With over 30 years’ experience teaching and lecturing flower design, Vicki Beuth, an FTD Master Designer, brings a full spectrum of knowledge of the floral industry. As the original owner of Leechburg Floral Co. her shop has been putting good design to the forefront.
I am proud to say I have been a florist for over 30 years. I have always loved flowers and being creative, but never realized I would make a living with these passions. Fortunately by pure fate, I took a chance and quit my fulltime job as an advertising rep and took a part-time job in a flower shop. Recently divorced and with three young children, I believed in myself and fell in love with everything about life in a flower shop.
I was far from being a real florist, but I knew I had found my career for life. I rode my bike to work each day as the pay was $3.00 an hour. I swept the walk, cleaned the flowers and even got to deliver flowers. I had a good teacher and very talented designers around me, but I wasn’t allowed to design yet. I could watch and observe though. After I had de-thorned what seemed like an infinite number of roses (in actuality maybe 300) or stripped leaves from boxes and boxes of Chrysanthemums did I start to really know flowers, how they changed with time and how they looked in combinations. Handling flowers every day for me was and is still uplifting in every way!
After a year and a half of being a shop girl I was allowed to arrange only at holiday time when the owner would hire extras to make the same arrangements over and over again. It was very tedious work but a very important aspect to designing a floral arrangement. It also built up my confidence and awakened me to the fact that I wanted to be a real florist. In a Floral Shoppe only the head designers were allowed to talk to brides or important customers. As I now could wait on customers and answer the phone with confidence I happened upon a very unusual customer.
She was older than me and said she was ordering flowers for a special occasion. As I took the order, it was really looking like a wedding order and I said to her “Are you sure you don’t want Kay to take your order?” She said no, she thought I could handle it because it was only a special occasion flower order. The owner said go ahead and I was ecstatic! When the customer picked the order up she was very pleased, as was I. So as it turns out, the order was for a wedding (a second marriage) and a very special occasion for all involved.
By now by confidence was soaring. I knew I needed to move on and up. Through the flower grapevine I heard a shop in Freeport needed a shop manager so I applied. I guess they figured if I could manage three kids I could manage a flower shop. Boy were they wrong! As I arrived the first day I realized I was not only the manager, I was the designer, the cleanup crew, the shop girl – I was it. The part time owner only delivered flowers when called. I had never ordered flowers and had no clue on pricing. It was trial by fire on someone else’s dime. Enter Kenny. The flower business is like a dinosaur business, every day we shop owners or buyers talk to our wholesalers; we get to know them on the good day and the bad days. They are our partners in so many ways. Sometimes you have wholesalers who are shady salespeople, but most wholesalers know they need to build a good honest relationship for a partnership to thrive. Then there are the exceptional wholesalers and I happened to fall into Kenny’s hands. He was a kind voice each morning that always asked me how I was and then ask me if I needed anything on the truck. In the flower business it used to be all orders had to be into the flower wholesalers by 9:00 a.m. so you could receive the order by 11:00 a.m. How they manage to gather all their orders, pack the flowers gently, then load them on delivery trucks to your door in 2 hours is mind boggling! Anyway, Kenny was aware of my inexperience and he took the time to teach me what should be in my cooler every day, how many flower stems come in a bunch, etc. I could have easily ordered ten bunches instead of 10 stems. He helped me prepare holiday orders and listened to me vent my frustrations more times than I could count. Yet we never met for over three years and by this time I had really taken a chance and purchased my own flower shop. I owe a lot to Kenny and all the great salesman I’ve had over the years.
Let’s back up a bit, I’ll tell you how I got into teaching and learning the craft of being a florist. The small size of my shop gave me free time to read all the florist publications. I expanded my knowledge of design and marketing from these publications. Also, being the manager gave me confidence! One day some ladies came into the shop and asked if we taught floral design, I was floored. I tried to keep the window interesting, but teaching? I stood up a little taller and said “We are considering it. Why don’t you leave your name and number and we’ll get back to you.” So in my usual I can do it mode, I talked to the owner and struck a deal. I would keep the money from teaching and they would make money from the flowers and containers. I put a sign in the window and I was up and running. Now I realized I needed some classes myself. So I started to study flower design, taking as many different classes as I could afford. When a ten-week course at Phipps Conservatory came up I jumped on it. This gave me a strong background in tropical plants and opened me up to the world of plant lore, another passion of mine.
Now I was teaching two nights a week and working five days a week. I felt I was ready to take a chance and go into business for myself. I wanted and needed the creative freedom.
I bought an existing shop in Leechburg PA. The shop was 13x30 feet. It had a two-door cooler, some metal display shelves and a small work area, but it had a wonderful tin ceiling and great display windows. It was very small but just the right size for me. I named it Leechburg Floral Company. I didn’t know one person in the town. I lived 15 miles away and had really only been living in Pennsylvania for six years. My family was back home in New York City, so I was a real outsider.
Enter Annie. Annie was my neighbor who was between jobs and husbands (lol). She said she would be glad to help even though I had no money to pay her at the time. We struck a deal, she lived with my kids and me and we worked at the business together. We had so much fun. Annie kept the books and we used her hatchback car to deliver. On days that were slow we’d sit on the store’s front stoop and dream of better days. During our first Halloween in Leechburg, we decided to have a haunted house, by then we knew the Clines, the funeral director and his wife Evelyn. I got up the nerve to ask him to borrow a coffin for a display in the store. He graciously said “Sure, but you’ll have to pick it up.” We couldn’t fit it in the hatchback so we carried it down Market Street. I’m sure we were the talk of the town! When people came in to the shop, some turned around and left when they saw our dressed up dummy and dry ice around this real casket. Like I said earlier, I wanted creative freedom!
Being a florist is about expressing yourself to the world. It’s about having beautiful things around you every day and it’s wonderful to work beside like-minded fellow artists that love plants and flowers as I did and I still do.
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