8 Years of Carolina Flowers: Reflections on Year 2

The second year of Carolina Flowers, which ran June 2017-2018, was a banner year because I quit my full-time job — right at the beginning in June.


Could I safely afford to do it? Was the business big enough to support me? No and no. But I was 27 years old, and I didn’t want anything else, so it worked out. I don’t remember it being financially difficult. I don’t remember denying myself anything that I wanted. I wanted the farm so badly I didn’t really think about anything else. (And I had treated myself to a trip to Iceland in April 2017, so I was good on travel for a bit.)


I had an idea back in 2016, based on reading The Flower Farmer by Lynn Byczynski. I was going to grow flowers exclusively for florists and drive around in my van a couple of times a week, selling out of the back.


I didn’t have a van. Perhaps that’s the reason I immediately began selling flowers every other way. I lucked into my first wedding through a friend of a friend, and managed to book several more for 2017. What I lacked in floral design experience, I made up for in writing skills — which translated to sales skills.


My floral designs were passable due to high quality flowers and lots of them. I didn’t know how to recipe or budget in those days, so I just kept adding flowers until things looked OK. When I look back on those designs, I know my clients got a good deal regardless of my inexperience — and I showed up and worked hard.


I began attending farmers markets at the end of 2016 and gained experience and confidence throughout 2016. I was lucky to get in. I asked to share a booth with another vendor, but the market manager, Mike McCreary, encouraged me to take my own booth. I don’t know what would have happened if he hadn’t opened the door to us. When I see him, even today, I feel like he is the Statue of Liberty or something, and although he is a grumpy curmudgeon with angry eyebrows (like me) and a big mustache (not like me, I hope), I feel so happy every time I see him!


Suffice it to say, my business plan was the opposite of what I had planned. I did take a small business course at Mountain Bizworks, so I had a plan. But what I did really didn’t resemble it. What I would tell a business owner who is just starting out is: Do what you need to do to get that first year of data. Say yes to everything. Try everything. Keep going. Once you have a year of sales on paper, it’s easier to evaluate what’s working and what’s not. I take a lot of flack for being a generalist and taking on too many sales lines, but the process has served me well. Part of the trick is cutting things that don’t work.


My other lucky break in the early days was support and assistance from my cousin, Grace, who just so happened to move to Asheville in 2017. She is my mom’s cousin, so she’s my first cousin once removed, but definitely an auntie in the community sense. And a really smart human being. I still don’t understand exactly what she did for a living after all these years, but she had just retired from managing health centers in Philadelphia in a really fancy and smart way. Or managing people who managed them, I suppose.


Plus, Grace grew up on our family’s flower farm. My grandfather grew up in Lancaster County, where he grew carnations on land that had been in the family for six generations (and still is today). It was part of family lore, and Grace helped make the connection stronger. She gave me confidence in general, whether it was showing me rubber band tricks from the family business or simply listening to me or trying not to get mad when I delivered instructions badly. She was the guinea pig for my management skills, which I will be working on my whole life long, but she took years off the time it took me to become passable.


All that to say, if you’re in a position to support someone or advocate for them as they begin a new venture, keep showing up. You have no idea how much difference it makes! I owe so much of Carolina Flowers to the people who opened doors in the early days: Martha and Mike and Grace.


So that’s year two of Carolina Flowers. I was self employed (for the second time in my life — I had spent a happy year as a freelance writer a few years before). I was trying everything. I was not sticking to the plan. I had a lot of support and help, and I was lucky. And I wasn’t sleeping that much.


Some of you remember those days! Some of you were there! And that’s one of the special things about looking back now. Some of you have been with us all along, and I hope as we celebrate eight years, you’ll celebrate with us! Carolina Flowers is your achievement too!

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