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Self-Taught Chicago Florist Shares Experience with Reopening and Curbside

May 12, 2020 | Published by Faire

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Photo courtesy of Jaclyn Simpson Photography and Fleur, Inc.

This week on our podcast Brick & Order, we talked to Kelly Marie Thompson, owner and creative director of Fleur Inc., a lifestyle boutique and full-service floral design studio in Logan Square, Chicago. 

Over the course of almost 20 years, Kelly Marie has grown her business from a neighborhood bucket shop to an 1,800 square foot brick and mortar shop carrying a large selection of gifts with an attached studio for wedding production and a space for floral classes.

Kelly Marie speaks on the power of community during quarantine and how she’s managing the introduction of curbside pickup.

I’ve had my ups and downs these last 50-some days but I have had more moments of crying happy tears than I have from any kind of meltdown. That really speaks volumes. People understand the importance of buying local now more than ever.

Here, we’re sharing an abridged version of our chat with Kelly Marie. To listen to the whole interview, head to over to the fifth episode of our podcast Brick & Order.

Faire: Let’s rewind to 2002. Where were you in your life and career at that point?

Kelly Marie Thompson: I was 22 years old and fresh out of college. I had been working at a grocery store in the floral department for about four years and was studying art, history, painting and design. When you’re that young, you’re pretty fearless so I decided that I really wanted to open a flower shop and I loved the neighborhood, Logan Square in Chicago. It was filled with a lot of creative people and felt like it was the perfect spot to bring some more flowers into the neighborhood.

What inspired you to move in the floral direction?

I grew up being surrounded by flowers in a very standard Chicago bungalow style home. My mom filled every single corner of our yard with garden roses and peonies and we had an apple tree that blossomed every year. So flowers were a part of my life for as long as I can remember. It’s just part of me.

What were some of the biggest mistakes you made in those early years?

I didn’t really understand the concept of a real business plan. It took awhile for us to fall into a rhythm and consider things like the importance of branding and marketing. I actually started a business course specifically so that no one would ever go through those mistakes that I made, hopefully ever again. There were a lot of lessons learned the hard way.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?

A lot of times, it depends on my mood. I think that if I’m just designing for myself specifically, I work off of the shape and the flowers themselves. I took a long walk yesterday in our neighborhood and was admiring all of the blossoming branches right now, their curves, their negative space.

For our clients, I go back to my art history background, and consider Dutch impressionist paintings. Really rich, beautiful colors and still life styles. For our special events and weddings, that seems to be kind of a style that has stuck for us.

Tell me a little bit more about the way you source your materials. 

We work with a lot of our local farms here in Chicago. There’s a lot of urban farms that have popped up throughout the years, which is incredibly exciting because they are very community organized businesses. Often they’re bringing people in from lower income communities and teaching them new job skills in the food industry and the floral industry. So in the summer and spring, we source a lot from them. Then I have a really fantastic wholesaler here in Chicago that brings in product from around the world. Then we have a couple of others that drop ship to us.

Photo courtesy of Jaclyn Simpson Photography and Fleur, Inc.

How did you begin to source gift lines for your brick-and-mortar?

Our gifts business actually took over from our floral last year. Weddings are 45% of our business, and the remaining is our retail, which is really cool because I feel like in this day and age, gift shops have a hard time. So that’s something I’m really proud of.

Originally, I reached out to a lot of local artists to bring in as much product that was made here in Chicago or designed here in Chicago. Later, we’d go out to New York for the gift shows. When we learned about Faire, I was really excited because a lot of the artists that I had been wanting to reach out to were all there ready for me so it was really easy to connect with people, and talk to them directly. 

How have you continued to learn and develop over the past 18 years?

There are times where I am really obsessed with the creative side of it. I paint because of my background, so my water colors are really important to me. But then there are other times that I find the business side to be equally as exciting and creative. I am probably one of the few people that really enjoy QuickBooks, other than my accountant.I’m happy that I have the balance of both where I can step away from work, close my eyes and I can paint or I can step away and I can get really excited about number crunching.

What were the first signs of slowdown you experienced as a result of COVID-19 ?

Once the word started to spread throughout Chicago, sales started to drop by half as soon as the word “shutdown” became introduced. Then something really surprised me. Once we announced that we were going to be shutting down, our neighborhood just came out for us. We delivered more deliveries in those three days than the entire month of March total. That was exhausting and probably the most invigorating part of owning my business in these past 18 years.

We slowed down after that. Now we’re back up and running, in a small capacity, and we’re able to offer curbside pickups. People are still coming out. Our sales are definitely not what they were but, right now, we’re just focusing on creating more unique access to product for our customers.

What lessons or tips can you share with other retailers who might be opening back up for curbside?

I took yesterday off for just a brain break and I went to one of my favorite nurseries to see how they were transitioning. I bumped into the owner and we had a great conversation about the structure and the systems that are being put into place.

We have a little table at our front door that’s outside. So, when guests come for their curbside pickup, they call us, give us their order number or their name and we hand everything over to them. I kind of like the slow rollout because now we’re starting to figure out how we need to move the furniture around in our retail space for when we do have customers allowed back in.

Photo courtesy of Jamie Kelter Davis Photography and Fleur, Inc.

We’re looking into the plastic screens that will be around our counter to protect anyone who’s being rung up. It’s really about creating a very way for customers to walk in, walk out, find what it is they want. Just make sure that your store is completely organized, so if they have something specific they’re looking for, you know where to direct them to it. 

How have you been using your blog and email to stay connected with the community?

It isn’t just about the economy, it’s about making our customers feel really good about their purchases too. I want to continue to talk about our makers and why it’s important to shop from them.

I think a lot of people forget that when you order a flower delivery from us or a candle delivery from us, you’re not only supporting us but you’re supporting those local farms. You’re also supporting some of our drivers who we’ve hired, who work in the special events industry. It’s a huge chain and I just want to make sure that we continue to educate our customers through our blog and our email channels so they understand how special their purchases are from us.

How do you stay motivated about the future of local retail?

Honestly, I love my job so much and I love my staff and I love our customers. I’ve had my ups and downs these last 50-some days but I have had more moments of crying happy tears than I have from any kind of meltdown. That really speaks volumes. People understand the importance of buying local now more than ever.

What would be one piece of advice or encouragement you would want to give to fellow retailers?

Don’t give up right now. It’s hard and we’re all tired. But make sure you give yourself that one day to close the computer, to shut off any apps. I did that yesterday and I just feel like a different human today. 

And never stop learning. Never stop educating yourself. We have to work together. There are so many things we can learn from one another so stay connected.

You can subscribe and listen to Brick & Order on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, SimpleCast, Spotify, and Stitcher.

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