Tiptoeing Through the Tulips

The tagline, “Say it with flowers,” encapsulates one of life’s special-moment necessities. Try to imagine a wedding without flowers. A prom without corsages or boutonnieres. A funeral without floral tributes. A hospital room devoid of bouquets of get-well wishes. Valentine’s Day without red roses. Mother’s Day, an anniversary or birthday without a surprise delivery of flowers. Unfortunately, the coronavirus put a near-stop to all that for a period of time. 

Floral-design studios were deemed as non-essential businesses in mid-March and had no choice but to close their doors to the public. No doubt, owners of non-essential businesses can tell you exactly what they were doing and how they felt when they learned of the state’s mandate. For Jill Hoffines-Erb, owner of Floral Designs of Mount Joy, and her staff, it was business as usual. However, on this particular day, they did so with an eye to the television that was tuned to the governor’s news conference. 

In an effort to maintain her sense of humor, Jill Hoffines-Erb crafted a mask from flowers to wear as she continued working at her Mount Joy floral-design studio during the shutdown of non-essential businesses.

Jill relates that on the day “we heard about the door closings, I told my employees, ‘We have always been people who have not done things in a straight line, so we will use this situation as a challenge.’” Her mind raced back to other challenging times in her 25-year career – 18 as a business owner – and further told her team, “We made it through the Great Recession of 2008 and we will make it through this.” She says her decision to concentrate on moving ahead – anticipating a reopening – is what kept her going.   

Because product is being sourced from California and Florida growers, arrangements and bouquets have taken on a new look over the past few months.

Her first task at hand was to decide what to do with a cooler full of perishable product. Setting up a self-serve, no-contact cart outside the shop seemed like a good idea. Using social media as a way to get the word out about the availability of fresh flowers, she encouraged others to make someone’s day via a video showing a “ding-dong-ditch” technique (ring the doorbell and run) with flowers left behind on the doorstep (adhering to the no-contact advisory). “I just thought giving someone flowers would be a nice way of letting them know you love them and they are not alone during this time,” she explains. 

The bouquets sold quickly. The idea was a smash. The cart  made an appearance several times during the shutdown, often selling out in a matter of hours. 

Students from Donegal, Manheim Central and Elizabethtown Area high schools were invited to don their prom attire and pose for pictures under the floral arch Floral Designs of Mount Joy erected on the premises. Each student was gifted with a rose, as well.

Jill was very moved by the support she received from her customers and shares, “It was unbelievable. To this day, I am very humbled by it all.” Their support also instilled confidence in the future, feeling that if her customers supported her in the early and uncertain days of the pandemic, they would be back when things opened up again. She also marvels at the many calls and texts she received from customers during this time as a way of keeping in touch and wishing her well.

Of course, business as usual changed dramatically in the early days of the closing. Churches shut their doors, causing  funerals and memorials to be postponed. Most weddings had to be rescheduled.(Thankfully, none were cancelled.) Feeling sympathetic to Donegal, Manheim Central and Elizabethtown Area high school students who would be missing this year’s proms, she invited juniors and seniors to come by Floral Designs and pose in their party clothes beneath a floral arch and accept the gift of a rose. Jill held hope that things would at least open up in time for Mother’s Day.

Jill (center right) and her staff continued to work through the shutdown and anticipate a very busy fall and holiday season.

The New Normal

Prior to the pandemic, floral designers shopped the world for products. Trade embargoes put a stop to that. Currently, American-grown product is the rule, with California and Florida being the primary sources for florals. While the selection is altering the look of traditional arrangements, Jill is of the opinion, “What we get and how we make it work is the job of any good floral designer.” No matter where the flowers come from, Jill says, “I still get excited opening a new box of fresh flowers and seeing all that beauty.”

Bouquets such as this have been available on a no-contact basis via the flower cart that Floral Designs of Mount Joy set up outside its shop.

Jill is also looking ahead to the holidays. For floral designers, the holidays have become a year-round endeavor. It starts in January, when she attends a large trade show in Atlanta, Georgia, and sees prototypes displaying what is predicted for the coming year. “We buy ahead for all the coming seasons,” she explains. Holiday purchases typically arrive in late summer and by mid-November, the shop is transformed into holiday mode.  

Little did buyers know what was looming when they made their selections six months ago. Incredibly, the prototypes were on target, as if companies had been using crystal balls to establish a theme of comfort and tradition for Christmas 2020. According to Jill, traditional reds (and green) and nature themes will set the tone for holiday decorating. Fall will offer such hues as rich burgundy and mustard. 

By late April, Jill was both hopeful and philosophical. “It is important that we see something positive come from all of this – that brick-and-mortar stores are important,” she says, alluding to the personal interaction that goes hand-in-hand with planning a wedding, a dinner party, a benefit for a nonprofit organization or a surprise delivery of flowers. 

For more information, visit floraldesignsofmountjoy.com. 

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