our economy. In the floral industry, there was a time when this was the norm: a local flower shop stayed in the family, resulting in a local staple, while the whole family was able to live comfortably from running the family-owned flower shop. There was never a question of whether their children would continue the business after their parents’ retirement.
On our quest to find a third-generation family-owned flower shop, we came across Lighthouse Flower Shop in Mesa, Arizona. We thought it would be illuminating to have a brief Q&A with Lisa Miller, the third-generation owner of Lighthouse Flower Shop. This extraordinary accomplishment of running a successful flower business for 58 years definitely beats the statistical odds. We hope you find this interview encouraging, informative, and a piece of floral business history.
What year did your grandmother Hope Griffin open the flower shop, and do you know why she decided to open a flower shop?
Her first flower shop was in Presque Isle, Maine, and Grandma Hope saw that people getting married at the local church needed wedding flowers, so she decided to open a flower shop.
Tell us how the name Lighthouse Flower Shop came to be.
It was originally called Griffin’s Flowers in Maine and the first few years here in Arizona, but when my mother Ruth took over she renamed it Lighthouse Flowers as a tribute to Northern Maine.
When did your mother take over the Flower Shop and why?
My mother Ruth—my Grandma Hope’s daughter-in-law—took over the flower shop in 1974. My mom took over because she didn’t have anything else lined up, and she did have a knack for the floral business.
What is the earliest memory you have at Lighthouse Flower Shop?
Besides being there every day after school and on weekends, I remember making Mother’s Day corsages when I was in elementary school. Once for show and tell I even taught the class how to make corsages. Not bad for a little girl, wiring flowers together!
As we see in the picture above, you have a sister (Linda Tomblin). Did she ever participate in the flower shop business?
She doesn’t have a creative bone in her body, but she went on to become a kindergarten teacher.
When did you take over the family business?
Four years ago, when my mother decided to retire.
Do you still see her around the shop often?
Yes, every day. She actually just ran a delivery for me with my daughter.
What would you say has made your floral business so successful for 58 years?
We are still the original family who owned the shop, and we have customers who are multi-generational. Also, we can have competitive prices because we own our building.
Did your grandmother, mother, or yourself use a wire service? Do you still?
My grandmother no, but Mom used to have Redbook and Carrick—I remember the flip book with the 5×7 pictures we kept on the counter.
We tried a major wire service for about a month. All their arrangements were short and tiny and we got too many complaints.
What would you say was the single most influential factor in the success of your flower shop?
Customer service, honesty with our customers, and high-quality product. I only take on orders I can handle, that I know will represent my brand—even if it means turning business away sometimes.
What are some of the biggest hurdles you’ve encountered while building the family-owned floral business, and how did you overcome them?
Learning to work with social media, SEO, and getting into advertising for the first time. My grandmother and mother did not believe in advertising, so their business all came from word-of-mouth. It was a simpler time to start a business, and there was a smaller variety of flowers and colors to sell in general.
Running a family-owned business can have its pros and cons. What would you say are some of the pros and cons?
Pro: I can set my own hours and have creative control over all projects I choose to take on.
Con: Long hours, and it’s hard to find experienced part-time help around the holidays.
By your measures (or from what you can remember) what year would you say you sold the most flowers?
When I started branding/marketing this created an explosion. This year has been our best year ever. Last week was actually one of my most profitable weeks, it was like a little Mother’s Day week.
What is one change to the floral industry that you didn’t see coming? Is there anything that you did predict?
Pinterest is by far the biggest change. Everyone comes in with the same picture—they don’t allow me to be creative, and everyone asks for burgundy dahlias.
I did predict that people would spend less on events like weddings. A lot of couples are spending less on wedding flowers, but I have noticed that everyday arrangements sales have doubled in price over the last two years.
Do you have kids? Are they going to continue the legacy of Lighthouse Flower Shop?
I have two children, Zoe 17 and Logan 20. At this point in time, they do not want to continue the business.
Does that make you sad?
It does, and I love this business. Nobody else in the family wants the shop. It’s been here for so long, but I’m holding out hope for a fourth generation.
What do you know today that you wish you would have known when you first got started running the flower shop?
My shop is much more profitable when we do fewer weddings. Last October I did 40 weddings, but they were smaller, and I’ve had to turn down other work to keep up with weddings.
What tip would you give someone that wants to be successful with weddings?
Be brave and charge for your work, and charge up front.
What would be the one piece of advice you would give someone who is opening a flower shop?
Be prepared to compete with large grocers and wire service websites, and taking the time to educate customers about the difference between these sites and stores and a real brick-and-mortar shop. Your quality will always speak volumes for your brand, never skimp on quality.
If you could do anything besides own and operate a flower shop, what would it be?
I would love to be an auto mechanic because I love cars. I also tried to get into the army, but they told me I was too small, so the flower business it was 🙂
We all want to know what your grandma’s, mom’s, and your favorite flowers are.
My grandmother loved amaryllis and bearded iris. My mom doesn’t have a favorite. I really like hyacinths and red heart garden roses.
In closing, there are many young new florists. What advice would you give them?
It takes so much hard work to be a good florist and a lot of patience. Everyone who wants to own a flower shop should apprentice at a flower shop. You must keep your flower shop updated on the outside—every year I update my flower shop to keep it feeling fresh.
One thing we learned in interviewing Lisa is that you can’t start a flower business with the intent to keep it for your family, your goal should be to run a successful business for yourself, and if your family follows your example, that’s icing on the cake. As technology encroaches deeper into our lives, it’s important to remember how Lisa ended our interview: “Robots will never be able to arrange flowers.” We couldn’t agree more.
Florists, are you a second- or third-generation flower shop owner? Please share your feedback below in the comment section.
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