by Stacy Dunn
Two years ago, Sharon McInytre Stewart got a golden retriever she named John Denver and bought a vintage 1985 RV which friends helped her fix up and paint pink. She drove the RV and the dog to the shore to camp for the summer. During that time, she planned the opening of her own floral business called Bloom House Flowers, located in downtown Kensington.
“I saved my money that summer and sold the RV at the end of the season to set up the flower shop,” says the floral designer, who has a three decades of experience working for other floral retailers. “The business started with a lot of collaboration with friends. They volunteered to receive, pack and ship product, and other general duties of running the store.
“I did a lot of upcycling in the beginning. Friends would bring in vases and plant stands so I could display the arrangements. It took a village to get this shop going and I am grateful for that.”
Sharon says she is also grateful to the Self Employ PEI program, offered through SkillsPEI. Self Employ PEI is an employment program developed to help job seekers who want to launch their own business. This program provides financial support and business counselling to new entrepreneurs during their first year of operation.
“It was a huge help because I still had to pay rent and purchase most of my flowers and plants from suppliers in Nova Scotia and Ontario. I get peonies and lavender locally when in season. All the money Bloom House made its first year went back into the store.”
She says she put in 100 hours a week to get her business off the ground. Sharon opened the doors with her furry associate John Denver in November 2019. She set up a Facebook page with photos of her dog among the flowers and plants and contacted people and places she knew would use her services, such as wedding planners, funeral homes, and hospitals.
“My biggest focus was supporting local florist suppliers, artisans, and craftspeople. Supporting local lifts everyone up. When Somerset Gardens started a cutting service last summer, I bought cuttings from them.”
Customer support, both local and Island-wide, was positive. A few months later, when COVID-19 measures were announced, Sharon was able to find ways to adjust to the new reality.
“As a brand new business, if I had closed all operations, I wouldn’t have been able to reopen,” she says. “So, I offered curbside pickup and free deliveries. Vanco Farms was a big help supplying tulips. Then plants became a hot trend because people wanted something to care for, something that made them feel good, that would bring the outside in.”
She took pictures of the plants in stock, posted them on Facebook, and business took off. Sharon got more social media support via the Facebook group PEI Plant Pals. “My business grew during the pandemic because local was supporting local, and that’s what a new business needs.”
One staff person works during the week and a student works on the weekends. They help Sharon with a little bit of everything: customer service, floral arranging, unpacking, shipping, and delivering. “It’s a multitasking environment where you need to be creative and know your flowers really well.”
In the near future, she may hire another employee to keep up with demand. Special occasions like Mother’s Day and graduation are busy at Bloom House.
Running a floral business
Interest and experience in floral design, as well as creativity and knowledge of plants and flowers, are needed to run a flower shop. “You need a good grasp on upcoming trends because you need to stay one step ahead. I see trends in décor magazines and other media. For example, macramé plant holders are making a comeback. A local woman makes them for me, 20 at a time sometimes.”
John Denver the dog has been a good mascot. “People see him on Facebook and come into the store just to sit with him. He’s a calm dog and has a relaxing influence, just like a therapy dog. He knows when people need him.”
Sharon says opening a business is hard work and long hours. “You have to find that niche, and a product nobody else has. I get my soaps and candles from family-owned companies. I worked with a candle maker in Winnipeg to create a scented candle specifically for this shop called ‘Back Home Again Prince Edward Island’. Customers have bought this candle to send to family and friends off-Island to make them think of home during this pandemic.”
She loves to give back to the community, and gave an on-the-job training experience to a Career Bridges participant. She also created a soap to raise money for the Kensington Food Bank. “You’re very safe in this community. Everyone looks after everybody. That’s key.”
For more information on the Self Employ PEI program, visit www.princeedwardisland.ca/en/service/self-employ-pei