Graduating from Glenwood School in Smiths Station, Ala., Jenna Griggs felt she knew what her career path would be. So she enrolled at Auburn University with the goal of becoming a pharmacist.
But, as often happens, fate intervened. Family friends, Otis and Janet Denham, invited Griggs to work over a summer at Denham's Florist on South Lumpkin Road in Columbus. Show her the ropes of being a floral designer they did.
That led to Griggs, who is 29 today, deciding to leave college and open her own flower and gift shop, A Perfect Petal, on Mullins Road in Smiths Station, with the help of her parents. That was a decade ago.
Then, as fate would have it once again, the Denhams decided it was time for retirement and offered to sell their flower store in Columbus to Griggs. She jumped at the opportunity four years ago, operating it and A Perfect Petal simultaneously for two years before deciding Denham's Florist kept her busy enough itself.
The floral industry is filled with floral designers who craft arrangements for weddings, funerals and all kinds of life events in between.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates there are 62,400 floral designers across the nation, with about 26 percent of them self employed. The median salary is $23,810 per year, with the bureau estimating there will be an 8 percent decline (5,000 positions) in floral employment by the year 2022.
"Floral designers use their sense of artistry and knowledge of different types of flowers to choose the appropriate flowers for each occasion," says the BLS summary of the profession.
The Ledger-Enquirer visited with Griggs recently to discuss her job, what it takes to make wedding customers happy, and the challenges she faces. This interview is edited a bit for length and clarity.
Why is this south Columbus location so good for you?
We do a lot with Fort Benning. We do change of command ceremonies, the memorial wreaths that they need for the holidays. We do the National Infantry Museum. (The Denhams) have always done a lot of military, because Otis Denham, who was the original owner, is retired military.
I see your building is bright pink?
People notice the pink. ... Whenever anybody needs directions, we say we're the pink building on the right across from the school. So everybody's always able to find it that way.
The Denhams, in essence, helped you get your foot in the door of this industry?
I came to work under Otis and Janet for a summer job before I opened my shop. I came in and worked with them, found out how to do it, and the whole idea was for me to come over here and work for them (full-time).
I came over here and worked for free for three months, because they were training me and teaching me a trade. Then I went over to Smiths Station and my parents helped me open my first business. It was A Perfect Petal. I always said I wanted to buy this one when (the Denhams) retired, because it's such a busy shop.
Why did you take to designing floral arrangements?
I think you just have to have a knack for designing to be a floral designer. It was something that I realized I really enjoyed doing. It came easy. It wasn't anything that was difficult. Not just anybody can come in and be a floral designer. You've got to be able to know how to put things together and make them look right.
Are there formal places to train for this job?
There is a floral school, and a lot of high schools also have floral design. But most people in this industry, they go into a florist shop, they train. They may start out answering phones and helping customers, and then little by little they start training to do floral design.
You might have one person who gets it right away, and then another that just needs to be the person who answers the phones and helps customers. That's how most people get their experience, learning from other designers.
How many hours a day do you put in?
We work from 9 to 5 during a regular week. During Valentine's week, we're here from 6 in the morning until 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning (the next day). Valentine's is crazy; Mother's Day is also crazy.
Saturdays we do our wedding and events, and that is something that has gotten so much busier for us. We work with a few wedding planners here in town and they have been sending us lots of business. We've even started picking up Sunday weddings. We do a lot of weddings on post, at the chapel. And then we do a lot here in Columbus. We go up to Pine Mountain. The farthest we have gone is Newnan.
If you have a wedding or other event, you've got to be there?
Yes. I'm at all of the events that we set up, except maybe one or two a year, and they're very small ones, just a drop-off and we don't have to set anything up for.
What skills do you need to be a really good florist?
You have to have the eye to see that the arrangement flows. When I make an arrangement I want it to be evened out, and not just thrown together. Some people will come in and say I want my flowers to look like I just went outside and picked them and put them in a vase. Me, I want everything to flow and look nice and neat and uniform.
Do you have people look at your designs and want changes?
Oh, yeah. You have people that have an idea of what they want an arrangement to look like, and you make it the way you want it, and they may want to tweak it here and there. But overall I think our customers are very happy about the work that we put out.
