Flower Shop

Harlem-based florist offers secrets for combining creative designs and distinct flowers

Car horns blare over the crowded stoops on the corner of 112th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. In the middle of the block, Katrina Parris Flowers (www.katrinaparrisflowers.com), a high-end floral design shop, provides a quiet sanctuary amid the clamor. Inside the 1,200-square-foot loft space, the scents of red and white hocus pocus roses, purple lilacs imported from California, and novelty gladiolas enchant visitors.

In 2002, Katrina Parris-Pinn and her husband, Mark, began operating a floral business out of their small, one-bedroom Manhattan apartment. When they realized the business was outgrowing their apartment, they started looking for a retail space. They got help from a team of consultants working pro bono for the William J. Clinton Foundation’s Small Business Initiative, which at the time was a pilot program. The team, which included employees from Booz Allen Hamilton, a global strategy and technology consulting firm, and students at New York University’s Stern School of Business, worked with the couple for a year, helping them find a space, develop operational policies, and conduct interviews and surveys. In 2003, Katrina and Mark moved to their current location in the heart of Harlem.

The consultant team also helped the couple realize what they had already suspected: The money-making aspect of their business wasn’t the retail end; it was Katrina’s creative floral designs.

Katrina and Mark operate the business under the assumption that there is no substitute for a personal, creative touch. “We are very hands-on, very personable. Our notes are handwritten,” says Katrina, who adds that each floral arrangement is unique. Jenny Sparks, vice president of marketing at the Society of American Florists agrees. “There will always be a need for florists because you are buying a high level of service. Consumers want the freshness, the guarantee, the presentation.”

Although the couple’s original intent was to borrow $150,000 from the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone, having to navigate the red tape turned out to be a blessing in disguise. They learned to operate their business more frugally and borrowed only $30,000. And with $50,000 in personal savings and a $12,000 line of credit from HSBC bank, the couple became entrepreneurs. Company revenues have tripled since the first year from $50,000 to more than $250,000 in 2005.

GETTING STARTED
Thinking of opening a shop? Follow these tips:

  • Have realistic expectations. Try working in a flower shop to get a feel for it. “People think the flower business is an easy, pretty, fun thing. It isn’t. You’re cutting yourself, getting your hands dirty, you’re on your feet a lot,” says Katrina.
  • Do your research. Karl M. Kellner, partner at Booz Allen Hamilton, also suggests interviewing competitors. Booz Allen research helped Katrina and Mark find out their competitors had problems with high turnover because of low pay in the business.
  • Get to know wholesalers and distributors. You need to have a good relationship with the companies you’re getting your product from. Industry groups such as Wholesale Florist & Florist Supplier Association (www.wffsa.org) and Master Florists Association (www.masterfloristsassn.org) may have resources florists and aspiring florists can tap.
  • Try
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