The Flower Center
By: Terri McClung
This is the seventh in the series of interviews conducted by the Alleghany Highlands Economic Development Corporation about small business entrepreneurship in our area.
The Alleghany Highlands Economic Development Corporation offers entrepreneurial services, one-on-one business planning assistance, training, mentoring and operational assistance to existing local small businesses and startups.
I recently sat down with Erin Yancey Huffman of The Flower Center located at 400 E. Ridgeway Street in Clifton Forge to get her view on the life of being a small business entrepreneur in the Alleghany Highlands. Erin can be reached by calling 540.862.1979.
Erin is a native of the Covington area; the daughter of the Ed and Peggy Yancey, she attended the local elementary schools and graduated from Covington High School in 1998.
She then went to Dabney S. Lancaster Community College and graduated with an Associate Degree in Arts and Sciences. At that time she wanted to be a teacher and move forward with her teaching degree.
She resides in Valley Ridge with her husband, Chris, of 14 years and their three sons, Tyler, who just graduated from Alleghany High School, Nate will be a senior this upcoming year and Braedon will soon be 9.
What ignited the spark in you to start your business?
I really think it was a combination of a few things. I have been in the business a while, I worked previously here and there in other flower shops.
I had some relatives that owned a flower shop in Covington and I worked for them during their busy times while I was in high school.
Later I also worked for another flower shop in Covington. I liked the flower business but wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do with my life.
I thought I wanted to be a teacher and worked as a teacher’s aide and I soon realized that I did not have it in me to be a teacher. I just could not do what they do.
My mother in law previously owned this flower shop. She lost her florist designer right before Valentine’s Day and thought she was going to have to close due to not being able to handle the volume.
I told her I would come help her and make it happen and never left. I stayed with her for about 10 years and when she was ready to retire I bought the business from her and moved across town.
She was a big inspiration to me by owning her business and keeping the business. The Flower Center has been here since 1956.
What motivates you?
I think I am really motivated by wanting to succeed as a woman business owner.
This is a small town and it is hard to own a small business anywhere, but especially hard in a super small town.
I really really want to promote local people. I carry Big Fat Jerry’s coffee and spices, gifts of Saved By Grace, Stella Kate Jewelry, and I try keeping all my merchandise locally made and handmade as much as I possibly can.
Supporting the community, the town and the people are very important to me.
How do you find people to bring into your organization that truly care about the business as much as you?
You have to like flowers, which is very important but you have to like making people happy. Even when we are doing flowers for a funeral it is critical for us to be their bright spot in somebody’s not so bright day.
There is always good that comes out of every situation and if they can look at those flowers and say, “Those are beautiful” that is good enough for me. I tell my girls to always be kind. It is essential to be nice to people; life is just too short!
So we always try putting our best foot forward and treat everybody the same, no matter where they come from or what they have to spend, I think everybody deserves to have flowers if they want them.
What is your favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
I like being able to set my own schedule. I have never been a person to take orders or be bossed around. I am just that way and I always have been.
You still have to answer to people and take orders when dealing with the public.
I really try to be as accommodating as I can but you can’t schedule a funeral. If someone is having a funeral on a Sunday and I can possibly be here to service them, then I will.
But like the Fourth of July is coming up and it is on a Tuesday so we are taking Monday and Tuesday off so we can take the kids camping. I can do this because I own my business, where if I worked for someone else I might not be able to do that.
What would you say are the five key elements for running a successful business?
- Always pay your bills first.
- Pay yourself last, you can’t ignore Uncle Sam.
- Stay in as little debt as possible.
- Being kind to people always; you never know what people are dealing with when they come in, what their situation is or entails. Sometimes they will come just to talk and we will stop what we are doing and talk. Sometimes people just need to talk to someone and this is important to me.
- Put forward our best product all the time. I try to order as fresh as I can. I do not like to mail order flowers. You never know what condition they are going to be in when they come in. I try to order from local wholesalers that I can hold accountable, and I get replacements if things do not look good. Getting the freshest product available each time.
If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?
I don’t think I would do anything different.
You have to make mistakes to learn and if you don’t make mistakes then you can’t move forward as a successful person.
I know that I make mistakes every day but I can really try hard to learn from those mistakes and grow and become a better person, a better child of God, and a better business woman.
I strive for that everyday so I think I would just keep it the same.
If you had one piece of advice to someone starting out, what would it be?
Sit down and do your research. Just because you know how to make a vase of flowers doesn’t mean that you are going to have all the pieces in place that you need to run a successful business.
There is more to it than just the art; you have to be able to work the books, figure the taxes, etc.
You have to be able to do all those things and it is good to know how to do these things before you start so you do not get behind initially and end up in trouble before you get your feet firmly on the ground.
It is important to do your research!
How do you build a successful customer base?
I know I have said this a hundred times, but always be kind. There is no reason to be ugly to anybody ever, in my opinion.
I think being sympathetic to their situation and to work with them as much as you can. Not everybody can afford the $6,000 wedding flowers or a $700 casket spray; they need things and they need to be able to have them accessible to their price bracket.
People need you to be kind about these things; you can’t judge books by their covers because sometimes there is more to a story than you know.
You have to get out in public and show your face. You have to let them know that you are one of them. A lot of people have the misconception that because you own a storefront, you are swimming in money and your nose is above the world. What I own is debt.
I love to help people and I do the best I but there is a limit to what I can do. Sometimes I want to give to fundraisers and I can’t give what I would like to give, but I do what I can do.
It is my business to put my best foot forward every day and be kind. I talk to people the way I would want them to talk to me and so far it has worked.
My customers know if they call and do not get an answer to leave a message and I will get back to them as soon as I can.
I would like to also mention that we rent linens, wedding equipment, some new farm style wedding items, and we also do tuxedos and suits.
You can come in and get measured. I have had people come in and get suits for graduation because they didn’t own one.
You can also rent a tie to match someone’s dress for an event! We rented lots of ties for the Pink Tie Gala.
If you need a pair of dress pants for a funeral or something else, we can do that. In most cases, all we need is a 24 hour notice.
We try to be a one stop wedding shop where you can get all your necessities.
My mom has her own corner here with her own special items. She loves to craft and gets on Pinterest and does her own items.