Business was blooming for Elisha Hodge until her floral shop and boutique in Urbandale became one of many small, locally-owned businesses that had to close its doors to the public to comply with state-mandated orders resulting from the coronavirus.
That was on March 23. Fast-forward to Sunday, April 26, when Hodge, owner of Plumeria Botanical Boutique, at 1364 Michigan Avenue W in Battle Creek, announced via a Facebook post that she will be doing a limited re-open Monday.
Hodge says, “I’ve been holding my breath waiting to reopen. It’s not a full open so the storefront will be closed, but we’re able to do pickups and deliveries.
“People are still looking to feel normal and spread joy and they want send flowers to people to let them know they care.”
During business hours, she and one of five part-time employees who will come in on a rotating basis will be inside the shop with gloves and masks on and social distancing guidelines followed.
The timing, she says, could not be better since the time period heading into Spring is traditionally the busiest time of year for a florist.
“A year ago, May was the busiest month for booked weddings. We had events booked, (even double and triple booked) every weekend. Major life events we were celebrating included proms, graduations, baby showers, weddings, and bridal showers,” Hodge says. “My business had weekly corporate accounts we were filling, such as the hospital gift shop. We were preparing for Mother’s Day. It’s a florist’s busiest holiday.
A flower arrangement put together by Hodge
“We were also preparing for our annual Memorial Day Flower Foundation fundraiser and event. For this event, we place thousands of roses on our local veterans’ interments at Fort Custer National Cemetery.”
Even with current limitations, Hodge says she is looking ahead to opportunities to fill orders for these special events and holidays.
Like so many smaller businesses, Plumeria has experienced the challenges presented by the shutdown. She says, “The flower industry is a multi-billion dollar industry. The global economy has been significantly affected -- growers unable to get flowers to their wholesalers, wholesalers unable to sell to retailers, retailers unable to be open to the public. This is the busiest time of year, for florists.”
When she knew she would have to temporarily close Plumeria to in-person contact, she says the first thing she thought about was how she would be able to continue to take care of her employees and make sure they continued to get paid and had everything they needed.
When she started her business, it was her and her mother. As the business grew, she was able to hire employees.
“If it had been just my mom and me, we would have been fine, but when I’m responsible for other people and their families, it’s different,” Hodge says. “I thought about how I could keep payroll going and what kind of government assistance was available for my employees.”
Hodge was able to continue to pay her staff of four part-time employees their regular pay every two weeks because she has strategic funds set aside for emergency purposes.
During the closure of her five-year-old business to the public, Hodge says she found creative ways to maintain connections with her customers and the community. She held Facebook Live events every Saturday which offered live tutorials to show people how to use the DIY kits which contained live plants that they ordered from her. She also partnered with local restaurants who purchased flowers from her to make bouquets to include with the meals they were putting together to fill take-out orders.
She credits a loyal customer base who have been “unbelievably supportive” with keeping her business going. “They have shown their support by actively following us on social media and writing reviews, continuing to make purchases and pre-orders, over the phone, from websites, and gift cards,” Hodge says.
“One day, I was completely floored because it was almost just as busy as a regular day. I did anything I could to stay relevant. Mentally, I totally needed to stay busy. If I didn’t have the resources to know every aspect of the business I would have had to have closed completely.”
A bit of quarantine humor at Plumerica.
Her knowledge of every aspect of the business made it possible for her to find ways to ship items to her customers, using the United States Postal Service, in addition to establishing partnerships with other essential businesses to pair her products with their services. She says she also has been building up the foundation of Plumeria business with a new website, e-commerce, blog writing, and updating of a catalog and records.
The biggest challenge, she says, will be getting supplies because the wholesaler she uses won’t be open until May 1, but she says it’s an obstacle that will have to be overcome.
“There are limitations for all kinds of industries and we’ll have to figure out how to handle them and work together,” Hodge says.
Looking several months ahead to what her business may look like, she says, “We will recover and be stronger. We will have our e-commerce portion of the business up and running. We will have another full-time flower designer hired. We currently have plans for expansion, so we hope to have that completed by this time next year.
“All of us can support each other during this time, we just have to keep the economy going until we can all be fully operational again.”