Our local communities are full of businesses with female founders, owners and leaders. TS Bank wants to celebrate some of those women, along with their businesses, by featuring them in our Female Founders blog series. First up in the series is Loess Hills Floral Studio, located in Council Bluffs, which is owned by Rhonda Bullington. Read our interview with her below and stay tuned for additional inspiration from successful women in our community.
Tell us about your business.
Loess Hills Floral Studio is a floral studio, located in Council Bluffs, Iowa, that creates wedding flowers, corporate event flowers, funeral work and daily arrangements.
How and when did you get started?
I started my business in June 2011. In 2010, I moved to Council Bluffs, Iowa, for a man, of course! My boyfriend, now husband, kept encouraging me to open my own flower shop. I was skeptical because the floral industry is very hard industry to get into. I was new to the area and had no friends, I didn't know many people and no one knew my work, but I closed my eyes and took the leap and seven years later here I am.
How have your life experiences brought you to where you are today?
I grew up in the jewelry business, in 1981 my parents owned a small mom and pop jewelry store in Lincoln, Neb., and I basically grew up there. Every day after school we walked to my parent’s jewelry store to have a snack and wait until it was time for us to go home. My parents were hard-working people. My mom has a background in coaching and was part of title nine for women’s athletics. She also worked in the women’s athletic program at Nebraska Wesleyan in Lincoln. My father was always in retail running his own Adan’s store in Pasadena, Cal. before moving back to Lincoln to raise a family.
Customer service has always been in our blood. When college did not work out for me I was given an ultimatum to come work for the family business or find a job… so, I found a job and I guess the rest is history! I’ve been in the floral industry since 1997. In Lincoln, I started at the bottom and washed buckets, learned plant care, answered the phone and swept the floor. Not going to lie I hated my job initially. I realize now getting your foot in the door in the floral industry is very hard. It’s fast moving so you don't have a lot of time to train. You basically have to jump in with both feet and ask questions as you go.
What do you enjoy about owning your own business?
Knowing that everything I create and deliver to each one of my customers is something that I produced. It’s my brand, my company and my arrangement. Oh, and bringing my dog to work with me every day is also kind of a plus, too!
What do you find is your biggest challenge?
Finding enough hours in the day to make everything happen. I love lists! I know it sounds crazy, but I love making a list and being able to check it off!
What sets you apart from your competitors?
I call myself a “flower nerd” because I watch the flower market on a daily basis and try to give each one of my brides the fairest price according to the market. I don’t have set prices for every wedding and each event I do has custom pricing. I’m also easy to talk to and I can relate to my brides. I’ve done it myself, twice! I’m very honest with people and feel that sugar-coating it or walking around the subject is not how life is, so I am very honest and upfront with all of my clients
What is your motivation? What drives you?
I’m always up for a good challenge. For instance, we’re doing a lot more ceiling installations, floral chandeliers and backdrops that Loess Hills Floral had not created before the 2017 wedding season. I love figuring out mechanically how I can make it work and seeing the finished product is the best thing.
As for what drives me… retirement! A couple of years ago I went to a small mountain town in Costa Rica and I lived there for a week, so that is my future plan. I want to own a home in Costa Rica and on our “off season” spend a couple months a year there.
Pictured above: Rhonda educating children through TS Institute's Entrepreneur Camp in 2014.
What’s your secret to success?
My crew, I would be nothing without them! Each member of my team brings something unique. From my project manager, who makes sure that everything is packed in the van correctly and we are on our way out the door on time, to my head designer that can make 15 arrangements an hour that are the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. My bookkeeper makes sure that our taxes are correct, rent is paid and keeps me in budget. The wholesale salespeople taught me everything I know about buying flowers and bend over backward to find the most spectacular ones.
How do you maintain a healthy work/life balance?
I don’t, I eat on the go a lot which is probably not good! My step children are grown so it’s just my husband and I. We both have a retirement goal in mind and we have an understanding to work, work, work solid for the next 10 years to make sure that we can live the life we want to. #Costaricalife
What was your biggest life lesson?
Don’t give up. You never know until you try, or ask. If you hear no, it’s not a big deal, just chalk it up to experience and move on. Staying focused because social media, text messaging and email can distract you and lead you away from your goals. Speak your mind, and don’t let people silence you.
What advice would you give other women who are interested in starting their own business?
Do one thing and do it well. When I opened my shop I wanted to be a full-service flower shop, with the trend of the floral industry you simply can’t do all: giftware, balloons, plush toys AND fresh flowers. That is why we started focusing on weddings and events because that is what we’re good at and our main focus now.
If you could share one piece of advice for women on the path to success, what would it be?
Be yourself, stick to your goals, find a good team and support system and don’t stop fighting. You have to be strong and thick skinned
How can someone get in contact with you?
If you have any questions text me, Rhonda Bullington, at (712) 310-2103, call at (712) 256-9959, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.