8 Years of Carolina Flowers: Reflections on Year 5


I am more birthday-oriented than most business owners, I suppose. I saw another business owner over the weekend and remarked that it’s her business birthday too! (We opened at the same time.) She had forgotten!

I think 8 years is worth celebrating, especially in this moment. I have been working on lots of brainstorming projects about the next steps for Carolina Flowers. I’ve been pondering for more than a year now, and I’m almost at the end of the thinking stage — I think. So with that progress in mind, this birthday feels more momentous than most.

As part of my birthday celebrations — and ponderings— I’ve been looking back on 8 years of Carolina Flowers. So today, I’m thinking about Year 5, which began in June 2020 and ended in 2021. What a year it was — one of the hardest.

If you would like to read about years 1-3, click here to see the blog posts.

April and May 2020 were like getting shot out of a cannon with 250 percent growth in each month, year-over-year.

When June fell back to 177 percent growth, the “slow down” was a bit unsettling. In addition to delivering flowers, we were delivering groceries from our farmer friends to help people access fresh produce during COVID. We developed so many new systems to handle this increase in volume, including our delivery labeling system we still use today. (We use word labels instead of numbers to avoid confusion.)

June 2020 also opened with our photoshoot for Southern Living. The article wouldn’t run until the following spring, and I was in disbelief that we landed such a huge opportunity after three years of farming. Our story is a good one, don’t get me wrong. But it’s a big honor to be featured, and I was nervous the magazine editors would suddenly change their minds. They didn’t — here’s a link to the article. But I was absolutely curdling with anxiety the entire time.

So much has changed since the article came out. The family history remains and is very much a part of the business, as is the commitment to sustainable agriculture, but the husband and the last name are relics. Maybe some of my anxiety was about the ways the article would anchor the past.

2020 was a really wonderful year for flowers. We had lots of blooms — I had just gotten really good at growing, but I hadn’t learned to be as strict about limiting what we grow to saleable amounts, so some of the photos from 2020 are phenomenal. Of course, they also represent money left on the table, but we can also agree excellent photos are worth something.

These days, I have a saying, “I like my flower farm green like my money,” and most of the time, our flower farm is pretty green. Lots of flowers in the field means lost money — because you can’t sell a flower that’s blown out in the field.

The grocery concept I had been working on since March became its own business in August 2020 with its own separate website and brand. It was called Zadie’s, and it still exists as a restaurant, although I’m no longer involved. It was an amazing way to learn about business. Working on two sets of financials at once helps see cash flow more clearly. It cultivates a more detached mindset, helps separate business decisions from emotional ones. Eventually, as I launched additional businesses, I would be monitoring four sets of small business financials at the same time.

This entrepreneurship frenzy was, debatably, a bad decision. But it was cheaper than business school, and I promise you I learned more practical information than you’ll find in an MBA program. I might have also shortened my life by a few years.

These days, I only own Carolina Flowers, and happily so!

Halfway through Year 5, Melissa, our farm manager, came on board and changed everything! Melissa was a fellow farmers market vendor, and she bought flowers from me for her wedding. She has an immediately recognizable quiet intelligence and resiliency, so that summer, I tried to head hunt her from the farm where she was working. A loyal employee, she wouldn’t leave. But later that fall, when her contract was up, she came to see me! I am so lucky she did!

Hiring a farm manager was certainly bittersweet. It explicitly meant I would do less farming. I was in denial about how much less — a lot less. And each year, I say, “Soon I’ll work more often at the farm.” It never happens. With Melissa, the farm doesn’t need me for the day-to-day operations. I monitor crops. I fill in on weekends. I do management stuff. I work on infrastructure projects. I order supplies and plants. Sometimes I spend a couple of hours planting or weeding, but not often. This year, for the first time, I have a home garden to get my fix.

That winter was a snowy one. Do you remember? We had several deep snowfalls of 6 to 9 inches. By that time, we had worked our way up to three high tunnels, and what a life saver they were for keeping snow off winter crops, even if we did have to remove the snow from their roofs.

Around this same time, I made the decision to make Zadie’s a brick-and-mortar and combine the grocery store with a restaurant. If I could undo any decision, it would be that one. Owning a restaurant is hard and fraught, and the way I went about it was very inside out. Although the story of that business isn’t really relevant — and I’m not sure I’ll ever tell it to completion — the restaurant’s continued existence is testament to some very hard work and very intense maneuvers. All this work was incredibly distracting, of course, and when I finally put it aside at the end of 2022, I saw so clearly how strong and deserving of more time and attention the flower business had become!

However, the upside of Zadie’s meant that I got to hire shared staff, people who worked for both businesses. This increased payroll opportunity meant I could hire my friend Angeli to do marketing and photography, and we benefitted from some incredible images during this time! She’s also such a smart and stabilizing person, and having some admin help really revolutionized systems. The flower business hasn’t had an admin person since she got recruited to do internal communications for a solar company, but all that will change soon!

Like my cousin Grace, Angeli helped me learn to manage people. It takes lots of patience and tolerance to shape a lone-wolf entrepreneur like I used to be into a team player who gives gentle and constructive feedback. It’s a learn as you go. I was lucky to have guinea pigs who would let me mess up, tell me when I was wrong and give me another chance.

At the end of Year 5, that Southern Living article came out. It didn’t change everything. It was part of such an unusual series of events, it’s hard to tell exactly what it did change. I remember feeling anxious and relieved. I didn’t really broadcast locally that we’d achieved a stunning PR feat. Looking back on it, I wish I had bragged a little more, gotten a few more legs out of it. But I guess I’m bragging now?

My friend Natalie, who owns a flower shop in San Diego, happened to be in town when the article came out. It was a funny concurrence. Natalie really is a big shot. Her flower business, Native Poppy, is famous in the industry. It was nice to feel a little bit like a big shot too, I guess.

I met Natalie just before COVID, and staying in touch throughout Year 5 was another one of the highlights. It’s important to have mentors and friends!

Gosh, I feel tired just looking back on Year 5. I would certainly say it was our most tumultuous year. For the business, it wasn’t a huge growth year, but we did replace any revenue that had been from groceries with flower revenue. And then some! A feat in itself.

That slow steady growth was about to change. Year 6 was one of our biggest growth years of all time. And it was going to rock my world in a whole new way.

1 comment

  • Emily

    So interested to hear how this is landing with people! What questions can I answer for you?

Leave a comment

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.