If you’re going to a wedding, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair …
Fifty years ago, those words ruled the air waves. However, fans of ‘60s music will undoubtedly notice we’ve substituted “a wedding” for “San Francisco”. The song, written by John Phillips of The Mamas & the Papas, performed by Scott McKenzie and released in May 1967, became the anthem of the “Summer of Love”. Appropriately enough, on this, the song’s 50th anniversary, wearing flowers in your hair on your wedding day is very much in style.
Jill Hoffines-Erb, owner of Floral Designs of Mount Joy, verifies that today’s brides are requesting floral accents for their hair. “Brides are interested in everything from one dramatic flower tucked into the hair to crowns made of flowers and succulents,” she says. And, if the West Coast is any indication, the trend will only gain momentum as it makes its way east. According to Erin Benzakein, owner of Floret Flower Farm in Washington’s Skagit Valley, West Coast brides have upped the ante and are also requesting that floral designers fashion necklaces, earrings and bracelets from flowers and succulents for their wedding-day looks. Jill says it’s all part of an organic dynamic that is defining the look of today’s weddings.
Jill is celebrating a milestone of her own this year. Fifteen years ago, she opened Floral Designs of Mount Joy during Valentine’s week. Jill credits her mother, Linda Hoffines, for encouraging her to develop her talents. “She saw that I had a good eye for color,” says Jill, who grew up on a farm in the Maytown area. Classes sponsored by 4-H helped Jill to further develop her talents. At the age of 16, Jill launched her career with a part-time job.
“My grandma was a regular customer of Charlie Ruhl’s in Mount Joy, so I asked him for a job,” she continues. Ruhl’s, she explains, was an “old-school” flower shop, complete with greenhouses in which product was grown. “I started in the greenhouse, planting, weeding and cutting flowers,” she reminisces. Eventually, she moved into design work.
Jill’s next stop was Penn College, where she majored in floral design and interior plantscape. She continued to work at Ruhl’s during summers and holidays and returned full time after graduating. “I saw they were going in another direction,” she says of Ruhl’s decision to step away from wedding work. Jill began to contemplate her next career move.
That’s when Linda and Bob Hoffines made their daughter an offer: They would provide their support and knowledge if she was interested in opening her own business. They didn’t have to ask twice. Jill found a former convenience store for rent in the center of Mount Joy and set up shop. “Looking back, it was a crazy decision to open Valentine’s week. But, it ended up being an opportune time – it really got people acquainted with us,” she recalls. “On that first Valentine’s Day, we were sold out by 2 p.m. There was literally nothing left to sell!” Fifteen years later, Jill remains dubious, observing, “I think I was young and naïve. I don’t know if I’d be brave enough to do it again!” Her first wedding assignment followed shortly thereafter.
Through it all, Floral Designs of Mount Joy has been a family affair. Linda, who is a retired teacher, would help with deliveries when the school day ended. Jill’s sister, Amy, who works across the street at Union Community Bank, often pops in during her lunch break to work on the books. Jill’s father and her brother, Peter, help with deliveries. They also help to set up and tear down weddings, as does Jill’s husband, Shawn Erb.
She also regards her 11 employees as extended family members. “This is a tough industry,” she admits. “The hours are long, and a lot of holidays and weekends are required.” Indeed, 50 years ago, the neighborhood florist was a staple in America. However, economic downturns and the rise of Internet sites have caused their numbers to plummet. According to the New York Times, between 2000 and 2015, nearly 14,000 shops closed their doors in the United States. The U.S. Census reports that a little more than 14,000 shops existed nationwide in 2013.
Jill, who was one of Central Penn Business Journal’s “40 Under 40” honorees in 2014, is of the opinion that “if you stay the same, you are not moving forward.” This spring, Floral Designs of Mount Joy will do just that – the business will be moving a few miles west on Main Street. “We outgrew the building eight years ago,” she says, adding that over that time period, she has relied on six storage facilities around town to conduct business. “The new shop will allow us to operate more efficiently and work smarter.”
Family also figured into the design of the new building. “Shawn and I designed it,” she says, referring to her husband of 10 years, and whose company, Erb’s Construction, just happens to be the general contractor for the project. They met as a result of Shawn coming into the shop to buy flowers for his mother. When Jill needed work done at the shop, she hired Shawn. When the work was completed, he asked Jill if she’d like to go out sometime.
“Customer reaction has been very positive,” she reports. “They are excited for us and can’t wait to see the results.” The open floor plan will allow customers to watch the staff at work. It will also provide increased display areas and a larger conference room. The cooler will be truck accessible. And, storage will become a non-issue.
The popularity of the tight, mounded bouquets that Martha Stewart championed is being replaced by what Jill calls the “organic look.” Think of an armful of flowers just plucked from the garden, accented with a variety of greenery and tied with silk or satin ribbons. “It’s natural in feel and texture. It almost looks free form,” Jill explains. “It brings nature into the design,” she says of elements such as succulents, herbs and even perennials like astilbe.
Flowers with heavy petal counts – peonies, dahlia and garden roses – only add to the lush, natural look. “And, it’s a perfect look for Lancaster County,” she notes, citing the barns, historical sites and outdoor spaces that now comprise our wedding venues.
According to Jill, florals have joined the dress and cake in setting the tone for weddings. “Couples want to present the full experience to their guests,” says Jill, and as the saying goes, nothing says welcome, we love you, or thank you for celebrating with us better than flowers. “Couples are looking to create an atmosphere with their floral choices,” she says of designs that go beyond bouquets and centerpieces and entail botanical chandeliers, flower walls, lush garlands, magical forests, etc. Of course, designers such as Jill and her staff welcome the opportunity to wow clients with their talents and creativity.
The “think local” movement is now having an effect on wedding flowers. Couples are challenging designers to buy local and, as a result, flower farms are beginning to pop up from coast to coast. “Thanks to social media, today’s consumers are educated,” Jill notes. “They kn
ow what they want. Brides cannot only name the flowers they want, but they can zero in on varieties, as well.”
Still, floral design will probably always need to entail a global element. While demand has prompted California to get in the game, product coming from Holland, South America, and to a degree, Asia, continues to set the pace. “Turnaround can be a matter of hours,” Jill says of the broker she works with in New Jersey. “When I was in California three years ago, I was able to see the farms and the process that allows flowers to quickly be transported to the East Coast.”
Jill’s clients are also appreciative of the manner in which she allows them to “give back” to the community through flowers. Because so many of her wedding couples have family and friends from out of town, the flowers get left behind. “I hate to see them go to waste, so we take what’s left back to the shop, reconfigure them and share them with Hospice & Community Care and local nursing homes,” Jill explains. “It’s a trend that’s becoming popular across the country, but we’ve been doing it for years.”
For more information, visit floraldesignsofmountjoy.com or call 653-1950.