The key is making sure up front that you have an idea what they want?
Right. With the weddings and events, if they have pictures of what they like, we have them bring those in. That way we're able to put together exactly what they want.
Are there popular designs or colors?
Baby's breath is very popular for weddings. And now we're going into more of your soft pinks and whites, and everybody likes roses, as well as peonies and hydrangeas ... Colors change. People go from wanting the outdoor country look, the shabby chic, to more of your romantic feel with the pale blushes and whites and cream. That's where we're at right now.
Do you recommend any websites where folks can check flowers and designs?
Pinterest is one that I highly recommend people go and look at because they have so many different weddings. Another one we send people to is theknot.com. It has pictures of all different types of bouquets, centerpieces, boutonnieres for the men's wear, corsages for the moms. They're able to pick their colors from the pictures on the website.
I also have books they're able to look at from work I have done. But you don't always have everything somebody wants, and you don't want to replicate something over and over and over. You want to have new designs to show your new brides who are coming in.
Are most of your customers women?
Except for Valentine's Day. That's 99 percent men. Most of the time you're dealing with women when it comes to your weddings and events. But the everyday phone calls you get for an anniversary or her birthday, it's a man. But if somebody passes away, for a funeral, you're usually talking to a woman.
How big is your funeral business?
Very big ... The summer is our slowest time. When school is out, business drops dramatically. Your funerals and your weddings stay steady throughout the year; for me they do ... Weddings are about 50 percent of our business, I would say. Especially since we've gotten in with the wedding planners, it's picked up dramatically.
Between your first shop and this one, overlapping the Great Recession, what have you noticed from a consumer standpoint?
I definitely think people cut back on their everyday arrangements. They might not send a birthday or anniversary arrangement. But things are picking back up. As a whole, people are still going to get married. They might get married with a lower budget. But they're still going to have flowers.
What kind of range do people have for their flower budgets?
We had our biggest wedding this past year. They did not give us a budget; they just told us how many arrangements they needed for their table centerpieces and how many bridesmaids they had. But I'll do a wedding if there's one bouquet up to whatever your budget goes to. We don't have a minimum. A lot of people that do weddings, they won't do your event unless it's $1,200. We will do something as low as $100. Whatever your budget is, we can find something that looks good.
Do you have any favorite or popular places where weddings are held, such as Callaway Gardens?
We have some weddings coming up at Callaway Gardens. The two most popular places we go to are the Trade Center and the Rivermill.
How about outdoors?
Oakhurst (Farm) up near Pine Mountain is very popular for an outdoor wedding. You've also got the Rankin Gardens & Atrium downtown. You've got Lake Pines that's becoming popular. There's quite a few venues that people don't know about.
What's the most challenging aspect of your job?
I think the toughest part is time management because we've got a lot of orders coming in that we've got to get out, and most people want it there in the morning. So you've got to make sure that you get all of your deliveries out in a timely manner. That way your customers are satisfied. Because if they're not satisfied, they're going to go to a different florist the next time ... If we give you a time, we do our best to get it there.
What's the most rewarding aspect about your job?
Being able to make people happy. When I first started out, I would close up sometimes in the middle of the day, transfer the phone to my cell phone, and make deliveries. Sometimes my dad would make a delivery, and he said he never realized how important giving a woman flowers was. He said you walk into a business (with a flower delivery) and all of their eyes light up, because they don't know who the flowers are for and they're all hoping that it's for them. He said he never realized it; so now he sends my mom flowers all the time.
So your family is helpful?
They help out a lot. When we have a lot of deliveries for Valentine's Day or Mother's Day, I have a lot of family and friends that will come in and volunteer their time just to help me get everything out and make sure everything runs smoothly. Dad will come sit in the back with us late at night to make sure we're safe.
Any regrets about not taking the pharmacy route?
My dad still tells me to this day, 'Don't you wish you would have just picked pharmacy as a career and you could work three days a week, 12 hours a day.' And I say, 'No, I'm happy what I'm doing.'
And I have two daughters, a 4-year-old and a 5-week-old, and when Rylee has a field trip, I can take off and go on the field trip. I can plan my week around being off work to spend time with her. That's really nice, being self employed and being able to take off when you need it to spend time with your family.