“I always imagined that you would paint it pink with zebra stripes for some reason,” Jessie said over the phone as she prepared to go to our 10 year high school reunion. Though I was camped out at a coffee shop across the country, the conversation took me back to those high school hallways where two friends dreamt of their future a decade ago. Someday, when we grew up, she would own a flower shop, and I would paint it for her.
At 3201 Cherokee Street in St. Louis stands a flower shop called Flowers & Weeds. It is Jessie’s. As I slowly walked the shop a few weeks ago for the first time, I was delighted to discover pieces of my friend in each square inch, from quirky antique knick-knacks to beautifully curated terrariums.
“I couldn’t give advice to someone who had a new invention or was starting a big corporation or something. I’m lucky that flowers are pretty easy,” Jessie said nonchalantly. But she wasn’t fooling me. As a girl who struggled to sell pieces of folded paper during SOML’s greeting card days, I know that nothing about starting a business is easy. The before photos of the building where I was standing tell a similar tale.
Where there was once junk, there is now treasures and what was once a mess is now a fully functioning business where customers come to purchase plants, order arrangements or attend a terrarium making class. If Jessie had not had the balls and vision to do it, the site of Flowers & Weeds would simply be ‘Weeds.’
Yesterday as I sat at the coffee shop remotely consulting with Jessie on what to wear to the reunion, a longing for the past set in. I wished that I could be there – or wished that I could be back in those high school halls when life seemed so simple.
Instead I was hungover and searching for an apartment in Santa Monica, which has proved to be scarier for me than I anticipated. Naturally, when one is scared you begin to question everything: What am I doing?
The only thing that I knew for certain in that moment was that I wanted to interview Jessie on how to go after your life dream. Below is what she said.
How to F*@king Go For It
1. Start learning now
And it might not be glamorous. “I called my mom senior year of college and said ‘I want to own a flower and plant shop.’ But I had no idea what I was doing so I worked a bunch of places.” What Jessie deems her “apprenticeship years” consists of working at three different flower shops for experience and a million restaurants to make money.
Additionally, making connections is important: “Find people who are involved in what you love.”
2. Make the time
Jessie used her downtime at The Garden Shop to make terrariums to gain the creative experience she was seeking. This led to late nights in her basement making them on her own, as well as floral arrangements, and started selling them at The Heirloom Room where she rented retail space. Each spare moment would be spent planting her garden there. Eventually business picked up enough that it was time to look for her own shop.
3. Support system is important
Of course every success is accompanied by a million mini hurdles, but having a group of people to help lift you over them is key: “Plenty of times I broke down crying but always had someone there to talk me back up.”
4. Social media is for real
There was a point while working at the flower shops that Jessie became really frustrated: “I didn’t know how to start.” Fortunately, there was Instagram and Facebook. “Social media these days is so great and it allows you to establish a brand through your online presence.” It just takes one Insta at a time.
5. Bootstrap it
“It doesn’t cost money to plan. It doesn’t cost money to dream.” Jessie bootstrapped her business since the beginning: “I was pretty poor. I would make a little money, spend it on Flowers & Weeds. Make a little more money, reinvest it again.” She encourages people to take advantage of free marketing in order to start as cheap as possible, which for her meant grassroots marketing such as social media, craft fairs and popup shops.
6. Connect with people whose strengths are your weaknesses
Jessie credits her awesome friends and connections for getting Flowers & Weeds off the ground. “I had so many friends help me start for free, like my friend, Bert, who’s a lawyer. I would have never been able to figure out taxes and everything without him.” From her friend, Sarah, who led the construction efforts on the building to her employee, Carly, who created the beautiful website, she is surrounded by a team of talented friends who allow her to focus on flowers.
7. Fight for it until it’s yours
Buying the building was like having a crush on a bad boy who you can’t help but love – calls that go unanswered and going back on his word – making a future together seem futile. When her mom kept saying, “It’s okay, we’ll find another building” Jessie couldn’t help but reply with “But I want that one!” And she fought for it until it was finally hers.
What’s next for Flowers & Weeds?
Establishing a garden that is at least 80% sustainable in 10 years, as well as major production for retail. Jessie’s goal is to be as sustainable as possible – and “Me and Carly and Sarah want to be rich!” Jessie added with a laugh and a snort.
What’s next for me?
I’m not quite sure. But as I said goodbye to Jessie at the end of the interview someone tapped me on my arm. Looking to my left at a young guy in round shades, he asked, “Excuse me, are you a copywriter?
“No, I was just interviewing my friend for my blog for fun.”
“Oh, my friend and I started a video production company and those were the same questions the copywriter asked us,” he explained. “It sounds like you know what you’re doing.”
Perhaps this blog post is those pink zebra stripes.
Location: Flowers & Weeds, 3201 Cherokee Street, St. Louis, MO 63118